I was going to skip the third assignment, but decided to follow through because I want to practice better writing skill and consistency. My laptop is a bit of slow, and the battery life is going down fast. Let’s see how much I can accomplish in the next 30 minutes or so.
Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?
1. This first one is going to be a Vietnamese song, of course! How can I not put a song that I wholeheartedly understand, empathize, and being lured into the compass of nostalgia. It was first sung to me by my father and a friend of his, let’s call him Bác Thông since I cannot remember his name. Bác Thông was a drifting soul from elsewhere, not a local, and he came to visit Father once or twice during my childhood. He stayed for a few days as guest, and also as Father’s drinking friend.
I remember sitting at the cement ledge right outside of our front door, Bác Thông gently strumming on his guitar, and beginning to release his soul, probably after a few shot glasses of Vietnamese rice wine, rượu đế.
One by one, words came out, follow by notes that came in short and long breath.
Ai có về qua bến sông Tương,
nhắn người em gái tôi thương,
bao ngày ôm mối tơ vương…
(My quick version of English translation:
Has anyone been back to the Tương River,
please send a message to my love,
that for days I have been embroiled in my yearning!)
I still remember the beginning verse of the song, as Father and Bác Thông went tandem in their nostalgic sentiments through the lyrics that described an unattainable first love. The longing, the yearning, the resentment, they were all there encompassed into the flow of the song, like how the river gently flow from one end to the other.
I was quite young at the time, immature to the grown-up’s interpretation of love through these kind of songs, but I remember Bác Thông’s voice, soothing and sincere, and my Father’s hoarse and raspy.
Bao ngày qua, Thu lại về mang sầu tới
Nàng say tình mới hồn tôi tơi bời,
nhìn hoa cười đón mừng vui duyên nàng:
Tình thơ ngây từ đây nát tan
(My basic English translation:
Days have gone by, Autumn once returned to bear an impending sadness.
She became intoxicated with new love, and my soul is tattered.
Looking at the flowers that happily welcome her new fate,
my innocent love has now shattered.)
I just sat there, a few feet away from them, and listened. My brothers were there too, it’s one of those nightly gathering we had whenever electricity was cut off, which was too often during those days in Vietnam. It was rudimentary, the ways we kept ourselves entertained way before modern technology gave us wider access that extended our needs and wants. But those nights, and when the occasional full moon coincidentally appeared, listening to our Father and his friends drifting away with just the guitar, it was quite romantic in such context.
Like I said, at the time I was still too immature to reach the comprehensive level of knowing what the lyrics imbued. Only when we were in America, and Paris By Night entertainment videos provided access to olden Vietnamese melodies, including this song. And only then, into my adulthood that I perused the lyrics and its poetic nuances as one way to retain my Vietnamese language, and appreciate them.
On occasions, Father still strummed and sung this song for us while growing up in America, and before all the drama of recent years. Nevertheless, whenever we hear the familiar tune, my brothers and I often reminisced about Bác Thông, his whereabouts, and the nights that he and Father immersed themselves in alcohol, and in melodies that cried for unrequited love of their war-ravaged youth.
This song carries the significance of giving me an entryway into the classic and immortal melodies of soulful and heart-wrenching Vietnamese songs. I think I also have an old soul, or either that, I am old. These songs speak to me so deeply, rather than the ones from new generation of singers.
P.S. I cheated, it took me more than 30 minutes to write this assignment, and it’s still incomplete. I have to take the cut, and leave it with just one song. But in short, the other two are — Lionel Richie’s Stuck on You (a dedication from O), and the popular children’s rhyme’s Twinkle Little Star (for the boys).