I plan to write a novel. I think I’ve gotten started on outlining it. But that’s kind of vague and weird to say. A novel is a body of writing, and if you’re going to write a novel then you have to get started on the body of writing. Technically my vomits so far are already several novels’ worth of text, so I know that I can do the “getting out the text” bit. I’m suffering from a bit of performance anxiety, feeling like whatever I write is probably not going to be good enough. But I know intellectually that that is always going to be true. You gotta go to war with the army you got, not the one you wish you had. So I think from this point onwards I’m going to start using my vomits to write snippets of what may or may not be from my novel. Here goes.
Let’s use this vomit to talk out loud about what the book is about, generally. I didn’t start with the intention of writing a “local music novel”. Rather, I figured – if you’re going to write a novel, it should be about some conflict, some struggle. What is a conflict that I know, that would take a novel to answer, and that I would find interesting and compelling? And the thing that came to mind was – probably the central question for a lot of work, but whatever – how do you make a difficult decision with imperfect information? And what’s an example of that difficult decision? Well, you’re a young person, and you want to know how you should be allocating your time and energy. How do you decide whether or not to… what? You’re told to study, but what if you don’t want to? What if you don’t feel like it? What do you want to do instead? Pursue something that you’re excited about. What are you excited about? Becoming a rock star. I remember what that felt like. I relate to it. And so I want to write a little story about a boy who wanted to be a rock star. (This feels like deja vu, probably because I’ve explained it to a few different people now, and I think I actually wrote a vomit about it a while ago. But let’s just keep going.)
So our boy John wants to be a rockstar, in sunny Singapore. What does it mean to want to be a rockstar? What are his real motivations, beyond the physical? Physically, yeah, he wants to get on stage. He wants to write songs and hear thousands of people sing it back to him. He wants to clap his hands and have thousands of people clap back. That’s obviously something that feels good. But not everybody wants to be a rockstar. What’s the difference between people who do and people who don’t? I think what John really wants is to feel accepted, loved, for who he is. He’s always felt uncomfortable and suspicious at the idea of being successful according to what other people want. And of course, he grew up listening to rock&roll. His room is covered in posters of Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses and Metallica and all of those things. Those guys seemed like heroes to him. I’m not sure he realised just how dysfunctional and messed up some of those guys were. Or that there are so many bands that try and fail. That the default outcome for bands, in fact, is failure. For every successful band you can think of, there are probably tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of failures. But what does failure mean? What does success mean? Surely in his heart of hearts John knows that it’s not actually likely that he’s going to be a rock&roll star. Rock music in general isn’t something that people appreciate very much any more. People are all about DJs and dance music now. But he doesn’t really care. He also maybe hasn’t really thought about it. At some point he watched some other band perform live, and he thought, “Wow, that’s what I want to be doing.” Those guys over there, they are _alive_, in a country where so much seems so stale and sterile and all those things that the angmohs write about us that we get defensive about.
So John wants to learn to play music, and he wants to join a band. So first he needs to get a guitar. Should he get an acoustic guitar, or an electric guitar? He really wants to play the electric, because that’s what rockstars play. But you’ll look like an idiot carrying an electric guitar around. And you can’t serenade a girl with an electric guitar, it’s practically inaudible without amplification. So I guess John will get an acoustic guitar first. The first time he goes jamming will be the first time he tries an electric guitar. He will be impressed by how badass it sounds. But also he’ll struggle to get it to sound right. He won’t quite know how to mute the strings, what palm-muting is. He doesn’t know what all the knobs do, what the pickups are. It’s all so complicated. But he’ll… pick it up.
For John to go jamming, he has to have friends to jam with. This is where we introduce some other characters. I know I want Aurora, who’s this attractive female singer-songwriter who’s just so cool and elusive and maybe he’ll have a crush on her. Is that too straightforward? Fuck it, let’s just get it all out first. John needs to have friends to jam with. What sort of friends are they going to be? They should each have a different musical background. Someone who plays music for church. A malay dude who’s into metal. Yeah it’s cliche, I’m going with cliches for now. They can be self-aware about it. “Yah, I’m a mat, I like metal and marlboro, why, you got problem ah”