Friday, December 28, 2007

Vedder again, with his cult classic of a speech, inducting the Ramones into the Hall of Fame, and himself into the Hall of Fame for Hall of Fame Speeches.

Good evening. Hey. Ho. Let's go. Y'know, if it weren't for Johnny Ramone, I would have come here not knowing who Brenda Lee was. But that's part of the story you'll get in a bit. And yeah, I do have a Mohawk. No, I didn't get it to pose up here as a punk rocker for this exalted occasion. It actually stems from my frustration with world events and bombings and things like that. I took it out on my own hair. Sometimes you feel powerless and you do sometimes silly things.

Two days after it was done, back in November, I walked in a shop to buy Christmas gifts and I was accused of shoplifting. So even though the Ramones are being inducted into the Hall of Fame, it doesn't mean punk rockers, or looking like a punk rocker, has become respectable.

The Ramones didn't need Mohawks to be punk. They never had one. I don't think anyone in the band ever had one. They were visually aggressive. They were four working class construction worker delinquents from Forest Hills, Queens who were armed with two-minute songs that they rattled off like machine-gun fire. It was enough to change the earth's revolution, or at least the music of the time. It was an assault. Someone asked Johnny Ramone once why the songs were so short. He said, "They're actually fairly long songs played very, very quickly."

First time I saw the Ramones I was pretty young. Before the show even started, I was trying to get closer and closer and got up to the stage. I got up there packed and ready and even a little bit nervous. The crowd was intense, the look of the crowd. Outcasts one and all. They were hardcore punkers with spikes on their jackets, chains on their boots. Skinheads, horror film fans, nerds and geeks and outcasts, they were all ready to get out all of their aggression in the next hour and 15 minutes. As I was getting closer I saw something really strange about the microphone stand in the middle. It was about ten feet high. There was something really strange about that I saw a roadie put the set list down. He stood up and he was half the size of the microphone stand. I thought, "Who the fuck is going to sing at that microphone stand?" It was very unsettling. Then looking at the amount of amps that they had symmetrically placed at either side, and knowing that there was a huge amount of volume that was going to come out of that, it was very unsettling. Then the lights go out and they start playing "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." The crowd starts getting into third and fourth gear. Then they come out. One two three four! Into the first song. All hell broke loose. It was complete chaos. The guy with the boots and the chains ... all of a sudden they were right in front of your face swinging by. It was terribly frightening and totally blissful at the same time.

I think of the amount of intensity in that show and in that one night, and then I think of how many times that happened. The Ramones played 2269 shows. J.Lo's got a lot of catching up to do!

Speaking of J. Lo, disco was huge in the '70s. Disco took over the clubs and the airwaves, along with the indulgent guitar solos and seven-minute songs that was the musical landscape of 1976. The Ramones made a record in 1977. There's a black and white photo of four guys in leather jackets all with the same last name, Converse shoes and jeans standing against a brick wall. This became a beacon for anyone who ever wanted to be in a band, those disenfranchised by the dynasties of giant rock bands.

They obliterated the mystique of what it was to play in a band. You didn't have to know scales. With the knowledge of two-bar chords, you could play along with their records. That's what people did. They sat in front of their parents' hi-fis and played along with Road to Ruin or It's Alive. Within weeks, they were starting bands with other kids in town who were doing the same thing.

You could be on stage, getting it out, saying what you feel, singing about sniffing glue and not be a virtuoso or genetically gifted with Elvis' cheekbones, either. You could look like an outcast and still be cool. Talking Heads were the same thing in a different way. [Applause.] It's a big night.

The Ramones were a blueprint, a blueprint so necessary at the time. That fact alone is so important for everything that came after. Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth was saying that he can't think of a band or a musician these days where the Ramones weren't a very important part of their life. John McBain, a great musician from Seattle that I know, said something - and I think he spoke for the whole Seattle community when he said, "The Ramones were our Beatles."

Going back to that time at CBGB and the New York scene, Patti Smith said it was a reclamation of rock 'n' roll, but we created it and we're gonna take it back. Let's take it over. [Applause. Eddie drinks wine.] I'm up here for a bit ... I need to ... It may have to happen again, because Thurston and I were talking, and now it's Disney kids singing songs written by old men and being marketed to six and seven year olds. So some kind of change might have to happen again soon. But that's a whole 'nother thing.

After the initial surge of the late '70s, commercially the Ramones were never embraced. Bands around them were, but never them. Virtually ignored by radio, '80s MTV and even other artists, they never stopped and regardless have a following worldwide that's as devoted as ever.

I went with them once to South America. There was 50,000 people. Riots for tickets. People screaming outside. It was the reaction I always thought they deserved.

When punk finally broke in '91, the Ramones still weren't brought along for the ride, even though the bands Nirvana, Rancid, and Green Day wouldn't have existed without them. Punk bands' first or second records now sell ten times the amount of records the Ramones did throughout their career of 20-something records. That's why I go over to Johnny Ramone's house and do yard work three times a week, just to absolve some of the guilt. A bunch of people do it. Bono and Edge do their windows. Kirk Hammett, the guitarist from Metallica, he dusts, house cleans, makes French toast ... that's a true story. Even Kurt Cobain wanted to be as good as the Ramones. The list is endless. Turn page.

They never had a top ten hit. You know it's crazy when Phil Spector produces your record and you still don't have a top ten record. But it's really circumstantial. It doesn't alter the fact that they were one of the most important bands in rock 'n' roll. They accomplished a lot for a punk band. Most of the others, like the Sex Pistols, crashed and burned. Most punk bands pretty much crashed and burned. In the Sex Pistols case, thank you Malcolm McLaren for being an ego-driven fool or fuck for the non-edited version of this VH1 televised event.

They existed for 22 years with the same level of intensity the whole time. They may not have gotten along the whole time, but that was touring for 22 years in a van for fuck's sake, so you have to understand ... it's a highly respectable thing to travel in a van and not go up to a tour bus, not get your separate planes because you don't get along with the other guys in your van. It's torturously insane to stay in a van for eight years, but they did it. Even after Dee Dee left the band - and he was such a huge part of the band - he still wrote songs for them, which I think speaks to the brotherhood they had, an intense brotherhood of sorts.

After Dee Dee left, there were some intense Converse shoes to fill. The guy who did it, his name was C.J. For whatever reason, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chose not to include him with those being inducted. It's a Hall of Fame thing, I wouldn't understand. But he played 800-something shows, he participated in three or four records, wrote a lot of songs and really importantly, he was accepted by the hardcore Ramones fans. The Ramones kept playing and were able to play for another generation because of C.J. C.J.'s been working 12-hour days cleaning pollution out of the air ducts down around the World Trade Center. He's here tonight. He might not get up here, but I was going to ask him to stand up and be recognized. C.J. Ramone!

I'll mention that Johnny Ramone's been an extremely great friend. His wife and he have been such great friends to me and taught me a lot about music I was too young to see. Going back to the Brenda Lee comment, and Gene Pitney ... I was introduced to them by John. He's been a tutor of sorts. The guy saw Hendrix and was sitting down. The whole crowd was sitting down. He saw the Who open for the Doors. He himself has more information than probably the institution to which he's being inducted into tonight.

Okay, at this point I've spoken long enough: we could have heard three or four Ramones songs. And after this, I'm sure the evening will move quickly. But it's the Ramones and it's punk rock and I'm just about finished and I hope you're okay with that. Apparently you're not. Fuck you. Take it easy, Eddie. All right.

The last thing I was going to say was about when the Ramones' manager Gary Kurfirst first talked to me. He said there was a night back in December of the year 2000. He got a phone call from Joey Ramone. Joey had had an accident in front of his apartment. He slipped and fell on some ice. I guess he was just lying there for a bit, tangled up. He ended up breaking his hip. He wasn't getting any help. People were just walking by, either side of him. He was pretty upset by it. At the end, I guess he called Gary and he said, "The worst thing about it was that no one would help me. I was down and nobody would help me."

Maybe they didn't know it was Joey Ramone. He was tangled in black hair and they thought he was a bum or whatever. But in a way, it's only mentioned because it's analogous to the Ramones' career. It's hard. Then obviously Joey died on Easter of 2001, less than a year ago. I'm sure he would have loved to be here tonight.

The only reason I mention that is that's why tonight's really important and special. Because I'm sure there's a number of bands and people who never get to be up here and never get to be brought up before all you people and applauded. I thought that would probably happen with the Ramones. Something very unusual is happening here tonight, and that is that this industry is paying some respect to the Ramones. So with the power invested in me, I'd like to induct Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, Marky, C.J. which we've talked about. The Ramones.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Qu'est ce que c'est déguelasse?

Man travels to Paris to reclaim money and tell a girl he wants to sleep with her because he’s actually in love but because he thinks he's as tough as Bogart he can't tell her that straight. A carjacking leads to a shootout, he kills a policeman and drives off addressing dialogues directly to the camera. Reaching Paris, he meets Jean Seberg, looking fantastic in a New York Herald Tribune T-shirt and the best movie haircut until Juliette Binoche in Blue, and playing hard to get. He spends the next hour or so trying to extract money from an associate and also get the girl into bed. Bed is where they spend an inordinately long twenty minutes talking, Patricia teasing Michel, who displays the amazing patience shown by men with sex on their minds. Later, the director leads the police to their quarry, we watch with frozen disbelief as the neon news tickers flash warnings 'Arrest of Michel Poiccard imminent'. Is this a joke? Yes and no. The man is gunned down, and Seberg, complicit in his death, utters the weirdest last line of any movie before or since, variously translated as "What's a louse?" or "What's a bitch?" or "What is puke?" (the last being the Criterion Collection translation, which should be accepted as the definitive one, simply out of pure gratitude for the fact that Criterion exists at all).

Even with Tennyson there to remind me that jump cut piled on jump cut were all too little, I must admit that they do not do much for me. Its not like I'm opposed to innovation for its own sake, as long as it is accompanied by a punk attitude and a desire to overturn things as they currently stand. What endures from Breathless finally is not the technique, which has become de rigueur through imitation – but details like Belmondo’s performance, a fore-runner of other talkative, flawed leads like Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. Or the obsessive cinephilia – Bogart movie references, roles for Truffaut, Godard, Melville - a trend which Tarantino reprised three decades later. Or the impression that the final cut leaves - always self-aware, never self-conscious - no matter how many risks it takes along the way. Or how we get Paris as we’d like to imagine it – classy and dangerous, teeming with scheming charmers and broad-minded girls and other low-life. And that haircut.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


  • "King illegal forest to pig wild kill in it a is!"

  • “We are now the Knights Who Say Ecky- ecky- ecky- ecky- pikang- zoop- boing- goodem- zoo- owli- zhiv”

  • "Frankly my dear, i don't give a damn"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Too tired to make an effort to frame a structured slew of letters, the heroic blogger resorts to random rants about shoes and ships and sealing wax and I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the Walrus…

Everything here is in regression. There hasn’t been a movie worth seeing since Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, which was some five years back. Instead, they put all their money into self-congratulatory crap like Om Shanti Om, which, in its effort to milk ‘70s nostalgia actually gives you a crash course in how things got to the sorry state they are in today. There hasn’t been a truly memorable ad on TV for a long time. Television has been stuck in a horrible stupor for about a decade. Brain-dead for all practical purposes, it raises its head only to look to Bollywood for inspiration, which just makes things worse. And music may be the saddest scene of all, because you have a bunch of diverse talents all wasting their fucking time trying to be the bastardized son of Laxmikant-Pyarelal with Bhangra beats, while Rahman continues to innovate from a brilliant parallel universe.

Literature doesn’t seem to be going anywhere significant either. When will that book come along, that elusive rebel yell I’ve been waiting for all these years (and which I doubt I want to read now because it must be a young book or else its useless), the one whose realities are our realities, whose dreams are our dreams, whose broken, innovative, transfigured language is the kind that we, young of this country, have spoken for close to a decade now. Give me no more NRI displacement sagas, no matter how sensitively wrought. And stop showing me Rushdie, we do not speak like he thinks we do. We are a unique generation, rapidly growing old, and in need of a good chronicler.

Take me back to those last 2 years of school. In rock ‘n roll terms, that time was like a fantastic chorus; it all came together, and we brought it all back home. Fifteen jugglers, five believers. I’ve never known a crazier bunch of people; it was like we were all wired together, but the wiring was loose. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we were all together today. I should probably call them…

Anything else? Yeah, the Government. As the Stiff Little Fingers said “Its time the bastards fell”. And corporate culture. And ranting self-obsessed bloggers. I hate them the most.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The ten best AR Rahman film tracks

1. Satrangi re
In an album studded with diverse gems, this Indian equivalent of blueswailing was the song with the least initial appeal. But over time, things which seemed like weaknesses – complex, non-catchy tune, tonal ambiguities, an unusually ragged Sonu Nigam – have aged wonderfully and become the song’s strengths. The song chronicles the seven stages of love – from first meeting through to infatuation and obsession and finally death. The vaguely mid-eastern instrumentation in the background becomes more and more delirious as the song progresses, especially the flutes, which come in mid-way through the song and seem to taunt the tortured singer with their low hisses. Sonu Nigam, the king of aural candy floss, has described this as the most challenging song he’s had to sing. Few would disagree; ‘Satrangi re’ is one of those rewarding, rare songs that is a challenge for the singer as well as the listener

2. Udi Udi
No song captures the undercurrent of jazz in a lot of Rahman’s music better than this number from Saathiya. The bass has always been an important instrument for him, and he shows a willingness to put it right up there in front, unlike other composers in India. Here, the combination of bass and Sivamani’s inventive percussion provide the texture around which Adnan Sami’s voice is allowed to roam free. Everyone seems to be having fun – composer, singer, and lyricist Gulzar, who follows up the fire-and-brimstone of his collaboration with Rahman on Dil Se with funny, melodramatic lines such as "Tum keh do/ sab la de/ bas itna socho toh/ ambar pe/ pehle hi/ sitaare thode hain".

3. Kehna hi kya
What makes this tune so haunting? If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say because its left been left suspended so brilliantly - not so much of the heavens that it become otherworldly, but neither so earthy that it become commonplace. The ethereal Chitra vocal is contrasted perfectly by the wordless, prayerful Sufi interlude by Rahman, which is further contrasted by the playful choruses that rush into the song like a bunch of breathless schoolgirls. Its very difficult to listen to this song passively, it stirs up all the emotions hinted at in the lyrics – desire, hesitancy, a little less conversation, a little more action…

4. Radha kaise na jale
Why this song? Because its a simple concept, steeped in tradition (but not bogged down by it), and is executed perfectly. Asha Bhosle and Udit Narayan, who had worked devastatingly well in combination on Rahman’s path-breaking Rangeela soundtrack, sing in character here, one as an utterly smitten and utterly frustrated Radha, the other as a typically smooth-talking Krishna. The song somehow emerges without falling into the three typical traps Hindi film songs set in a villages usually fall into – it sounds neither rustic, nor dated, nor so devoid of spirit that you cannot distinguish it from the million other spiritless songs which composers other than Rahman churn out periodically like soulless, talentless hacks.

5. Urvashi Urvashi
Hands down the funniest lyrics ever in an Indian film. An introduction to Rahman for all those who had missed his debut Roja, Humse Hai Muqabala was a manic Tamil film by a truly strange director called Shankar. His conceit for this song was a fibreplastic bus, and Prabhu Deva dressed as a nun. The lyrics were even weirder; jingoistic, ridiculous gems like “If a girl winks at you in the dark/ what’s the point” and “Upliftment of women/ won’t happen without revolution”, and my favourite, “Cats are not vegetarian”.

6. Chhoti si asha
There are people who insist till this day that Rahman’s first song was also his best. This was the anti-debut, the song sounded like it had always been there and that Rahman had merely discovered, rather than composed it. Hearing it for the first time, the easy charm of the song belies the preciseness of the execution. It happened once, and did not repeat itself; the closest he came was ‘Aawara bhawren’, similar in most respects but missing that vital innocence which made the original so special.

7. Strawberry aankhen
Sapnay was Rahman showing everyone he could do an out-and-out musical. The music in this album is a tour de force of invention – in one song, he shifts from jazz to Rajasthani folk to blues harmonica. According to Javed Akhtar, ‘Strawberry aankhen’ was initially supposed to be ‘Ras bhari aankhen’; more poetic but less fun. The music mirrors the title perfectly, it dips and falls and amuses with clever use of standard Hollywood-musical clichés.

8. Chaiyyan Chaiyyan
Its not hard to imagine AR Rahman giving his singers a subverted version of Robin Williams’ philosophy in Good Will Hunting – “You’re not perfect. This song that you’re gonna sing, its not perfect either. But what matters is whether you are perfect for each other”. Its unlikely any other music director would have picked the gravel-voiced Sapna Awasthi and an unknown Punjabi singer called Sukhwinder Singh to duet on what was obviously the big crowd-pleaser in the Dil Se OST. But Rahman did, and they nailed it so hard that the walls of the cinema halls still seem to reverberate with the sound. It wasn’t just the singing – this number (and the title track, sung with tenderness and feral force by Rahman himself) was rock music re-imagined in purely Indian terms, proving that you didn’t need loud guitars as long as you had forceful new ideas.

9. Raat ki daldal
Deepa Mehta’s partition-era film, 1947 Earth, showcases Rahman’s ability to judge the mood, character and period of a film and adjust his music accordingly. Few modern composers have had to bring so much to the table and it speaks volumes for his astonishing facility with just about any form of music that the end result always sounds unmistakably his (even when its bad). This number turns up in the second half of the movie, just before the whole region explodes into random, senseless violence. The opening line, with Sukhwinder Singh’s voice breaking the still of the night, sends shivers down one’s spine.

10. Yeh jo des hai tera
Another song which breaks the stillness of the night, but this time the mood it evokes is not fear. This is a love song, sung not to a lover, but to a nation. It is also of a nation – it doesn’t give the impression of belonging to some specific corner of India, unlike ‘Ghar aaja pardesi’ and other songs in the increasingly gimmicky motherland-calls-out-to-its-sons-and-daughters-abroad genre. Which says more about Rahman the man than Rahman the composer. His music has always been remarkably inclusive. In the course of his career he has composed hymns and bhajans and Sufi chants, and included music from all corners of India and through all of this, shown that intermixing is not only very much possible but in fact makes for a more potent mixture.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

All you need is a writing partner

In sharp contrast to the other Hall of Fame induction speech below, this tribute to John Lennon is as measured and well thought out as some of McCartney's best songs. Deep emotion need not necessarily be off the cuff in order to seem genuine - a distinction which Paul's critics seem incapable of making. Damn the critics, read this, and then listen to 'Two of us', with that incredibly wistful line, "You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead".

Dear John,

‘I remember when we first met, at Woolton, at the village fete. It was a beautiful summer day and I walked in there and saw you on stage. And you were singing "Come Go With Me," by the Dell Vikings, But you didn't know the words so you made them up. "Come go with me to the penitentiary." It's not in the lyrics.

I remember writing our first songs together. We used to go to my house, my Dad's home, and we used to smoke Ty-Phoo tea with the pipe my dad kept in a drawer. It didn't do much for us but it got us on the road.

We wanted to be famous.

I remember the visits to your mum's house. Julia was a very handsome woman, very beautiful woman. She had long, red hair and she played a ukulele. I'd never seen a woman that could do that. And I remember to having to tell you the guitar chords because you used to play the ukulele chords.

And then on your 21st birthday you got 100 pounds off one of your rich relatives up in Edinburgh, so we decided we'd go to Spain. So we hitch-hiked out of Liverpool, got as far as Paris, and decided to stop there, for a week. And eventually got our haircut, by a fellow named Jurgen, and that ended up being the "Beatle haircut."

I remember introducing you to my mate George, my schoolmate, and getting him into the band by playing "Raunchy" on the top deck of a bus. You were impressed. And we met Ringo who'd been working the whole season at Butlin's camp - he was a seasoned professional - but the beard had to go, and it did.

Later on we got a gig at the Cavern Club in Liverpool which was officially a blues club. We didn't really know any blues numbers. We loved the blues but we didn't know any blues numbers, so we had announcements like "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a great Big Bill Broonzy number called "Wake Up Little Suzie." And they kept passing up little notes - "This is not the blues, this is not the blues. This is pop." But we kept going.

And then we ended up touring. It was a bloke called Larry Parnes who gave us our first tour. I remember we all changed names for that tour. I changed mine to Paul Ramon, George became Carl Harrison and, although people
think you didn't really change your name, I seem to remember you were Long John Silver for the duration of that tour.
(Bang goes another myth.)

We'd been on a van touring later and we'd have the kind of night where the windsceen would break. We would be on the motorway going back up to Liverpool. It was freezing so we had to lie on top of each other in the back of the van creating a Beatle sandwich. We got to know each other. These were the ways we got to know each other.

We got to Hamburg and met the likes of Little Richard, Gene Vincent...I remember Little Richard inviting us back to his hotel. He was looking at Ringo's ring and said, "I love that ring." He said, "I've got a ring like that. I could give you a ring like that." So we all went back to the hotel with him. (We never got a ring.)

We went back with Gene Vincent to his hotel room once. It was all going fine until he reached in his bedside drawer and pulled out a gun. We' said "Er, we've got to go, Gene, we've got to go..." We got out quick!

And then came the USA -- New York City -- where we met up with Phil Spector, the Ronettes, Supremes, our heroes, our heroines. And then later in L.A., we met up with Elvis Presley for one great evening. We saw the boy on his home territory. He was the first person I ever saw with a remote control on a TV. Boy! He was a hero, man.

And then later, Ed Sullivan. We'd wanted to be famous, now we were getting really famous. I mean imagine meeting Mitzi Gaynor in Miami!

Later, after that, recording at Abbey Road. I still remember doing "Love Me Do." You officially had the vocal "Love me do" but because you played the harmonica, George Martin suddenly said in the middle is the session, "Will Paul sing the line "love me do?", the crucial line. I can still hear it to this day - you would go "Whaaa whaa," and I'd go "loove me doo-oo." Nerves, man.

I remember doing the vocal to "Kansas City" -- well I couldn't quite get it, because it's hard to do that stuff. You know, screaming out the top of your head. You came down from the control room and took me to one side and said "You can do it, you've just got to scream, you can do it." So, thank you. Thank you for that. I did it.

I remember writing "A Day in the Life" with you, and the little look we gave each other when we wrote the line "I'd love to turn you on." We kinda knew what we were doing, you know. A sneaky little look.

After that there was this girl called Yoko. Yoko Ono. She showed up at my house one day. It was John Cage's birthday and she said she wanted to get hold of manuscripts of various composers to give to him, and she wanted one from me and you. So I said," Well it's ok by me. but you'll have to go to John."

And she did...

After that I set up a couple of Brennell recording machines we used to have and you stayed up all night and recorded "Two Virgins." But you took the cover yourselves -- nothing to do with me.

And then, after that there were the phone calls to you. The joy for me after all the business shit that we'd gone through was that we were actually getting back together and communicating once again. And the joy as you told me about how you were baking bread now. And how you were playing with your little baby, Sean. That was great for me because it gave me something to hold on to.

So now, years on, here we are. All these people. Here we are, assembled, to thank you for everything that you mean to all of us.

This letter comes with love, from your friend Paul.

John Lennon, you've made it. Tonight you are in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.’

God bless you.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Real regret

Real regret
Fingers singed by burning matches
Used for lighting cigarettes

Walking in the January cold
Walking in the February sunset
Walking in the monsoon rain
In a city unfamiliar, muddy, wet
Real regret

The sound of two guitars
And a self-conscious duet
Real regret

Request a tidy tune
(8 down, 14 let.)
Real regret

Inches away, sat and watched
Formed a single silhouette
Real regret

A few words chosen at random
Armour, café, cutlery set
Real regret

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shiny Happy Hall-of-Famers

The most underrated band of the last two decades, R.E.M (its not that they're not rated highly, they should just be rated higher) was finally inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall Of Fame earlier this year. The evening was kicked off by a rambling, warm, surprisingly funny speech by Eddie Vedder. (Note to Nirvana fans: Look out for the extremely generous and touching reference to Kurt Cobain)

(More or less every word and unintelligible noise Vedder made that evening)

"Good evening.

Uhh….Yes! Uhhmmm, you know, as a kid growing up in school if you were ever to even to day dream about being a musician, one of the most appealing aspects that you could think of, of being paid to play music is that you would never ever again have to write another paper or give an oral presentation. But here we are and I must say that I am hugely honored.

Um, you know, there are two well-written biographies on REM: one is 397 pages and the other is 408. It's difficult to even attempt to scale that down to a few paragraphs but I will try as we don't want this to be as long as that Ramones speech I gave a few years ago [grimace]. Uhh, REM's music is truly all encompassing. They've used every colour on the pallet, they've invented colours on their own, they've painted this huge mural of music and sound and emotion as big as buildings… and they're still adding to this day. And the story of how they got together could not be written, especially considering this evening, could not be written any more… romantic. And that is that Michael Stipe and Peter Buck first meet at a record store where Pete is working, and uhhh, - Wuxtry Records in Athens, Georgia. Their first conversation, their first discussion, uhhm, was about Patti Smith's first four records [pause for applause]. Uh, drummer Bill Berry and bassist, etc, Mike Mills, they get to know each other in high school. They play in a high school band together, the two pairs of friends meet in college in Athens, 27 years later they are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! You see how I cut the middle out to make it move along? [audience cheers]

But! There are a couple of things I need to address, the hardest one being Michael Stipe. And, how do you explain the dialogue between Michael and the listener -- a dialogue that grew up and we grew up with it? Uh, such wisdom in the feelings in these songs that, I think, they helped us find things that we knew were inside us, and I think they helped us find things that we didn't know we had inside us. And I can say, there are things that I hold and feel [hand on heart] very deeply about inside here that Michael Stipe put in there himself. What's really incredible about this is, is that while this is happening… this all happens without ever being able to understand a fucking word he is saying… this is early records and it is, it was, it's such a beautiful thing and it's so open to interpretation all of this… You know, I was so lucky enough in the summer of 1984 to see REM play live at a small place in Chicago, uhm, and I could go on an on because I remember absolutely everything about it, but what I'll say is that it changed how I listen to music and what I listened to because after that I started to just listen to them exclusively. At that time they only had one and half records, and I've done the math so I didn't exaggerate – this record “Murmur”, it's 44 minutes, it must… “Murmur”… if I take three months over that summer of '84 and do the math, “Murmur” runs at about 44 minutes, I believe I listened to it 1260 times. And one of the reasons I was listening so incessantly was that I had to know what he was saying. It's so beautiful, you know, with intent and passion, and, in Michael's case, an unbelievable set of pipes, uh, you know, you're brought into a world of interaction and interpretation. The lyrics have become… they get more direct, uh, and now they even, now he puts the lyrics inside the record so you can actually… he's a …. he should… he should be so proud because he's a true poet: he can be direct, he can be completely abstract, he can hit an emotion with pinpoint accuracy, and he can be completely oblique and it ALL resonates. That's Michael…. well, that's PART of Michael… uh, yeah… [shakes head] there's so much to Mike – I love him.

Peter Buck plays guitar like a guy who worked in a record store… and when I say that, I say that I say it it it it's not necessarily derivative of all this music that he knows, all his guitar playing. It's that he knows his music so well it's more the thing that he plays through the holes and invents things and hits the spots yet to be covered and, I think, thereby pushing the progression of Rock and Roll. I think of him and his beautiful daughters and what he's contributed, cutting a path for alternative music for bands like Nirvana and Radiohead and forever on after that. Uhm, from a record store in Athens to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a tremendous journey.

“Now, if REM had a secret weapon, I would say it was Mike Mills. He plays bass, piano, a number of instruments and is the writer – a genius writer – of music but, uh, the secret weapon, I believe, is his voice. Uh, it's, uh, it's really not a background vocal, it's almost like a second lead vocal, and I think it really is what makes so many of their songs, uh, absolutely haunting. Uhm, and, it's, uh, you see, it's… stealth – he's stealth – or actually, actually he was stealth until about 14 years ago when he took to wearing these really bright coloured suits with massive embroidery and rhinestones… and that's a gutsy move at the time because this, you know, Grunge – this was about the time Grunge was in fashion so this was…

Now, I don't know if you know the story about drummer Bill Barry… but right around that time, the time of the suits, uum, Mike's suits, Bill Barry has a, uh, he, he he's playing in Switzerland and in the middle of a show, an aneurism bursts in his head, and he almost dies and uhm… I think I read somewhere that it might have been triggered by, a strobe light… but I was just thinking about it might have been one of Mike's suits [audience and REM laugh]… the Orange one, perhaps!

So, in all seriousness, Peter Buck has said that if uh they weren't in Switzerland at the time and they had tremendous doctors, he may not have lived. And, uh, Bill recovers after a couple of months of intensive rehab and then, um, they do some more… they finish that touring cycle, they make another record, they tour some more. At that point, I think, that the most difficult uh hurdle they've had to reach was when Bill had to say that he didn't think that he could keep playing with them. And he did it… when he did it, he said, “But I need to know that you will continue”. In his own words he said, “I can't be the shmuck that broke up REM.” And so much to his relief, they have continued on and done incredible things. Ummm, but I have, I – I wonder if I should go into this? I have a theory about Bill and why he couldn't continue, and I don't even think it's, ummm, I don't think it's the touring. I don't think it was the travelling. I've studied photos of them through the years and it… it appears to me, the reason that Bill couldn't continue, was photo shoots. I'll explain: you make a record, you mix a record, you put the artwork out, you plan a tour, and then you do… photo shoots. And photo shoots. And what happens is they say, “Bill! Can you just stand in the back now, if, all right, you just, poke your head through right between Michael and Peter. That's right. Now if you just lean forward and – chin up please! – chin up! – now, don't look at me, look at my hand! All right. Now would you be so kind to… can you just give me the big eyes?”
This happens and I think it made him crazy. I've… I'm just reading into it… Not crazy! But he had to stop, he was… If you look in the photos, you can see him glaze… and he's, like… “I can't do this anymore! I can't do this anymore! I'm just going to go and be a…fucking farmer!”. Which he did. And I believe he's lived happily ever after since. And, uh, as a fan, it's an incredible, exciting thrill to see him here tonight.

Um, in closing here tonight, on a personal note, I'll just say that Peter moved to Seattle a number of years ago and now they have great musicians from Seattle playing in their band – um, a great drummer called Bill Rieflin, um, Ken Stringfellow and Scott McCoy, who is here tonight. Peter has been just a tremendous part of our musical community there. And, when he moved there, Seattle music and everything was getting a little bit out of control and they really took us all under their wings, as they have with other musicians like Thom Yorke and people of class. And, um, they became like big brothers and as survivors there was a lot they could teach us. Umm, they couldn't save us all, though they tried, and how I wish it was Kurt Cobain who was giving this speech tonight. I would be so happy to have been the second choice after him. But what I'm sayin' is that no matter what we can give them back in the form of this honour, we'll never match what they have given to us – and this is not even mentioning social causes and activism, which should not be a postscript. It's – they've taught us a lot about THAT as well, and inspired us. So I am truly indebted to say that as representative of so many, and I say thank you from myself and the huge numbers of people around the world who have been moved by them, um, and by some strange power invested in me, right now, I hereby induct REM into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Over too soon

Remember an innings of 93 by a certain Indian batsman in an ODI against Sri Lanka after a long injury break? That was the first time i dared to write something about Sachin Tendulkar. It will take a less allusive article (and probably a better writer) to elucidate how Sachin not only meant the world to my generation, but how he actually was our world...

Over too soon

The sun was out
When he was in
Like the moon
Its over too soon

Speaks to me
Like an unfinished symphony
Remember the time?
The dust from the dunes
Its over too soon

Fair weather friends
Make amends
Curse themselves
For following trends
As for us
We don’t say much
Its not even noon
Its over too soon

We were young
When he walked in
But I could have told her
That he would grow older
But then she’d ask
If we could go on
When he was gone
In our cocoon
Its over too soon

Good Hotels

Good hotels are always sexy.

The virgin cleanliness of the room when you first enter. The full length mirrors in the bathroom. Strangers congregated in lobbies and coffee shops and herbal parlours. Saunas with aromatic massages. The anonymity of it all. The ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door. The curtains translucent like shimmering veils. Cool women in cocktail dresses, in restaurants talking to their husbands, or their boyfriends, or taking a break from them. The crisp uniforms of room service. The knowledge that as you walk down the carpeted corridors there are, in rooms to the right and left, honeymooners, and professionals, and people determined to break off their marriage in dramatic fashion. The sheer convenience of it all (in good hotels, the sheets are changed daily and in your absence). Good hotels are always sexy.

Good hotels are also lonely.

The way in which the staff tries to act friendly. The plastic covering on the cups, the bottles and the soap. Honeymooners, hand in hand. A short note for you when you open your suitcase. Time on your hands. The antiseptic perfection, an exact apotheosis of normal life. Newspapers with their local interest stories and regional politics. Getting your meals ordered to the room, because what’s the point eating alone. May as well watch TV (in good hotels all sitcoms seem that little bit warmer). Good hotels are necessarily lonely.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Real Bright Side

When was the last time a song grabbed you by the collar and said ‘LISTEN’? If the answer to that is ‘You’re beautiful’ by James Blunt, please stop reading. If the answer is ‘Mr. Brightside’ by The Killers, then hang on. There was something in that call. An out-of-control quaver in the voice that unfortunately could not do enough to differentiate itself from the fifty other quavering male voices clogging up the charts. The lyrics didn’t help much either. It did sell some 50 million copies though. So what? I predicted that their next album would crash through the floor, and not only that, the first single would be an exact replica of ‘Mr. Brightside’, and would end up being bought only by the president of the Killers’ fan club and the band members’ parents.

I thought I was right too. For the first fourteen seconds of ‘Read my mind’, a synth lays down a sort of ocean texture. Then, just before you write it off completely and wait for the next White Stripes album, a cymbal crashes and the singer gets right down to it.
‘On the corner of Main Street, just tryin' to keep it in line, you say you want to move on and, you say I'm falling behind. Can you read my mind?’ It sounds like a challenge. By the time he’s told you that he ‘never really gave up on breaking out of this two-star town’ you realize that you’re squarely in young Bruce Springsteen territory, with all its defiance and world-weariness and clichés that become resonant because they are sung a certain way.

The singer starts off cool but keeps getting more and more worked up as the song progresses. Finally, wrapped up in his own story, he loses his bearings. His voice loses the melody altogether, and with the band holding the tune tightly in the background, he simply starts chanting loudly ‘I don’t mind if you don’t mind, coz I don’t shine if you don’t shine, put your back on me, put your back on me…’ It sounds awful on paper, but it works so well on record, and is so damn exhilarating, that The Killers actually manage to seem like a band with something to say and not just a pose. It ends with the most Springsteen-like non-Springsteen lines I’ve ever heard - ‘the stars are shining like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun, can you read my mind?’

Monday, August 6, 2007

Why I hate the raindrops falling on my head in Mumbai…

  • It takes precisely fifteen seconds to go from a light breeze to something resembling The Second Coming of the Lord (ref. the Talmud or one of the Testaments)
  • It doesn’t play fair. As noted economist/lawyer Rajagopalan puts it “It comes at you from all sides”
  • It reduces ninety per cent of the city to a huge pile of slush. As noted economist/researcher Dayal says “Eww”
  • It rains more on the weekends than the weekdays. Which leads me to my next point…
  • It has a malevolent mind of its own. It will rain when you are out walking on Marine Drive. It will rain when you have forgotten your umbrella. It is out to get you, which is interpreted by the locals as…
  • …a challenge. The more it rains, the more they’ll strive to reach office before time. Not to be scoffed at is the sight of a soaking Mumbaikar, trousers rolled up and shoes hanging from his neck, squelching into office and telling people from Delhi about the 'Mumbai spirit’
  • It droppeth not as the gentle rain from heaven, and it is not twice blessed. It rains too damn much here

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hearts and Thoughts

Scene 1

Mother: Son, have I got a little story for you. What you thought was your daddy was nothing but a…While you were sitting, home alone at age thirteen, your real daddy was dying. Sorry you couldn’t see him. But I’m glad we talked”
Son: I’m still alive

Scene 2

Mother: Is there something wrong?
Son: Well, of course there is
Mother: You’re still alive
Son: Oh, and do I deserve to be? Is that the question? And if so, who answers?

Is there something wrong? Well, of course there is. These lyrics are bad. As are most of the lyrics on Ten. There are no two ways around it. Look at the lines above. They sound like something out of the Young and the Restless. To this day I cannot understand what Eddie means when he asks “Is that the question?” What is even more strange is that the song, and the album as a whole, really work. Pearl Jam as musicians and Eddie as a vocalist take lyrics which are almost banal and turn them into something close to sublime through the sheer intensity and range of their performance. It doesn’t matter if “The boy was something that mummy wouldn’t wear” makes you wince, because Vedder’s just shouted “Dadeee didn’t giive a-feckshaan nooo” and man, you know he means it.

What perplexes me is how they went from the vague semi-suicidal rants of Ten to the varied lyrical triumphs on Vs. Contrast the closed-circuit depression of Ten’s songs with the equally morbid but elegant ‘Indifference’. 'Rear View Mirror' provides an outlet to the rage coursing through it, aptly framed by the final triumphant guitar break. And ‘Elderly woman behind a counter in a small town' is a first-person monologue about old age and its memories of youth, an unusual choice of subject matter for what was ostensibly a ferocious grunge band. It brought to light two important things – one, the band had a sense of humour (the inordinate length of the title was a charmingly adolescent riposte to those who had accused the band of having too many one-word song titles), and two, Vedder was capable of putting aside his petulant growling and pen down lyrics of unexpected maturity. The song, told from the point of view of an old woman, unfolds in a simple Dylan-like manner, Vedder’s voice accompanied by acoustic strumming and little else.

‘I seem to recognize your face
Haunting, familiar, yet I can't seem to place it
Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name
Lifetimes are catching up with me’
All these changes taking place,
I wish I'd seen the place
But no one's ever taken me
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away...

I swear I recognize your breath
Memories like fingerprints are slowly raising
me, you wouldn't recall, for I'm not my former
It's hard when, you're stuck upon the shelf
I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate
Perhaps that's what no one wants to see
I just want to scream...hello...
My God it’s been so long, never dreamed you'd return
But now here you are, and here I am
Hearts and thoughts they fade...away...
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away...’

Who is this being addressed to? A kid who left town years ago? An old friend or lover? Does the person recognize her? Does she say these words aloud at all? Probably not. Introspection of the sort which produces lines like ‘Small town predicts my fate’ is in in some ways more impressive than the dark brooding that ‘Black’ or ‘Why go home’ must have been a product of. It takes an uncommon sensitivity to treat, with more care than you’d take for your own, the fears and insecurities of someone so far removed from yourself .
For the first time, the song carries Vedder’s voice, instead of Vedder’s voice driving the song. He begins in hushed tones, but as the narrator's memory is jogged, his voice gains in strength. The tone goes from intimate (‘I swear I recognize your breath’) through to moments of insecurity and regret (‘You wouldn’t recall’, 'I changed by not changing at all’) and finally, and most touchingly, happiness bursts through and the voice rises exultantly to exclaim, as old friends do, “My God, it’s been so long…”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A study in subtlety: Roman Holiday’s final scene

The last scene of Roman Holiday is like a Beatles single, in that it's so compact, and so perfect in its construction, that you instinctively feel it cannot be improved, irrespective of what you think its artistic merits are. The director William Wyler sets the audience up beautifully with an hour and a half of charming, scenic fluff; diverting, sure, but not such stuff as dreams are made on. Then when everyone expects him to end the fairy tale the way all fairy tales ended in the 1950s, he calmly pulls the rug out from under their feet. It’s a strangely unsettling ending – no tears are shed, and there is no need. No matter how much one may deny it later, almost all who watch it for the first time are left with a feeling of gnawing emptiness, as if the happiness denied to the characters on screen was in reality their right, and was being denied to them.

Clichéd may a slightly tough word to use the first one and a half hours of this movie; it has winsome performances, beautiful Rome in the background and the sort of leisurely charm which Hollywood couldn’t come up with the today if you gave them a multi-million dollar budget and a special effects system which thinks for itself. But clichéd it is – Audrey Hepburn plays a slightly spoiled, very bored princess who runs away from her drudge of a royal life, and Gregory Peck a journalist who sees in her the story of a lifetime. Like any good Italian romance, they walk around, see the the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum (and, in a marvelous improvised scene, the Mouth of Truth), have close brushes with the local police, and finally, fall in love. However, the clock will soon strike twelve, and Cinderella must return to her gilded rags and troop inspections. So they part, if only to clear the way for the final, towering cliché – the journalist is sent off to the climatic press junket to win her back.

So the great Gregory Peck stands and looks at his love for a sign, but things are not going according to script. We have seen a little while earlier that the princess is no longer controlled by her advisors, and she reacts sharply when one of them reminds her of her duty towards her station. It gives us a hint that she has already thought the matter through, and made her decision.

The deliberate manner in which Audrey Hepburn says her lines here could be (and has been, by some critics) put down to nervousness, a debutante handling her first big scene. As for me, I think of Anna Karina in Godard’s Bande a Part looking straight at the camera and saying “My heart goes out at the sight of you”. Then I think of Audrey Hepburn interrupting her own manufactured response to slowly intone “Rome. By all means Rome” and I can’t choose one classic movie moment over the other.

Finally, after all the questions have been asked, the princess comes down to meet the members of the press, including Gregory Peck, who probably expects her to say a lot, and is disappointed. By now, the look of confidence he started the scene with is visibly beginning to wane; like the audience, he is slowly, painfully coming to terms with the fact that this may not be a happy ending. Yet he looks up, and with a movement so subtle as to be non-existent asks her “Well, how about it?” She replies with the slightest shake of the head. In an unforgiving close-up, we see hope fade from his face, and he swallows. The audience though, has not learnt its lesson, and still expects a fairy tale end. They force him to linger until everyone else has left, hoping that she will reappear, recant. But she doesn’t. It truly is the end, and all one can do is accompany the man on his lonely walk out