Feature photo courtesy of @30secondstomars
I sat barefoot, cross-legged on an old worn-out carpet, surrounded by dusty bric a brac, transfixed by the pink mohawk man on TV.
For me, being a kid in Singapore meant studying hard, doing well in school, and making my parents happy. Days were spent in classrooms with thirty other black-haired heads buried in books, or under the tropical sun playing freeze tag until the bell rang (and always too soon.) Nights were spent doing homework beneath the harsh glow of my desk lamp before staring at the darkness above my bed, daydreaming of faraway places.
Don’t get me wrong -- I wasn’t miserable or isolated, or cut off from the world. One of my hobbies was listening to music; I knew lots of music, and I loved it all. On the car ride to school I’d beg my dad to put on the radio station, where they played Taylor Swift, Fall Out Boy, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake… my friends and I would sing along to them while waiting for our teacher to arrive. Music was something I enjoyed, but I felt like there was something I just wasn’t getting. As a child of the Internet I always saw people online talking about music that changed them, music that changed their perspective on life, or even saved it.
Why didn’t I feel the same emotional connection to the music I listened to? Something inside me wanted so badly for the music to touch me, to move me, but nothing ever happened. Maybe I hadn’t experienced enough in life to make the lyrics relatable. Maybe I was too young to understand what it meant to be moved by art. Curse being a child, I thought. Maybe my life was too boring; all I did was study. Or maybe I was just listening to the wrong things? I mean, not to hate on Taio Cruz, but ‘Dynamite’ was on repeat a thousand times a day on local radio and I’m sure that couldn’t have been healthy for my growing brain.
The last place I expected for music to grab me, shake me, and fill my chest with overwhelming emotion was in my grandparents’ small flat in Southeast Singapore.
When I was 12, my grandmother passed away, and I had no idea how to deal with it. She’d been a constant presence in my life, watching over me when I was a baby, indulging in my awful drawings when I was a little girl, and as both of us got older, I suppose she wasn’t sure what I’d like, so she often gifted me with odd knock-off Barbie dolls: the only dolls she could find and afford. I was too old to play with dolls by then, but I never told her that.
I didn’t shed a tear when she died, and I was immensely frustrated that I didn’t know why. Shock: perhaps. Denial: possibly. Saw this coming because she’d been sick for a while: the ugly truth. Her death confused me. I was sad, but at the same time instantly accepting of it. It was a weird and uncomfortable place to be in, and I didn’t know how to express any of this to anyone.
Soon after my grandmother died, I was enlisted by my parents to help clean out her and my grandfather’s flat. He was moving in with us, because there was no way he was living there all by himself with all the memories of her folding in on him like the insides of a cardboard box. I never saw him cry, but he shuffled around like he had no strength left.
As I sat in the living room of their flat, sorting out dusty boxes of old photo albums, birthday cards I’d written to them since I was four, and assorted cat-themed trinkets, I felt lost. I think my childlike mind was just unable to process that someone I knew had left the world forever, and there I was, holding her things in my hands, putting them here and there and all over the place without her permission.
My father must’ve sensed my discomfort, because he switched on the TV and put on MTV, knowing that music would probably make me feel better, somehow. The programme showing right then was ‘Rock Hour,’ or something like that. Bands like Green Day and Boys Like Girls began playing, and I hummed along to the tunes I knew as I continued to sift through my grandparents’ knick-knacks.
Then, an unfamiliar song started to play. Soaring guitar chords, torrential drums and the most enthralling vocals I’d ever heard ran rampant through the room, and I watched, hypnotized, as a man with a pink mohawk stood before a crowd of thousands and thousands of people, every single one of them jumping, pumping their fists and screaming in unison. I saw what it meant to be moved by music, in every sense of the word. “No, I’m not saying I’m sorry/One day, maybe we’ll meet again”, went the chorus, and suddenly I felt something unexplainable wash over me.
Even now, I can’t fully comprehend or describe what I felt, or why I felt that way, but for whatever reason, that song became a thing that I saw float through the air and into my body. It was like I was being lifted ten feet off the ground, with nothing but the music carrying me. It buzzed through me, wrapping itself around me, forcing my eyes open to see things that I never had before. And, to my surprise, it managed to grasp my hands tightly and tell me that things were okay, and would continue to be okay.
‘Closer to the Edge’ by 30 Seconds to Mars was my proper introduction not only to rock music, but to the sheer power of music as a whole. I truly can’t articulate in words the emotions that the song enveloped me with that Sunday afternoon, but in that moment, it was exactly what I needed.
I gazed down at a photo I was holding, a really old one of my grandmother and some family friends. I looked at it and realized that it was okay that I didn’t cry, that I didn’t know the “right” way to deal with her passing. All I could do was spend the rest of my life doing good by her, making her proud, and, if the universe was kind enough, one day, maybe we’ll meet again and I can tell her everything -- including how I’d sorted her things under the watchful jubilance of a pink mohawked man.