Tuesday 12 September 2006

As Autumn Begins, Vietnam Turns Sorrowful…

“As autumn begins, Vietnam turns sorrowful, darling, with purple clouds rolling high while love feels low…”. These lyrics, coming from a melancholy ballad by Lam Phương, “Lonely Love”, always stir in me a feeling of sadness.

You don’t need to be a sentimental listener to catch the meaning hidden inside the words, “as autumn begins, Vietnam turns sorrowful.” Such, I guess, is the expression of a deep sadness within the songwriter’s heart. Lam Phương, a songwriter from “the other side of the front-line”, was famous in the 1960s-southern Vietnam for many of his classic ballads, among them are “Sad City”, “Lonely Love”, “Dream”, “Decline of Day”, etc. As Vietnam was unified in 1975, Lam Phương, as did many other southerners, escaped to the USA never to return. So Vietnam lost a talented songwriter, and the songwriter himself lost his motherland forever.

Undoubtedly, then, songs written by Lam Phương are filled with regrets, sorrows, and, sometimes, resentment towards his once-motherland. Even a romantic song like “Lonely Love”, the splendid ballad touching the heart of millions of Vietnamese audiences from generation to generation, holds untold feelings:

“The more I look at you, the more I love you darling, forever,
though our romantic memories have now fallen into oblivion.
As autumn begins, Vietnam turns sorrowful, darling,
with purple clouds rolling high and love feels low.

When we were in love,
I did not know our love held lies
So that we would leave
and you’d weep for a lost life in this foreign land…”

Hidden inside the romance is the loss and pain of a generation, and of a nation. I am not sure whether or not autumn, the birth month of Vietnam, is associated by Lam Phương with this loss and pain, but I feel the answer would be yes.

I have no idea about what Lam Phương really thought, and I do not share his melancholy. Yet still the song stirs in me a feeling of sadness. When, I wonder when, this land of Vietnam is unified in reality, meaning a state of unification not just physical but also mental. When will Vietnam get really unseparated, even in the field of music, literature, or arts? When, so that we could freely sing out these beautiful songs without feeling just a touch of resentment? without trying to figure out what the songwriter meant? without fearing censorship? When will the pain finally be eased?