Bill Popp

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 September, 2008, 12:00am

THE DREAM Living a split life is not easy. At night, I'm a musician, singing and playing keyboard with my band, the Tapes. During the day, I'm a plumber for the New York City Department of Parks.

I'm the joke among my co-workers because I'll turn down overtime to go play for free at a club. For me, it's important to do what I love.

I was born in New York on June 5, 1953. I was raised in College Point, Queens, in the same house where I still live today. And I would be lying if I told you that I've given up on the hope of having a hit song.

THE REALITIES In 2005, I landed in Hong Kong to make a connecting flight to Vietnam. I remember looking out the window from the plane and falling in love with the beautiful mountains and the way the buildings looked on them. Until then, I had been playing in Europe from time to time. I thought why not try Asia. There might be more opportunities for me here; the market isn't as saturated.

I played solo shows in Vietnam, China and Thailand in 2005, and in India two years later. People are curious. Western music is starting to catch on. So when the opportunity came along to visit Hong Kong this summer, how could I refuse? I liked walking around the city, admiring the views - and the women too. I really enjoyed playing [at The Wanch and The Cavern]. I look forward to returning.

THE BEGINNINGS I always knew what I wanted to be: a musician. By the time I was five, I was singing Elvis' Hound Dog in the hallway. As a child, I was into Ricky Nelson, Chubby Checker and Dion and the Belmonts.

Then, in 1964, I started listening to the Beatles. I was 10 years old, and the group was bigger than life. Ringo owned a blue Ludwig drum kit, and I begged my parents for one. A couple of years later my parents caved. They bought me a sky blue set.

Soon, I started my first band. We called ourselves the Tormenters and we lived up to our name; we were awful. My mother used to play piano by ear when she was a child. Since I had received drums that June of 1966, my father and sister decided to chip in and bought my mother a piano for Christmas. I thought the piano was silly - until I found out that John and Paul played it.

In 1968, the Beatles released Hey Jude and my friend Ralph taught me how to play it. One day I was sitting at the piano, when I started mumbling some words over the melody to Don't Let Me Down and, voila, I wrote my first song. I called it It's You. It was for a girl named Diane.

Five years later, I submitted my first demo tape to Warner Bros. They sent me my first rejection letter.

THE MEMORIES I've played the New York clubs that are no longer there - including Gerde's Folk City, the Palladium, Max's Kansas City and CBGB's, the iconic club founded by the late Hilly Kristal.

I'll never forget my first time at Hilly's place. It was around 1976 and one day my friend Keith called me up to say there was this band called the Ramones playing at CBGB's. That night, the place was packed. I remember there were a lot of intellectual hippie-looking guys just looking around while this music was blasting. I didn't know whether to like the music or hate it. I was into Jethro Tull and disco music was holding six out of the top 10 spots on the radio. But I wanted to write something like the Ramones, so the next day I wrote a three-chord song to a fast beat. I called it Dee-Dee's got a D-cup.

CBGB's would eventually become my home. Now that it's gone, there's a hole in the New York music scene.

THE HURT AND THE HOPE My mother had cancer from the time I was 10. She beat it for 15 years. I promised her I would someday be a full-time musician. She died in our house a week after she was sent home from the hospital. That was August 14, 1978; she was 64. On November 1, 1986, I found my father unconscious on the floor. The paramedic worked on him for 45 minutes then said, 'I'm sorry he's gone'. He was 73.

My health? I recently had heart bypass surgery. The doctors said I had a half of a percent chance that I wasn't going to make it through the surgery - the odds weren't bad. I recovered.

As far as playing music - what else should I do at this point? This is who I am. I have no intention of stopping. A number shouldn't make you decide what you should do with your life - as long as you can do it. That's what's important.

I'll see you again, Hong Kong.