Reflecting the “mess of history” which connects his Vietnamese heritage with American folk, rock and “Purple Haze,” it’s the first single from ‘1975’
“As a songwriter, I’m inspired by the mess of history,” said Julian Saporiti, AKA No-No Boy. That mess of culture, history and revisionism has informed his life and work, and it is at the heart of the irrepressibly infectious “Imperial Twist,” the first single from his album 1975, which is being released on April 2 on Folkways. It’s about the power of song to help us endure, as he said, “even when the world is on fire around you.”
The song grew out of his PhD dissertation, an exploration of the history and significance of Asian-American music, and the melange of culture, politics, prejudice, pride and fortitude from which it emerged. These range from jazz musicians inside concentration camps, Saigon rock & roll teenagers, Filipino cruise ship bands, punk rockers, and Chinatown church choirs.
Absorbed by this deeply thoughtful artist, the son of a Vietnamese family who grew up in Nashville, it reflects the world into which he was born and raised, forever colored by America’s mistreatment of Asian through the decades: from the Japanese American internment camps and America’s use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the waves of colonization from the Vietnam War.
The result is a folk album in the truest sense, merging the past with the present, set to percussion of real sounds made from museum objects, old bar- racks, detention centers, barbed wire, and ambient sounds. Recorded everywhere from Wyoming to Paris to Saigon and beyond, it is, as one considered declared, “insanely listenable and gorgeous.”
Listen to “Imperial Twist,” and read these words from the songwriter about the stories behind this song.
JULIAN SAPORITI aka NO-NO BOY: “When I returned to grad school in 2016, I dove into Viet and Cambodian rock bands of the late 1960s/early ’70s. The records I found expanded my concept of artistic authenticity and broadened my borders of where art belongs and to whom it belongs. I wanted to know about Vietnam before our family had to leave. About daily life. My mom’s teen years.
“So when I was in Paris a while back, I met up with one of her old highschool friends who, amongst other things, told me about the rock bands who formed because of the influence of European imperialism and the US military occupation.
“His story also connected me, as a musician, to my mom’s experience growing up in Saigon in a more emotional and electric way.
“The CBC Band were a family group with origins in northern Vietnam who came south after the French were defeated in 1954 and the Communists took over. They filled the entertain- ment needs of American GIs who had money to spend. This song interweaves Robert’s stories with a tragic CBC Band gig. During the opening riff of Hendrix’s `Purple Haze,’ a bomb went off.
“It wounded several servicemen and killed one of the drummer’s friends. Soon after, with the South’s defeat looming, the band fled, eventually making lives in Houston.
“Beautifully, 40 years after their violently abbreviated gig, veterans who were at that concert organized a reunion at a bar in Houston, and the band finished `Purple Haze.’ They still gig to this day.`Imperial Twist’ explores playing music while the world is on fire around you. In the case of the CBC Band (one of the greatest Viet rock bands ever who still gig in Houston today) they played a concert where a bomb literally exploded during their intro to `Purple Haze.’
“As a songwriter, I’m inspired by the mess of history. As a Viet American who grew up in Nashville without seeing people who looked like me in the local scene, finding this historical moment of Saigon rock bands gave me a lot of pride, an uncovered legacy.”