By Hans Ebert

THE DARK SIDE OF HONG KONG NIGHT LIFE 1

Air Supply performed in Hong Kong last night, and it was quite interesting to see the unbridled enthusiasm of so many who try to come across as being the epitome of all things cool, fail to hide, or, with apologies to Larry David, even curb their enthusiasm about attending the gig. It was like they were privy to an exclusive invitation to listen to a new sermon from the mountain from Yeezy.

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This appetite for nostalgia for the songs of Russell Hitchcock and Gary Russell says much about Hong Kong, but what this is isn’t very clear. Are we living in the past? Do we long for the good old days? Are our tastes in music on the maudlin side of huge dollops of saccharine? Have we spent way too much much time in expensive karaoke lounges drowning our sorrows in bottles of Martell Cordon Bleu while in the company of eager-to-please Eastern European escorts who played to you and your friends’ egos by applauding madly every time you sang something from the Songbooks of The Bee Gees, Elton John, Ronan Keating, ABBA, the Carpenters, Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler and, of course, Air Supply?

How many times have you sung “All Out Of Love”, and how many times have your female companions told you to just keep on singing, because you were so damn good- and you bought it? Of course, they had their metres running, and the longer you used that karaoke room, and paid for their time, they might not be called Rita, but those Eastern European girls were quick at learning to be smart meter maids.

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Hong Kong’s love affair with musical nostalgia is definitely unique, and, if anyone ever visited the now-closed Fifties and then Sixties clubs with their old, almost comatose resident “rock” band, the experience even bordered on David Lynch weirdness. All that was missing were some midgets smoking cigars and Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth inhaling amyl nitrate.

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Air Supply has been coming to Hong Kong almost every year. If doing the maths, one would say that they must have performed in this city close to a hundred times. Why? Well, it’s not the looks and theatrics of the duo as they are hardly KISS without the makeup. But, like the commercially gooey music of Denmark’s Michael Learns To Rock, it has everything to do with the unabashed romanticism of the songs- simple songs with instantly recognisable melodies and lyrics that don’t really need you to exert too much grey matter to understand their meaning. It’s kinda like the guys who can barely speak English, but can sing every Bee Gees hit with all the vibratos, breathlessness and falsettos of Robin, Barry and Maurice Gibb.

Memories of grown men in big business singing “Massachusetts” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” in karaoke lounges like Club BBoss and China City that no longer exist follow me everywhere I go like a lost puppy looking for its home.

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How many times did the Bee Gees perform in Hong Kong? Until Robin and Maurice stopped Staying Alive, the Brothers Gibb were here almost every year going way back to the days of Aussie promoter Paul Dainty.

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What are still the most popular English songs in Hong Kong? Nearly every Top 40 hit from the Seventies and Eighties. This is like the city the world forgot. Or, better put, the city that forgot tomorrow. Many cling to the past and their boring old fart stories with greater passion and more fervour than the most loyal Klingon. “I met the Beatles”, “I met the Queen”, “Want to write my autobiography about growing up in Hong Kong?” Relevance, has-beens. Where’s the relevance?

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Which Western music acts, meanwhile, can always be guaranteed a Full House when performing in Hong Kong? Lobo, Seals and Croft, The Captain and Tennille, the Beach Boys, England Dan and John Ford Coley, ABBA, Eagles, the Platters, Jackson Four or Five Tribute Bands, and if they’re still with us, singing grand aunties like Connie Francis, Patti Page, Pat Boone, and Lulu. The list is endless.

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A concert by any of these names would be like attending one very long karaoke session- a few hours of total escapism from the harsh realities of life. It’s like running away from local television personality Michael Chugani, pictured below, screaming at his guests on the wobbly programme “Straight Talk”. It’s trying to shut out having had the misfortune to accidentally watch HKTVB’s insipid bog roll-quality new programme called “Creative Hong Kong”, which is an oxymoron in itself.

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Getting back to the future, Marty, a few months ago, Spandau Ballet gave one Sold Out concert in Hong Kong. They’re much older and fatter these days, and they’ll be back. True. Gold. And fat.

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Here next month, after almost a year of postponements, will be Earth, Wind and Fire. It doesn’t matter that Philip Bailey is the only original member left standing. Audiences just want to say they saw EWF perform “September” and “Shining Star”. Frankly, it could be 5-6 random Black guys singing these hits dressed like the Teletubbies. No one really gives a shit. It’s just all about being there. It’s the groupie culture.

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There’s an older and more affluent local audience, who grew up never wanting to know about Woodstock, sex, drugs and rock and roll, and who stopped listening to the Beatles once they grew moustaches and beards and tripped the light fandango with Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. These were all big No No’s for sanctimonious Hong Kong. Have a mistress on the side, and be The Fiddler and Swindler on the roof, but whatever you do, don’t inhale, and let Rock and Roll into your life.

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Hong Kong might have embraced Disco and clubs like Canton, Manhattan, Pastels, and Hot Gossip with its LBFMs- ask Cathay Pacific to explain that acronym-but Disco was all about marketing rampant narcissism, open gayness, and showing off rampant affluence.

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Disco was easy to accept, and easy to use to fortify or build one’s image as Crockett or Tubbs. After it’s all been said and done, this city was never ever built on Rock and Roll. It was built on kitsch and pseudo local celebrities awash in hypocrisy, and in search of The Holy Grail called Face.

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Hong Kong was and is still like longtime local socialite Bonnie Gokson blowing air kisses across the dining area of her restaurant Sevva while hairstylist Kim Robinson calls you “darling” despite not knowing who the fuck you are. Wonder what happened to Kimski’s reality television series that he was shopping for years? Air Supply could have written and recorded the theme song for it: All Outta Hair.

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Even today, and when now well into their sixties and seventies, these usual suspects and regulars at every dopey cocktail party and the opening of even an envelope- remember those two gold digger Danish lookalike blondes who just had to be where anything was happening?- desperately need that very Hong Kong hang-up known as “face” while, like Sally Field giving her Oscar speech, needing to be really really liked. Insecurity is such a bitch.

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This misguided take on life has been passed on to the next generation- and the one after that- and which is probably why this city is so ill-prepared for change. The city elders, especially those in the entertainment industry, have done a lousy job of being mentors. All they’ve done is create a city in their likeness and built upon a huge platform based on control and how this can be applied to every facet of Hong Kong life.

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On the subject of has-beens, one had to laugh hearing that a blast from the past named Lal Dayaram, who, during the Sixties, ran a local music company called Diamond Music, is publishing a Tell-All book. About who and what? Teddy Robin and the Playboys? Ray Cordeiro? When radio disc-jockeys were in the pockets of some? Insider “trading” in fledgling music companies through the setup of music cassette plants, advertising agencies and publishing companies? Oh dear. Here’s hoping it sells more than ten copies, Lally man, pictured below. Relevance, people, relevance. Who cares?

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And so, whether it’s yellow umbrellas or all the handwringing about the cancellation of a two-bit concert by a previously unheard of or average Cantonese singer who has started to dabble in politics because today this is Hong Kong’s cause célèbre, everything goes haywire and overnight “politicians” with their own self-serving agendas continue to expand their control and think they’re puppet masters when right behind them are those really pulling the strings.

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It’s why Canto Pop concerts have not changed their formats based on pomposity and over the top flatulence in three decades. It’s why the ICAC tried to nab former HKTVB General Manager Stephen Chan and his Assistant on fraud and graft charges- twice- and failed-twice- as everyone involved closed rank to protect all the many guilty parties involved, including themselves.

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What any of this has to do with Air Supply performing in Hong Kong, who knows? But, maybe, somewhere all the dots join, and the superficiality of this city that has always been known, but well-hidden, is now finally being exposed, pock marks and all. Hong Kong doesn’t seem to LIKE itself anymore. It seems embarrassed at what it is today: A mess.

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Maybe we’re all out of air supply and not knowing how and where to start again by working with an empty canvas to create a new Hong Kong? We need real leaders to get to that point.

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