Friday Song: “Friends,” by Zang Tianshuo, the old Beijing rock star

Society & Culture

“Pengyou” 朋友, literally translated as “Friends,” is a 1987 hit from the Beijing rock star Zang Tianshuo 臧天朔 — the song that made him famous, appearing in his debut album Rushing Out of the Restricted Zone (冲出禁区 chōng chū jìnqū). (“Friends” would later appear in the Feng Xiaogang movie Big Shot’s Funeral, which starred Donald Sutherland.)

The song begins:

Friends, oh friends
You once thought of me
If you’re enjoying happiness
Please forget about me

Listening to Pengyou the first time, a person might think the song is about taking care of one’s friends while knowing when to let them go. But listen closely — to Zang’s tone, the dismissiveness in his voice, a hurt resignation and acceptance mixed with anger — and it’s possible to hear a separate interpretation: It’s easy to lose friends when one becomes happy and successful. For the successful, friends can seem like a burden.

Zang is one of the pioneers of modern Chinese rock, along with people like Cui Jian and Tang Dynasty. He cultivated the image of an “old big brother” (老大哥 lǎo dàgē), a symbol of traditional heroism, especially among middle-aged men: someone who is righteous and would fight with and for his brothers.

It was this character trait, incidentally, that landed him in trouble. He served six years after being convicted for organizing a gang fight that left one person dead. Released in 2014, he has since been on good behavior.

We don’t know if his friends forgot about him.


朋友啊朋友 Friends, oh friends
你可曾想起了我 You once thought of me
如果你正享受幸福 If you’re enjoying happiness
请你忘记我 Please forget about me

朋友啊朋友 Friends, oh friends
你可曾记起了我 You once remembered me
如果你正承受不幸 If you’re bearing misfortune
请你告诉我 Please tell me

Repeat above

朋友啊朋友 Friends, oh friends
你可曾记起了我 You once remembered me
如果你有新的 If you have a new one
你有新的彼岸 If you have another shore
请你离开我离开我 Please leave me, leave me

UPDATE, 9/28/18: Zang Tianshuo died on the morning of September 28 of liver cancer.

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