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Book Review

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Book Review: Thailand Confidential

by Lang Reid

Another anthology this week. Thailand Confidential (ISBN 0-7946-0093-X, Periplus Editions (HK) and printed in Singapore this year) is the work of (now) Thailand resident Jerry Hopkins. This being the case, it saddened me a little that an author as well known as Hopkins, with more than 30 books to his credit, has his book on Thailand published elsewhere. But perhaps that is me becoming a little parochial.

Each story is self-contained, and each has its own sting in the tail. The highly amusing item regarding the ‘phlad kikh’ or wooden good-luck penis, begins with titillation at the Hog’s Breath bar, then goes through some very in depth research as to its origins, and not what you thought either! He finishes the item writing of one he had seen the size of a man’s thigh mounted between the seats of a Bangkok taxi as a good luck charm. In reply to Hopkins’ question as to how was business, the taxi driver replied that it was terrible!

Hopkins has also managed to touch on subjects such as prostitution without it becoming a smirk behind the hand. He tackles this aspect head on, with no favoritism or judgments. A very refreshing way of looking at an age old subject. He is also not afraid to show that the highly publicized farang sex trade is not the only ‘pay for services rendered’ available in Thailand, and even university undergraduates will indulge in traditional horizontal folk dancing when the need for a new mobile phone is apparent. Something the New Social Order campaign manages not to see.

In one delightful anecdote he describes the awful stench that comes from some Thai food, especially the fermented foods eaten in Isaan. His description goes “the fragrance fills the kitchen like a hyena’s burp, the birds go silent in the neighborhood and geckos fall from my apartment walls.” Some days I can tell that this “pla ra” delicacy has been stealthily brought into my office just by the groans from the farang staff as they enter. Hopkins has my sympathies!

Jerry Hopkins is not afraid to call a spade a spade, and his description of the war on drugs, and his thoughtful dissertation on its history, the people behind it and the truth about the current situation is well worth reading, and I believe that his contention that this knowledge sweeps well over the average Thai person’s field of consciousness is spot on. Mai pen rai.

In another item called “Violence” the author is again not afraid to look critically and report the facts, not the confabulations, as he poses the rhetorical questions as to why a nation reputedly so gentle is actually so violent. He freely admits that his native America is the world’s bully-boy, but does point out that America does not call itself a peace-mongering nation either.

Available in Bookazine for B. 450, it is a delightful and thoughtful book of well crafted true stories of life in Thailand, delivered as only a real story teller can do. Jerry Hopkins is a real story teller with a great eye for reality. A great read. Get it.

Mott's CD Reviews: Eva Cassidy – Imagine

From Mott the Dog
via Ella Crew

5 Stars *****

Obviously Mott the Dog does not know how angels sound like, but he would not be disappointed if angels sounded like Eva Cassidy. Without doubt, she is the female vocalist of our time.

It is one of the cruelest tragedies that Eva Cassidy never lived to enjoy her success. In fact, with Cassidy’s natural shy personality (yet strong character) that kept her from rocketing to superstardom in her short life, she was never sure of her stage presence. She shunned the spotlight till it was nearly too late, or preferred to sing backup vocals or duets as she did on Chuck Brown’s wonderful album ‘The Other Side’, released in 1995, which although is a Brown album, it is the wonderful voice of Eva Cassidy that grabs your attention. Eva Cassidy refused to limit herself to one style, taking on jazz, funk, blues, rock, pop, and folk, all with that ethereal voice, turning each song into something magical.

Eva Cassidy released only one solo album in her lifetime, the wonderful ‘Live at Blues Alley’ (1996). It was recorded in Washington’s most famous blues club after which it was named, and then it only got a local release.

It was one of the cruelest blows that by the end of that year the dreaded cancer had whisked this beautiful girl with the heavenly voice away from us. Fortunately for those of us left here on our very mortal planet, Eva Cassidy left many recordings behind which are now being released to great critical and commercial acclaim internationally. All of Eva Cassidy’s recordings are lovingly managed by the Eva Cassidy estate. So far we had ‘Eva By Heart’ (1998); ‘Songbird’ (1998); ‘Time After Time’ (2000); ‘Imagine’ (2002); and ‘American Tune’ (2003). These albums have sold over three million copies worldwide and still counting.

It has to be remembered that Eva Cassidy did not write songs herself, but was able to take other people’s great skills and twist them into something even greater. At the moment (although I admit it does vary) ‘Imagine’ is my favorite Eva Cassidy collection.

The album opens with a solo version of ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ by Paul Anka (who also wrote ‘My Way’, made famous by Frank Sinatra, Sid Vicious, and then Nigel of the Bastards). This is followed by a version of Little Willie John’s ‘Fever’, not done as Peggy Lee did it in 1958, but as it was originally intended to be when written in 1956, with Eva’s brother joining her, adding violin to Eva’s scratch vocal.

You also get a track that has been salvaged from the Blues Alley sessions ‘You’ve Changed’, and when you hear this, you realize how high the quality of music was on that particular album. Eva Cassidy’s voice sends shivers up and down your spine. She would surely get a nod of approval from the person who first recorded this song, the great Billie Holiday.

Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ gets redefined here, giving the song a whole new lease of life. Eva even gets a little bit country with her true to the roots version of Patti Page’s hit ‘Tennessee Waltz’, which in its days in the 1950’s was one of the first crossover country/pop hits.

To finish the album is one of those “enough to make a grown man cry” moments as Eva Cassidy breaks into an emotional solo version of ‘Danny Boy’. Still, with all these moments of magic, I think the standout track is the title track, a tribute to John Lennon in a touching version of his masterpiece ‘Imagine’. Play this song in any room and in seconds it will reduce people to silence as they listen to Eva Cassidy’s voice caress the air.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore
Who Knows Where The Time Has Gone
You’ve Changed
Still Not Ready
Early Morning Rain
Tennessee Waltz
I Can Only Be Me
Danny Boy

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]