Friday, July 15, 2016

As I grow Older...

... the sacrosanct nature of classic rock does not feel enough to wow me. I attend concerts of aging rockstars, Black Sabbath or David Gilmour(Bucket List) but I look for Led Zeppelin of my time. And there is none. Then one fine day I understand two things have happened to change my perspective of music. First one is internal,where my brain—overloaded with calculating how to pay next month's credit card bill—has become so much tired that it takes long time for new music to register the way an entire RATM or REM album used to. Secondly, rock music has changed. You can no longer define them by four white men playing a 4/4 with a 2 minute plus guitar riff to die for. Rock stopped to invent and indie singers, who despite of their obscurity from major labels kicked in. Below is some of those examples. Is it classic rock of mid-2010s? Nope, it does not have that 'classic' feel. But is it good ? If experimentation is a criteria for good then you bet. Here is my top 5 from 2012-2016 ( Not when they were released but when I listened to them). Starngely all of them are from female singers. ————Niia is from New York now living in LA. if Miles Davis ever looked for electronic jazz, he would pick her. ( ———This gal is Dylan's love child with a penchant for storytelling ———You want Techno? You want Metal ? You want Great Pipes? Maria Brinks and Her Band for you ———— Is it pop ? Is it mindless elctronic muzik ? Whatever it is , it plays like a loop in my mind

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Judgement Day Blues

For that rush hour traffic's run to eternity when life and death gets dirty in the passenger seat, for that old man whose salvation came in a monthly statement where price of his house tumbled down to that drug-raped girl's dignity, for those beggars by the bridge who look east to see the greatest city of the world and only get to see a million candy-wrapper catching white light and silent light from the sky,I did not want to lose these lines. And for me, of course.

"Of rock and love and heaven above all written in a piece of bread,
She painted a scene of tenderness that humidity might fade.
The decades that passed, in between us, must left some more to lose,
You are eye to eye with someone to die, singin' the judgement day blues.

Jesus walks a vagabond in downtown Newark,
His black face looks merciless in the amber of the dark.
I asked "my lord when the time will come for human soul to choose? "

He flipped me a bird and sang from afar the judgement day blues.

In heart of the hearts, we lived apart, for those days of losing the count,
Some chose the life of 'let-it-be', some chose that blab from the mount.
In the end you lived, neither saint nor a thief -- a train full of
faces so confused

singing in a single line , for one last time, the chorus of the judgement day blues.

An old man chose a busy street to show me the creases of time,
He crossed the path of roaring cars when the heat was so sublime.
His ancient spine, with tales to tale,looked eastward for answers and the clues

Of what went wrong for the city to croon the judgement day blues

Hope lies smeared in a chicken soup in every story of death,
Salvation's in an empty bottle or streets of Nazareth.
The day of calling, this Halloween, how tight is that noose?

Atta boy, sing a final time the judgement day blues. "

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jagjit Singh

And now when you are gone, we can start this obituary with any of those couplets which you weaved to our heart, to our emotion of daily life or to the lack of it.Perhaps that will be like hitting a brick wall with truckload of cliches , specially while remembering a man who proved to be a toned down and 'soothing-to-ear' version of Howard Roark for a century old genre of music.
I can not remember any one couplet that you sang to me. They fritter and fret, take form of butterflies whose dusty wings, if touched, break into sadness of another earth.
They come in a flock. sometimes as colorful as laughter of few dead children from century of happiness, sometimes like the beggar's rags, each little pore talking of life in a rainy day.
And you sang to me. Choosing one couplet from Ghalib and balancing with one of Gulzar, using words of Gods which human's going to forget very soon, bringing works from some oblivious pens at the tips of each lover's tongue, you were that rebel to change the way we hum to our loneliness forever.
And now we uttered loneliness. When I first heard you, on another un-anchored afternoon , restless from the mindless cruelty of heavy metal, an uninvited song filled up my little room with a velvet like serenity. Then there was no stopping until the day dream dried and the purgatory of real life broke my little jar of liquid phosphorus.You still remained somewhere like a dessert in the course of daily life to compensate the otherwise tiring and tasteless meal. You filled up the windows of my car when heat of August swarmed like an old man's rage against death, when a dozing office looked like resting place of world's all the clowns, when my restless day with fleeting attention tried to hold on to a pillowfull of present moment.
And there will be no one. To read Ghazal to me, to put me into sleep with ancient lyrics of longing, to put hope in a hopeless place.
And all these gibberish, all these conscious mourning...someday they will become a song. They will fill the empty sky when a voice--bowed down to the lyrics yet touching each Lavz as memory's first taste of saliva from another woman--sing them to us like hymn of the sun worshipers. That song is worth waiting for. That song to find a place where he can sing without a care in the world, he can sing while playing with each turn and twits of Ghazal,he can sing when the world suddenly becomes a quieter place.
And in that misty morning of quietness, in the other side of chaos and survival, in the next coffee break from the drudgery of purging my soul from the dust and grease of modern times, I choose to live with my personal Jagjit Singh.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Suman Chatterjee: Remember When You Were Young

...You were there.In those teenage days, when life as a meaningless, shapeless drudgery was still an unknown nightmare, when each day , like individuality of freshly minted coins, looked different and exciting. In my little room of 'growing-up-days' you came in 1997, and through my 'T.Rex' cassette player, changed my ear for a song forever.

Songs were for entertainment then. A mass production for an half-ass ignorant masses--Indian songs, beyond its classical heritage, was mostly tied to a movie.The scenario was not different for West Bengal where you dared to stand against the tide-and against all those rotten tomatoes.The rest is an oft-repeated history and urban legend which shaped an entire generation(my generation who grew up in uneventful '90's). That generation still roots for you,and an interview like (this)from those days makes them a little moist around two eyes which seldom got a time for tears in their adult life.

But apart from being a legend who somehow resurrected Bengali songwriting for a certain class of people in West Bengal, what did you mean to me?

Many of my friends picked a thousand different things from your songs. Some found it amazing-the second coming after Rabindranath;some found it a copycat's attempt to imitate the great Dylan, some found it highly imitable (and arguably that "man with a wooden guitar", a new addition to Bengali's fantasy-gallery of Romantic male, gave birth to myriad 'Bengali' rock bands whose cacophony died as soon as college was over and lead singer made his voice hoarse by waiting for an interview in the August sun).

For me you opened an window. A very big one. A boy who never lived in a city, it was his first peek at the by-lanes and neighborhoods of Calcutta. It was his first peek at other side of a song which can go beyond that universal vending machine of 'selling' love and talk about anger, hope and heartbreak of contemporary times, of contemporary Bengal. Yet it was the very first time of knowing that love songs can be so much tender yet so much closer to daily life of common people. You gave me imagery which till now no one else in the world of great lyrics been able to give--image of that common man and his eternal war to live another day, image of a rusty, unkempt urban park and so many microcosms around it which left invisible to our ignorant, hazy eyes, image of an ancient writer's walk through the rural roads of beauty--countless image, countless words. Only for you, the crows feet at the corner of my eyes will always teach me a 'trigonometry' of different kind, only for you my hope will always stand like two lovers or like a mother who lost her son and about to make her dead son's bird free from the cage.

In the end, with all these images, with pirouetting of your pen to make a much-used Bengali phrase or adjective sound like first surprise of human kind, you cursed me. You cursed an entire generation who will live with your songs ringing in the head. For them there was no bigger idol, bigger soothsayer who would utter deeper than the ocean emotions, truer than the fire protest songs and tender than a beautiful woman's midday slumber love songs. They will search every nook and corner to find a better pen than yours, they will compare in their head each new form of music they encounter, they will live with your poems in myriad pedantic efforts of imitation. You will be gone then. Pens given its knee down to politics, head given its blue sky to the pit of the stomach. But , on a day like today, when the evening brings some emotions for which all the men of the world can not find a word in the dictionary, my mind reaches out to those years of growing up. Nobody tells thanks to his father, but take a bow for being the guiding light of that threshold of a life which learned to live beyond 'eat-shit-die' because...

Friday, July 22, 2011

BORDERS : Everything Passes, Everything Changes

Borders gonna close( Here). What will happen to the gigantic one they have as the doorway to the Madison Square Garden? What will happen to the one they have on the Magnificent Mile of Chicago? What will happen to the one they have at the middle of nowhere, by northbound I-90 in Florida? What about the one in one of the small airports?
What about the ones where my working man's soul discovered Richard Yates? or DC Comics? or New Yorker ? or Chuck Palanihuk and then bought it with a glee knowing that the grease of his dollar bill's been well spent as Borders with its coupon had the lowest (and well justified) price for a book.

Those stores, my bookstores(One in Deerfield,IL, one in Highland Park ) started to shut down somewhere from last year. Borders somehow chose to die like a slasher movie victim with each of its organs getting a well schemed maiming until liquid death fills up the screen.
And then came the final blow last Friday as my mailbox-in its nonchalant bits and bytes-showed the final coupon from Borders, an invitation to be the vulture on its dying body.
Almost like a living cliche from one of those movies where a letter, a page from a forgotten book or a news opens a long sequence of sepia colored flashback,I got all those vivid scenes playing at some quarter of my brain where teardrops are still a thing or two to consider.
Images of that long wooden staircase in Deerfield's store and it's mile long shelves of DVDs. Images of the overcrowded one at the footstep of the 'Garden' where I had to sit on the vent at the bottom of the windows when Manhattan flows like a turgid river on my back.
And images of a girl who once worked in now-dead Highland Park downtown's small yet extremely cozy Borders. Her earnestness in a 98% white area where none has seen an Asian working in customer service before, her last shift that ended at 10:30 on more than one January nights when mercury had an ungraceful fall to the floor,her small world filled up with new friends who would soon become jobless.

Time for a Kindle? Time for finding another bookstore which in its false elite ambiance would serve the same old book with price marked few notches higher? The wheel of capitalism marches on and next time my unmindful head makes me to take that turn on Seventh Ave, I know shapeless void of a bookstore will be waiting for me thru those large and dirty windows and doors where once life used to make an entry and an exit every other minute.
You flicker your unbelieving eyes--the emptiness fills up with many ghost crowds, ghost smells of new books, ghost sound of laughter and whisper and the mini-storm sound of a tired coffee machine. You flicker it again--and before midday's swamp of tourists gulps you like a small dot in a Pissaro painting---you realize, Borders is gone. Forever.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Sixty five years of growing up. Sixty five years of love, darkness, loss , hope and enduring the pain of learning how to play guitar—inch by inch, yard by yard. In some ways Clapton reminds me of a farmer with a small land of his own and two bare, untiring hands to sow different crops. Again and again. Sometimes reaping gold, sometimes pure shit, but not ever questioning the smell of mud, the unexpected weeds, the graying hay pile, “Should I stop now?”

And after five decades of walking on a life full of some music which posterity sometimes compare with the creation of the Man above, the peasant who suddenly enters my post-Christmas ‘on-the-go’ playlist with a self-titled new album, is not the ‘God’ from Great Britain but a perceptive student walking through the hazy corridors of memory-- picking, assimilating tunes from his innocent times. And indeed it is only those who can cling to that warm sheet of memory in another cold night of reality, can cut an album like that. An album like ‘Clapton’: Not produced, not conceived, just made from the teardrops of an old man looking vacantly at the westbound sun, at the darkening horizon.
This learning of death knocks on many a tune here and makes me feel that ‘learning’ is the keyword in Eric’s career. And it’s not learning the music—although that famous remarks by B.B. King of wondering whether this pinkish Brit was actually born down Mississippi or by Brian May about having Clapton’s soul wired to his fingers withstanding—it is learning the life through music instead. It all suddenly starts to make sense about what Eric was doing all these days. I see his life as a student learning new form of music while circumventing British pop-rock, his ‘White Room’ days of psychedelia, his restless lessons of love in “Lylaa”, his tragedy in “My Father’s Eyes” and learning to branch out in unadulterated Blues with one or two occasional ballads for die-hard lovers , such as “Change The World”. And five decades later, I see him learning, with his slow hand and somehow slothy mind,to be joyful and anxious simultaneously of inevitable death. That learning does not come from looking far beyond the horizon with weary eyes. Clapton chooses to take a walk back to his forgotten lanes; chooses to select songs which are there like lullabies, like first sin, like first smell of a woman’s skin. This strategy of welcoming faint footsteps of death with songs which Eric might have heard when he was very young—is very much Clapton, very much wonderful—tonight or the other. So “Rocking Chair” talks of that old man and memories, so does the grieving “River Runs Deep” and then Eric looks at the inevitable mortality eye-to-eye, man-to-man when the mocking boogie starts with “Judgment Day”. With that pulsating “Yes , I’m Coming/Yes, I’m Coming”, Eric shows a good finger at redemption and loss and drags us into some well-covered standards(“When somebody”) or twisted jazz(“My Very Good Friend,The Milkman”).
But thoughts of the end-- in choosing a closing song that almost mourns to me “And soon I will hear old winter’s song”—lingers when the album ends and the last 2 minute long solo from “Autumn Leaves” keeps on whispering in my winter night. Keeps on whispering ‘ cause it’s a solo that only a student like Clapton can play. Can play to walk on the bridge between this life and another which is evidently giving him a faint yet gradually certain signal to crossover. We, the bystanders can only hope to keep him looking at the East, to keep him playing of life and love that he might never had but helped millions thru his thousand chords, thru his countless ballads, thru his solos of celebration. After all, what will be left there if ‘God of guitar’ stop his liquid fingers to touch those six immortal strings and to give us another long solo made straight from rain?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Where have all the Blues gone?

B.B.King was laughing. In my dreams, in my head, in that blues bar called 'Lucille', almost overlooked opposite NYC's Madam Tussauds,in the streets of Chicago--I could hear his laughter--coming out with a smell of old age, coming out with the roaring beat of an perennially lovelorn heart, coming out from a black man's quiet evening,coming out like a child's big, surprised eyes. The big, old man, now living in all those memories of a river, can not play his guitar standing anymore neither can endure a set list comprising more than six or seven tracks. Yet he laughed. The laughter filled a humid, July evening in the Grant park and audience--many of them born at least three decades after Mr. King picked up his first guitar--waited patiently to hear last performance of the day. And then, Mr King started stroking his old, black guitar---churning out those same old songs. Churning out "Sweet Sixteen" or "Thrill is gone" or "Guess Who" for millionth time. Yet the song sounded so fresh, so new, so surprising almost like tears of an officegoing, domisticated middle aged man.
I never have the answer. Why the same "Three O' Clock Blues" or "Sweet Home Chicago" or "Alberta" sounds so new each time a Clapton , a King or a Mr. Buddy Guy plays it live?
Maybe that's what blues is. I don't know the history. I don't know nothing bout Mr. Patton or Mr. Johnson. I don't know when Delta moved up north to Chicago and started to become legitimate father of Rock music. All I know is that Blues is probably the only form of music (apart from Indian Ghazal) which can not be sung without feeling so much emotionally charged, without feeling the highest degree of love or hate for the very alive, very slippery body of the song, without being intoxicated with each turn of the song's smooth body, without being high on a dope called failed love.
Blues must have a spiritual root. Again, I don't know. But nothing gets more spiritual to me when John Lee Hooker (He is very much present tense for me) suddenly starts playing a note that seems like pulsating from my own heart, when Mr. King squeezes one string, Goddamn one string, of his "Lucille" and I can hear sound of a thousand love letters being shredded.

What else?
Let me finish by telling tales of Gautam Chakraborty. You might have seen him if you are from Calcutta. Back in 2001 Gautam used to work in the retail store called "Music World" in Park Street. Music World had a separate section for Blues and Jazz then as well as for International Rock music. "Download","Ipod","Bittorrent" were very alien words to me. I was browsing through some Rock Music when Gautam, being the true salesman, asked me whether I would like to look into something called 'Blues'. I had had a small brush with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williams, Some white bluesmen(not Clapton but John Mayall , Beck, Paige etc) back then and could not hold the urge to show my 'knowledge' bout the genre. But for all those blabbermouthing of mine, Gautam turned out to be the Zen, the Socrates in the world of Blues. That was the start. The CD he recommended me that day was "B.B.King Live in Regal" And then recommended me some more. keeping his duty aside, all those long hours spent talking about Blues and Bluegrass,all those moments of showing me a strange light burning in his eyes while talking of some singers whom his regular customers--the Britney clan--never bother to touch...the first time I heard live Blues standing outside a bar in Cardiff, I missed him a lot.
Gautam now changed camps.He is working in the city center branch of "Planet M" now.His long, curly hair got little bit of blues called age,his eyes still flickers that same old intelligence and sadness of a failed artist.Last time I met him he made me buy a "Chess Record's anthology of Howling Wolf".It was another great recommendation and when the record got over,once again , in my head I could see Mr. Gautam Chakraborty,salesman in music stores, a bachelor in late 40s, reaching his small,ancient South Calcutta home late in the evening.In his lonely room that remained oblivious to a woman's love for a very long time, I could see an old, dusty boom box... a few cds scattered around.I could see him picking one, loading it, switching off the neon light and as the red dot on his boom box changed to green, I could hear his room getting filled up with magic from four black fingers, with sound of a timeless river, with voice of love, laughter and anger all diffused in some tune that God does not make anymore.Gautam Chakraborty, after another day of selling Bollywood DVDs and technology adorned pop music, would travel to streets of Missouri now, would stop by a smoky bar of Chicago. And there a black guy in long suit would welcome him with another familiar as mother's lullaby yet as distinct as first scream of every newborn.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A R Rahman and 'It-Grows-On-You' Theory

[The inspiration/aspiration/perspiration for this post comes from a review of ARR's latest offering Raavan by 'Saurabh' an occasional columnist in the forum--]

Back in '90's,Bacchu had a small shop in Free School Street, Calcutta, India. Free School Street is a road in central Calcutta, running through the heart of Park Street(The unofficial downtown) and in those days was famous for easy access to pirated music and home-grown marijuana and hookers.

Bombay.jpg image by shikhagp
It was the pirated music that Bacchu used to sell. Long before the arrival of DVDS and CDs, acts like 'Iron Maiden', 'Black Sabbath', 'Joe Satriani' featured in Bacchu's 4 by 6 shop in tapes covered in cheap imitation of the original cover art. Those were the music I grew up with. I grew up with one of my closest friend Arani Basu in many a perspiring afternoons vandalizing through Bacchu's collection for some of the rare gems. I still remember getting an LP of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother'(original 1973 version) or a copy of Deep Purple's club days.
One strange thing about those music was it supposedly got me hooked on the 'very first' listening.Half of the lyrics obscured by the British/Texan/Midwestern accent, half of the songs often having a quality as good as a dead prostitute's ass--- still it was an 'obligatory' liking as listening to rock music was a ticket to be 'different' and 'intellectual'. And being surrounded by like minded teenagers who could inform yout the length of the nail of Ozzy's right index finger to the brand of Crystal Meth that Jim Morrision used to smoke---you don't want to be an outsider.
I was still a little bit of spoilsport as I also had a liking for a certain Hindi 'muzic' director named A R Rahman. I forced some of my 'Rocker' friends to listen to tracks of 'Bombay', 'Thiruda Thiruda' or 'Tu Hi Mera Dil' ('Duet' in tamil, if I am not wrong). Although they did not find any worth in replacing their shrines built for 'multi-talented' gentlemen like Ronnie James Dio or Axl Rose with one for the chubby,black, deglam-ed boy from Chennai,most of them agreed that this guy is trying something which was never tried before in 'muzic' for mass.
And then I grew up. I got a job, I got a cubicle, I got a family, I got EMI, I got a potbelly, I got dark patches under my eyes, I got dead body of my dream of forming a band where Dave Mustain meets-Rehman meets-Roger Waters lying by my office PC. Was it then when a new 'Rahman' album started to sound no longer 'extraa--ordinary' but 'yeah-it's-good-but-something's-missing'. Was it then when that boy whose ancient Phillips tape could recite each interlude and prelude ranging from 'Choti Si Ashaa' to 'Chale Chalo' died?
Is it Rahman who chose to be a lesser mortal with sweet scent of money tingling in his brain cell or was it I, drifting apart in the hopeless ocean of adult life, whose ears and hearts got filled up with sediments of 'office-going' life?
With all those doubts in my heart, I turn on to youtube and pick up some of his mostly forgotten tracks. I play a track called 'Jo Manga Tha' from a movie whose name even I forgot (a Priyadarshan movie starring Anil Kapur,Jackie Shroff and Pooja Bhatt), a track from a movie called Viswabidhata or from a movie called Priyanka/Indira. My little room, my little room hot from an angry sun suddenly starts feeling tranquil and peaceful.
So, this is what I feel: If you ever met A R Rahman now, not the boy from Chennai but the Oscar-winning,cropped hair,king of orchestration---just ask him,"Rahman, how much of GOD was there in your music when you created Bombay Theme,Anjali Anjali or even 'Kaal Nahin Tha Woh Kya Hain' and how much of HIM is left now?"
In the answer lies the simple fact that the music that Rahman made back then had this divinity, this magic, this very visible effort of a craftsman trying to contain his genius though his blood and sweat. The oscar-winner for whom another movie soundtrack is 'just another movie soundtrack' is much more conformed, much more polished and much less experimental now. And so, did the God of music left him to put the mantle in the hand of someone else? Time will tell. For now let's listen to 'Raavan' hoping like all those tomorrow-never-dies Rahman fans that the next Bombay, the next Duet even the next Dil Se is just around the corner hidden beneath the heaps of heavily technology dependent orchestration and pray that the man who gave us "Khili Chandni", "Tu hi Re" or "Ai Ajnabi" will again give us that one simple un-technofied, pure, simple thing. Melody.

Friday, April 16, 2010

'UP' and Scenes from a marriage

UP started as another weekend adventure in 3D. So far my experience included Terminator 3D in Universal Studio,FL(Quite irritating) and "Monsters vs Aliens"(sorta OK) and apart from an interest in Steve Jobs' fading role, PIXAR never attracted me. I was, thanks to all those Disney time in Indian Sunday morning TV, a die hard devotee bowing his head down to the shore of Lake Buena Vista.
UP was going to change that forever. And not for the movie which undoubtedly continued PIXAR's motto of 'simplexity' by fighting the formula of Disney's beautiful but downtrodden people doing heroic things with a misfit(WALL-E) or a bunch of misfits(TOY STORY) doing something equally heroic. The magic, the myth, the inexplicable joy of movie-watching came in a four minute long montage showing Carl and Ellie's journey through married life.Together.
The montage did not contain one single line of speech. In a tune set to violins, to organs, to all the unknown instruments and to that painful chord called fleeting happiness---the track called 'Married Life' left a theater that looked like a giant bowl of popcorn soaked. And no the popcorns did not get wet from snot, saliva, sweat or from any other bodily fluid. It was a story of Carl and Ellie told through music, it was a story of a dream that tied them together , a dream of finding 'Paradise Falls' and it was a story of how life, that inscrutable scoundrel, crept in. Carl and Ellie, much like Frank and April Wheeler, never really left for South America and through all those years got old, got broken hearted, got used to living another uneventful American dream. But the dream,like the memory of a dead deer cub in the highway,kept coming back. I know that my inner skeptic will scream that such a love and dream and hope,very unlike of Wheeler's fate, is nothing but 'cliche'. But where Richard Yates/Same Mendes took an entire novel/movie to show gradual decay of a dream, it really feels nice to put my buck in that four minute long 'half happily ever after' celebration. Hope is, after all, as smelly as your good morning's first fart but never the less comforting. Ain't no denying on that.
Here's that four minute. Popcorn, at your own risk.