In the middle of December 2011, I met with an old writer friend and Bangkok musician named Piyachat Jongtong. Being a talented musician himself, his first question was whether I’d heard the recent news about Sek Loso (Seksan Sukpimai). Sek was the influential front man of the legendary Thai rock band LOSO, and exists in contemporary Thai pop culture as the image of lowly rebellion, guitar rock, and soft spoken lyricism. I told my good friend that I hadn’t heard the news, but that I liked the song “Som sarn” (which translates into ‘ignominious’ in English”
In the most brutal behind-the-scenes event of 2012, Sek’s separated wife posted a picture on Facebook showing him using “ice” (methamphetamine). She also accused him of domestic abuse, and neglect of their children. Against the rules of Thai celebrity culture, Sek responded to the media that all chargers were true (how could he say otherwise considering the photographic evidence of the allegation).
The social media controversy has become known as the “Sek scandal”. An interview snippet that summarizes his song-writing process, documented weeks before the scandal broke, an un-honed skill in image management:
“Most of my songs are about love because I love many. Actresses, models, you know. Many,” he said.
‘They are my muses, but I can’t tell you their names. I don’t want to damage their reputation. But I personally tell each of them that I write this and that song for them. Hope you don’t mind me bragging. I like to boast,” he smiled, grabbing a glass of red wine.
‘‘Your wife?” Brunch asked.
‘‘My wife knows and she is cool with that. Everytime I hurt her, mostly unintentionally though, I buy her a diamond,” he said, giving a mild shrug. ”I wrote many songs for her too.” (“Sek,drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” Bangkok Post, 25 December 2010)
The scandal seemed to recall other recent celebrity misfires (e.g., Charlie Sheen), especially as more quotes began dropping.
”[Led Zeppelin’s] Robert Plant was having coffee in my kitchen. I partied with Liam Gallagher. I played for Patti Smith at the Royal Festival Hall. And when I had free time, I took my children to Kurt Cobain’s house, Jim Morrison’s tomb and where John Lennon was shot. It was a blast,” he carried on. His wandering eyes beamed.
”See? This is why I didn’t want to brag,” Sek said. ”I mean, who would believe me? People would just think I’m crazy because I don’t have photos to validate my stories. But why would I go ‘Hey, Liam, let’s take a photo?’ I never ask anyone even for an autograph. I’m a rock star myself! I have to play cool. If there’s anyone who can make me lose my cool, it’s probably Paul McCartney.” (Ibid)
Sek Loso rose to stardom with the band LOSO, who chose the name to lash out against celebrity worship and the God-like consumer culture handed down from the idols of Bangkok’s High Society (or, HiSo). Their first album “Lo Society” broke in 1996, but the band broke up in 2002. The singer decided to go solo, perhaps an analogue to the contemporaneous election of Thaksin Shinawatra that encouraged “thinking new” by referencing individual aspiration over collective ties. A month before the 2006 coup, Sek made big news when he punched out Noi S. Clapp in front of thousands of New York City concert goers in one of Thailand’s most significant international productions of the Ramakien. Noi S. Clapp is frontman of the modern rock group Pru, but also son of a rich high society hotel owner.
One problem Sek faces is economic. His label GMM Grammy, one of Thailand’s largest, must dispose of the problem star if they are to appeal to their celebrity aligned promotional culture. Most concerts revolve a collective line-up of artists within a seasonal rotation of national music festivals (is it not ironic that these concerts are usually sponsored by either Chang or Singha beer companies?). His other problem is political, in the way Thailand imagines the relationship between art and culture. For example, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) has drafted and circulated a “memorandum” that, among other clauses, places a 2-year publicity ban on any artist abusing drugs.
But has the public fallen victim to the artist, in the sense characterized by the media stories about the “Sek scandal”? Or is the fall of the artist symptomatic of how Thai celebrity culture has sanitized mainstream music? And is addiction and recovery, a dominant theme in contemporary Western pop culture, part and parcel of the mainstream? The media characterizations of Sek Loso have yet to enlist the opinions of mainstream Thai rock musicians in similar genres, such as Silly Fools, Bodyslam, and the recently broken-up Clash, so it’s difficult to measure a response to such themes.
Perhaps this confrontation will expose the true artist in Sek. Having been abandoned by major labels, his path may change for the better. Perhaps he may choose more independent routes, or collaborations that really (and not in name only) confront the “high society” of celebrity culture. Modern Dog, for example, collaborated with the politically-minded Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul to produce a music video for the 2008 song “I still breathe” (Chan yung hai jai). The video enlists young villager teenagers from Nabua, in the northeast of Thailand, in an aesthetically innovative way. This same Nabua village fell victim to a 1960s crackdown on so-called communists, a past deformed by the youth who somehow convey its future. The video can be currently viewed as part of the filmmaker’s Primitives exhibition at the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok. It can be heard here.
Loso’s most recent endeavors over the past year included the “We Are the One” concert, in which he closes the show with a karaoke rendition of Som Sarn. The concert is meant to raise money for, and bring awareness about, victims of Buddhist-Muslim violence in Thailand’s southern provinces. But rather than think about the lives claimed by national violence, he will now how to reflect up his own victimhood. And these are the processes through which resurrections are made. His will be highly anticipated.