Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Regression


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 clich├ęs.

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.

Paul