So Rock Jesus for 2009

Jesus plays a mean bass

Jesus returns to the cover of So Rock! magazine for the December issue, which arrived on newsstands just last week.

The rock icon previously appeared as Buddy Christ on the cover of issue 45 in 2005. Here, the message is less vulgar and slightly more positive: "New Year / God Bless Every Fxxking Guy." A relatively frequent cover model, Jesus also appeared on issues 34 and 36.

Featured in this issue is an irreverent take on Chinese Democracy, the new Guns N' Roses album. It's the group's first studio album in fifteen years so, like much of the western press, So Rock! mixes an album review with snarky commentary on how long it took to produce. Most of the feature is devoted to a look back at how the music industry has changed in the last decade and a half, from technological changes that brought about the iPod and MySpace, to the wax and wane of various musical trends, departed musicians, and the changing lineup of frontman Axl Rose's band.

In a related article, the magazine mocks Qin Gang, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson who brushed aside a journalist's question about the long-delayed album by calling rock music nothing more than noise that no mature adult would enjoy. An interview with a Mr. Bird Anus (禽肛, a homophone for the spokesperson's name) describes the health risks of rock music and the health benefits of saccharine domestic pop, and details how officials at the Ministry of Culture put themselves on the line every day, sacrificing their own moral health to screen porn and other unhealthy media that would destroy domestic harmony if it were to reach the public.

Interestingly, the magazine doesn't mention the common Chinese translation of the album's title: 中国民主. Instead, it uses the English name or its own translation, 天朝德先生, a clever combination of "celestial kingdom," a poetic name for China that's often used ironically, and the May 4-era term "Mr. Democracy."

This issue of So Rock! also contains an interesting profile of Zhao Yiran (赵已然), an aging bohemian musician and a fixture of the rock scene since the 80s. Interviewed by a 22-year-old writer, Zhao, also known as Zhao Lao Da, talks about his upbringing, his brother, his repudiation of western science and modernity, and how Nietzsche made his life make sense.

Here are a few excerpts:

Before I met Zhao Lao Da, I was ambivalent about the interview. First, because I had heard lots of stories about him, and those sad fragments of stories left me feeling like the man would be hard to handle. Second, because of his wild hairstyle and his weathered old face. But when he was finally sitting in front of me, I discovered that he was perfectly straightforward and unassuming, perhaps related to the fact that he had never held a job. Zhao Lao Da was 24 years older than me, but fortunately there was no generation gap during our conversation.

As a drummer, his brother Zhao Muyang is probably more famous. Called the "drum king," Zhao Muyang worked with The Breathing, Dou Wei and Dreaming, Overload, Blue Wolf, 43 Baojia St, and Xu Wei. Zhao Lao Da had mixed feelings about his brother, sparking my curiosity about their relationship. "I chose my brother's name for him, because when he was little, our parents hadn't given him a name. My brother is really amazing. Someone once did a count and said that he'd played drums on more than 130, or was it 160, albums. This is nearly unheard of." Then he sighed. "Ah, my brother....he's always been lost, never able to find himself. We lived together for a very long time. More than a decade living together. I'd like to help him, but I can't anymore. He can't come back. He's completely lost..." (Original editor's note: "Lost" here refers to a common phenomenon in rock circles.)
"The friends and musicians you had at the start are doing pretty well now. Why don't you change a little, make some money for your family? Why not get married and live a normal life?" I asked him. He sighed and turned solemn: "Oh, I don't know how to make money. This is the one place I feel like I've mistreated my parents. Ever since I turned forty I've had this question in front of me practically every day, but I can't do anything about it. As time goes on I have less and less of an ability to earn money, so I can only say to my dad, Dad, I say, if you want me to play drums or an instrument that's not a problem, I can play any kind of drums. That's what I'm good at. But if you want me to make money, I really can't do it. And now I'm slowly getting worse at it. So these days it's my family that helps me out. My mom often calls me up to ask if I have any money. My sister, too. Their lives are normal."
On the album Living in 1988, he wrote notes that contained the following line: "I should have been a chemistry teacher, but through a series of mistakes, I had the misfortune to end up a drummer." Zhao Lao Da was a good student and tested into the chemistry department at Shaanxi Normal University. Science students are supposed to have rational minds, but Zhao Lao a chose a different road, one that, like Henry Miller, drowned life in alcohol.

Living in 1988 (活在1988), an unreleased collection of live music, mostly covers, sung in Zhao's unique folk-rock style, can be downloaded from various online sources. Here's a video of an appearance in Shanghai.

The Thor on the back cover

Like it says on the cover, So Rock! magazine is technically a free gift included with a monthly compilation CD issued by the So Rock record label.

This month's CD is special: it includes an mp3 version of the entire album OOOXXX by the Chengdu band The Thor (雷神). Thor's second album, OOOXXX was given an independent release in 2004 when the band couldn't convince prospective labels (including So Rock! Records) to release it unaltered.

The text on the back cover, which features a Chinese flag made out of the band's logo, reads in part, "They were New Metal in the days of Punk, Metalcore in the days of New Metal, and Spookycore in the days of Metalcore." Their music requires an appreciation for the death growl, and in certain songs, an ability to ignore awful English lyrics.

Song titles include "My Anger's None of Your Business," "Revolutionary Icecream," "Hatesong," "No Communist Party No Rock and Roll," and "Media Will Tear Us Apart," whose lyrics apparently exempt websites from the general suckage of the media:

Never ever trust government,
Never ever trust radio box,
Never ever trust televisions,
Never ever trust newspapers,
No trust between us, don't believe, media sucks.

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