Following World War II, the US government invested heavily in “area studies” in an effort to gain knowledge about the world which it was seeking to dominate. Southeast Asia was one of the “areas” that the US government wanted information about, and a massive amount of scholarship on that region was produced over the course of several decades.

That body of knowledge, however, contained massive gaps. One of the biggest gaps concerned knowledge about popular music. It is simply impossible to really get a sense of another society if one doesn’t attempt to understand the popular music of that society, but in the (Western) academic world, popular music gets relegated to the (unfortunately peripheral) discipline of ethnomusicology.

This is a shame, because popular music is simply too important to ignore.

I was thinking about this while watching the above video. This video is a recent “re-enactment/interpretation” of one of the most famous songs by one of Thailand’s most famous singers.

In the 1960s, there was probably no performer in Thailand who was more famous/popular than Suraphol Sombatcharoen (สุรพล สมบัติเจริญ).

Tragically shot to death in 1968, Suraphol Sombatcharoen’s last song was about the end of his marriage and was called “The 16 Years of Our Past” (สิบหกปีแห่งความหลัง). This is the song that the above video “re-creates.”

Here are the lyrics. I have adapted them from this English version. I’m not entirely happy with what I have here, so if anyone has suggestions, please contribute.

สิบหกปี แห่งความหลัง

For the 16 years of our past,

ทั้งรักทั้งชังทั้งหวานและขมขื่น

We’ve shared love, hatred, sweetness and bitterness.

สิบหกปีเหมือนสิบหกวัน

Our 16 years were just like 16 days.

รักเอ๋ยช่างสั้นไม่ยั่งยืน

Our love was so terribly short, and did not endure.

มีหวานมีชื่นมีขื่นมีขม

There was sweetness, happiness, bitterness and bitterness.

สิบหกปี ที่เธอและฉัน

For 16 years, you and I,

ครองความรักกันสุขสันต์เหลือข่ม

Lived our love of joy and bitterness.

อุตส่าห์ถนอมน้ำใจกันมา

We have tried to conserve our good feelings,

ไม่เคยนึกว่าจะมาระทม

But I never thought that we would end up broken-hearted.

กลายเป็นสวรรค์ล่ม

Like heaven collapsing,

อกตรมกลัดหนอง

My heart conflicted with melancholy.

ไปดีเถิดนะพี่ขออวยพร

Be on your way and please accept my blessings.

ให้เจ้าไปดี

I wish you all the best,

ลืมสิบหกปีเสียเถิดนะน้อง

And forget those 16 years, my dear.

นึกว่าหลับฝันชั่วพลันเราตื่น

Let us just imagine that we have woken up from a dream.

ลืมคืนเราสอง ที่ครองความรักกันมาถึงสิบหกปี

Forget all the nights we’ve shared together over the past 16 years.

สิบหกปี แห่งความฝัน

The 16 years of our dream,

ทั้งเธอและฉันจบเกมรักกัน เพียงนี้

Both you and I have decided to end our game of love.

สิบหกวันเหมือนสิบหกเดือน

16 years were just like 16 months,

สิบหกเดือนเหมือนสิบหกปี

16 months were just like 16 years,

พี่ตรมฤดีเพราะพี่ขาดเธอ..

My heart is saddened because I have lost you.