My first impression of Dave Wang (a.k.a.
Wang Chieh) was that of a serious-looking young man riding motorcycles in a
music video around the year 1989. I was a junior high student in China,
and the nation was just beginning to feel the impact of imported pop culture
from Taiwan and Hong Kong. During that first wave, dozens of top HK/TW pop
singers were promoted to the hungry ¡°virgin¡± audience of Chinese youths.
Fortunately most of these invading pop icons made it because of real talents
(either vocal or creative). As a matter of fact, all the singles were
unbelievably catchy and well-produced, especially comparing to the mainland pop
music scene which was still struggling in its infantile stage. With its
haunting melody and melancholic lyrics, ¡°A Game, A Dream¡± found its way into
our collective consciousness. When I first laid my eyes on that
leather-clad young man with those sad eyes in his videos, something about that
image touched me. But I was only 14, matters of the heart were heretofore
unknown, neither was music a big part of my life, so I did not delve into it
Fast forward to 1995, I was in college and I had immigrated to the States 4 years prior. Walking on the crowded streets of San Francisco Chinatown, I spotted a good-sized Chinese record store. Although I had become a staunch fan of American country music and hadn't listened to Chinese music for years, something made me walk in and take a look. As expected, I was quickly dazzled and confused by hundreds of new names and faces on album covers. Suddenly a familiar title came across my eyes, ¡°Wang Chieh: A Game, A Dream¡±. Those troubled eyes, and tightly-locked eyebrows somehow offered a sense of security, even some type of quality assurance. Although I left the shop that day with the cassette in my pocket (after paying of course), I only listened to it occasionally over the years that followed. The songs were too depressing for repeated listening, only some sleepless nights would I find myself in the right mood to pop the cassette into the stereo.
Five more years passed by, I was sitting in a hair salon, impatiently waiting for my turn. In my boredom I picked up one of the Hong Kong magazines, one of those filled with colorful pictures and tabloid news. Flipping through the pages, my eyes caught an article about Dave and his musical comeback. There was a big wedding photo of his 1993 marriage with Muo Qi-Wen, but then we were told that this relationship had already ended in divorce. In the interview Dave was asked to discuss the failure of his second marriage, the negative press, the decision to come back, the less-than-desirable sales figures, etc. His answers were calm and philosophical, not begging for sympathy. But between the lines, it was not difficult to detect a hint of that familiar melancholy.
A new century has arrived, my musical taste has long since drifted from country
music to progressive rock, however my Dave Wang collection remains limited to
that old, beaten cassette. Even though the beginning of ¡°Annie¡± was
already slightly out of tune, I picked it up again one day and relived my
decade-old memories. Suddenly something clicked, I could not stop playing
it over and over. Why it took me so long to fully appreciate this album no
one will ever know. Maybe the album was strangely reminding me of Phil
Collins' classic debut ¡°Face Value¡±, maybe it reflected a change in my
world view as I grew older, maybe part of it was nostalgia. No matter what
it was, these days I just can not get enough of those plaintive lyrics and that
expressive voice. I bought his "Classic Songs collection" album,
listening to it everyday in the car. I kept asking myself: ¡°Where were
you all of those years? How could you have missed so much?¡± I
searched on the Internet and easily came upon scores of excellent fan sites
dedicated to Dave, some even in Japanese or English. But only after I read
about his life stories did I begin to glimpse into that tortured soul behind all
the musical genius.
Grew up in a broken home, practically abandoned by his parents as a teenager, young Dave often felt not too different from an orphan. This sad childhood was followed by the quick demise of his first marriage, leaving the barely 20 year old young man with a dependent daughter. Efforts of raising the child saw him working various odd jobs, including as a cook, a taxi driver, and most famously a faceless stunt double in hundreds of movies. It turned out the motorcycles in those early music videos were not just props, he used to jump as many as 8 cars riding those bikes in some stunts. When life was no longer a guarantee on a everyday basis, Dave had no choice but to grow up in a hurry. Yes, his debut album became an ¡°overnight success¡± in 1987 after its sales exceeded all expectations. A series of extremely popular albums followed, establishing his superstardom in Asia. But with success came jealousy and slander. In the mid-1990's, probably disillusioned by the hypocrisy and practicality of the entertainment business, Dave went on a sort of self-imposed exile after a decade of music-making at the bone-crushing pace of 3 or 4 albums per year. More set-backs were in store for him on the personal front, including his much-publicized second marriage which crumbled within a few years. After retreating to Canada, battling personal demons such as depression and anorexia, Dave resurfaced in Hong Kong in 1999 with a brand new image and musical style. Predictably this was initially greeted with harsh criticism and dissatisfying sales. However, with the release of the critically-acclaimed ¡°l'amour et le reve¡± in 2001, it seemed things were finally looking up for this perpetual wanderer. His songs found a loyal audience in maturing city-dwellers whose fragile emotional lives were mirrored by those heart-wrenching love songs. At the same time, surprisingly more and more found encouragement and strength in those lesser-known but equally-affecting upbeat songs such as ¡°Voice from the Heart¡±. Unfortunately in this age of naked commercialization and shameless promotion of packaged pop acts, real talents like Dave are more often then not being overlooked and ignored. When I look back on his tireless contribution to Chinese pop music over the years and his amazing dedication to his art, I can't explain how much I'm moved. The following pages are dedicated to all of those who feel a duty to support such heartfelt music.