Mysteries of the Dragon Gate

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Looming incongruously over the E4 just south of Gävle is an impressive development bearing the name Dragon Gate. We’ve driven past it once or twice a year since moving to Sweden, on our way north from Stockholm during the summer. Even from road level it looks odd, a massive grey non-sequitur, cheap concrete Chinese architecture hulking up out of the forested sides of the motorway. What the hell *is* it??

Finally, this year, we got to stop there and have a nose around. (A very fringe benefit of a driving with a car seat-averse infant.) The place is a spectacular misfire of an investment. Work started in 2004 on what might some day have been a grand Sino-Swedish cultural hub, with a hotel, restaurants, a museum, and – if Wikipedia (Swedish) is to be believed – a Shaolin temple and kung fu school.

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Instead it became a shotgun wedding of reckless Chinese development and painstaking Swedish beauracracy. Fruitful, not so much. The first phase of building was completed in 2008, some of which was accomplished without planning permission. Now, the hotel and restaurant building stand unpainted and grandly unloved in the middle of acres of paved emptiness.

Signs hand-painted on bedsheets hang askew. The restaurant runs on a skeleton staff (full disclosure: we didn’t eat there, terrible missed opportunity). The gift shop, stacked high with kitsch and tchotchkes, is unstaffed and even lacking a cash register (I guess you pay in the restaurant). Outside, the lofty statue of the bodhisattva Guanyin shows compassion by averting her gaze from the epic folly behind her.

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In recent years, there were two attempts at a grand opening for the hotel, both dogged by rumours of the projects abandonment. But the owner – a Chinese businessman who made his fortune in the mosquito repellant business – has so far been content to keep the venture afloat. At the height of summer, such as when we visited, the Dragon Gate can be seen to entertain as many as tens of people, wandering incredulously from one enormously misguided construction to the next. All of them wondering what on earth happened here. Pondering where all those copies of the terracotta warriors might be hidden. And hoping that the plan to install a live panda never comes to pass.

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42+1 Songs and Answer Songs

Here’s a playlist of 42+1 songs and their notable answer song counterparts. A few knock-offs, a couple of pastiches, and a bunch of well-crafted tunes that take a more considered and artistic approach to their inspiration.

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Answer songs, or response songs. A phenomenon that’s surely always been with us, but which in pop terms reached a peak in the quick-fix, production-line hits of the 1950s-60s, with dialogues like Tell Laura I love Her / Tell Tommy I Need Him and Are You Lonesome Tonight? / Yes I’m Lonesome Tonight. Even Carole King served up more than her fair share, with Short Mort answering a hit titled Tall Paul, and Oh Neil! replying to Neil Sedaka’s Oh! Carol.

None of those are on this list, BTW.

I said these are “notable” songs, not great ones, because reasons. To wit:

  1. There’s often a disparity in quality here. No Pigeons doesn’t pack the same punch as No Scrubs, but it was a bona fide hit in its own right. It’s not always the answer that doesn’t measure up to the original though – Lennon’s How Do You Sleep? has the edge over McCartney’s Too Many People, and Althea & Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking is far more of a classic cut than the Three Piece Suit that it’s heavily based on.
  2. Some of these tunes are, umm, let’s say lyrically problematic. There’s a reason you don’t hear He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) around the place so much. Nas’s Ether and Ice Cube’s No Vaseline are both solid responses to diss tracks, while also leaning way too heavily on the homophobic slurs, if you ask me.

I was perversely unable to remove the Spokesmen’s nauseating Dawn of Correction, a riposte to Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction, and that rare thing: a right-wing protest song. The songwriters have the audacity to applaud the nuclear stand-off between USA and USSR because it encourages diplomacy, and hey, who’d be so nuts as to press the button anyway? Hard to say if that’s worse than the part where they say the struggles of the civil rights movement are no big deal because voter registration has improved. Actually, they’re both worse.

It wouldn’t have worked to sit songs and answers next to each other – some are just too damn close for that. Instead it’s an onion of a playlist (if you will), with the Rolling Stones in second position being answered by Liz Phair in second-to-last. The list pivots around Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man, which he recorded in response to the opening track, Muddy Waters’s (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man. Waters returned the favour, answering Bo Diddley’s own answer song with the immortal Mannish Boy

42+1 Songs & Answer Songs:

  • (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man (1) – I’m a Man (22) – Mannish Boy (43)
  • Tumbling Dice (2) – Never Said (42)
  • My Guy (3) – My Girl (41)
  • Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? (4) – Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken (40)
  • Cry Me a River (5) – Sweet Dreams My LA Ex (39)
  • Three Piece Suit (6) – Uptown Top Ranking (38)
  • The Girl Is Mine (7) – The Boy Is Mine (37)
  • Takeover (8) – Ether (36)
  • Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth (9) – Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth (35)
  • Maneater (10) – Maneater (34)
  • Oh, the Divorces! (11) – Become Someone Else’s (33)
  • Too Many People (12) – How Do You Sleep? (32)
  • Judge Dread (13) – Set Them Free (31)
  • No Scrubs (14) – No Pigeons (30)
  • Eat for Two (15) – Me in Honey (29)
  • Eve of Destruction (16) – Dawn of Correction (28)
  • 100 Miles and Runnin’ (17) – No Vaseline (27)
  • He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) (18) – And Then You Kissed Me (26)
  • Empty Chairs (19) – Killing Me Softly with His Song (25)
  • New York (20) – London Boys (24)
  • Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag Pt.1 (21) – Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag (23)