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when FhLY meets Metallica.

I’ve been a consistent recipient of strange dreams. And last night, I had one of the most bizarre dreams ever; it happened with such lifelike detail that I better write about it before I forget!

Now, the dream took place at Tom Lee Music (a music megastore in Hong Kong). I can’t remember who I was with but I know I was with a band buddy – I’m guessing he was either Ricky, Jeremy, Jenn Hui, Liang Zhi or Daniel. And the two of us were browsing the store, looking for the latest music records and a new guitar (don’t ask why).

Halfway through our shopping trip, we learnt that there was a special store feature for that day – Metallica was in town and its founding members Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield were going to perform an acoustic set in 10 minutes! (Now get this – I’ve NEVER heard a single Metallica song in my life and I don’t even fancy heavy metal and death metal music so I have no idea how they even got into my dreams!)

So together with the larger-than-life crowd, we were standing in the atrium on the ground floor of the store. After a little fanfare led by the emcee, Metallica made their entrance from the stage up a flight of stairs that came down from the second floor. (THE MEMORY IS STILL VIVID!) They opened the set with their most famous number, and although I can remember how it sounds like, I obviously have no clue what the song was called… They ended that song to rapturous applause from the leather-glad and heavily-bearded crowd.

Then they played their second song…

And it sounded so much like the introduction of Roller Coaster, except it’s done acoustically with an injection of heavy metal. My curiosity was instantly piqued – that definitely got my attention! They did several bars of the introduction (like any hardcore metal band would) and then the scarily-tattooed James started to sing, with gusto and aplomb…

“I SOAR UP… AND SLIDE BACK DOWN…”

!!!

Imagine my stunned face!

“I FEEL GREAT! NOTHING CAN STAND IN MY WAY…”

I was truly in shock!

And when they finished the second chorus, the both of them put their backs against each other and played Ricky’s guitar solo NOTE-FOR-NOTE. (This obviously, is the glaring discrepancy in my dream; only rock bands, not heavy metal bands, do this back-to-back action.) World-renowned musicians singing and playing Ricky’s and my song – COME ON, HOW COOL IS THAT!?

The next thing I know, I found myself at the counter – requesting an audience with their manager and agent, who unfortunately wasn’t around. So instead to speaking to him, I was referred to three Chinese old ladies (!), none of whom spoke a word of English but only Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien. I practically died there trying to communicate “Roller Coaster”, “Heavy Metal” and “Rock Music” with those old dames, whose faces I can still remember – wavy hair, wrinkled skin, chained glasses, gold bangles and jade rings no less to complete the look!

It was impossible to discuss royalties, fees and copyright issues with them – no chance at all.

By this time, Metallica finished playing Roller Coaster and moved on to their final song of the set. In yet another bizarre twist of events, Metallica shared their testimony of how they came to know the Lord (!!) and started to play “Leaving Ninety-Nine” by Audio Adrenaline – they were right about ready to evangelise (!!!) to the Harley-Davidson-esqe entourage! Impossibly unimaginable!

“I’d leave ninety-nine, leave them all behind, to find you…”

That, incidentally, is my iPhone’s ringtone… So you know what happened next…

BUT WHAT A BIZARRELY COOL DREAM!

I shall conclude in the words of the song made famous by Aerosmith… “Dream on, dream on, dream on, dream until your dream comes true…” This dream quite possibly fused together parts of my personality and aspirations! It’s amazing how creative we can get when we are dreaming. I love dreaming (and making my dreams come true)!

FhLY's first public performance @ Orchard Cineleisure in 2002. For now, my gigging days are behind me, but man, were those good days or what! Photo by Liang Zhi. From left to right: Douglas, Ricky, Jeremy and Joey.

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keep the main thing, the main thing.

Today, I commemorate my first year in Singapore since I returned from Shanghai for good. I fondly remember how I made my comeback at the No One Else album launch concert. I will never forget the microphone stand, the spotlight, the explosive Roller Coaster introduction, and those 10 memorable steps (wished it was 100!) I took to superstardom the centre of the stage. It was my moment of conceited indulgence (so bear with me) and it’s not very often I get to feel like a rock star. Yes, it’s a terribly vain thing to say, but I’ve never denied my appetite for the limelight. (Fronting a band gives me a completely different rush from leading worship or preaching and I’ve really missed that! RL, CK, JT… It’s time to revive…)

Anyway, I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve read the above-mentioned expression. “Keep the main thing, the main thing” is synonymous with “Do not major on the minor” or “Know the difference between urgent and important”. Over the past nine months, something that I’ve honestly struggled with is to discern between my dreams and God’s dreams (for I certainly don’t want to mess this up!), as well as to think about how all these dreams are translated into ministry execution. I honestly find the marriage of the two dreams extremely challenging at times.

When I felt the call to enter full-time ministry, there were only three ministries that God deposited into my heart – Lead, Preach and Mentor – and these governed the way I operated; you could say that these are the three pillars of my personal calling. I’ve tried to center all my decisions around these pillars. Of course, I’ve made a couple of wrong decisions along the way, like getting involved in the Grace 60th Anniversary and being involved with the original YAYP transition team; I try never to live in regret, but to learn from retrospect for it is pointless if to lament about spilled milk.

As my portfolio increases and as my tent enlarges, so will my influence and competencies too. I’ve learnt that I must learn not to get involved with everything even though I want to and may foolishly deem myself suitable for it, and especially when it is logical to do so. (Sigh, logic – Man’s feeble attempt at second-guessing God’s sovereign will…) That’s the reason why I believe that a personal vision statement is important. If you have a motto to preside over the way you function, you more or less know what to say yes to and what to turn down; it helps you to live a principled life. What’s yours? Mine is:

“I am a bible-believing Christian who desires to know God
by working excellently, learning earnestly while having a balanced lifestyle,
for the glory of God.”

At our mid-year appraisal this morning, RY told me that “marrying your dreams into God’s will is a constant struggle”, and I concur. That’s why I think it’s always a step of faith to act on what God has impressed upon my heart. With RY, I always learn something new or am reminded of previously-learnt lesson – that’s why he’s my mentor and that’s why I look up to him so much. And in true hero-fashion, he balanced the above-mentioned statement with this: “But remember, it is God who planted these dreams into you”. That took a huge load off my shoulders; I couldn’t believe that I missed something as obvious as that!

I have been wired to lead with my heart on my sleeves and somehow this quality has become my signature. Perhaps it explains why Passion is one of the three flagships of my personality, besides Authenticity and Believing in Young People. These are the core values I think my life represents most dominantly and consistently. Again I quote my boss, “Passion is like a tap; once you turn it on, water gushes out” – I’d like to believe that my passion for youth ministry doesn’t just trickle out, but that it surges out.

However, I know that one day my passion will run out. RY encouraged me today and told me that I have tenacity; it was the first time this word was used to describe me. He deliberately chose tenacity over perseverance for (I think) the latter represents an indefatigability to endure present situations while the former indicates a determination to push oneself through to overcome challenges. I liked that distinction and I believe that tenacity should rightly be the best friend of passion for they are perfect complements.

So anyway, back to keeping the main thing, the main thing, I think it’s a good opportunity for me to take a step back and reflect, and to ask God to give me grace so that I can differentiate what I want to do from what I need to do, as well as to determine what He wants me to do. (God doesn’t need me to do anything. He doesn’t need anybody to do anything for Him. In fact, according to Psalm 50:12, if He was hungry He wouldn’t even tell you or me.) In our lifetime, we’d go through seasons after seasons and so it remains a wise thing to focus, always on the main thing. If I were to strip everything down to its core, the main tasks in life (in fact, the only two tasks), is to love God more and to love His people more everyday (Mark 12:30-31).

the original handwritten roller coaster lyrics.

It’s been a pretty long Saturday and it’s gonna be an even longer Sunday so I shall keep it simple tonight. I became thankful for the journey I’ve taken as a song-writer when I found handwritten lyrics to Roller Coaster in one of my notebooks. This song-writing event took place at a FhLY jam session in L3 Hall. When RL first played the signature electric guitar introduction, I asked him what image came to his mind. He said, “Like I’m taking a roller coaster”. That was it – and after countless revisions, here’s the version that we recorded for the No One Else album. I’m pretty proud of this track! (Too bad I can’t upload the MP3 unless I purchase a Space Upgrade…)

ROLLER COASTER

I soar up and slide back down
Life is like the weather, never really in my control
Unstoppable, inescapable
Time is like an earthquake, happening without warning

This is a crazy roller coaster ride
But tonight

I feel great; nothing can stand in my way
The world’s at my feet, it’s like I’m delirious on God
Invincible, I’ll try the impossible
Spinning round and round, falling up and down
So watch me, I’ll rise again

Walk with me through barren lands
Now and then I feel dry, wishing You would rain down again
Am I an act of real pretence?
Thriving on the high, I just broke down from my breakthrough

Words: Joey Asher
Music: Joey Asher & Ricky Liang
Written on: 26th January 2003
Revised on: 4th October 2008

© FhLY

are we there yet? when will we get there? where is there?

The Secrets to Successful Writing seminar with PY this morning was held at my alma mater, Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) at Winstedt Road. It was my first time back since I last collected my PSLE results in 1995, when it was still Anglo-Chinese Junior School at Peck Hay Road. To my surprise, NS is still there; pity I had to leave immediately after the seminar, otherwise I would have popped by the staff office to say hello to a beloved Primary 6 form teacher who played a part in my journey to know Christ.

Advances in mobile technology has allowed me to check for bus arrival timings via the iris NextBus online service on the SBS transit website. (Trivia: it stands for Intelligent Route Information System.) It will always be helpful to know approximately when the next bus would arrive. Now, why would I want this information? After all, it changes neither the duration of my journey nor my designated route. Heck, it doesn’t even predict traffic conditions or tell me what time I’ll arrive at my destination. So, what good does it do for me to know how long it’ll take before I board the next bus?

I believe that prior knowledge of waiting time reduces anxiety and frustration, and for some, it even helps to manage stress levels; commuting during peak hours is already an exasperating experience and I think a predictive information system serves an effective countermeasure to improve travelling woes as I’ll know how long I’ll be on the road, or track – and if the waiting time is too long, I’ll probably make alternative plans (whether to continue waiting, change the mode of transport or take another route) since I can already predict the eventual outcome. The same concept extends to the SMRT and to a lesser extent, roller coaster queues in amusement parks.

However, in the event that you don’t board your bus or train at the estimated time, you’d feel doubly frustrated and disappointed because your expectations have increased; this is inevitable when you try to control your anticipation (and excitement) of what’s to come. And when you change your plans, you deviate from what you are normally familiar with and have grown to trust and rely on. Hence, I’d like to think that regardless of prior knowledge, there will always be a set of challenges for any journey taken.

I couldn’t help but think that my experience with the iris NextBus today was a reflection of my daily struggle to trust God in either the big and small, or long and short term plans. I’d be the first to raise my hands to admit my reliance on my own Intelligent Route Information System to navigate through life’s crossroads and toughest decisions. When you do that, it takes away your trust and belief in God’s original plan as you apply your knowledge of the future, understanding of the present and experience of the past. Don’t get me wrong – that’s wisdom – and it’s not a bad thing. But a careless flirtation and an over-reliance on human wisdom can often cause you to become distracted and disillusioned with your intended journey. My advice? Tread carefully (pun unintended).

I’m sure you can identify with a wrong decision that sometimes ends up in a much longer journey, an encounter with an unexpected traffic jam or even alighting at the wrong stop; it’s only natural to expect that because you have ventured into an unknown and, if I were to epiphanise it, a valley of darkness that you completely did not prepare for or expect. And most times, it’s always a result and consequence of your decisions. This applies to almost every decision – be it relationship, finance or family-related, etc. When this happens, you will need to be responsible for your choices and account for yourself.

At the end of the day, I believe that if God gives you a vision, then the challenge and step of faith for you is to trust Him to deliver you to the eventual destination safely and surely. Thankfully, our God is an efficacious God and nothing in the journey goes to waste – regardless of longer routes, indecision, detours or even unforeseen accidents.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

These famous verses are plastered on most of the walls of any ACS auditorium, including the one I sat in today, and it serves as a sobering reminder to let God take control of the steering wheel of our lives. May you remember to relinquish control of your life the next time you check for the next bus or train arrival times.

top ten favourite songs to perform.

All right, I’ll be honest here if you don’t mind (not that you can stop me anyway). As a performer, I absolutely love the stage and to perform on it; I’m even honest enough to admit that I thrive under the limelight. The stage is my little paradise and the older I get, the more I enjoy (and miss) performing, maybe because I’ve found my niche and forte as an artist. Due to this love for performing, I’ve always regretted that I’ve only been able to be involved in a musical just once in my entire 13 years with Grace Assembly – when I was 14 years old! I hope I will have the opportunity to be involved in another major production one day. (Actually, I told VY that I’ve already set my eyes on only that one role should we actually decide to make a musical out of it.)

On a side note, I believe that there’s a gulf of difference between a singer and a lead singer – and it’s one reason why I’ve always enjoyed being a lead singer more than a worship leader despite the many similarities in both roles. I long for the day that I get to perform regularly with a rock band again – to belt out original compositions, express the emotions of a ballad through convincing performances, and to bring these songs all over the region through gigs, tours and music CDs. I firmly believe that there’s a part of the human soul that only music can reach.

I’m about to go offtrack again; I had actually written two other paragraphs before I decided to save that for another time; this entry would be too long if I were to throw in my band history (which makes for good reading on separate entry anyway). Tonight, I’ll take a stroll down memory lane and recall the first ten songs (that come to my mind) that I’ve enjoyed performing over the decade as a wannabe rock star.

I present this list of my top ten favourite songs to perform (over the years) in no order of preference or chronology:

1. Tears in a Bottle – FhLY. There were two performances which I fondly remember about this signature FhLY song. One was when the song debuted and received DL’s friends’ affirmation of its lyrical ministry. The other at the outdoor Cineleisure gig was more memorable – I had completely forgotten the lyrics to the second verse and being a rather inexperienced performer then, I downright froze on stage and stopped singing altogether; this resulted in a minus one track for 30 seconds until I regained my composure and picked it up again at the chorus.

2. Put Your Arms Around Me – All Star United. DH and I began performing this anthem when we were in secondary school and it followed us through our polytechnic days. Practising and performing this song as Castor & Pollux brings back an influx of fantastic memories. I believe this to be one of the songs that really demonstrate the musical and performance chemistry I have with DH. The one at the Salvation Army auditorium really stood out as our first performance outside the school compounds.

3. Safe and Sound – Castor & Pollux. I’ve said it to DH a million times – that this composition remains my favourite of the hundreds of songs he’s written (no exaggeration). It debuted at the Singapore Street Festival gig at Heeren and has remained a crowd favourite as well as a mainstay in every single Castor & Pollux gig ever since. I’ve always told DH that if I were to ever audition for any talent show, I’d most certainly use this soulful and stirring piece as my song choice because of how it coincidentally brings out my vocal (and emotive) range rather perfectly.

4. What a Difference a Day Made – Jamie Callum. JT and I made our debut as a duo at the R-AGE 10th Anniversary gala dinner. I can’t remember if we had volunteered for it or if the organisers asked us, but I was glad we performed it anyway! It was the first time I attempted a slow jazz number with a piano and I absolutely enjoyed singing with a non-rock voice. I’d like to believe that it was a pretty classy and classic performance. Allow me to indulge – if there was a word to describe how I felt after that performance, it’d be “charming”.

5. I Love to See You Smile – Homer Simpson & Marge Simpson. I think this song made its debut at one either my 18th or 21st birthday party and it received such a positive response that DH and I kept resurrecting it gig after gig. It remains one of the best songs to open a set because of how cute and innocent it is.

6. Hands Down – Dashboard Confessional. As Castor & Pollux, this was the first and only time we’ve performed Hands Down, and we didn’t even plan to. We had planted a couple of encore items at the Ben & Jerry’s gig but Hands Down wasn’t in our original lyrics set. At a time when Hands Down was at the tip of the mouth of every emotionally-charged young male, it was performed by popular demand; besides, we had already jammed it so many times and had the lyrics engraved into our hearts, we just spontaneously pulled it off. And it absolutely rocked the house!

7. Coastline – Rust. It never fails to amaze me how a simple four-chord song has stood the test of time and emerges to be the all-time favourite song of all the (other more accomplished) songs that DH has ever written. I remember struggling to sing this song when my falsetto was a lot weaker as a raw vocalist. Without a doubt, I’ve enjoyed performing this song most at X&C’s wedding dinner.

8. The Day – FhLY. Every performer simply has to have a melodramatic moment and it couldn’t come as dramatic as this one. Written to describe the scene and emotion of saying goodbye to a person at the airport, I performed this song at the Cineleisure gig, at the time when it was drizzling heavily. The relentless beating rain pounding against the beating heart of a man with reeling emotions… I remember AC tearing as I performed it because she felt the full force of my emotions!

9. I Liked You – Castor & Pollux. While the original remains one of my favourite compositions so far as well as one of Castor & Pollux flagship songs, I was cheeky enough to tweak the lyrics and I performed the spoofed version at the Blackmarket gig. I think the audience enjoyed the mischief in the updated lyrics and JT even felt it was my way of getting back at the girl whom I wrote this song for. Well, I haven’t quite confirmed it to this day and I don’t intend to. Read between the lines!

10. Roller Coaster – No One Else Band. There was no way I’d leave out this high-energy song. Due to some miscommunication, RL and I only submitted one song from our days together in FhLY. Should a sequel album be produced, we will definitely submit more songs. As for its performance, I will never forget the moment I walked out from the backstage of the G2 Sanctuary to centre stage during the No One Else album launch concert. To date, it’s the closest I’ve ever felt as a rock star.

I reckon the ones who would enjoy this entry most are those whom I’ve mentioned. As for me, I’ve enjoyed every single moment of my journey as a performer! Have you found your niche in life? Have you discovered your forte? When you do, you’ll be able to come up with your own top ten list and I’d love to read it.

A gentle reminder for the bible-giveaway competition. The response so far has been OH-SO-ENCOURAGING. -_- Do remember that the competition ends in 10 days on 14th May. I really want to hear from you! So go on, write to me and win a brand new bible!

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