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Travel Story - Soundtrack of my life

The search for music for the soul on the road

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Nine years ago, I met a Canadian guy at the Auckland airport. I ran into him later in the bar at the hostel. He was renting a camper with a Norwegian guy and a British guy. They invited me along. We spent two weeks cruising north of Auckland. It was incredible. Whenever I hear Killing Me Softly or The Macarena, I am transported to that two weeks, with the nocturnal forays to Hot Water Beach, the immaculate Cape Reinga sunset, where the Pacific meets the Tasman and to scaling a very steep cliff, possessed by the rigors of James Bond films past.

Feeling Groovy finds me at Big Sur on a road trip with a girlfriend. Bittersweet Symphony flies me to Taipei, Taiwan, where I spent some of my finest times. Gloria Estevan’s Latin CD sees me salsa-ing with some Mexican actors I worked with in Toronto, Quebec, Miami, Lyon and Cuernavaca. Taj Mahal’s Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes sends me glassy-eyed with joy to Byron Bay, and Leaving on a Jet Plane reveals a tearful me, pining for a boy while I was in Indonesia.

Often the songs related to a country have little to do with the self-same country. They also often have little to do with personal taste. These signature rhythms carry us into our respective pasts. They may have just been on a lot, in bars, hostels, clubs, campers…. Sometimes the songs were playing loud when something generally unprintable was happening.

My most recent trip was back to New Zealand, Australia and then on to Thailand. It was in Chiang Mai where I encountered the supplement of the soundtrack of my life.

There was a mixed CD that someone had sent to Mim, the eminent laughing Spicy House owner and resident. We played this CD a lot, along with The Gotan project. The mixed CD had Spearhead, some Paul Simon, Beatles, Tori Amos, and that guy with the really deep voice, Crash Test and other good stuff. The soundtrack for Chiang Mai, after a couple of weeks of the same collection of tunes was nearly fixed. But then Charmain turned up. She had worked with a girlfriend of mine in Vietnam. She’s British. Her accent is animated and lovely and quite thick. Charmain’s music stirred it all up.

When the TV addicts left the room, she leapt to the set, shut it off, threw on some random CD and quickly sat down. It started in English and then poured itself into a delicious French and then it careened into funky Spanish. The styles were varied, the beats contagious. I was in love. I couldn’t stop moving, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I knew I would never tire of this CD. I wanted to listen to this over and over, revelling in the harmonic fantastic womb of this treasure. Once again, I had succeeded in blocking out the more than once that I bought a CD/tape/LP over the years and played it to death. My brain neglected to remind me that I had only recently begun to re-appreciate Belinda Carlisle. I had played her to death in Grade Six.

Time passed, and Mandy, Sarah and Charmain and I left Spicy House on the night train to Bangkok. I had asked Mandy to remind me to ask Charmain what the name of the CD was, but the train’s Thai whiskey did not suit her well that night. Mandy redecorated her bed in a liquid kaleidoscope the following morning, so she forgot to remind me.

We had already said our goodbyes when I remembered. I called after Charmain as she was walking away with her backpack full of books. "What is the name of that…"

"What?" she called. Bangkok is pretty loud pretty much all the time.

"The CD"

"The CD?"

"Yeah."

She smiled, and bellowed "Mahnoochowww."

I nodded and Mandy and I went on our way.

We spent a night in Bangkok while Mandy’s stomach settled and then set off for Koh Samet for a few days. Then she returned to her corner of the planet. I was alone in Bangkok for a day and a half. I was determined to get a haircut, a waxjob, a nice pair of sunglasses and that CD, "Mehnychiaooo".

The haircut was great. She massaged my head three separate times and each for a very long, hard and lovely time. The wax job was painful. Two ladies tag-teamed my poor little legs, they are still not talking to me. The sunglasses search was successful. Tick, tick, and tick. One last thing on the list, that CD, the newest addition to the soundtrack of my life.

Near Siam Square and MBK, large shopping sites positively jam-packed with shoppers, I found an arcade with a few CD stalls. I went up to one, and surveyed the music. It was mostly top 40 style, but still, they had Western beats. The guy looked at me with trepidation. He elbowed the woman beside him; she could deal with me. She smiled, and I said, as clearly as I could, considering I had no idea if this word was a name of a group, person or even in English, "Do you have Minee-Choo?"

She said, "Again?"

And I tried again.

She shook her head with a smile and repeated, "Again?"

We gave up, and I went looking for another stall. Surely someone would know this CD. It was just going to be a matter of unearthing the hardcore music enthusiast. In Bangkok. Today. This was going to be a little trickier than I had anticipated.

The next stall I found was a scratch on the LP of my life… The guy looked at me with trepidation. He elbowed the woman beside him; she could deal with me. She smiled, and I said, as clearly as I could, considering I had no idea if this word was a name of a group, person or even in English, "Do you have Manoe-Chooww?"

She said, "Again?"

And I tried again.

She shook her head, with a smile and repeated, "Again?"

We gave up, and I went looking for another stall. Surely someone would know this CD. It was just going to be a matter of unearthing the music enthusiast. In Bangkok. Today. This was going to be a little trickier than I had anticipated.

I found my way to a big mall. Not big like Hong Kong malls, subterranean post-apocalyptic cities, but overwhelming, where you can easily get caught in a dangerous rip of Thai and tourist tides.

I found a big CD shop. I went to the front desk. "Do you have Minee-Choo?"

He said, "Again?"

And I tried again.

He shook his head, with a smile and repeated, "Again?"

But wait, I was not going to let this happen again. This was an Asian-style A&B Sound. Someone had to know. It was then that I spotted him. He was a Westerner. He had a black shirt on. I think he had glasses on. And in his hands? A sundry collection of drum and bass and other good stuff. I went in for the kill.

"Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help me."

He looked up and said, with a broken French accent, "How?"

I said: "I am looking for a CD, but I don’t know if it is a name, a group or just a word and I don’t really know where they are from, or where he is from. And I am not really sure how I would classify it." The look on his face let me know that I was not coming across as the sharpest knife in the drawer. I was not going to be thwarted. "Minee-Choo?" His face was blank, "Mehnychiaooo," His face was encouraging, but still blank, "Mahnoochowww."

And then he smiled verging on laughter, "Oh, you mean Manu Chao?" the way he said it was so clear and so sure. The way he said it suggested that he, unlike present company, knew the difference between his ass and his elbow. I went to find the CD on the shelf. I still did not know how to spell it, but I felt pretty confident. I didn’t find it. He did. He did not give up on me. He found the plastic divider with the name on it. There weren’t any CDs there, but I had proof that it existed, and now I knew how to spell it. Then he departed; presumably to return to his phone booth.

The next three shops I went into did not have Manu Chao either. However, they did know who it was, or he was. I still did not know. I also went back to the first two stalls and they did actually know who Manu Chao was. I was just testing them, and it was I who failed.

Eventually I gave up. Today’s lesson was in humility and making a fool of oneself, not about getting what I wanted. I got on the plane the next day. There was an empty sleeve in my CD book that jeered at me. I finally found the CD in the LAX airport between flights. I paid $30 US for that CD and I would have paid more. There is not a price to be named for the soundtrack of one’s life. And I still don’t know if that is his name.