Exposé Online banner

Dennis Rea — Live at the Forbidden City
(Blue Ear Books, 2006/2015, TPB)

by Paul Hightower, Published 2008-01-01

Live at the Forbidden City Cover art

Dennis Rea is a Seattle area guitarist who’s worked with Jeff Greinke, Bill Rieflin and may be known to some through his participation with groups Land and Stackpole. Long before he made his name in the Northwest music scene, he undertook an amazing musical odyssey into Communist China during the late 80s and early 90s, which this book chronicles. His visit was ostensibly as a university English teacher in the central Chinese city of Chengdu, but once the locals discovered they had a musician in their midst who was skilled in jazz and rock guitar, Rea’s situation took an unexpected turn. He was quickly catapulted into the then underground Chinese rock scene and became somewhat of a local legend and source of inspiration to a multitude of budding guitarists and musicians for whom Western rock music was a vital outlet of expressing their frustration with Communist government policies. This placed Rea in an interesting position, both as mentor and musical celebrity, but also as a thorn in the sides of party officials who looked on rock music as a decadent and corrupting influence on China’s youth.

The book climaxes early with the chilling events of 1989 during the student uprising and subsequent government crackdown that is mostly associated with the massacre at Tiananmen Square, though witnessed throughout most large urban areas in China, including Chengdu. Rea provides a vivid firsthand account of the protests and violence that followed. His status as a foreigner and outsider — especially an American — lends this part of the book added drama and excitement.

The book also includes some interesting chapters chronicling Rea’s travels into the hinterlands of Western and Southern China, though for Exposé readers the real meat involves his experiences among the upper echelons of the early 90s Chinese pop and rock scene, plus his time spent among various ensembles (most notably Identity Crisis and The Vagaries) after he and his (now wife) relocated to Taiwan in 1990. Rea has since become a champion of the Chinese rock scene and a patron of its most important figures, foremost being Cui Jian, whom Rea describes as “Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Kurt Cobain all rolled into one.” This book leaves the reader with a much better appreciation and understanding of what rock musicians in China have had to endure but also of the startling changes that have taken place in the past 15 years. Rea can take some pleasure in having had a hand in helping these changes to come about.


Filed under: Reissues, Issue 35, 2015 releases, 2006 recordings

Related artist(s): Dennis Rea

Latest news

2019-11-07
Glenn Smith RIP – Glenn Smith, founder, mandolinist, and primary composer of the DeLand, Florida based prog / fusion band Magnatar, passed away on October 18th 2019 at the age of 68, after a brief illness.  » Read more

2019-11-04
Dino Brassea RIP – Word reaches us of the passing of Dino Brassea, who sang and played flute in Cast for many years. By our count, Brassea appeared on 11 Cast albums between 1994 and 2002. He also released music as a solo artist. » Read more

2019-10-06
Ginger Baker RIP – Legendary English drummer Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80. After coming to fame with Cream in the 60s alongside Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, he became one of the most recognized and influential drummers of the rock era. On September 25, his family announced that he was critically ill, and on October 6 his death was confirmed. » Read more

2019-08-20
Alex's Hand Seeks Spa Treatment – American / European band Alex's Hand has a new album in the works called Hungarian Spa, which looks to be their biggest and best yet, featuring a large roster of guest musicians. They're seeking funding to take the project on the road, and are looking for help from the crowd of wisdom. » Read more

2019-06-05
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Ahleuchatistas - What You Will – Somebody call the men in white suits – these guys are insane. On second thought, don’t call anyone – treatment may decrease their capacity to create such marvelously insane stuff as this. I...  (2006) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues