Pink Floyd The Wall: Is there anybody out there?

I am often quizzed as to why I like Pink Floyd so much. My dad thinks it’s all depressing mood music for melancholic reflection (although he reserves a special and more specific hatred for the “funeral dirge” of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, as do I). My wife doesn’t get it (though to be fair, I’ve not exposed her to much Floyd, second-guessing what her reaction would be). The only person close to me who I can say is a real Floyd fan is my nephew, Thomas, who’s 10. My sister likes it and saw them live with me in 1994, but she’s no devotee.

And, in fact, when you dig beneath the surface, most Floyd music is arguably basic, repetitive and rubbish: mostly it’s in 4/4 time, much of it is in the key of E minor, and all of it has very simplistic lyrics, depending on the time period. Post-Syd Barrett and up to and including Dark Side of the Moon, the lyrics were so laughably amateurish that they could have been written by a 15-year-old pseudo-poet in a dark, dank bedroom (in fact, that actually sounds like a Floyd lyric from that era).

Later on, specifically on the follow-up albums Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut, Roger Waters—as the then-principal songwriter having bullied guitarist David Gilmour and keyboard player Rick Wright into perfoming-only roles—became obsessed with exorcising his personal demons using the Floyd as his vehicle.

These demons were namely the loss of his father in World War 2, before he was even born, plus his general misogyny, wars in general, his hatred of the music industry (including performing to large crowds), and even his hatred of actually being in a band. Oh, and not forgetting the extension of the ideas explored on Dark Side: alienation, isolation, madness, paranoia and the fear of death, much of which was informed by the acid-fuelled downward mental spiral of original band leader Syd Barrett.

It’s not laugh-a-minute stuff to be sure. So why the appeal?

For me, I was 16 and obsessed with the prog rock excesses of bands like pre-1975 Genesis and Yes when I first heard Floyd. A friend lent me Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall after he played them on the kitchen stereo in the hotel where we worked.

The impact wasn’t overnight. I didn’t have any sort of epiphany, although they were good-enough albums. But none of the Floyd members was or is a particularly gifted musician, other than perhaps David Gilmour—and even he’s no Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. And being into Genesis and Yes, my teen-idol rock stars absolutely had to be musical geniuses, with their albums featuring 20-minute concept pieces.

But the music grew on me quickly, especially given the marked difference between the two albums, which fascinated me. Dark Side is not all that musically, lyrically or even conceptually ambitious, but as a cohesive piece of work, it’s sublime. Songs like Time, Us and Them, and The Great Gig in the Sky are effortlessly moving and relevant across all generations, and the subtle sound effects, like the musings on violence, madness and death that play softly in the background, all added up to make this one of my favorite albums.

The Wall, however, was a very different beast even though it was released only five years and two albums later. Here was a concept work clearly based on Roger Waters’ and Syd Barrett’s lives and experiences.

It took the themes of Dark Side—madness, isolation, death—and extended them into a bleak narrative that saw a rock star slide from superstardom into an alienated altered state, in which he is part fascist Nazi, part band leader, and full-on whack job. In fact, he’s so far removed from his audience that it’s as if a wall had been erected between him and them. (Of course, in the live shows a physical wall was actually constructed between the band and the audience during the first half of the performance.)

The album yielded a (Christmas) hit in 1979 in the UK—Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)—so I was at least familiar with some of the music. But the more I listened to it, the more it spoke to me on a personal level. It made me weep; it made me angry; it pumped me up with emotion and rage. It still does almost 30 years since I first heard it.

All of which is pretty weird since I had a very normal childhood and teenage years. I wasn’t rebellious, I didn’t have any sort of breakdown or other reason to identify with the album so much. But I am a very sensitive person and have had my fair share of reflective, introspective and depressed moments, and I was and am able to immerse myself totally in the world of The Wall’s protagonist and to completely identify with him and his losing battle with sanity.

Thematically, and in terms of the narrative, it’s brilliant, although musically it’s pretty simple. That said, the raw power of David Gilmour’s guitar work when combined with the most incisive of Roger Waters’ words (which had evolved beyond the studenty waffle of Dark Side’s lyrics by this time) is a combination that’s moodily seductive and very, very powerful, if you’re in a frame of mind that wants to both wallow and scream at the same time.

I still listen to it now a lot, as well as the live version released a few years back, and have seen the movie based entirely on the album many, many times (in fact, the album was conceived as a movie). I’ve seen the grainy 1980 live performance on YouTube as well as Roger Waters’ reimagining of it in his ambitious tours these past few years, and still it has the power to move me to tears. It’s something very personal and hard to put into words. But I thought I’d try in the paragraphs above… Next up: the 1977 Floyd masterpiece Animals…

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Happy anniversary, honey!

The last few years of my life have been full of so much change and turmoil, it’s hard to remember that it was only three years ago that Rebecca and I tied the knot. In between that momentous and overwhelmingly joyous occasion and today, we’ve all but lost my mother to a dreadful brain disorder, lost my grandmother, my sister has battled (and beaten) cancer, we have had to up sticks and move home at very short notice, and, of course, given birth and reared our active, playful, boisterous and definitely full-on 2-year-old son, Rayven.

Today (April 7) marks our third anniversary. And Rebecca will be the first to tell you — and I will be first to admit — that I am generally bad with cards and presents, while Rebecca excels not only at selecting imaginative and appropriate gifts, but also in fashioning the most creative home-made cards possible. She is the consummate planner and most thoughtful partner.

But I do have a gift, I think, and that’s the gift of words, so this is my message to Rebecca on this day; I hope she gets to read it.

First off, I am grateful that she agreed to marry me in the first place. Our engagement wasn’t much of a success because of me: I fluffed the proposal in spite of having a unique engagement gift in the form of my grandmother’s antique ring. What an idiot, and all through lack of planning and bad execution.

Then we had my parents out in December 2011, a trip they barely survived (partly because of AirAsia’s shabby long-haul service) and which involved them attending an Indonesian-style engagement party that must have been overwhelming to them (it was to me). It’s a testament to Rebecca’s organizational skills and their endurance that we all lived to tell the tale after.

Secondly, I have Rebecca – and only Rebecca – to thank for organizing and executing the wedding. Now that I’ve been in Indonesia for some time and seen how things work, or rather how they don’t work much of the time, it’s all the more impressive that she was able to handle everything from selecting the invites to choosing the catering. I recall that I selected some of the music for the after-party and did some food tasting, but generally I was an observer of the Rebecca-as-professional-planner show.

I still don’t know how much it all cost: I daren’t ask. But Rebecca is CFO of our family unit (see how much I rely on her?) and she balanced it all out so that we paid for our reasonably lavish wedding without having to ask anyone to contribute financially. It was a marvellous day, resplendent in sunshine, smiles and love. From the service sheet to the piano melody of “In My Life” by the Beatles (“our” song) that played as she walked down the aisle, it all went like clockwork. And it was all down to Rebecca – even helping with everything from my best man buying a suit in Bali at the last minute to helping my sister and my nephew with their Bali orientation program.

Since that time, I’ve grown to rely on, and love, Rebecca even more than I did then. She always describes herself as unlikeable, but to me, she is more than likeable: she is a wife and mother to two boys. She is a reliable wing-man; an honest confessor; a trusted advisor; and, of course, a valued co-parent. I have to confess that even though I have spent far more time with Rayven than she has, it’s Rebecca’s influence that has driven most of his accomplishments to date, including calling me “daddy.”

When she accepted her current job, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy with the decision, but she has balanced the role of mother and wife with being a communications director with aplomb. And we couldn’t have survived my recent six months of unemployment if she hadn’t been working. She also took the lead on our two trips to the UK, and organizes every trip we make to Bali, plus my Singapore visa trips, and our fantastic trip to the Gili islands a year or so ago.

So without playing down my role too much, you can see how much Rebecca shoulders in our partnership. She thinks I don’t notice, but that’s only because I am not the most demonstrative partner (although I am getting better). I do notice, appreciate and thank her for all she has done and continues to do, from the bottom of my heart.

Honey, I love you with all my being. Thanks for being there for this flawed, imperfect man. Here’s to three years and to many more happy times ahead.

With love, Matthew (and a kiss from Rayven)

Happiest day of my life so far

Happiest day of my life so far, along with the birth of our son

In the family way: birthday boy

Take oxygen, carbon and nitrogen and mix in with them some calcium, phosphorous and potassium, plus a dash of chlorine, sodium, and magnesium. Season with a pinch of iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, iodine, selenium, and fluorine, and fling this proverbial bun mixture into a warm oven for nine months and hey presto, you’ve got a human.

Yep, looking up the chemical composition of a human being on Wikipedia as a dubious lead into a blog post is almost as easy as it was to conceive our son—although it required a lot less effort. And now he’s here.

Three weeks ago this evening, baby Rayven* Matthew Leppard was dragged kicking and screaming from his mother’s belly and into the arms of a green-garbed doctor who then manhandled him under a heat lamp and scraped all the gunk off him. I say dragged from his mother: there seemed to be an awful lot of pushing involved, and none of it from mum.

You see, after 27 hours of labor pains and inducement (induction?) we decided to opt for a C-section, and fortunately so, it turns out: baby Ray was not positioned right and would never have slipped out like a bar of soap. This explains why the inducing (induction?) led to painful contractions on the part of mum, and intense in-belly wriggling on the part of baby. He was being pushed hard and had nowhere to go.

At 2cm dilated. And all for nothing. Such is life... We had it all planned out.

At 2cm dilated. And all for nothing. Such is life… We had it all planned out.

So we clad ourselves in ludicrous hospital clothes and went to the OR (it’s not called operating theater any more, apparently). There, Rebecca was given a local anaesthetic for about 10 minutes and then a general knockout for about 10 more minutes as the docs really got to work on her insides. This part of the proceedings was done on the other side of a cloth wall that stopped Rebecca and (importantly) me from seeing the slicing and dicing that was going on “downstairs.” Seeing Rebecca talking to me and then going cross-eyed and then slipping away into blackout was quite upsetting, and thinking about it again now as I write this leaves me feeling a bit generally anxious.

DO NOT TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE FROM THIS MAN!

DO NOT TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE FROM THIS MAN!

Then the pushing: nurses, doctors, all pushing downwards on Rebecca’s upper abdomen with such violence that it made me very concerned that they’d crack a rib or something. (It was all due to Ray’s weird position.) Still, thanks to Rebecca’s un-squeamish approach to documenting every single aspect of our lives, we have the whole thing on video anyway, except the bit where I cry a little after seeing the baby.

Unlike the horror stories I had read of babies being whipped away from their mums after a C-section, tiny Ray was placed on Rebecca’s breast and encouraged to feed right away, which we somehow muddled through as a threesome. Then he was put into an incubator and taken outside for the family to see, and then off to observation. We next saw him in the wee hours of the morning.

The morning after the night before: a getting-to-know-you session with Ray

The morning after the night before: a getting-to-know-you session with Ray

Surviving amid the throngs of visitors we had to cope with. And when I say we, I mean I. Rebecca copes already.

Surviving amid the throngs of visitors we tried to cope with. And when I say we, I mean I. Rebecca copes adequately already.

A days-old Ray with the first raft of gifts and cards.

A days-old Ray with the first raft of gifts and cards.

And that, as they say, was that. ‘Tis a miracle to be sure. When everything in the universe other than life moves inexorably towards entropy and chaos and randomness, Rebecca and I (well, mostly Rebecca) built, from 46 chromosomes and a lot of food and water, a small human being. A person and a future.

There’s way more to this story to come. I really hope that the story doesn’t end and that it continues with Ray and his brothers and sisters and their own families (my stab at genetic immortality). But that’s the lot for now. I need to get home and help with the breast pumping and the other delights that go with new parenthood. Ah, but when I look into his eyes: yes, all worth it. And when I see Ray and Rebecca sleeping side by side and in the same pose (as I did this very morning), well, my cup runneth over.

COMING NEXT: Survival of the fittest: the first month

*We wanted R and M as the initials: these stand for Rebecca and Matthew and Roger and Mary (my parents) as well as Rebecca’s kind-of-actual surname, Manalu. Ray we already had, since the family on my side has gone through (and is still going through) its fair share of tribulations at the moment. So Ray is a “drop of golden sun,” as the song goes. A raven is also a black bird, and Blackbird by The Beatles is one of a few songs we both adore. It is also the first bird that Noah sent out from the ark, and a bird that is associated with the Tower of London. It has been said since Charles II that if the resident ravens leave the Tower, it will fall into enemy hands. Hence the spelling of Rayven. Oh, and when Rebecca was growing up, one of her nicknames was “Re” and pronounced (you guessed it…) Ray. So there.

Sigh… First-world problems

This morning I found myself suffering from increased anxiety on the way to work (as opposed to my usual background anxiety), because the music compilation CD I had made featured some rather indulgent prog rock excesses. (If you must know, it was Yes’s early-seventies masterpiece Close to the Edge. And yeah, yeah, yeah: I’ve heard all the comments before. Don’t even start.)

The cause of the anxiety? That my Indonesian driver would think I have weird tastes, since the music is somewhat annoying to many (most) people. Twenty-minute symphonic rock masterpieces with complex time signatures, tight harmonies and monophonic Moog synths don’t always span cultural differences I’ve found.

So there I was, worried that my driver will think less of me because of my eclectic tastes. Then the CD started jumping and it also became a battle of wits and wills as to whether I tell him to turn it off, or he tried to move it to the next track, and who’d do which first.

All in all, these trips are quite eventful for me in terms of mentally grappling with in-car entertainment choices, among other things (like do I open the sunroof today?). But this is, of course, what we term a “first world problem.” And it got me thinking about other such issues Rebecca and I regularly encounter in our somewhat cosseted life here in Jakarta.

One example would be my almost continual battle with the staff at our serviced apartment over the number of fresh towels they give us. I need at least two: one for my regular swims in the adjoining huge swimming pool, and one for post-shower, plus a small one for my face.

Most times they leave only one big one, leading me to curse and mutter under my breath about inadequate towelage and how-complicated-can-it-be comments to anyone in earshot (that means Rebecca, who normally filters these sorts of things out).

And the staff always, always leave free soap and shampoo when we don’t need any, since we always take the free amenities at all the five-star hotels we visit. It’s something of a chore to collect up all the freebies and redistribute them to family and friends. Elsewhere in our serviced apartment, a faulty humidifier occasionally means the air in the bedroom is dry and gives us sore throats and sneezes.

There are more. To list them all would be exhaustive (and I’m already drained from having to lift to my mouth the cup of hot tea that the office maid brings to my desk every hour), but they include: really chilly shopping malls as well as over-zealous salespeople with no product knowledge. There’s also the loud housekeeping service every morning; a (free in the room) washing machine that makes annoying beeping noises; and the perennial problem of the fact that our apartment lifts often take a little bit too long to arrive.

Of course, reading the above would make you think we’re a couple of whining ingrates, which we are from time to time, I will freely admit. And though much of it was written with tongue firmly in cheek, all the examples are real in that we’ve both moaned about them (and when I say “both” I mean mostly me).

As to my driver? He supports a large family on a fraction of my salary, and works very long days with a smile and with humility, even through the mind-bending tedium of a lengthy Pink Floyd epic at 5:30pm in gridlocked traffic. I learn a lot from observing him. And more often than not these days, I simply don’t ask him to put the music on to save us both. It’s the kindest thing for both our sakes.

 

My secretary forgot to change my amusing cat calendar date. Now I have to do it myself. Tis a hard life to be sure.

Jack of all, master of one?

It’s often a question people ask, and often I don’t think they want to hear my hours-long explanation and observations. After all, ask me how I am and I will tell you, from my impending alopecia to a stubbed toe to my suspected but never proven blood sugar issue. So here, in a nutshell, is a summary of the various non-editorial jobs I’ve done, and some perspectives about each, looking back in the first instance to me aged 13. And that’s almost 30 years ago. Wow…

Your 5am news call, sir!

My first job was as a paper boy when I was 13. In fact, as soon as I was 13, I started working with the strong encouragement of mum and dad. Being the all-or-nothing person that I tend to be, I took the longest, deepest, darkest, remotest and, yes, rainiest job of all the rounds (it rained on more than anyone else, I rather feel).

This was in Sway, in Hampshire, in the UK (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sway,_Hampshire). This means I was delivering across the vast open and unforgiving hostile steppes (this was my 13-year-old perspective, of course), in a national park, in some areas with no real roads, and many wild horses—most of which seemed as worried to see me as me them at 5am on a Tuesday morning.

Note that during this time, I also delivered a Thursday-afternoon freesheet and did a Sunday morning round (before my kung fu lessons, but that’s another post). Perhaps my love of print came from this? Who’s to say. My dislike of early mornings may well have done so…

When I left school to go to college at 16, as we do in the UK, I had to graduate to a new job. Forcing newspapers through waay-too-small letterboxes with snappy dogs or huge hounds the other side wasn’t cutting it for me any more. So I trod the path that many Sway teenagers had done before me—and I don’t (just) mean to the off-license. One fateful Saturday lunctime at the behest of mum and dad ( and I love them for it), I trudged to the White Rose Hotel (now Sway Manor, http://www.swaymanor.com), then run by the Winchcombe family, or “sir” and “madam” as the senior owners liked to be called. My question at the time: got a job?

It was Peter Cutler (now of http://www.oldfarmhouseinburley.co.uk/) who, when I walked in at about 12pm, said: start tonight. Yikes!

That Saturday night in May 1986, after a busy (120 or so) service, I walked out of there vowing never, EVER to return to the stinking, disgusting pots and pans, the loud and brash attitude of my colleagues, and the endless ribbings I took as the newbie (AND losing my Saturday night freedom). That was 1986. I actually did leave in the very end… but in 2000 (I even worked part-time as a national magazine editor). In between was one of the best and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever done. For 16 years and not one night.

Being the ambitious type that I can be if I try, I ended up as third chef and either to my eternal shame or eternal luck, I graduated to assistant chef. Peter Cutler will always be my head chef, but I was a pretty good number 3. Or number 2 from time to time, and occassionally number 1 on breakfasts. My remit was starters, salads and sweets, and I still remember the recipe for salad beaucaire. Julienne of leeks, bacon, egg, something else… I think (I may need to look it up). They even offered me to stay and become a fully trained chef.

I worked there also to support my time studying biology at university—Portsmouth Polytechnic as was—during breaks, and worked every summer. Once I graduated, I was happy enough going in at 8:30, finishing at 2pm, then starting again at 5:30 then nipping into the bar at 9pm. And cycling home later on, often crashing into rose bushes (always roses, always). I made some of the best friends I have ever had, many of whom remain so in my heart if not on my Facebook page), and learned (and I do mean this seriously) how to think “on the fly” and how to prep a good “mis en place” to prepare and second-guess the service. And I made the best custard my chef had ever tasted. Just the once… Later on, Anne and Paul, the brother and sister team who ran operations, become close confidantes. Well, I did spend one or more nights propping the bar up, as I said.

Of course, this couldn’t go on forever, despite my love for the job—I did, after all, study chemistry, biology and physics at A-level. So when I was offered the job of assistant scientific officer at the UK Ministry of Agriculture’s Horticulture Research International (HRI) at Efford, Lymington, it seemed like I was going to find my life-sciences feet. But a monthly-renewed contract and laughable pay put paid to that. Nonetheless, again, I made some of my closest friends there and, among the roses, the magnolias, the trees and the glasshouse tomatoes, we had so much fun (and mutual suffering). This was in 1994/5. I know as I remember hearing “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls when counting tomatoes in a glass house.

No more flowers…

After a brief interlude during which I obtained a post-grad diploma in environmental management, I returned to HRI briefly, but then saw another opportunity: science graduates needed as editors! Well, I’d always had a passion for reading and writing, and was an avid magazine collector. So again, I jumped in and got great hands-on education in the dark arts of sub-editing.

Onto editorial…

This was for science journals, not magazines, mind. Not for Nature, or for New Scientist of whatever. No, this was for Computers and Structures, Applied Mechanics, Theoretical Physics and the like. Here, grammar was the rule of law and I learned to wield it. I’m still sure many of my colleagues who went to journalism school have NO IDEA what a “comma splice is” or could not talk about conjunctions and coordinate clauses.

That lasted for a year or so, but when I saw an ad looking for a staff writer for magazines about the Internet, I jumped. After all, ad my dad’s behest, I had taken a Higher National Diploma in graphic design and did work experience at my dad;s ad firm and elsewhere…He must have seen the potential of a cynical writer with an eye for cover design.. (Charlie Brooker: I was only a few months behind you…)

You see, I did fancy myself as a writer and I had always wanted to try the Internet, so in the first few weeks, I wrote 300-odd website reviews. And the rest is editorial history…

Matthew Beech Leppard

Matt is a 41-year-old British graduate, who’s been based in Asia for more than 11 years, and was editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia (TLSEA) when all this started. Prior to this position, he spent more than 15 years working in an editorial capacity in various jobs ranging from department head with the Bangkok Post newspaper to editor/production manager for an online-based company and, even further back, editing such delights as the Journal of Applied Microbiology. Today, he is the Chief Operating Officer and Publishing Director of Mobiliari Media Group, overseeing a number of publications such as Indonesia Tatler, Millionaire Asia, Cosmetic Surgery & Beauty, and Forbes Indonesia.

Passionate about music and movies, Matt is totally obsessed with all things Pink Floyd, from their early 60s incarnation as a happy-go-lucky whimsical pop band to their later doom-mongerly rantings on lunacy and alienation. But he will, when prompted, freely confess to also loving Abba and other frothy pop. Even The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams. Oh yes.

Matt counts Once Upon a Time in America, Withnail & I and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas among his favorite movies, though he also loves comedy. 30 Rock is one of his favorite shows, and he regards Liz Lemon as one of his mentors, even though she’s fictional.

A lifelong insomniac, Matt is always on the lookout for a remedy or solution that is not dangerous, addictive or which causes the munchies…