Eastern Promise

Chinese singer Chet Lam isn’t hiding his sexuality and no one seems to care.

BY Lawrence Ferber

October 05 2007 12:00 AM ET

There is no Elton
John, Melissa Etheridge, Erasure, or even Lance Bass in
Hong Kong, but there is Chet Lam. He’s penned songs
for mainstream Cantonese pop artists, opened for kd
lang, won awards, written collections of writing, and
even starred in a couple of Chinese queer indie films.
In a country and culture that still prefers its media icons
closeted, Lam’s sexuality doesn’t seem to be
ruffling any feathers. Even when he’s
performing the male-pronoun specific, “When He
Sings” (from the 2006 all-English cover album
Camping) or romantic ditties about, well, Bert
and Ernie.

“They are
the most ambiguous gay couple in TV history, that’s
for sure,” says Lam. Sitting in
Manhattan’s Joe’s Café, a queer coffee
spot appropriately positioned on the corner of Gay
Street and Waverly, the 31-year-old Lam cuts a slight,
almost schoolboy figure in a striped button-down shirt
and tie. “They tell everyone they’re best
friends,” he continues. “Their pictures
hang on a wall in the same bedroom. And one of their
songs is called, ‘When Bert’s Not
Here,’ sung by Ernie. That is one of the most
touching love songs I’ve ever heard.” Lam
performed the song during an arts festival appearance,
an Ernie puppet literally on hand.

Hopelessly
stricken with wanderlust and frequently mixing Cantonese and
English in his songs, Lam visited New York to finish writing
his next album, catch some concerts (including Damien
Rice), and have a sit-down with The Advocate.

When did you come out publicly, and what was the response? I came out in the very first interview I did
five years ago in Hong Kong because I didn’t
want to make it a big deal. Hong Kong people and Chinese
media like playing games with you and can be really mean.
But when you lay yourself out in front of them, with
no hidden agenda or anything, they will just stop
asking. And that’s what I wanted to do. No more
questions asked.

When did you come out as a person? I never came out because I was never in.

Travel and relationships play a big part in your
songs. Travelogue, Too’s
“CL411” deals with both.
What’s the story behind it?
I grew up -- not poor, in Hong Kong you
can’t be too poor -- but we didn’t have
money at all, in a public housing estate less than 500
meters from the airport and my dad was working as a
maintenance guy in the engine department. I was
watching the planes go up and down every day, and I
really liked them and wanted to go away. Later it became a
habit, like getting away from things, from
relationships. I wrote "CL411" on the plane to San
Francisco in 2003. My debut album had come out and was
quite well received, and suddenly I got some money so I
could do what I wanted. So I was trying to escape from
someone…and I realized maybe I’m the one
whom I’ve been trying to escape.

And "Two Toothbrushes"? You know Bright Eyes? It was inspired by his
work "The First Day of My Life." I was so touched I
wanted my own version! Two toothbrushes in the same
glass in a bathroom together is bliss -- it’s
happiness, and I’m really content when I look
at them. This is a symbol, and I like using real
symbols and objects in my songs to make people understand
what I’m talking about.

Tags: World

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