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I have a band in Beijing, Woodie Alan. The moniker is a joke, reflecting my name and that of my Chinese partner, Woodie Wu, but the group is not. In fact, much to my surprise, I am fronting a pretty happening little band.

I never could have pulled this off back home. I owe my success as a gigging musician, however far it goes, to being an expat. Moving here and re-establishing my identity has allowed me to redefine myself, casting off old insecurities and pursuing a reality I always envisioned but didn't quite know how to achieve. In this, I am not alone.

Many people find that expat life allows them to liberate themselves from the accumulated reputation and history that can come to define you. Everyone plays an established role with his or her families and old friends, and moving somewhere new gives you an opportunity to reboot. Expats may also be more willing to give something new a try; after all if you've traded Milwaukee for Beijing, why not try your hand at fronting a band, or running a bar, or riding a motorcycle?

Woodie Alan plays regularly at The Stone Boat, inside Ritan Park, within one of the city's Embassy districts. The little bar is actually a stone boat and sits on a lake with a small stage extending over the water and tables spread along the banks, a surprisingly serene, pastoral setting right in the middle of downtown Beijing.

American expat Jonathan Ansfield and his wife run the Stone Boat. Jonathan is a journalist and blogger, contributing to Newsweek and other publications and Web sites. Now he is also a bar proprietor and a small-scale Beijing music impresario, booking performers for free shows three nights a week during the warmer months.

'It's an out of body experience -- certainly nothing I ever did or would have done had I stayed in America,' he says. 'I've always loved music and spent a lot of time going to clubs and seeing bands in college, but I can't see how I ever would have ended up booking bands had I stayed in the U.S. But I've been into the Beijing music scene since I got here [over 10 years ago] so it's something I really enjoy.'

It's manifestly easier to realize some goals here than it would be in the U.S. American Jonathan Anderson, now an analyst for the investment bank UBS, fronted blues bands in Moscow in the early '90s and in Beijing at the end of that decade. In this city he co-founded the Rhythm Dogs with some of the city's finest musicians, including key members of the Cui Jian Band, China's first significant rockers.

'I'm a mediocre harmonica player and a worse guitarist but I had my pick of incredible musicians,' says Mr. Anderson. 'With some vision, drive and hard work, anything was possible. It was like living out a fantasy. The quality of the guys I played with was head and shoulders above what I could have rated at home. It was like walking in and gigging with Led Zeppelin and that just doesn't happen in a more developed market.'

Kaiser Kuo has a similar story. He moved to Beijing in 1988, formed the hard rock band Tang Dynasty in 1989, put out an album in 1990 and was touring all over the country by 1991. After returning to the University of Arizona to pursue a doctorate in East Asian Studies, Mr. Kuo found himself daydreaming about Chinese rock stardom and eventually quit school to return to Beijing. He rejoined Tang Dynasty and was soon performing in 35,000-seat stadiums. Now overseeing digital strategy for Ogilvy and Mather's Beijing office, Mr. Kuo still performs regularly with his band Chunqiu.

'I can sit in a guitar store in the U.S. and hear 10 guys who smoke me in just an hour but here I am,' says Mr. Kuo. 'For me, this could only have happened in China.'

My story fits the same pattern. I met Woodie when he repaired a guitar for me. He heard I was a longtime editor for Guitar World magazine and became very interested in chatting, which quickly led to jamming together; the same news would have induced a shrug from a good guitar repairman back in the states. Saxophonist Dave Loevinger, who is the U.S. Treasury Department representative in Beijing, played for years with the great Washington, D.C., party band Jimi Smooth and Hittime. Had we met at home, it's unlikely he would have been interested in forming a band, but newly relocated to Beijing, he was excited to find a musical outlet.

When a nearby restaurant asked me to host an open mic, the three of us got together, with an initial repertoire consisting of whatever I could sing without cringing. We've come a long way since then, thanks largely to my growing confidence -- the other guys were already good. We have a unique sound, with most of the solos coming from Dave's soulful sax and Woodie's mournful lap steel guitar, an unusual instrument which figures prominently in American country and blues music. I have always loved slide guitar, but it never occurred to me that my first chance to play with a great lap steel player would come in Beijing, with an amiable Chinese guy bearing a tattoo of Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite blues guitarists.

We played with a couple of different bassists and drummers before settling on the young, easygoing Chinese pros who play with Woodie in another band as well. Since adding them, we've become more and more of a real band. In two weeks we are headlining one of Beijing's top rock clubs, and we're talking to an agent about booking some out-of-town festivals.

Pretty soon, we may even live up to the bragging motto I made up for our posters and Web site: 'Beijing's premier blues and jam band.'

Though it feels like the most natural thing in the world, our mix of Chinese and expat musicians is unusual; most bands around here feature one or the other. In fact, Woodie used to play regularly with most of the current members of a popular band, but when they formed this group they made it clear that they felt they could get better gigs if they had no Chinese members.

It's their loss; not only are they missing out on a great guitarist but also on moments of unforced cultural exchange that can be hard to come by. I have gained a new understanding of the lyrics of songs I've sung for years by explaining their meaning to my band mates, two of whom speak no English. And one of the unanticipated benefits of the band has been an opportunity to get a little deeper into local life, sharing meals, beers and downtime with my new Chinese friends and their wives, girlfriends, cousins and buddies.

Dave wants us to change our name and it's true that the humor doesn't really translate to a Chinese audience, but they view it as a straight-forward description: the Woodie and Alan band. It is also a reminder of our humble beginnings. Something can be funny without being a joke, and this band will never reach the point where I don't see the humor in it.

我在北京组建了一支乐队,名为Woodie Alan。这个名字是个玩笑(译者注:Woodie Alan与美国知名电影导演伍迪•艾伦(Woody Allen)发音相同。),是我跟我的中国搭档Woodie Wu的名字组合,但我们的乐队可不是玩笑。事实上,我所领衔的是一支很不错的即兴小乐队,这一点连我自己也感到惊讶。

要是在美国,我绝不可能做到这一点。我将自己能成为一名乐手──不管能做到什么地步──归功于背井离乡。移居此地、重新建立自己身份的过程让我重新认识了自己,摆脱了以前的不安全感,追求我一直想像但并不知道该如何实现的生活。在这点上,并非只有我一个人是如此。

许多人发现海外生活能够把自己从原先的名声和过往中解脱出来,那些东西可能会束缚你。每个人在自己的家庭和老朋友中间都扮演着固定的角色,而移居新地可以让你有机会过新的生活。移居外国的人也会更愿意尝试新事物;毕竟如果你都从密尔沃基搬到了北京,那干嘛不试试去当个乐队领唱,或是开间酒吧,抑或骑骑摩托车?

Woodie Alan乐队定期在北京使馆区日坛公园内的“石舫”酒吧(The Stone Boat)演出。这个小酒吧其实就是一条石舫,位于湖中,小小的舞台伸展到水面上,桌子则散布在岸边。地处北京市区中心地带,这里却是一幅难得的幽静田园风光。

经营石舫酒吧的是来自美国的乔纳森•安斯菲尔德(Jonathan Ansfield )和他的妻子。乔纳森是新闻记者和博客作者,为《新闻周刊》(Newsweek)及其他出版物和网站撰稿。现在他又经营酒吧,同时还是一位小型音乐制作人。天气暖和的时候,他每周预约表演者进行三个晚上的免费演出。

“这真是意想不到的经历──在美国,我从来没有也绝对不会做这样的事,”乔纳森说。“我一直爱好音乐,大学时经常去酒吧、看乐队表演,但如果我留在美国,绝不会有自己去预约乐队的一天。可自从我(十多年前)来到这里,我就进入了北京的音乐圈,我真的很开心。”

在这里显然比在美国更容易实现某些目标。美国人乔纳森•安德森(Jonathan Anderson)现在是瑞士银行(UBS)的分析师,上世纪90年代早期和晚期他分别在莫斯科和北京担任乐队领唱。在北京,他与几位才华出众的音乐人共同组建了“节奏之犬”(Rhythm Dogs)乐队,其中包括中国首批出色的摇滚乐手──崔健乐队中的主力成员。

“我只是个马马虎虎的口琴演奏者和不怎么样的吉他手,但我挑选出了一群令人赞叹的音乐人,”安德森说。“只要有眼力、有干劲并付出努力,就没有不可能的事。这一切就好像梦想成真。我的这些搭档,他们的演奏水平远远超出我在美国时的想像。简直就像轻轻松松地与齐柏林飞艇(Led Zeppelin)一起演奏,这即便是在音乐发展更为成熟的地方,也不是件容易的事。”

郭怡广也有类似的经历。他1988年来到北京,次年参与成立了“唐朝”乐队,并于1990年发行了专辑,之后到1991年期间都在全国巡回演出。当郭怡广回到亚利桑那大学(University of Arizona)攻读东亚研究专业的博士学位后,他感到自己仍然朝思暮想着中国的摇滚乐同伴们,于是退学回到北京重新加入唐朝,不久后他就和乐队在一座能容纳3.5万名观众的大型体育场登台演出了。郭怡广现担任奥美集团(Ogilvy and Mather)驻北京的数字战略总监,并且现在仍然定期参加他组建的“春秋”乐队演出。

郭怡广称:“在美国一个吉他店里,一小时内能听到10个人提起我的名字,但我还是回到了中国;只有在中国才能成就我的今天。”

我的经历也很相似。我与Woodie是在他为我修理吉他时相识的。他听说我是《吉他世界》(Guitar World)的资深编辑,于是就饶有兴趣地与我攀谈起来,而且我俩很快就打成了一片。而如果在美国,一位好的吉他修理师在知道我是谁后恐怕只会耸耸肩。美国财政部驻华代表洛文杰(Dave Loevinger)是位萨克斯演奏家,他是华盛顿特区的著名老牌乐队Jimi Smooth & Hittime的元老。假设我俩是在美国相识,他是不大可能有意和我组建一支乐队的,但由于他最近刚被派驻到了北京,他很高兴能找到音乐上的知音。

后来附近一家餐馆邀请我主持一次歌会,我们三人就一起在这次“处女秀”中大大方方地唱了所有会唱的歌。在此之后我们取得了很大的进步,这主要是因为我的信心越来越足,而其他人本身就非常优秀。我们为观众营造了独一无二的音乐氛围,独奏部分主要由洛文杰深情款款的萨克斯和Woodie委婉忧伤的钢棒吉他演奏组成。钢棒吉他是一种非同寻常的乐器,在美国乡村乐和蓝调音乐中的地位举足轻重。滑音吉他一直是我的最爱,不过我从未想过自己与一位伟大钢棒吉他演奏家的首次合作竟然是在北京,同台的还有一位和蔼可亲的中国小伙子,他身上纹着史提夫•瑞旺(Stevie Ray Vaughan)的刺青,而瑞旺正是我最喜欢的一位蓝调吉他演奏家。

我们先后与好几位贝斯手和鼓手搭档过,最后定下来的是两位随和的中国专业乐手,他们还与Woodie合作为其他一些乐队演奏。随着新成员的加入,我们越来越像一支真正的乐队了。两周后,我们将在北京最火的一家摇滚俱乐部里担纲主演,而且现在我们正同一家经纪公司预约有关参加外地音乐节演出的事宜。

不久之后,我们可能真的能实现我在海报和网站上放出的豪言壮语:“北京一流的蓝调和爵士乐队”。

虽然看似水到渠成,但像我们这样由中国人和老外“混搭”的乐队却不多见。我们周围绝大多数乐队要么是清一色国人,要么是百分之百老外。实际上Woodie过去曾和某支流行乐队的多数成员有过定期合作,但当后者成立这支乐队时,他们明确表示如果没有中国人在内乐队会磨合得更好。

对那些人来说这绝对是个损失,他们不但错过了一位优秀的吉他手,也与那种纯粹自然状态下的文化交流失之交臂,而这种机会实在是可遇不可求。以一首我之前已经哼唱多年的抒情歌曲为例,在我向队友们解释这首歌曲的意思时,我对歌词又有了新的领悟。组建这支乐队还有一个原来意想不到的好处,那就是我们可以更深入地了解中国人的生活,我与这些新朋友,还有他们的妻子、女友及朋友兄弟们一起吃饭喝酒,共享快乐时光。

洛文杰建议我们把乐队的名字改一改;中国本地听众的确是无法真正理解其中的幽默,不过他们觉得“伍迪和艾伦乐队”相当直白:就是伍迪和艾伦的乐队呗。这个名字也时刻提醒我们,这支乐队一开始是多么不起眼。有些东西即使不用玩笑的方式也会让人觉得开心,而这支乐队会永远带给我快乐。
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