This is NOT an analytical piece. This is a raw and unfiltered self-meditation, as I find writing with no aim nor external audience in mind to be rather calming and self-satisfying. If you want to take a peek at me in my most creatively pure state, this is not a bad place to start.
Emotions, feelings and our comprehension of the world around us are the groundworks of each individual’s existence. In many ways, I am a person who’s flawed, afraid of the world’s lingering shadows, questions the nature of each flickering light and is very much wary of the superior forces that are far out of my reach and understanding. I’m afraid of what I don’t know, but sometimes I’m even more afraid to learn the truth.
Planet Earth revolves on its axis from west to east, we interpret that as a daily routine, something of use for us to live with a sense of stability and order. Our hyperactive minds’ built-in need to rationalise every happening is also contradicted by the eternal hunger for amazement and anticipation of the new and the unexpected.
My relationship with Cowboy Bebop and its impact on me far outreaches the usual spectrums of introspective self-understanding that so many other mediums have provoked me to engage in. On the surface of it, upon finishing the last episode of the TV series, the usual feelings of emptiness or void-like numbness weren’t caused by the eventual realisation, that the journey with the Bebop crew is almost over. Instead, my mind drifted back through the shapeless clouds of the journey that I just wizzed past, desperately grasping at any concrete sense of balance, overwhelmed by the sheer lack of clarity that I still felt. I wasn’t satisfied, not because I didn’t get enough, but because I KNEW I couldn’t fully comprehend what I already experienced in Cowboy Bebop.
It’s a weird feeling, coming to terms with the reality that a larger-than-life creation has somehow denied me a comprehensible understanding of its personality and carefully coded creative signals. And it’s even more painful, when the creation is one of divine beauty, boundlessly soulful, and heart-wrenchingly cool.
I watched Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door after a noticeably eventless day. My mind was ripe for some serious jamming, after been thoroughly roasted from boredom. I remembered having headphones on when the film ran. I remembered sitting there in silence, long after the last chord of the song had echoed past its runtime. ‘Gotta Knock a Little Harder‘ was something special.
The song made me nostalgic for everything I’ve cherished, as the cooing choir gently led me through the gates of memory lane. Before long, I was sitting beneath the pomegranate tree in my grandparents’ gardens. It may seem, that my journey begins there.
As the piano humbly accompanied the clacking drums, groovin’ guitars and the raspy vocals of Mai Yamane, sprays of paint and bold dashes of colour danced before my eyes. The pomegranate tree is now in full bloom, its surroundings indulged in faint scents of honey-smooth sweetness.
Happiness is just a word to me
And it might’ve meant a thing or two
If I had known the difference
There are moments…faint, vaguely remembered moments…when I wondered about that promised happy ending at the end of the road. I was young then; single digits in age.
I don’t remember if I used to keep diaries when I was young. But I wouldn’t be surprised, that if I managed to dig up one of those yellowed and torn pages from notebooks dated ‘2001’, all I would find, were frantic sketches and rushed scrawls of the Solar System, colour-coded by the mind of a simplistic child. The grey Mercury, orange Venus and the rose-red Mars. The orange Jupiter and a yellow-brown Saturn with its black and yellow ring. And finally, a sky blue Uranus, sea blue Neptune and a lazily chosen silver Pluto. Amongst all these crayon and coloured pencil markings, now almost meaningless names of space matter and rocket missions, lies the core of my early childhood: long nights, talks and conversations with my grandfather.
I was barely 5…or was it 6? I can hardly remember the carriage number, but I can certainly remember the faded green paint of the train, as we made our way from our home town to visit relatives in Chengdu. The night’s hardly young anymore, the entire carriage echoed with muzzled snores and an occasional light screech of the springs, as one adjusted their sleeping positions in their bunks. The wrinkled cheeks of the old man in front of me did not betray the years he has walked this Earth. His gentle and ever-so-slightly bony hands grasped mine in comfortable warmth. The greying hair and wrinkles were accompanied with eyes that shined with life: the body may age with experience, but the eyes…Grandpa’s eyes had the wide-eyed wonder of a child’s, and the distant gaze of his slightly flawed eyesight only alluded to a family member that has cultivated a massive pool of experiences and knowledge. Grandpa’s mouth never seemed to stop smiling, as he recounted his tales to his grandson that night. I’ve lost count how many questions this curious mind of mine had asked him throughout the decade. To me, Grandpa is that all-knowing person with the answer to the meaning of life. Nothing has proven that statement wrong yet.
Dear lord…what did we talk about during that night on the train? Grandpa’s wealth of moral-guided folk tales did much to shape the person that I am today, not only is he a literal bank of general knowledge, he’s like a music box, but one that can churn out any story you ask for.
Grandpa sparked my love for stories. For all I know, he might’ve told me the story about a frog in a well that night, and how only by jumping out of the well and expanding his horizons, could the frog truly experience the pleasures of the world. He’s full of stories like that. He’s probably telling another one of those to my cousins back in China right now. Aged 74 and he’s still kicking strong.
So what’s happiness to me? To hear and tell a story. Any story. Happiness is no more when there are no more stories to share.
Emptiness, a lonely parody
And my life, another smokin’ gun
A sign of my indifference
Always keepin’ safe inside
Where no one ever had a chance
To penetrate a break in
Let me tell you some have tried
But I would slam the door so tight
That they could never get in
Reserved. Shy. Overly sensitive. Reasonable words to describe yours truly.
Primary school (years 3-6) wasn’t a good time for me. Having left China for Australia, this young mind found it impossible to adjust to a world, where giants humanoids surrounded him, where meaningless noise doubled as a communicative language, and where a quiet boy with dark hair and brown eyes is considered sufficient harassment material.
I learnt enough English to hold a decent conversation by year 5. Some really good friends did make their way into my life (they have largely disappeared from my life now; the issue being high schools and university choices). But some of my worst memories as a child still reside in those 3 years. Not enough to voluntarily skip classes or engage in self-harm, but certainly enough to impact my ability to properly exert myself, once I made the jump to middle school.
I was reluctant to be friendly by this point. In years 7 to 9, I became slightly distant to the rest of the year group, refusing social interactions without much second thoughts. If some fellow students saw me as a bitter asshole, I would understand, since I did see that in myself too.
You know…I think I’ve grown out of that. I still dislike large crowds, sweaty bars and dance parties, and starting the conversation with a complete stranger in a new class, but at least now I can hold the conversation someone was nice enough to offer me a welcoming hand in, maybe even time a joke right to make someone laugh.
Kept my cool under a lock and key
And I never shed a tear
Another sign of my condition
Fear of love of bitter vanity
That kept me on the run
The main events at my confession
At this point of the song, my retrospective mind began circling around the rather numerous instances of indifferences I’ve afforded to enjoy: sporting competitions, pop stars, reality TV shows. You name them.
I’ve always wondered why I can’t seem to get in with the popular kids: I just don’t have the interest. I hate the toxic environment of the stadium, where boos and abusing referees are cool things to do. I hate the pampered emptiness of pop stardom. I hate the pretentious and forced melodrama of reality TV.
Maybe it’s jealousy, but I doubt that’s the whole answer: I’ve long accepted, that my collection of interests would be painfully unlikely to make it onto national news. I’m content with the low-key musings of aniblogging and the quiet mediative rhythm of photographing on location, and sorting out the best images for post-processing, before sitting back and marvelling at my own handiwork.
I kept a chain upon my door
That would shake the shame of Cain
Into a blind submission
The burning ghost without a name
Was still calling all the same
But I just wouldn’t listen
The longer I’d stall
The further I’d crawl
The harder I’d fall
I was crawlin’ into the fire
The more that I saw
The further I’d fall
The lower I’d crawl
I kept fallin’ into the fire
Abstracted imagery. I tend to find them interesting, but only if I have some sort of anchor to start exploring it: Is an artwork ‘art’, if an audience can see no meaning in it?
This section of the song has always baffled me: simple enough, the usual theme of accepting oneself and others’ call for connections is still prominent, but the under-bearing imagery of more hellish territories were less immediate in my repertoire of understanding.
If anything, the middle and third verse/ the chorus had some profoundly simple beats that resonated with me: stalling is my style. I thrive on the pressure of last-minute rushes, when it comes to school assignments. Am I proud of it? I’m not sure. Some of my best works are done under pressure, but there is always SOMETHING, that makes me regret not giving it more time.
It would be interesting to see where this motif of fire fits in the grand scheme of things.
Suddenly it occurred to me
The reason for the run and hide
Had totalled my existence
Everything left on the other side
Could never be much worse than this
But could I go the distance
Coming off such an abrupt opening word, the song’s lyrical tone shift begins with the realisation, that fear is the literal antichrist of life. Well isn’t this fun…
I remember 2 specific instances, where fear has become that literal obstacle between me and achieving some profound milestone: riding a bike and learning how to dive headfirst into water.
As amusing as it may seem, the mind fears the fantasies that it has created on its own. It likens the supposed lack of balance of a moving two-wheeled bike to a static one (without a side leg to prop it up, the bike crashes almost immediately). It likens the prospect of diving head first into a filled-up swimming pool to a head-first fall from a third storey building.
Of course, a milestone is potentially achieved, every time a first-time and neutral conversation is struck between two people: one individual took the leap of faith and other embraced the gesture.
I faced the door and all my shame
Tearin’ off each piece of chain
Until they all were broken
But no matter how I tried
The other side was locked so tight
The door it wouldn’t open
There is the possibility, that at this point of my life, I should be gearing myself up for some hard-hitting realities beyond universities. And I’m not just talking about how all the job position offers seemed to have that tacked on ‘3 year experience required’ at the end of their respective position descriptions.
It’s the same with relationships, too. I’ve joined a handful of well-established student-run societies since I first started uni. On paper, a society is the best place to make friends. And I did, thankfully. But nothing can deny the reality, that just cramming a few dozen strangers in a room with something they all have a passion in (let’s say, the anime society), won’t immediately guarantee a joyous mishmash of new-formed bonds: that nervousness I still feel when talking to a stranger is still there for every other new member. And there’s no worse feeling of loneliness than feeling lonely in a crowded space.
Gave it all that I got
And started to knock
Shouted for someone
To open the lock
I just gotta get through the door
And the more that I knocked
The hotter I got
I just gotta break through the door
Gotta knock a little harder
Break through the door
I remember the faint details of my first year classroom; my mind can still make out the dimensions of the classroom, and the location of the classroom amongst the entire campus. I remember the school building for the 4th to 6th year students, how to a 1st grader, that mystical land of the unknown felt like a million miles away. The contents of the wall hangings around the classroom changed so often, I could hardly tell if the random details I can still remember even belonged to each other.
Even at such a young age, tests and marks out of 100 were part of school life.
My home town was snuggly nestled amongst an entire collection of mountain ranges, so much so, that train lines had to go through endless sequences of tunnels in order to reach us. I can still remember the gradual shifts in landscape, as each tunnel was passed: humble rice paddies, muddy roads and straw roofs soon made way for slightly eroded concrete buildings and muddy concrete roads. Before long, the countryside returned, and the train is now overlooking the eventless horizon of greenery from a train line bridge. By the time we arrived at the city of Chengdu, the bustling skyscrapers quickly overwhelmed the pastoral beginnings.
The song has ended, and here I am, sitting in silence again. The pomegranate tree has beared fruit and Autumn is settling in. I guess the journey has ended.
I can still remember how generous that tree was to us…You could say that I was drunk on pomegranate juice for half of my childhood.
The meaning of a song formulates itself in my mind as a memory. Its lyrics form meaning by tapping into my identity. In this case, ‘Gotta Knock a Little Harder’ was a bittersweet reminder of the first 7 years of my life, no matter how different the lyrics may seem in terms of its subject matter. The reflective and intensely nostalgic soundscape of the song no doubt has solidified its large-than-life qualities in the eyes of many individuals, and my interpretation of the song, is no doubt as unique as it can be. And that’s never a bad thing. Being different is what it means to live in a real world.
Somehow, ‘Gotta Knock a Little Harder’ has found it: the centre of it all, the essence of humanity. The pain of it all, the pleasure of it all, the memories of it all, the regrets of it all. It’s calling for that celestial tranquillity of the human condition, and that eventual instance, when sadness and pain is embraced alongside love and kindness, as neither will exist without the other. The yin yang of existence.
Thank you for the journey, space cowboy.