Stadium Rock, Topless Women, and Some Potty Talk: 3 Days in Jakarta

It’s about 30 minutes before showtime at An Unnamed Jazz Club in Jakarta, Indonesia. I’m sitting in the green room, but I can hear the pleasant buzz of a jazz club rolling into action. Customers chatter as they’re led to their tables, waiters deliver drinks, bartenders mix cocktails and ignore thirsty musicians, the PA plays something that’s probably jazz but isn’t quite loud enough to hear. Then a mechanical whirring sound coming from the stage prompts me to poke my head out for a closer look. A giant screen is being lowered behind the stage. I can’t really envision a situation in which this is a good thing. 

 In my younger days in Australia, a big screen behind the stage meant there was a football game on and we were expected to stand and play in front of it, obstructing the patrons’ view, and cementing their already deeply held hatred of jazz and jazz musicians. But this was a fancy joint- surely we could expect something appropriate… maybe video of a classic live jazz performance to get folks in the mood? Perhaps images of jazz greats accompanied by something swinging and understated? How about a stadium rock show featuring wailing guitars, pounding drums, and a posturing frontman, with audio pumped up to 11? It’s going to be that last one, isn’t it. The club was suddenly transformed into Wembley Stadium as Freddie Mercury prowled the stage and promised to rock us. Now I dig Queen, but there’s a time and place- we’re trying to create an atmosphere here… I took my displeasure to the manager who explained that the owner’s son was on his way to the club. He’d called from the car to say he expected to arrive to Queen. He wanted “Hammer to Fall” on his entrance. Sometimes things look the same around the world, but the differences are lurking just below the surface. I threw my hands in the air and grumbled my way back to the greenroom. In the end the show went fine, the hyped-up Jakarta audience showing their appreciation for serious jazz by bouncing a beachball around the club and hoisting topless women on their shoulders.

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“Who’s ready for some JAZZ!!?”

 15 floors up from this debacle was the Hempton Suite. I’d negotiated a hotel room in this 5-star pile as part of my hilarious remuneration package; it was my first 5-star experience and I was making the most of it. Holding imaginary business meetings in my “office;” allowing the pool attendant to dry me with an actual living chamois; reclining theatrically, Pimms in hand, on my daybed; phoning my imaginary agent from the bathtub; and finally getting to know the intricacies of the Toto Washlet electronic commode. Let me tell you- once you’ve Toto’d, it’s hard to go back. A perfectly warmed seat, startlingly accurate water jets streaming from all directions, and a puff of warm air all leave you floating on a cloud of dazed satisfaction.  I can’t be sure, but as I left the room, I could’ve sworn it whispered “good boy.” Anyway, I’m starting a crowdfunding campaign so I can afford a Toto Washlet of my own. I think it’s a worthy cause, and no more a vanity project than most other crowdfunded endeavours.

FANCY TOILETS

The secret to enjoying a fancy hotel in Jakarta is conveniently forgetting the appalling poverty right outside your window. I took a stroll to a nearby market, thinking I’d get the feel of the place, maybe take some photos, and eat something tasty. I soon realized t’s not like other places. When you hit the streets in China, the locals might glance at you curiously. In Thailand they smile at you. In Vietnam, they ignore you. In Jakarta, as soon as I left the hotel’s manicured grounds, I was on narrow dirt roads, hopping daintily over piles of trash and dead rats, thoughts of street food tripping over each other to get out of my brain. The markets were the expected industrious hubbub, but the people would stop what they were doing to stare vacantly at me as I passed. I took a few photos then stuffed my phone in my pocket when I realized that not a single person had a phone in their hand. How they maintain any sort of Social Media presence is beyond me.  

The problem was, I was pathetically under-prepared for a visit to Jakarta. It was only three nights so I hadn’t bothered researching where to go or how to get there. On my night off I managed to get a cab to take me to a nearby restaurant specializing in fried duck, which seems to be somewhat of a local delicacy. As I strolled in, the staff froze and gave me the stare, before huddling up for a heated discussion, seemingly deciding whether to serve me or not. I guess I passed inspection, and was presented with an indecipherable menu. My helpless jabbing was soon rewarded with a hunk of fried duck, white rice, a pile of fresh herbs, and a pot of fiery, salty, eyeball-melting sambal, all served on a banana leaf. I turned to point out that they’d forgotten to give me utensils, when I noticed my neighbours in up to their wrists. I jumped in with eager fingers and made a right mess of it- it’s harder than it looks. Now I love to have a stab at the local customs but I’m sorry- you’re aware of the invention of the spoon and you’re going to persist in eating rice with your fingers? I think you’re just being obstinate at this point. Anyway, it was delicious, and next time I’ll do my research and have more food stories for you.

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For now, until that kickstarter campaign comes through, I’ve constructed my own Toto Washlet out of a length of old garden hose and a portable fan heater, so I’m off to try it out! More soon…

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Analogue Jammin’

My birthday was a few weeks ago. No, it’s ok, really. I wouldn’t have wanted you to make a fuss anyway. I’m fine. Really. But I long ago reached the age where a birthday present is more important for the thought than the item itself. I never really believed my Dad when he’d tell me that all he wanted was a bottle of booze or a book voucher, but that’s me now. If I really want something, I’ll just go and get it myself. And this year, because no one was thoughtful enough to get it for me, I got myself something I’ve been wanting for ages.

Last night, here in the New York area, we were trapped in our homes due to what was being advertised as the blizzard to end all blizzards. Feet of snow and deadly gales were promised. Public transportation was shut down, vehicles were banned from the streets, panicked suckers emptied supermarket shelves, and I got an unexpected night off work. At some point during the evening I decided I should try to be productive with these bonus hours, and set about fiddling with one of the online aids to productivity on which I waste so much time. After a lengthy period of grinding my teeth and shaking my fist threateningly at the screen, I I threw my hands up in theatrical disgust, and gently slammed the computer shut. I needed respite from this maddening technology. It was too snowy to take the penny-farthing out for a spin, so I turned to the next best thing: my new record player.

I couldn’t be happier with this new addition to the Hemmo homestead. And it’s not just sound quality- everything about the experience is enjoyable and satisfying. Shopping for records, pretending I know anything about “vinyl grading”, prissily removing every trace of deadly dust from the disc while wearing the full-body rubber suit the guy at the record store told me I needed. But mostly the fact that listening to an album is now an event: now when I put on music, I sit down and listen to it!

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Not me. Yet.

 However, at some point last night (during Bird with Strings, I believe), I was struck by the irony (or possibly, hypocrisy) of my situation. Here I am, making a big fuss about my fancy digital releases, bemoaning the fact that American jazz radio stations haven’t moved with the times, espousing the virtues of single-track online music distribution, while at home I’m listening to music in almost the oldest way possible. Next year I might upgrade to piano rolls. But really, I don’t think there’s much of a contradiction. Vinyl is fantastic, and I highly recommend it, but I don’t suppose it’s really the way forward. I’ve always thought that digital files and vinyl should be the major players- nothing against CD, but it’s neither the best sounding nor the most portable. Nor is it nerdy enough for me. Anyway I’ve got to run if I want to post this blog before the telegraph office closes.

Who else is getting their vinyl on?