Crystalising Rock: Age Of The Gallant Axe-Grinders

The recent awarding of Datuk-ship to Amy Search had the writer wondering about the new-found respect for rockers which, hopefully, would help herald the resurgence of the golden age of Rock in the country, a return to the bygone era of small men, in ultra-tight pants, with monstrous vocals, that ruled the airwaves and arenas in the 80s

Long before Dwayne Johnson, Rock mainly meant two things: one, the missiles you use against speakers of terrible speeches at political conventions. Two, a musical genre. An awesome musical genre.

Likewise, before there was the search engine, there was Search. It was a band, a rock band. It played a range from soft ballads to hard rock numbers in big stadiums that drove spectators mad and rattled the stadium seats more enthusiastically than when each time Malaysian football teams kept losing in it.

Amy, as he is known, was recently, and finally, bestowed with Datuk-ship, by the Yang Di Pertua Negeri of Melaka; something that is akin to Knightship in the UK, but in a small-time way. But make no mistake about its significance. And it is long time coming for Amy, despite the humbling fact that these days you can throw a stone into the crowd and hit a Datuk (or a Tun if you are not careful).

Amy-led Search was a band not to be messed with. Together with Wings (led by Ahmad Azhar Othman, or his stage name, Awie), they were the leading force of hordes of rock bands that appeared in the 80s like mushrooms. The pop scene was indeed flourishing with the likes of Anita Sarawak, Sudirman, Noorkumalasari and many others leading the way only to be nearly stomped by packs of skinny men, in skinnier pants, screaming like banshees all over the country. Notably as it was also the only instant when both the idols and the fans were referred to as Mat Rock.

In addition to those two bands, who would forget names like Lefthanded, D’Febians, Iklim (Where the late famed singer Saleem got his start), Burnmarks, Bunkface, Ella & The Boys (yes, that Ella), May, BPR (stands for Bumiputera Rockers), XPDC, FRU, Handy Black, Black Rose, Crossfire, and Bloodshed among others that made our parents want to call the cops when we recited them.

This writer remembers vividly how the schoolmates used to exchange information about the vocalists, drummers of this band and that band growing up in the neighbourhood of various Felda projects in Kota Tinggi (the central school being in Bandar Mas) in the 80s. There was no Wikipedia at that time, and I am not sure how much of b.s. I had ingested from this overtly enthusiastic Mat Rocks.

The kids then were aping the rockers left, right and very tight middle. The vernaculars changed, we all spoke rock language which includes lots of terrer beb, gua caya sama lu (the caya must have the bluesy tinge to it) and loads of slang words that are now as recognizable as an extinct bacterium.

Therefore, the importance of these bands can never be understated. Before their emergence, Malaysia was still under the spell of disco, as acts like Boney M and ABBA whose bell bottoms swept across the nations through airwaves, and the likes of Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor getting folks to survive on dance floors, ruled the fans’ hearts with iron fists. Then a phenomenon called Michael Jackson happened and was asking the local musicians to Beat it.

The importance of these rock bands in Malaysia can never be understated. Before their emergence, we were still under the spell of disco, acts such as Boney M and ABBA.

It was then when Amy and the gang came to the rescue. As the city and urban folks relished at the aforementioned pop and dance floor beats, Search, Wings were the gallant knights wielding the axe (guitar), thumping the bass, and riding on pulse-racing drums.

Not only that, those who are now sitting on their rocking chair (still Rock, get it?) and smoking pipes may recall the time when Malaysians were still enamoured by some Indonesian films and artists (Rhoma Iroma, remember him?)… Amy and his band reversed the trend and became popular there instead. Here is how the Indonesian fans see him:

“…If decades ago, Indonesia only recognized P. Ramlee as a legendary actor and singer hailing from Malaysia, now Amy is its new idol…”

That is not an easy achievement. There is staggering growth in the rock arena in that country, and Amy still retains the respect and veneration he had decades ago in the neighbouring nation that has grudges against us on many other issues. I suppose each time when they bare their fang, we just throw Amy as our emotional defence shield, which is why that Datuk-ship matters.

Not only that, but something else that’s interesting happened though, along the way. Rock gained respect. It happens specifically when Amy comfortably stepped out of his band at the peak of its popularity and started an even bigger solo career, somewhat softening our parents’ stance on him. Of course, we rocker kids felt he had sold out especially that terrible, tragic day when his and Awie’s hair was cut live on TV…oh the travesty!

Indeed, Rock no longer made the headlines like it used to. There are hardly any news of members getting arrested for drug possession as well. Most former rockers can, now, occasionally be seen in YouTube beating the heck out of drums or grinding the axe wearing Baju Melayu and kopiah. There is something sweet about seeing these current grandpas still belting serious howls, strumming haunting solos and beating the crap out of the skins – sure you are older, wiser, perhaps even more pious, but you can never get that rocker out of you.

Coming back to Amy, giving out Datuk-ship may be an ordinary and mundane affair. But we Rock fans value the Datuk-ship given to Amy Search. That man and his band did more to put our country on the Musical map, notably in the highly gritty, competitive Rock category and that deserves more than just awards and titles. It should encourage the resurgence of this genre in which our country has carved its own niche – compared to the usual pop shtick, and the sizzle and fizzle of generic, organic, or bland fusion materials.

Rock can be Malaysian because Malaysia can ROCK!! – NMH

About the writer: Rakesh Kumar is a writer, scriptwriter, and a film aficionado, who is four years and seven months clean and sober. And counting…

The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the NMH.

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