HA NOI — Since the late 1960s, Vietnamese composer Trinh Cong Son has been compared to well-known US songwriter Bob Dylan. But for American professor John C Schafer, the two songwriters belong to two different planets. His latest book to recently hit major bookstores in Viet Nam draws a comparison between the two.
Blowing in the haze: The book written by American professor John Schafer compares Vietnamese and American songwriters Trinh Cong Son and Bob Dylan. — File Photo
Schafer, who taught at Humboldt University in California, had his extended essay entitled Is Trinh Cong Son the Bob Dylan of Viet Nam? translated into Vietnamese by his wife Cao Thi Nhu Quynh. The book’s name in Vietnamese is “Trinh Cong Son-Nhu Trang va Nguyet?”
In his 260-page essay, he explains the common points and the differences between the two talented composers who were born in quite the same period.
The idea to write this book came to Schafer after Bob Dylan’s tour around the world The Never Ending Tour which came to Viet Nam one night only last year with a message from organiser: “to tribute to Trinh Cong Son”.
The book has been highly praised by Son’s fans and his long-time friends.
Poet Nguyen Duy, a close friend of Son, says that the book helps him better understand the differences between the two songwriters.
“Both Son and Dylan wrote songs that called for peace, but while Son had a lot of anti-war songs for all of Viet Nam, Dylan wrote a few protest songs in his time that didn’t mention exactly which wars he protested. And Dylan wasn’t interested in joining the movement that singer Joan Baez (who often sang his songs) often encouraged him to join,” Duy says.
Most importantly, Schafer’s book highlights how Son wrote under the light inspiration of Buddhism, while Dylan turned to evangelicalism, and even composed many religious songs. These two different religions led them in two different directions.
While Trinh Cong Son had a philosophy full of forgiveness and love, Bob Dylan was harsher to the people who had betrayed him.
“I appreciate how Schafer explains the meanings of the lyrics of Son’s songs within the lens of Buddhism philosophy. However, even though I don’t know much about Buddhism, I still feel the beauty of Son’s songs and love them. Schafer’s book helps us know more about Son, but it’s not thanks to this book that we love Son,” says Professor Tuong Lai, one of Son’s friend.
Son’s sister, Trinh Vinh Trinh, said: “Readers are free to give their opinions about the book. But personally, I find the remarks about Son mentioned in the book are very correct. There have been many books about him, but this time, it’s interesting that the book is written by a foreigner who has given his original opinions. And I myself also love Bob Dylan’s music.”
The book also includes the introduction of Professor Cao Huy Thuan (University of Picardie, Paris, France). In it, Thuan states, “Give back to Bob Dylan what belongs to him and to Trinh Cong Son what belongs to his music.”
The book closes with poet Duy’s opinion.
“I love Trinh Cong Son. The book helps me be more confident in my love for him[… ] I hope that everyone not only loves Trinh Cong Son but is also proud of a Vietnamese talent who is known all around the world.”
Son wrote in his career more than 600 song, mostly love songs, and is also known as a poet and a painter. Son passed away in 2001 at the age of 60.
Schafer taught Comparative Literature at Humboldt University before his retirement. In the 1960’s, he lived in Hue City where he taught English. He has written a number of essays and articles about Vietnamese culture and Son. But this book is the first published in Viet Nam. — VNS
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