The adventures of an accidental musical ambassador.
In 1989, Rea, a guitarist whose musical predilections lean in the direction of experimental rock and contemporary jazz, joined his fiancÃ©e, a scholar in China, in the city of Chengdu. His thoroughly engaging chronicle takes readers from his first hour in the country, when a taxi driver backed over his guitar, through his almost five years living and traveling in China and Taiwan. The author originally thought he would put his musical career on hold while teaching English, but he eventually played before appreciative audiences, sometimes collaborating with local musicians and later staging concerts with musicians he recruited from Seattle. The narrative never becomes self-serving or self-congratulatory, even though Rea portrays himself as always arriving one step ahead of a trend. Even his move to Seattle, from his home in Utica, N.Y., took place just before Seattle became a hotbed of musical creativity. In early-1990s China, he was an oddity, though since that time the country has hosted tours by megastars such as the Rolling Stones and, to Rea’s dismay, Britney Spears. Beyond the chronicle of his musical exploits, the author expresses considerable appreciation for a seemingly inscrutable culture, even as he describes the Chinese government’s infamous crackdown on protesters in 1989. Thanks to his constant curiosity and a refusal to lapse into prejudice, Rea found doors opening for him. â€œ[O]ne should always be careful not to judge one culture by the standards of another,” he says, and this principle guided him throughout his sojourns. He pays tribute to local musicians, though he observes that people on the mainland, no doubt because of relative material deprivation, seem to be more receptive to challenging music than those in Taiwan. Throughout, Rea employs an agreeably self-deprecating tone and exhibits a musician’s ear for euphony and rhythm.
Vivid and informative, expressing appreciation grounded in experience.