Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Dusty in Memphis: Turning up the heat
There are some albums you search for your whole life, and then one day they suddenly appear, looking innocently at you from the shelves as if they had been there the whole time, sporting stickers saying ‘Buy 2 for the price of 1’. If you cast a wide net, it happens quite often, and it can make your day, or week, or month. It may actually be the only real upside to being a serious record collector – but I am digressing. The point is, after five years of searching (and one fleeting glimpse in a Chennai mall) I finally managed to lay my hands on Dusty in Memphis.
In 1968, Dusty Springfield was somewhat of a star in her native Britain. She sounded remarkably like what she looked – blonde and stylish – and recorded three albums which fit snugly into the background as fellow-countrymen Beatles and the Stones and the Who changed popular music forever. On her fourth, however, she took a decisive right turn. Like most white female vocalists of the time, she was a huge admirer of the R&B stars on the other side of the ocean. She especially revered Aretha Franklin, and that distinctive Atlantic sound that emerged from Memphis under the aegis of Jerry Wexler, a mixture of thudding R&B, gospel and soul that was neither wholly holy nor unholy. And so it happened that Dusty, British blonde, chronicler of delicate heartbreak, decided she would record an album in the heart of Memphis.
It didn’t quite go as planned. As the story goes, Dusty was so nervous at the thought of meeting her idol Aretha, and recording in the same studio as her that she never ended up singing there at all. Instead, she recorded her vocals in a studio in England, while the backing tracks were recorded in Memphis, supervised by Wexler, Arif Mardin and the legendary Tom Dowd (engineer on Aretha’s records, as well as others like Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground and Simon and Garfunkel). The result should have sounded disjointed, tacked on – but miraculously, it doesn’t. Miles away from the actual place, Dusty in Memphis captures the spirit of the Atlantic recordings of the time. She turns up the heat, sonically on ‘Don't forget about me', lyrically on ‘Breakfast in bed’, and in everyway possible on ‘Son of a preacher man’.
The backing musicians are given less space to manoeuvre than they might have had with a local singer and Dusty’s past sound means that the arrangements too often substitute down-home horns and the fantastic guitar of Reggie Young for orchestral backing. On the other hand, crafting an album that sounds black, but doesn’t have a black singer at the helm may not have worked either. Dusty herself resists the temptation to sound radically different from her previous recordings – the only discernable change is a subtle shift in her accent. Never one to bully a line, she sings softly and huskily, only letting herself go on select occasions, which are, when they arrive, the most thrilling moments on the album. Like that moment when she fairly yells ‘He was a sweet talkin’ son of a preacher man’ and then drops pitch and drawls ‘I guess he…was the son of a…preacher man’. It’s a stunningly sexy moment, and surprisingly, for an album that could easily have ended up as a tribute to a particular sound, it encapsulates something that is indefinably but specifically Dusty Springfield.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The entertainment year that was
'In years to come, people will look back and realize that this movie changed everything...'
...is what will not happen
For the record then - best movie to emerge out of India this year, best music as well.
Not his best song. But no one could be more deserving.
...because I am nothing if not a Mark Ruffalo fan. The Brothers Bloom was the sleeper hit that never quite became a sleeper hit. But Ruffalo displaced reality with great style, as did Adrian Brody, Rachel Weisz and, in a super-cool silent performance, Rinko Kikuchi.
'The Last Carnival': Springsteen and the E Street Band say an emotional goodbye to Danny Federici
He died. And then, ironically, he was a star again...
...because the main selling point was not Ranbir as a sardar, but Jaideep Sahni as the writer. And the lead performance was refreshingly modest, so much so that each supporting turn seemed like a revelation.
Tarantino finally repays my fandom by not falling prey to his own
Monday, December 14, 2009
Ah Rolling Stone, yeh daft auld bugger
1. Gnarls Barkley – Crazy
2. Jay-Z – 99 Problems
3. Beyonce – Crazy In Love
4. OutKast – Hey Ya!
5. M.I.A. – Paper Planes
As expected, its a stupid list. 'Paper Planes' should have been number one, but at least it makes the Top 5. But are there any excuses for having 'Crazy in love' above it? Its supremely catchy, but so is every damn chart-topper now days (they managed to surgically remove artistic merit from popular music somewhere around 2005). And don't get me started on '99 problems'. How is that a better track than say, 'Stan' (No 9) or 'Lose Yourself' (No 12), both by Eminem. And where is 'Radio Nowhere'? Why is 'White Winter Hymnal' languishing below 'Time to Pretend'?
Its been a terrible decade as far as albums are concerned, but that doesn't mean that they got it right. It is not surprising (though it is dissapointing) to see the list topped by Radiohead's 'Kid A'. But even if you make some sort of world-is-becoming-mechanized-and-so-is-Radiohead-aren't-they-so-brave case for it, will someone tell me what the zeitgest-defining 'American Idiot' is doing at No 22? Why is 'Stadium Arcadium' at 74? And why (this is coming from a Coldplay tolerator) is 'Parachutes' ranked higher than 'Viva la Vida'? Those guys will never make a better album - and if you don't encourage them, they will no longer be interested in maintaining the reasonably presentable but ultimately unambitious level of music which has seen them conquer the music world in their own unique well-scrubbed style.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Christopher McCandless: I'm going to Alaska
Wayne Westerberg: Alaska, Alaska? Or city Alaska? Because they do have markets in Alaska. The city of Alaska. Not in Alaska. In the city of Alaska, they have markets.
Christopher McCandless: No, man. Alaska, Alaska. I'm gonna be all the way out there, all the way fucking out there. Just on my own. You know, no fucking watch, no map, no axe, no nothing. No nothing. Just be out there. Just be out there in it. You know, big mountains, rivers, sky, game. Just be out there in it, you know? In the wild.
Wayne Westerberg: In the wild.
Christopher McCandless: Just wild!
Wayne Westerberg: Yeah. What are you doing when we're there? Now you're in the wild, what are we doing?
Christopher McCandless: You're just living, man. You're just there, in that moment, in that special place and time. Maybe when I get back, I can write a book about my travels.
Wayne Westerberg: Yeah. Why not?
Christopher McCandless: You know, about getting out of this sick society. Society!
Wayne Westerberg: [coughs] Society! Society!
Christopher McCandless: Society, man! You know, society!
The rest of the exchange is standard Holden Caufield cliche but it scarcely matters - the shouts of ‘society’ continue to reverberate long after the scene has ended. Not since ‘Attica’ in ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ has a word picked out at random and worried to death provided the most resonant moment in a movie.
Monday, November 23, 2009
In Part 3, however...
"You must understand that with directors like me and Adi [Chopra] and Sooraj [Barjatya], we were in a zone where we were new and there was an old zone, and we ventured into a zone where the new zone came in, and we had to come back to being who we were, but we'd adapted earlier to match that time. We're the only 3-4 people who were in that transition phase"
Johar fans/ interested parties/ the three odd people who read this blog can catch part 3 here...
Friday, November 20, 2009
"So you start, you peak, you pitch, you stop. You build again, you peak, you pitch. So you have two peaks and two pitches and two finales in your film, which you don't realise, actually. Ninety percent of the problem with our scripting is that. On the global level, that's the problem we have.
Actually the half point of 'Khan', the film where one is trying to be careful, is not a peak-pitch point, it's just that something happens and we stop. It would have been seamless without it also, one has been conscious of that. But very rarely do you find that.
So then this writing around an interval means that we end up having to stick to the genres we know best, the ones suited to our mix and match masala genre...
In 90 percent of our films, you know when the interval is happening. You just know it. That means you've written it in a certain way, you've graphed it in a certain way. And that is our big problem, our big, big, big problem.
That's why we don't get most genres right. We don't get a thriller right, ever. Because we have to have that relationship running, that music coming. So we can't have a quintessential thriller, the way it's meant to be done. We can't get a drama right.
We can get comedy right because comedy can be a little sporadic in its narrative structure. And we always get family right, because we know that the best.
No Syd Field can tell you what to do with an interval. He might have a vague understanding of it, having viewed Indian films, but the three-act structure does not work for us. It just doesn't."
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Fancast #2: This is what they don't pay me for...
Hello. We will be widening our purview this time. Not for the faint hearted is this, the second fancast from the murky depths of fandom. We will review a concert. We will make lists. We will speak freely and frankly about camels. And most importantly, we will do all of this together, because togetherness is a many-splendoured thing.
To kick things off, let me just say that if there is a better live act in India than the Raghu Dixit Project, then I haven’t seen it. For one, they kick Indian Ocean’s ass, and work wonderfully well in both the rock and fusion contexts. Stupid word actually, ‘fusion music’; just like ‘world cinema’. Suffice to say they have a driving, multi-hued sound, and an unpretentious, talented lead man. Ragu Dixit’s voice soared the other evening at the Habitat centre, over the sounds of his own acoustic strumming, bass, drums, and electric guitar and violin. It’s a trememdous voice, resonant, soulful, capable of some serious thunder, and it may be fair to say that on their studio album it’s the only thing that really works. Which is a real pity, because their studio output is no indication of what they can do live. They look hilariously unfit as a rock ‘n roll band – they dress like folk dancers and perform barefoot – but they sure play like one. Their sound is a varition on Carnatic and other Indian folk idioms, filtered through a Phish/ DMB sensibility. The lead guitarist and drummer were particularly impressive– both provided steady support in the background until the time came to jam, at which point they, along with other band members morphed into a loud, headbanging avatar, a transition both unexpected and thrilling. All in all, a rare Indo-folk-rock experience that did not underwhelm.
Have been buying albums like crazy these past few months. Musicland in Saket makes it tough for me to avoid doing so - they've had the best collection in town for a while now, and I’ve got some rare stuff there lately, like Captain Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’, The Byrds’ ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’, the posthomously released ‘The Immortal Otis Redding’ and Uncle Tupelo’s ‘No Depression’. I spoke about Beefheart in the last edition, and am still hearing Redding, but I can tell you about the other two – no least because of the similarities I saw in them. The Byrds’ album I had heard of – it’s a critical darling – and my expectations were pretty high. Its tasteful enough, with the McGuinn & Co by now in full-blown country mode – but I found the extras more exciting. Included in the edition I bought were 6 tracks by the International Submarine Band, the group Gram Parsons was heading before he joined the Byrds on Sweetheart. It sounds like a more countrified Tom Petty, with a hint of Beatle influence and a rollicking pace that leaves the stately 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' behind.
I’m sure the members of Uncle Tupelo would have liked the International Submarine Band – their sound is an equally rollicking (if initially perplexing) combiation of hardcore and country twang. I discovered this band through their single ‘Factory belt’, a start-stop country number which sounds like the Minutemen doing a version of ‘Sin City’, and it spurred me to read up on the band. I was stunned to learn that it had as one of its three members, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, current enjoying a critical holiday in the sun. It also had Jay Farrar – who went on to form Son Volt – who shares lead vocals and shows off some nifty guitar chops. It’s their first album, and has a world-weary attitude that seems at odds with the fact that they were barely out of their teens when this was released. For those for don’t realy care, this is country music that’s not only driving but also great for driving along to.
Any addition to my office who comes bearing Steely Dan albums in a pen drive is a welcome addition. Within the space of a few weeks she has managed to introduce me to some very diverse music, only asking in return that I do not torture her with lectures on rock chronology circa 1965-69. Laura Marling’s album, 'Alas, I cannot swim', was pleasant enough. Coffee shop folk for the most part, she has a nice husky voice, reminiscent of Norah Jones, but a little less intimate. The album is likely to grow on you, but on first listen, the standout track is the opening single, ‘Ghosts’.
The alt-coutry group Clem Snide channels Neil young for the most part on the album ‘The end of love’, but their leader, the overly-literate Eef Barzeley needs less thesaurus than he is being allowed to use at present. Only two numbers manage to circumvent pretensiousness – ‘Fill me with your light’ is considerable bollocks, but the early REM-channeling music is gorgeous, and 'Made for TV movie’ where a little girl duets on the chorus. You can almost see Barzelay lean down towards her to join in the ‘la la la’ chorus – making the least wordy moment on the album the most genuinely touching. The one album I liked unequivocally was ‘The Last Broadcast’ by The Doves. They’re a psychedelic Brit band, with a penchant for long, extended jams, but in the Verve mould rather than the Pink Floyd one. Having suciently summed up their sound, dropped a nod to one of my favorites and dissed a famous band that I have never liked, my work here is done.
Now for the list. It’s that time of the decade (the end) when pretentious twits start making lists of the best-of-decade variety. With every intention of joining the bandwagon, I decided to start with my very own ‘Top 10 singles of the decade’ list. But its tough to keep up with the newest and brightest in pop music if you’re in India and you don’t write for Rolling Stone, and I found myself rejecting every option I came up with. Then, in a flash of inspiration, I got number one, and it made perfect sense. It is obviously ‘Paper Planes’ by M.I.A, and I’ll tell you why –
- This has undeniably been hip-hop’s decade, and while I am not the greatest fan of this genre, it makes sense that the decade’s best song should be filtered through a hip-hop sensibility
- It doesn’t stop there though. Punk rock (the guitar sample is ‘Straight to Hell’ by The Clash), raggae, dub, gangsta rap (“Bonafide hustler making my name”) and the cash registers from Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ all make their presence felt
- In a decade where wildly different cultural and economic realities were thrown together in admixtures that were sometimes entertaining, sometimes violent, this was a polygot number that took boasts that could have come from dislocated urban youth in NYC ten years ago and transplanted them in the Third World. Turns out “Some I murder, some I let go” is a universal sentiment
Its 5:30. I have to go. Where’s my costume? Where’s that telephone booth?
In my car stereo: Outkast, ‘Stankonia’
In my Discman: ‘The Immortal Otis Redding’
In my sights: The Supersonics, ‘Maby Baking’
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
From Chapter 7, Book 2...
Zaphod leaned forward, conspirationally.
"I just materialized out of thin air in one of your cafes," he said, "as a result of an argument with the ghost of my great grandfather. No sooner had I got there that my former self, the one that operated on my brain, popped into my head and said `Go see Zarniwoop'. I have never heard of the cat. That is all I know. That and the fact that I've got to find the man who rules the Universe."
"Mr Beeblebrox, sir," said the insect in awed wonder, "you're so weird you should be in movies."
"Yeah," said Zaphod patting the thing on a glittering pink wing, "and you, baby, should be in real life."
Friday, October 30, 2009
Harishchandra’s Factory: A Not-review
Harishchandra’s Factory is a relatively modest production, in Marathi, with subtitles. It has no known faces acting in it. It’s set in the 1920s, and captures that period with the minimum of cinematic flourish. In telling us the story of how Dadasaheb Phalke made India’s first film, it takes potentially ponderous biopic material and handles it as lightly. There are some hilarious moments – the one where Phalke is convincing his actor to shave off a moustache was my favourite – but there are also hints about how difficult the journey must have been for Phalke and his family. These moments are handled much better here than they would be in movies with larger budgets and over-eager background scores. And though the comedy is at times broad, it never degenerates into farce.
There’s a lovely moment that occurs just before the first shot of the first scene of the first Indian film. The crew has gotten off from the train that has brought them to their location, Phalke is the last to alight. As he does, he says a line that may have been part of his movie script, but is beautifully apt for the task he is about to undertake. “Today I will tear the heavens apart” he says, and the camera cuts. It’s a tiny moment, and the only real bit of self-indulgence the director allows his character, but you can feel his fondness for Phalke come through. Biopics often get mired in reverence or cross-examination, this one floats along on the helium of its own good natured enthusiasm.
This is not really a review – I saw the movie at the Osian Cinefan yesterday, and I just wanted to give it a small shout-out. I am also afraid that this movie, one of the nicest, most cogent and least mannered films to come out in recent times may need other, more influential shout-outs if it is to reach the magnitude of audience it deserves. One hopes this is achieved - it would be a fitting way for the world’s largest film industry to pay back the man who started it all.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Rage Aginst the Machine
Rage Against the Machine is great agit-prop, but I like them for other reasons I consider more pertinent. For starters, they’re a great band, unlike most of their unworthy predecessors. Zach De La Rocha is not just a great mc, he’s a great vocalist. He doesn’t just shout, he shouts in ways that are unique and varied. He yells, he screams, he hisses, he growls. He is in that select group of singers – Dylan is the best example I can think of offhand - who can convey the mood of a song through the tone of their voice. Sometimes it’s a stray word, like “Warning!” from ‘Born as ghosts’ or the “Hey’s” from ‘Sleep now in the fire’. How big a leap from John Lennon raggedly shouting "Well shake it up baaaby nooww” to De La Rocha screaming “Fuck you I won’t do as you tell me”? A lot closer than you think…
Chuck D is the obvious (and acknowledged) influence as far as his rapping style is concerned, but De La Rocha’s voice is more mobile. No singer in history has ever sounded so urgent, so convinced of his material. He sounds transported, and that becomes transporting for the listener. "This is the new sound, just like the old sound" I hear him say as I write these lines. Not exactly a new sentiment, even Billy Joel’s said something similar. But then he says it again. Then he goes “Look at the news now…over the over the over the BURNING GROUND” and I don’t know why, but I find myself shouting with him.
The sonic universe that RATM’s fiery words inhabit could best be described as apocalyptic - rather like the words themselves. Alternating between the weirdly haunting and the crunchingly loud, they are, to use their own wonderful phrase, calm like a bomb. The chief architect of this sound is the still underrated Tom Morrello. He’s a true futurist - his guitar approximates the sound of a turntable, a siren, a buzzsaw, a human voice. He’s also a throwback - to players like George Harrison and Robbie Robertson, who played as much and for as long as it served the purpose of the song, and not a second more. No matter how loud he gets, Morello is never messy and he never overplays. He creates textures with his guitar that would be the envy of entire bands. ‘Voice of the voiceless’ shimmers before it boils over, ‘Calm like a bomb’ sounds like police cars chasing you. By melding metal, grunge, scratchy hip-hop and various shades of noise, he created a sound that would come to be associated with him alone, because other guitarists didn’t have it in them to play it.
Morrello’s brilliance has a spill-over effect. RATM’s excellent rhythm section - Brad Wilk on drums and YKtim on bass - often gets overlooked. This makes them ripe for comparisons with another taleneted duo, Led Zepplin’s John Bonham and John Paul Jones, who faced similar charismatic-lead-singer-and-pathbreaking-guitarist-get-all-the-attention problems. But RATM would never have been quite the band it was if Wilk and YK were not up to the challenge. Rap-rock as a format was almost without precedent when they started out. By playing the way they did, supporting their idiosyncratic singer and their crazy scientist guitarist every step of the way, they helped create a template, the bedrock of the sound which would come to define rap-metal, nu-rock and alternative metal. But no one could play it quite like they did, in terms of both subtlety and swinging for the fence.
I could go on and on - I already may have - but I’ll stop here. Those of you who’ve already heard RATM know what I’m trying to convey and are probably praying that I stop talking so you can put on ‘Renegades of Funk’. Those of you reading this who haven’t heard them…well, if you’re a serious fan of rock music, you have no business not hearing them. Barring Radiohead, they are the most important post-grunge rock band. They credit themselves as ‘guilty parties’ on their album sleeves. They are uncompromising and fierce in everything they do. And, for some unfathomable reason, they make me smile.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Fancast #1: From small beginnings…
Starting with the most recent, I picked up Roxy Music’s second album ‘For Your Pleasure’ last week. This was the last one with Brian Eno and it is appropriately weird, dense and seductive. Bryan Ferry makes sounding like Dracula a virtue, or makes it work at any rate, and his lyrics are funny as hell. Also grabbed at fervently by me was the Clash live album ‘From Here to Eternity’; I’d already heard their cover of 'I fought the law' off this, but none of the others. As expected, it was a riot. No punk vocalist has ever sounded more urgent than Joe Strummer, and Mick Jones is a perfect foil. Fans of unusual liner notes (an admittedly small sub-section of the music buying public) may enjoy this one - instead of some critic attempting to place The Clash and their music in a sociological context, we get quotes from the actual fans who attended these incendiary shows. Read them, hear the songs, and it’ll be difficult to not wish you were there.
Courtesy of Penfold, was turned onto this amazing Danish band called The Ravonettes via their 2007 album ‘Lust Lust Lust’. They have apparently been making melodic buzzing noises in indie circles for some time now, and while their antecedents are clear, it’s somehow comforting to know that there are still bands out there willing to play the sort of dreamy fuzzy pop that seemingly died out in the mid ‘90s. My Bloody Valentine and Jesus & Mary Chain are likely influences, maybe the Vaselines too. Where The Ravonettes differ from these bands is their unwillingness to bury the melody beneath layers of guitar noise – their distortions are more pleasant than abrasive. Pedantic shoe-gaze purists notwithstanding, this is not a negative, and their album should work for those who like their rock buzzy and laid-back and melodic.
It’s been a slow month for new singles. I’ve grown very partial to a John Mellencamp song called ‘Worn out nervous condition’. I should warn you though - besides a lovely seductive vocal by the Artist Formerly Known As Cougar, it isn’t really what you’d call remarkable. Maybe that’s the secret to its listenability – no hook that becomes a focal point, no corker of a line that distracts from all the others. Also, for no particular reason besides the fact that I heard it recently, please get hold of Cat Power’s revelation of a Dylan cover, ‘Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again’. It’s on the ‘I’m Not There’ OST and she’s the only artiste on it who covers Dylan in a manner which could be called sexy (hear the way she says “…you’re just like me, I hope you’re satisfied”, it’ll make you smile out loud). The album is also top-drawer by the way.
What else…yes, finally bought ‘OK Computer’. Its absence was getting a bit too tough to explain to my conscience and besides, I love Radiohead’s second, ‘The Bends’. I’ve heard it only once till now, so it may be a bit premature to say this , but my feeling is that even though ‘OK Computer’ hangs together better conceptually and has undeniable greatness and importance running through its veins, it lacks some of that verge-of-conquest freshness that characterised ‘The Bends’. Anyway, one hearing isn’t enough for this one. Ditto for ‘Trout Mask Replica’, Captain Beefheart’s 1969 cult classic. I don’t know whether I’ll ever know quite what to write about that one (Sample lyric: "Fast and bulbous...that's right, the mascara snake, fast and bulbous...also a tin teardrop...bulbous also tapered...that's right")
Finally, to round things off…
In my dashboard: Aerosmith, ‘Get Your Wings’
In my Discman: The Byrds, ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’
In my to-buy shortlist: Mark Knofler’s new one ‘Get Lucky’
Thursday, September 24, 2009
One of the fallacies of film criticism is expecting movies made in a certain era and corresponding to a certain set of existing values, to ‘hold up’. Arbitrary at best, this method sidelines regard for the prevailing levels of technical advancement and craft, as well the cultural climate of the time. Easy Rider may be over-cooked and simplistic, but the fact that it doesn’t hold up should not be the reason it gets criticized. The movies that do hold up often do so by chance, a random match between the vision exhibited and its resonance with society’s current state. The Hustler is one of those happy coincidences. Modern audiences find themselves relating to the spare dialogue, the sleaziness of George Scott’s performance, and the unflinching tragedy of the Piper Laurie’s character. And Paul Newman, a great-looking rebel from the golden age of great-looking rebels (and always slightly underrated as an actor, despite his 7 Oscar noms) gives the performance of a lifetime. Eddie is no happy trickster - he suffers for his art (his thumbs are broken after a hustle goes wrong), he picks up a woman, unexpectedly falls in love, but is ultimately too shallow to see how far out on the edge she is. By the time he realises it’s too late, and Newman’s rage at this juncture, simultaneously inward and outward directed, is wonderful to watch. Equal parts method acting, reticence and charm, it’s a fascinating and memorable lead turn.
An interesting parallel to Fast Eddie’s story is that of the director himself, Robert Rossen. Having joined the Communist Party, he refused to testify against his fellow members during McCarthy’s infamous witch-hunts. As a result he was blacklisted by Hollywood studios for two years. Finally he caved in and testified. He later claimed that he couldn’t stand not being able to work. Eddie also pays a heavy price for that which he considers to be his art, and his win over Minnesota Fats in the end is tainted by the knowledge of all he has lost in the process. How much did Rossen lose when he ratted on his friends? Did being at the helm of a genuine classic of American cinema make it somehow worthwhile? Like this enigmatic movie which poses more questions than it is willing to provide answers to, this is something that we may never know.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The park is full
of the very old
with their walking sticks
and the young
with their iPods
Nervous squirrels start at the sudden sound
of the laughter club
loosening up with a few experimental chuckles
The sun wakes reluctantly
The parking lot starts clearing out
It’s a weekday and the cars receive little love
just a quick brush and they are done
The rising star of the beverages department steals a look at his hair in the mirror before pulling out
The harried market researcher absently fingers his stubble
The ad executive marks an unsteady path home
The vegetable seller yells at the top of her voice
scaring the pigeons
and waking the ad executive
Ignoring the glares of the three men who always seem to be sitting there
she yells again but is interrupted
dhan ta na
ta na ta na ta na
her cell phone rings
and an order is placed
for two kilos of potatoes
one kilo of bitter gourd on the express condition that it be fresh
five unripe bananas
and a handful of green chillies
The presence of cumulous clouds
in blue skies
depresses those expecting rain
and causes them to curse the power shortage and the embargo it imposes on their ACs
The Japanese school practices
for its annual Sports Day
happy as usual
to remain self-contained
and strange to the local population
The park empties out
and the parking lot fills up
of ‘last over’ are heard
just before the ball gets lost in the hedge
Couples walk discreetly towards the leafier areas
Worker bees drive their economy segment cars back to the hive
murmuring a prayer
as they cross the temple on their way down the slope
Sounds from five very different TV channels
struggle to coexist
Dogs congregate to sleep
as they do every night
on the temple steps
Policemen stand by
looking at the dark hedges
looking at their lathis
and thinking quis custodiet ipsoes custodes
The hopeful young man asks that eternal question
can you come out for some time?
The watchman blows his whistle
reassuring the old pensioner
irritating the market researcher with a big presentation the next day
with four friends
and some sad song on the radio
passes him by
near the parking lot
One of them gets off
Looks at the car for a moment
as if considering
whether to thank someone
but at any rate
decides against it
and just turns and goes home
Sunday, August 16, 2009
It’s a measure of this song’s resilience to easy interpretation that the ultimate California group, The Beach Boys tried their hand at it, and failed badly. Granted they were a couple of decades past their prime, but they would have made a mess of it even in 1966. There’s something unforgiving about the song, something resigned and devoid of hope. To inhabit it properly, you have to live in it – except this song is no place to live in, that much is clear from the time the singer starts his story, if not from the first notes of the guitar. The only hint of the California warmth the singer so desperately wants to get back to is in the answering vocals - and heard a certain way, even these can sound sympathetic but non-committal, like a good stern priest. Or that preacher, the one who likes the cold.
What links ‘Like a rolling stone’, ‘I want to hold your hand’, ‘This year’s love’ but does not necessarily apply to ‘Satisfaction’ or ‘Stairway to heaven’? Great songs all, but only the first three have that rare ability to convey to listeners at large exactly what they are about, without their having to be explained or translated. ‘California Dreamin’ also belongs in this club. Wong-kar Wai knew this when he used it again and again in his 2001 feature ‘Chungking Express’. Faye Wong’s waitress was given no back story, her motives were never explained. Instead, we were invited to understand her through her actions, the most common of which was playing ‘California Dreamin’. A remarkable cultural transplant, with all that longing and dislocation skipping a few decades, crossing an ocean and landing up in modern-day Hong Kong. What’s more, it sounds like it belongs there, more in tune with the characters in this movie and their complex emotions than with the quintessentially American Beach Boys. Come to think of it, the wind may have started carrying the seeds over earlier. Freddie Aguilar of the Philippines had a hit a few years ago with ‘Anak’; I don’t understand a word of what he’s saying, but it’s that same unsettling, intimate feeling.
Man decides to take a walk. It’s a cold winter’s day, full of sleet and bitter wind. Six months ago, this kind of weather may as well have existed on Mars for all it mattered to him. Now he braves it every day. He hasn’t missed a walk in six weeks, it’s the only thing that helps him clear his mind a little. He has tried going to church but can never seem to immerse himself in the experience the way the people around him do. He likes the preacher though – tough, old guy, never shivers no matter how high or hard the wind blows. For some inexplicable reason he feels the preacher likes him as well. Which is strange, because he hasn’t gone anywhere near confession, and is pretty sure it’s written all over his face that he has no intention to.
…maybe he understands that I am not the same as the others, the ones who walk in here to give thanks, those who complain, ask for things, betray the fact that they are human with their every greedy breath.. That I have a darkness which I carry around inside me, a void his church will never fill. That I have sacrificed, just like he has probably sacrificed. Or maybe he’s just interested because I’m from out of town. We tend to forget that priests come from humans, as do gods, and were probably human once themselves.
The lines echo in my head until they stop making sense. If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today. If I hadn’t told her, I never would have left. If life were that simple, we would all be in LA.
In all honesty, I don’t see myself leaving this place any time soon. The people are sterner here, more rugged, but also more rooted. There are fewer cars, quieter bars. No orders cocktails, they all drink beer. I am slowly learning to accept, if not embrace, the present…which is not to say the past is behind me. I still have difficulty thinking of California as a place; right now, for me, California is a person. She appears in my dreams, the one time when I have no control over what I am seeing or hearing. It’s warm while it lasts but I wake up that much colder for the experience.
Thinking of trying out some prescription meds. You know any good ones?
Yours, in fond remembrance of times past…
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Whenever I see this image I feel a strange kinship. I keep getting this feeling that he and I are in some way similar. We are both in purgatory. He is condemned to saving souls, but instead wants to live a normal life. I am stuck with a shatteringly normal life, when I’d rather be saving souls.
He’s on the edge. So am I.
He’s leaning forward. I am too.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Fleet Foxes: Floating in Time
Almost everyone who heard the first five seconds of ‘White Winter Hymnal’ in 2008 was hooked; everyone who made it to the first harmony vocal two seconds later realized that it would be an instant hit. The revelation, however, came a beat after 40 seconds, with the introduction of a deeply ringing lead guitar and rolling drums. It became evident then that the most accurate description for this sound was ‘timeless’. In other words, the beauty of ‘White Winter Hymnal’ was that it did not sound like radio circa 2008. Or 1965. Or 1942. There was nothing in this single that could date it - no hip slang typical of a particular decade, no musical fad past or present. It floated in time, a feat that The Band pulled off consistently in its day, but very few others managed.
Their self-titled debut album, released on the venerable Sub-Pop record label, is an extension of the sounds inherent in the single and their Sun Giant EP – esoteric subject matter, sun-ripened harmonies, playing that is restrained yet evocative. Tying all of this together is the astonishing ghost-folk production and the clear vocal tone of Robin Pecknold (hear ‘Oliver James’, it’ll make your hair stand on end). The band has described their sound as “baroque harmonic pop jams” – which captures the essence of their music but leaves one unprepared for its stately beauty. It is also refreshing to see the band play around with song structure, often presenting their songs as acts in a play, rather than sticking to verse-chorus-verse. ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ demonstrates this best - a beautiful acoustic ballad that unexpectedly veers towards a stark confession in the end, with Pecknold crying ‘I don't know what I have done/ I'm turning myself to a demon’.
Because their sound is utterly organic, and seems to have risen from the earth fully formed instead of being painstakingly assembled, influences are not easy to pinpoint. In an era of magpie bands, The Fleet Foxes are one of the few meadowlarks (to quote one of their song titles). But hidden in the mix, there are clues. The Beach Boys are the most obvious of these, their 1965 classic Pet Sounds being the closest reference point. ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ starts with the same sort of prayer-like harmonies that flourished on that record, while ‘Quiet Houses’ presents a variation on the build-up in ‘God Only Knows’. The production too is Spector-ish - sleigh-bells, flutes, pounding tom-toms all make appearances – but sonic assault bows out at key moments to allow for greater musical subtlety.
There are other sounding boards as well, if one digs deeper – one can sense a bit of Crosby, Stills and Nash in their decision to subsume individual voices in their harmonies, unlike say, The Band, where every voice is always distinct. Their pastoralist touches seem to point towards Fairport Convention, and the ghost of Nick Drake also seems to be standing in the background somewhere, nodding approvingly. Could be all of these. Could be none of them. It really doesn’t matter. This band has the least mannered and the most original sound to be heard in popular music for years. If I were you, I’d consider myself forewarned.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
A king is dead - I
Now, for the first time ever, Michael Jackson may finally be able to relax, sit back, look down from his cloud and enjoy the frenzy surrounding him without having to be part of it. The controversies have already started raging again. The Jackson family alleges a cover up! Jackson's personal physician went missing after his death! Ex-wife and and creditors squabble over his estate! He would probably have enjoyed more the birds-eye view of the spontaneous acts of mourning and celebration that broke out across the globe. In Moscow, where young women were in tears. In Italy, where they sang 'Billie Jean' in the streets. In New York, where scores of black and white poeple crowded Times Square. In Puri, where they drew his likeness in the wet sand.
In days to come, when the dust settles and the cultural commentators get down to the unforgiving task of assessing his legacy, the first order of business would be to figure out who Michael Jackson really was. For there was no one Michael. Every human has different facets to his or her personality, but not many have facets distinct enought to be different personalities in themselves. Jackson's greatest rival from the '80s, one whom with he strangely never recorded, is the distinct opposite. Madonna - more incisive marketing manager than talented singer - fashioned a career out of creating different personas for herself. It is her constant reinvention that has kept her in the public eye, kept her relevant after more than 20 years in the business. But Jackson never had a persona - or at least he never invented a persona he could control. To use Borges' allegory, the map preceded the actual topography every time. The supremely gifted child artist. The young black R&B hotshot. The suddenly white king of pop. The nervous wreck accused of child molestation. The strange cypher who changed his name to Mikaeel. Which one of these was Michael Jackson?
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Waging war for cinema
Jean-Luc Godard's 1959 article heralding the new wave. Still shy of his first feature as director, but supremely confident, he sounds like he's been asked to play a bugle on the battlefield before the fighting starts, which he does loudly and without mercy. Everyone should sound this charged up by their work...
“The Face of the French Cinema Has Changed”
BY JEAN-LUC GODARD
Fifty years ago today . . .
Godard wrote this New Wave battle cry for the April 22, 1959, issue of the French journal Arts, on the news of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows being selected to represent France at the Cannes Film Festival (thanks to the machinations of French culture minister and New Wave champion André Malraux). The year before, Truffaut had been barred from
As soon as the screening was over, the lights came up in the tiny auditorium. There was silence for a few moments. Then Philippe Erlanger, representing the
What matters is that for the first time a young film has been officially designated by the powers that be to reveal the true face of the French cinema to the entire world. And what one can say of Truffaut could equally well be said of Alain Resnais, of Claude Chabrol if Les cousins had been chosen to represent
The face of the French cinema has changed.
Malraux made no mistake. The author of La monnaie de l’absolu could hardly help recognizing that tiny inner flame, that reflection of intransigence, shining in the eyes of Truffaut’s Antoine as he sports a man’s hat to steal a typewriter in a sleeping Paris; for it is the same as that which glittered twenty years ago on Tchen’s dagger on the first page of La condition humaine.
The director of L’espoir was better placed than anybody to know what this reflection meant: the principal form of talent in the cinema today is to accord more importance to what is in front of the camera than to the camera itself, to answer first of all the question why, in order to then be able to answer the question how. Content, in other words, precedes form and conditions it. If the former is false, the latter will logically be false too: it will be awkward.
In attacking over the last five years in these columns the false technique of Gilles Grangier, Ralph Habib, Yves Allégret, Claude Autant-Lara, Pierre Chenal, Jean Stelli, Jean Delannoy, André Hunebelle, Julien Duvivier, Maurice Labro, Yves Ciampi, Marcel Carné, Michel Boisrond, Raoul André, Louis Daquin, André Berthomieu, Henri Decoin, Jean Laviron, Yves Robert, Edmond Gréville, Robert Darène . . . what we were getting at was simply this: your camera movements are ugly because your subjects are bad, your casts act badly because your dialogue is worthless; in a word, you don’t know how to create cinema because you no longer even know what it is.
And we have more right than anyone to say this. Because if your name is emblazoned like a star’s outside the cinemas on the Champs-Élysées, if people now talk about a Henri Verneuil film or a Christian-Jaque just as they talk about a Griffith, Vigo, or Preminger, it is thanks to us.
To those of us who on this paper, in Cahiers du cinéma, Positif, or Cinéma 59, no matter where, on the back page of Figaro littéraire or France-observateur, in the prose of Lettres françaises and sometimes even the schoolgirl stuff of L’express, those of us who waged, in homage to Louis Delluc, Roger Leenhardt, and André Bazin, the battle for the film auteur.
We won the day in having it acknowledged in principle that a film by Hitchcock, for example, is as important as a book by
We cannot forgive you for never having filmed girls as we love them, boys as we see them every day, parents as we despise or admire them, children as they astonish us or leave us indifferent; in other words, things as they are. Today, victory is ours. It is our films that will go to
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
The Verve's Urban Hymns: A sort-of review
A lucid dream. Not some drugged out room filled with negativity. A simple fix. Pop the pill, forget about the rest. Let Dr. Robert worry. Butterfly with tangerine wings, caught in the strobe lights, chrysalis confused. Chase it down. In your lucid dream.
“We are the rolling people. Don’t know why”
Life is not simple. There are easy ways to arrive at this conclusion. The object of your affection could return the favour with a little less enthusiasm that you would have liked. Like that movie. You could hate your job. Like that song. You could make so many compromises that your every move is shadowed with self-doubt. Like that year.
Knowing that someone you love is going to die, and that the drugs will not help this time.
Realising that its not possible to walk through life and avoid bumping into people.
Experiencing that feeling of release. Two guitars, bass, drums. Epiphany...and then poof. It’s gone. True pain captured, sold to a world starving for something real, only to find that they ate it, found it bitter, spit it out.
"Richard, towering over the rest of the bobbing crowd, looked around wildly. This was a signal for whoever of us weren’t wasted to go to him. Talk to him, reassure him he wasn’t through the looking glass, that there was no giant butterfly in the loo, no rabbit with a machine gun at the door. Today was bad though, he just sat down in the middle of the club floor. My feelings have been betrayed, he kept yelling out. I was born a little damaged, look what they made. Cold-blooded as it sounds, I knew that would end up in a song.
Later, that evening we took a ride home in Simon’s beat-up Chevy. Richard kept putting his head through the window and yelling at the passers-by. We had one serious scare. We stopped for cigarettes, and everyone except Rich left the car for a few minutes. When we got back, he was missing. A few minutes later, we heard a noise above our heads. It was him, sitting up on the roof, saying ‘Bow down’ again and again. We freaked, raced up, persuaded him to come down. He didn’t protest much, seemed more numb that anything else. Was jumping on his mind that day? I don’t think so. Suicide wasn’t his thing..."
The fact is that I don’t know shit about what I’m saying. I only know sound and the worlds inherent. But that’s not enough. I don’t know uppers. Downers. X. LSD. Coke. Shrooms. Hash. I know not of these worlds, and it informs the fact that I am attempting to write about them. But I still try. I need to hear some sounds that recognise the pain in me, even if I can’t relate to the pain in them.
But there will always be that gap, because I cannot put myself through any of it. There’s too much at stake. But if I were to feel tempted, the only reason I would not do it would be because I don’t have the guts. This will always trouble me.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
I would recommend...
Monday, April 27, 2009
Nada Nada: No need for words
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Try not to breathe
I can hold my head still with my hands at my knees
These eyes are the eyes of the old, shiver and fold
I will try not to breathe
This decision is mine. I have lived a full life
And these are the eyes that I want you to remember
I need something to fly over my grave again
I need something to breathe
I will try not to burden you
I can hold these inside, I will hold my breath
Until all these shivers subside,
Just look in my eyes
I will try not to worry you
I have seen things that you will never see
Leave it to memory me. I shudder to breathe
I want you to remember
I need something to breathe
Baby, don't shiver now
Why do you shiver now?
I have seen things that you will never see
Leave it to memory me
Sunday, April 12, 2009
It was a sleepy voice
Only the sleep eternal, not the daily one
A conversational voice, textured like a memory
It belonged to a man, but it could have been a woman
Come by my streetcar by the bay, the voice said
I would have done that, the request seemed so genuine
But I know he would not be there
If you would and you could, it said later
I could happily die after hearing that one line, and I would have if I had enough confidence in the afterlife
Or enough sorrow in my own life
Which he did
Sometimes it just happens that people like that
Can sing like this
Saturday, April 4, 2009
9:13 AM (Crack of Light)
Sunday, March 29, 2009
'In memory of': The Supersonics rev up
When 'In Memory Of' hit the shelves last year, as part of the Kolkata leg of Saregama's Underground Series, it genrated a buzz that stretched from the Hooghly to Haridwar. What was striking was what it was not - it was not derivative, or naive, or amateur - remarkable for a punk band's first single. There were no metal cliches, no lyrics straight out of Philosophy Hons, no accented vocals. Instead, you got -
- a no-nonsense punk riff, which changes into something resembling a Lee Renaldo- Thurston Moore churn
- a lovely, distracted, self-effacing lead vocal
- a sound that lands somewhere between Sonic Youth, The Strokes and The Cure
They have a video out (though one has to admit, it's kinda square). They've been together three years, performed across the country, and, according to last month's Rolling Stone, are now in the studio, recording their debut album. If it's as good as the single (and I have a feeling it will be), I promise to be the first in line.
PS. Props to Crystal Grass and their fascinating single 'Plasticine', also included in the Kolkata Underground compilation
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Fan picks: 15 awesome guitar tracks seemingly chosen at random
- On top of the world – John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers feat. Eric Clapton
Early Clapton, sounding more like Jeff beck
- Memo from Turner – Mick Jagger
Sinuous slide work from one of its most famous exponents, Ry Cooder
- Lady Writer – Dire Straits
Has there ever been a smoother guitarist than Mark Knopfler? (Answer rhymes with archipelago)
- Kid Charlemagne – Steely Dan
Solo that manages to be both wild and brainy
- Over, under, sideways, down – The Yardbirds
Jeff Beck, always at home with vaguely Eastern-sounding drones, propels the most jolting start in rock history. It sounds like a genie escaping the bottle.
- Just – Radiohead
Sickening loud lurches, topped by a snowstorm of fuzz. Only in rock music, could that be a good thing...
- Taxman – the Beatles
Grungy rhythm guitar and, out of nowhere, a ridiculously savage solo by McCartney
- Mountain Jam (Live at the Fillmore version) – The Allman Brothers Band
Dickey Betts and Duane Allman duel it out, until Duane points his slide skyward and leaves everyone behind
- Calm like a bomb – Rage Against The Machine
Noises you never thought a guitar could make
- Baby let me follow you down (Royal Albert Hall version) – Bob Dylan and The Hawks
Robbie Robertson sounds like he’s gluing huge luminous bands of light together in his solo
- It’s no secret (live version, ‘Bless its pointed little head’) – Jefferson Airplane
Jorma Kaukonen was the underrated lead guitarist of the ‘60s. This track is propelled by his alternately punky and lyrical playing
- White Summer – The Yardbirds.
Jimmy Page this time, playing an acoustic guitar, plucking the opening notes like a dentist yanking out teeth.
- Mera Mantra – Euphoria
The most perfectly realized solo in a song by an Indian band
- No Rain – Blind Melon
Let’s face it. If mewling vocals were enough, Blind Melon would have had a lot more hits. The plangent, economical lead guitar is the real reason this song clicked.
- Walk, don’t run – The Ventures
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Rome, Open City
Before there was nouvelle vouge, independent cinema and Dogme 95 there was neorealism. Before Pasolini, Pontecorvo, Costa Gravas, there was Rosselini. Before Harvey Kietel there was Marcello Pagliero. And long before ‘The Battle of Algiers’ took us deep into the dark beating heart of guerilla warfare, there was a film that not only captured the same spirit, but also combined it with the humanity and tenderness of ‘Casablanca’. That film was ‘
Filmed by Rosselini on the devastated streets of
One scene in particular haunts me. The children start whistling a Resistance tune as the priest, played by a stoic Aldo Fabrizzi, is strapped to a chair in front of the firing squad. Is the firing squad too scared to hit him the first time around, or is there a deeper meaning behind the bullets missing him? Rosselini plants the thought, but gives us no time to think about it. The bullet in his head is delivered by a German officer who was earlier shown drunkenly questioning the sanctity of the idea of a master race. Just like the film stock used - black, white and a little grey...