Well now we’re getting somewhere. Jia (I think I’ll use her American name from now on even though she still leans toward FongChong) is evolving before our eyes. She’s cutting me a lot more slack, minding us better and having more fun with us. She’s less melodramatic. She seems relaxed in a way she never was the first month, and new nuances of her personality and sense of humor emerge almost every day. And with these cracks in her front, music is beginning to penetrate.
The picture here doesn’t mean she’s taken up the guitar. We just had a fun Sunday dinner last week with Taylor’s mom Polly, as is our routine. She started goofing around and strumming the strings of my old Gibson archtop. I told her she could take it off the wall and play with it, which she did with sweet and appropriate care. “Tai da!” she laughed. And yes, we agreed it’s too big. But she struck some poses and strummed a little (she even let me make some chords while she played the strings) and we all got some giggles out of it. Then came Wednesday...
I was at the kitchen counter reviewing our guest artists’ websites for late-breaking news as I always do before heading out to Music City Roots. Jia was in her mom’s office in a bit of a gloom for lack of A) kids to play with or B) media to consume. I streamed a new track from the wonderful Jill Andrews – the title cut from her upcoming album The Mirror. About six bars into the song, Jia comes in and asks about it. She likes it! This is the first time she’s said anything nice about any music that wasn’t in Chinese. So I showed her Jill’s pictures (which she correctly identified as “beoootifool”) and then she ran upstairs and came back with a notebook where she’d written down the words Yellow Bird.
In simple Chinese but with brave nods to English, she told me that in music class, they’d sung this song and asked if I could find it. So now that YouTube has become the repository of all the world’s music, we went there. Truth be told, I didn’t know “Yellow Bird”, but there many versions of what turns out to be a 19th century Hatian song, which in translation became a calypso hit in the fifties. There were versions by The Mills Brothers and Harry Belafonte and Chet Atkins, among others, plus a really trippy video by some lady who’d multi-tracked herself and merged together videos of the parts like a modern day Les Paul. At first Jia didn’t recognize the song, because it wasn’t the same context or arrangement they must have done at school. And I’m not sure even now if she sang along in a chorus or heard somebody else perform it or what. But finally it clicked, and she was into it. She also was clear (and this is a pattern) that any version by a male was not interesting. She wanted a gal singer. Fortunately I found this performance by Shirley Bassey, which is really pretty good.
Then the hilarious and wonderful part. Part of our afternoon post-school and without mom who was still at work was monitoring the storms, which were booming outside. I had the TV on low, and at one point the newscaster referred to storms all across Tennessee. Jia perked up. “Tennessee?!” she said. Yes, I told her, that map is Tennessee and that’s Nashville in the middle and that’s where we are. And with that we made one more visit to Google maps to show here where we are and where her Chinese friends live (Indiana and West Chicago) and where our family lives (West Virginia and North Carolina). We’ve been over this before, but it seemed to click better this time. Still, her verdict on the situation harkened back to her first month at home. “Tennessee bu hao. China hao.” Which means China’s great. Tennessee’s no good.” Well honey, I informed her, they have big storms in China too.
I wouldn’t be wasting your time with this but for what happened next. “Yellow Bird” and Shirley Bassey and so forth are still up on the YouTube screen, and suddenly Jia points to a video preview on the right. A pretty lady in a fancy dress from an old black and white TV broadcast. No surprise here. Put a princess in Jia’s path and she’ll give it attention. Turns out she’s pointing at “Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page. Awesome. We play it. Three notes in, Jia’s amazed. “Hao ge!” (Great song) she says. “Wo yao aypaa” That last word is my phonetic version of how she pronounces iPod. And wo yao is I want, which we hear a lot. Super! That’s easy. Before I leave, she has (a legally procured) version of Patti Page’s smash hit from 1950, written by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart en route to the Grand Ole Opry.
So thanks to Patti Page, Tennessee hao.
Yesterday evening I added a version of “Yellow Bird” to her iPod collection. Jia seemed to like the song even more. She even made some credible stabs at singing “Yellow Bird” though she’s not ready to really be directed. Then, just when I thought it was time for bed, she asks for the computer to ask a rather complex question. (She can write Chinese characters on my MacBook touch pad and run it through Google translate.) It came up cryptic - something about a song by somebody’s sister on the computer. We puzzle over it a second. Then it hits me. Sister is any older girl, the word jie jie. She’s talking about Jill Andrews. I go to Jill’s site. That’s what you mean? Yes! And since Jill is giving away downloads of “The Mirror” I grab a copy. It’s now on the aypaa as well. And just maybe my daughter has started to become a fan of Americana, and dare we wish it, America.