But Thailand is without a doubt one of the more fascinating places I’ve ever visited. From the commercialized seediness of Patpong and the filth, congestion and poverty of much of the city to the gleam of modern skyscrapers, bustling street markets, and the lush beauty of the countryside, Thailand is a scene.
Six months after returning from the country, I was spawled on the couch in my college apartment watching CNN. There was Bangkok.
Specifically, there was the lobby of one of the hotels I had been in six months earlier being used as a makeshift triage ward following some civil unrest. Where I had sat eating duck and rice, victims of the skirmishes were sprawled, writhing on the floor.
When the massive tsunami hit several years ago, much of the visuals focused on Phuket, a small island off the coast of Thailand.
I watched the shaky camera footage of destruction and thought of the many evening I’d sat with friends at the Babylon Cafe on a street near those same beaches, devouring the finest pizza we had encountered on our journey.
In recent weeks (days and hours), there has been an escalation in the country’s latest civil unrest, a state of emergency that has existed for some time and that I’ve only followed casually.
The plot, so much as I’ve followed it, is hardly original – a clash between the working class and poor seeking justice from a government which they believe to be corrupt and indifferent.
I think of the Thai king and I think of sunglasses.
No one sets out to intentionally lose a pair of sunglasses, but, rather, it is simply an immutable law of the universe that each day from the time you purchase new shades is merely one day closer to the day when you will reach for them and they will not be there.
At least in the case of a pair of round, mirrored sunglasses I once had, I managed to lose them in a locale far more exotic than usual – a movie theater in Bangkok.
Two friends and I had opted to escape the unremitting heat and the suffocating combination of humidity and diesel fumes of Bangkok in July. We found a theater near our hotel that was showing Lethal Weapon II in English.
We sat in the darkness with a half dozen or so locals, sheltering ourselves from the blistering mid-afternoon sun and the remnants of the previous night’s hangovers. The movie could have been Karate Kid III and we would have been grateful.
(so starved were we for movies that summer, the three of us had checked out that flick weeks earlier and I had proclaimed Ralph Macchio’s performance to be Oscar-worthy)
There might have been commercials before Lethal Weapon II rolled. That innovation hadn’t really hit the states, yet, but we had exerienced it in Singapore.
There was a new twist, though.
Resting comfortably in the cool, awaiting Gibson and Glover, we watched the pre-movie fare play out when black and white news scenes suddenly flickered on the screen and the locals rose as though pulled by images.
Some stirring music began to blare from the speakers and we did as the small crowd and stood. I heard my sunglasses hit the tile floor with a clink, falling out of the loose pockets of my cargo shorts as I’d risen.
The screen filled with footage of the monarchy.
There’s something almost more oppressive about late-afternoon sun than that of mid-afternoon. As we stepped out of the theater and the racket of the Bangkok street, the sun sat at an angle that was unavoidable through the haze.
I shielded my eyes, reached into my pocket, and remembered that I had not been able to find my sunglasses before the movie had started and forgotten to look after it had ended.
The king owes me a pair of sunglasses, but I suspect that he has far more serious matters to ponder.
(and, given the precarious state of his country, he’d probably agree that it might be good to be king, but it has to be better to be Tom Petty)
Here is a quartet of songs that I associate with that trek through Thailand…
The Cure – Disintegration
The Cure had been gaining momentum in the States for several years and their previous few albums by the time Disintegration arrived in early summer of ’89. Fascination Street had been a smash before I’d headed to Asia and Lovesong was even bigger during my time over there.
Queen – I Want It All
from The Miracle
Unlike The Cure, Queen had been steadily losing momentum in the States during the ’80s despite retaining a massive audience in the rest of the world. The Miracle would hardly rank among their finest efforts. I was disappointed when I snagged a copy of it from a street vendor in Bangkok.
I was disappointed because I had heard I Want It All before I’d left the States and it was an intriguing teaser for the album, full of bravado and showcasing Brian May’s guitar heroics along with a simple, anthemic chorus that immediately lodged in the brain.
Aside from I Want It All, though, The Miracle wasn’t very memorable.
Big Audio Dynamite – Contact
from Megatop Phoenix
Big Audio Dynamite was also a band losing steam by the time Megatop Phoenix arrived. Maybe I was over the initial charm of Mick Jones’ post-Clash outfit or maybe I simply didn’t find the songs quite as worthwhile.
But Contact has always been one of my favorite BAD tracks. There’s just something about the positivity of the song that makes me feel better about everything when I hear it.
Transvision Vamp – Baby I Don’t Care
And then there was Transvision Vamp, fronted by lead singer Wendy James who was seemingly on the cover of every music magazine from the UK during the summer of ’89. Velveteen was the group’s second album which made little impact in the US but had a string of hits elsewhere.
I dug Baby I Don’t Care. It was lightweight but frothy, a New Wave-tinged bit of dance-rock that I hadn’t listened to in years but is now stuck in my head after one play.