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

2018-05-14
Glenn Branca RIP – Experimental guitarist and composer Glenn Branca has died at the age of 69. He was known for compositions featuring large ensembles of guitars, and for the use of feedback. He founded his band Theoretical Girls in the mid-70s as an art-punk answer to what he saw as the increasing commercialization of punk music. His compositions were highly influential, with such figures as David Bowie, Thurston Moore, and John Lurie among his fans. » Read more

2018-04-05
OBEY Convention XI Set for May 24-28 in Halifax – As the 2018 festival season rapidly approaches, we’d like you to be aware of a real treasure of diverse and creative music that’s going to take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, next month. The OBEY Convention is on its 11th outing, and features a wide range of artists from around the world. From avant-industrial noise to experimental takes on Classical Chinese music, from chamber jazz to doom metal, from ambient soundscapes to Canadian First Nations drumming, you’d be hard pressed to find a festival with more variety in sound anywhere in the world. » Read more

2018-04-04
Close to the Rain Festival in Bergen Announces Lineup – Now in its second year, the Close to the Rain Festival of progressive music is scheduled to take place in Bergen, Norway, on June 7 - 9. They've got an amazing slate of bands lined up, including such powerhouses as Anekdoten, Major Parkinson, Arabs in Aspic, Tusmørke, and many more. » Read more

2018-03-01
Seaprog 2018 Artist Announcements Raise Festival's Profile – Seattle's Seaprog festival has been going since 2013, and the 2018 edition features a slate of artists that's sure to bring more attention to the event. Cheer-Accident, Bubblemath, and Free Salamander Exhibit are in the first round announcement of performers. In keeping with their tradition of focusing on regional artists, they will also present a number of artists from Washington and Oregon. [Edit: Just added: Inner Ear Brigade] » Read more

2018-02-26
Adelbert von Deyen RIP – Word reaches us that German electronic musician Adelbert von Deyen has died. His recorded legacy reaches back to 1978, when Sky Records released Sternzeit. Von Deyen, who was born October 25, 1953 in Süderbrarup, was also known as a painter and graphic artist. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

The Long Dead Sevens - The White Waltz & Other Stories – The Long Dead Sevens, an interesting name and an interesting band. Picture if you will, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds covering Leonard Cohen with a dash of Tom Waits thrown in for good measure and you...  (2009) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues