I began learning to play the guitar when I was eleven years old. It was a Hofner belonging to my uncle and began with the three simple chords taught by my cousin Aziz. As I progressed I began to learn many more chords and eventually I could strum the chords of one whole song. Those days the songs were all accompanied with simple chords and I could play many songs. However, just strumming the guitar without singing was insufficient to off-show our talent to others proudly. And so to complement our talent in plucking and strumming the guitar, we began to sing as well except we had one problem; we had no song book. Those days when the whole teenage world rocked trying to be like Elvis Presley, we would never let ourselves be left behind and so we rocked as well and how we did it was secondary. Sometime when we rocked we looked like as though we were in a trance shouting whatever words that passed by our minds. So we need to have our own song book and to get a song book in the early 60s in Muar town was almost impossible. The only available bookstore where we could buy song books was at the Ban Heng Lee bookstore situated along Jalan Abdullah and most of the time there wasn’t any. And so many of us began to create our own song book
The materials needed to create our own song book would be a hundred page hard cover exercise book, some pictures of our idols, a box of glue, a box of coloured pencils, a scissors to cut the pictures of our idols (sometime we used a worn out razor blade) and finally the lyrics of all the songs we wanted in our song book. The cost of the hard cover exercise book was forty cents and that was not a problem for me because all I needed was to look for just four empty bottles at the backyard of my house to be sold later to the ‘apek sia’. Every time grandpa bought few bottles of soda drinks, I would be the first to eye for the empty bottles. Next was to collect some pictures of my singing idols such as Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Darren, Paul Anka and few others. The female singers were Connie Francis, Sandra Dee, Doris Day and few others. Looking for these pictures was quite a problem and so everyday I would be looking at the newspaper hoping to see some pictures of my idols and if there was any, I would have it cut the next day. Grandma always felt happy when I asked for the newspaper thinking that her grandson was a keen reader of the daily paper. There was a monthly magazine called ‘Movie News’ costing seventy cents featuring many western artists and singers and I would buy the magazine if there were many pictures inside, the main reason for buying it in the first place.
When all these materials were ready, I would first write the lyrics. I would start with my favourite songs; “True Love Will Come To You” by Cliff Richard followed by “O’ Carol” by Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka’s “My Home Town” and few others. Every page would be painted with all kinds of colours and designs. For the first few songs my handwriting was superb but later it began to dwindle from left to right, some lines were straight and some slanting. When I got tired I would stop for a while and continue later. Next was to paste the pictures of these singers according to the songs and would keep on doing this until all the songs had been written. In most cases, it would take about thirty pages and the remaining empty pages would have to wait until I managed to get new lyrics.
How did I get all these lyrics? Obviously it was copied down while listening to the songs over the radio but sometime I would borrow the song books from others and copied them into mine. Copying these songs were mostly from the radio because we did not have a record player. Our English was not too good and copying these songs over the radio was quite stressful. In the lyrics of “O’ Carol, I am but a fool” I copied it quite differently; it went like this…”O Carol, I am butter fool”. Another song was Johnny Tilitson’s ‘Poetry In Motion’ where on the second line it reads; ‘A lovely locomotion’ but I copied it as ‘A lovely local motion’. But the most glaring mistake was copying the song ‘Michelle’ by the Beatles. There are two lines written in French:
“Michelle, ma belle sont les mots, Qui vont tres bien en-semble, tres bien en-semble”
I never thought it was in French especially knowing too well that the Beatles sang only English songs. I could not grasp what they were saying in the song? The only easiest way was to hear the sound of the words sang and just wrote them and this was what I wrote down:
“Michelle, my bell, someday monkey gone play piano song, play piano song”.
Whenever I sang this song while strumming my guitar, I would surely sing it using the above wordings and with great confidence. You can’t blame me can you? I was twelve or thirteen years old living in a small town with a little knowledge of the English language; and obviously had no idea that the Beatles would add some French words into the song. Later when I found out that it was in French, I laughed all out day and night thinking about it.
When my song book was ready, I would show it to everyone I met with great pride and others too showed theirs. Sometime we would exchange our song books for two or three days and we’d better take great care of the book otherwise we’d end up not talking to each other for weeks. We called this tak tegur, and to reconcile we had to belanja something; like treating him/her for a nice ice cream soda.
Later these song books played a significant role in many of our singing activities. I would bring it to Tanjung and sang confidently with the song book right before my eyes. Sometime some local bands performing in weddings would be looking for me for my song book. So they sang according to what I wrote, like it or not. After all, their English was no better than mine.
Another profound item that became an important part in our lives were the autograph books. It was much smaller than the song books and we could buy these autograph books at many small shops, even in some sundry shops and they came in many colours. Most girls would choose a pink colour while majority of the boys preferred blue. These books would be exchanged among the classmates and to be returned the next day with some sweet and short statements written on it.
“To my very close friend Din,
You are a sweet person and I will always remember you for the rest of my life.
Your good friend,
When Suleiman and me quarreled over a minor issue, he would inform my classmate sitting next to me asking me to tear the page written by him.
Sometime we would write words that rhyme:
“Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet
But not as sweet as you”
We even add some acronyms like F.R.A.N.C.E which means Friendship remain and never can end, I.T.A.L.Y is I trust and like/love you and many more.
When some girls requested me to write something on their autograph books, I would write them down on a piece of paper first before the final draft was ready. It must be well written, neat with some drawings and I normally would not draw a heart on it to avoid any misleading perception. I was quite shy with girls during my growing years. Likewise I would request some girls to write onto mine and the one written by someone I secretly admired would be viewed almost every minute and I would smile alone.
Those wonderful days are gone but the memories are still freshly stored in my memory and they can never be erased. When I left for Kuala Lumpur in 1967, I kept all these books in a special drawer in my room at my Muar hometown but later they just disappeared. How I wish I should have brought them with me. It would be good to read them over and over, reminding me of those days when I thought I was old enough to understand many things. And to laugh at those stupid lyrics that I copied down.