Friday Song: ‘Ivory Boat,’ a love song against the inevitable passage of time

Society & Culture

The origin story of Taiwan-based indie folk-rock quintet Fool and Idiot 傻子与白痴 (shǎzi yǔ báichī) echoes many: High school friends bond over shared musical heroes, and wind up in a band of their own. Helmed by frontman and main songwriter Cài Wéizé 蔡维泽, the group began playing shows in 2016, mostly at small local music festivals and university events.

After floating under the radar for two years, the band had its breakout year in 2018, when Cai appeared on the second season of The Coming One 明日之子 (míngrì zhīzǐ), a singing competition reality television show produced by Tencent. Much to his surprise, Cai, with his idiosyncratic songwriting and camera-shy personality, ended up winning the show and earned a cult following, which naturally brought the band behind him to the forefront of public attention.

In June, after signing to a new label and moving to Beijing, Fool and Idiot released its first digital album, 夜长梦少 (yè cháng mèng shǎo — “Long Night, Few Dreams”). It’s a captivating collection of Cai’s intricate look at youth and love, with songs threaded together by a loose concept of “a long walk in the night,” which, as Cai describes, is an analogy of the musical and geographical journey that the young band has taken to get where they are now.

“Ivory Boat,” the second to last song off the album, is a slow-burning centerpiece that makes the band stand out from its peers. On the track, Cai writes with a weathered maturity that belies his young age. “Sailing through the innocence in your eyes / Wondering if it is a fleeting moment or eternity,” Cai sings in the opening lines, his voice comforting and intimate. “Ivory Boat” seems to be narrated from the perspective of someone twice Cai’s age, who looks back upon the bruisings of adolescent romance and eventually comes to terms with the inherent uncertainty of love.

Throughout, Cai accompanies himself softly on piano and acoustic guitar, creating an omnipresent fog of melancholy and sincerity. The electric guitar and back vocals don’t arrive until the song’s final third, which elevate Cai to a climax of emotions with his poignant lyrics. “Holding your hands / Without the need of a helmsman,” he sings at the end, positioning himself as someone who has found eternity in everything despite the mercilessness of time’s passing.

Last month, Cai returned to the third season of The Coming One as a musical guest. He, with contestant Zhāng Yùqí 张钰琪, sang a duet of the song, which is nothing short of mesmerizing.

To fully appreciate Cai’s poetic vision in his songwriting, below are the lyrics to “Ivory Boat” in its entirety:

驶过 shǐguò
Sailing through

你眸中的懵懂 nǐ móu zhōng de měngdǒng
The innocence in your eyes

不解片刻或不朽 bù jiě piànkè huò bùxiǔ
Wondering if it is a fleeting moment or eternity

驶过 shǐguò
Sailing through

千万人的床头 qiān wàn rén de chuáng tóu
The headboards of millions’ beds

千万个梦 qiān wàn gè mèng
Millions of dreams

顺着情愫浮游 shùnzhe qíngsù fúyóu
Drift along with the threads of longing

然若你无畏结果 rán ruò nǐ wúwèi jiéguǒ
If you are fearless about the ending

我便造一座港口 wǒ biàn zào yīzuò gǎngkǒu
I would then build a harbor

你想留便留 nǐ xiǎng liú biàn liú
For you to stay if you care

重山万岭 chóngshān wàn lǐng
Along gradations of mountains and peaks

无论清浊都行舟 wúlùn qīngzhuó dōu xíng zhōu
Limpid or murky, the boat will sail through

假借时日无多 jiǎjiè shí rì wú duō
As if only few days are left

沿途放纵 yántú fàngzòng
I indulge along the way

过往不究 guòwǎng bù jiū
Stop dwelling on the past

愿我们满载一宿好梦 yuàn wǒmen mǎn zǎi yī sù hǎo mèng
Wish us a full night of pleasant dreams

岁月嫉隽永如仇 suìyuè jí juànyǒng rú chóu
The time is envious of eternity like a foe

淘选往后的如果 táo xuǎn wǎng hòu de rúguǒ
Sifting through the what-ifs that could ensue

与你 和我 yǔ nǐ hé wǒ
If with you and me

试过 shìguò
We have tried

爱荏苒而朦胧 ài rěnrǎn ér ménglóng
A transient and dim love

与世无争后阴柔 yǔ shì wú zhēng hòu yīnróu
Gentleness followed unassertiveness

听说 只字片语的厚重 tīng shuō zhī zì piàn yǔ de hòuzhòng
We’ve heard the weight of a few words

承诺积满了污垢 chéngnuò jī mǎnle wūgòu
Filth accumulated on promises

若你遗落 ruò nǐ yí luò
If you have lost

遗落此行的初衷 yí luò cǐ xíng de chūzhōng
Lost the initial intent of this journey

开始惦记结果 kāishǐ diànjì jiéguǒ
Started to think about the ending

执子之手 zhí zǐ zhī shǒu
Holding your hands

不用谁掌舵 bùyòng shuí zhǎngduò
Without the need of a helmsman

任缘分流 rèn yuánfèn liú
Float as fate dictates

十川百海任它游 shíchuān bǎi hǎi rèn tā yóu
Let it wander on thousands of rivers and seas

最后还回港口 zuìhòu hái huí gǎngkǒu
Still return to the harbor in the end

而我 与你 依旧 ér wǒ yǔ nǐ yījiu
Yet you and I will still be there

Friday Song is SupChina’s weekly sign-off. Let us know what you thought of the week that was in the comments below, or email