I tend to like stuff that’s related to kids and the culture of childhood. Consequently, I’m fond of amusements of all types: penny arcades, pinball parlors, roadside attractions, circuses, carnivals, fairs, and of course, amusement parks.
In my childhood., Los Angeles had a great variety of amusments; big parks like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, and seedy little two-bit carnivals like Crawford’s Corner and Streamland Park. And even though I was afraid of the scary stuff, I loved them all. I still find myself defending Disneyland to the naysayers. I remember how it fired up my imagination as a kid.
But now, as an adult, it’s the shabby little carnivals I like best. The funkier the better. I like the vibe of that seedy underbelly. There’re no carnies at Disneyland. It’s strictly clean cut.
Here in Singapore, there’s a modern, sanitized, family-oriented amusement island called Sentosa. It has Universal Studios, Madame Tussauds, an aquarium, Adventure Cove Waterpark, Dolphin Island, animal shows, insect kingdoms, and way, way more. ..So I hear… I’ve never been. Why would I go there when I can go to Haw Par Villa?
Haw Par Villa is hands-down my favorite place in Singapore. It’s a theme park that was built in 1937 by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par – the Tiger Balm Boys. They made a fortune in ointment. Clearly men with vision.
The park is over 80 years old and much of it looks its age. It’s a mish-mash of statues and dioramas that feature scenes from Chinese mythology and folk tales. As a foreign visitor, I don’t begin to understand much of what’s depicted. But for me, that’s part of the fun. Basically I get to view it through the eyes of a child. And it hits a lot of buttons. It’s wonderful, colorful, fanciful, imaginative and beautiful on the one hand, and strange, morbid, violent, dark and grotesque on the other. It’s got that Grimm’s Fairy Tale vibe going for it. It’s difficult to sum it up. I just know it’s my kind of weird. And kids dig it too.
I read an interview with Jerry Garcia and David Grisman when they released their children’s record called Not For Kids Only. They spoke about not wanting to sanitize the old folk songs for modern ”family-friendly” ears. There’s a weirdness to those songs that they wanted to preserve. And Garcia spoke about a movie that had a deep, profound impact upon him as a child. That movie was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Garcia’s life long fascination of the bizarre came directly from viewing that film. (Here’s a video of Garcia talking about the movie.)
In a way, that’s how I feel about Haw Par Villa. I walk around the place feeling like I’m Jerry Garcia watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
This is the first time I’ve written a song with the express intent of making it a video. I’ve taken a lot of photos at HP Villa that I’ve wanted to share, so the song is a vehicle for doing that. And I think the song really needs those visuals for it to work. My skills as a lyricist come nowhere close to describing the place. It has to be seen to be believed.
I also want to add a little disclaimer. When I gawk and squawk about the weirdness of the place, I mean no cultural disrespect. In my heart of hearts I feel quite the opposite. And also, when crafting the melody and arrangement I tried to hint at an Asian sound. My recording software features a lot of world instrument sounds, so I may have over indulged on the Chinese cheese a little. Some may view this as cultural appropriation. Again, I mean no disrespect. I’m just playing with my toys.
(and... oh fiddlestix! Another disclaimer is in order. While singing this "rough draft" demo, my dyslexic-trickster muse inspired me to sing "Har Paw" Villa throughout. It's HAW PAR! When I was a kid and pronounced it "Dickeyland" everyone thought it was cute. Not so cute anymore. I'll fix it eventually~)