Sunday, July 23, 2006

Football isn't quite the same as "Soccer"

Though it didn't say so on the Chinese calendar, this is the year of the "FIFA world cup". Having been deprived of football( or should I say soccer) action after moving west of the Greenwich meridian, I looked forward to this world cup as redemption, a way to pay my respects to footballers of all nations. My excitement received a kick in the shin when I realised that the matches would be telecast in the unseemly hours of the morning, when it would be awkward to drink beer and shout at the TV. I fondly remember the times when we used to stay up until 2 am in the morning to watch champions league games which ended in goalless draws. However, I was happy I reconciled myself to seeing games on the weekends.

The first weekend had a bunch of obscure matches, as is common to the group stages. The important match, as plastered all across ABC commercials was the USA playing ... did it matter? It just takes some sport, any sport and a bunch of pricks who keep chanting " We're the best. We've gotta believe in ourselves and step up to the plate" to get the whole country convinced. Whats more.. this time by some weird anomaly , the team which makes a living out of beating cuba, peru, american samoa and puerto rico, happened to be ranked fifth in the world... and the suckers believed it. Sure, I am not one for engaging in "un-american" activities like disparaging their national pride, but when this irrational enthusiasm affects the commentators, it might be a cause for violent reactions in a football fan

I woke up early on the first Saturday to catch the pre-game show, and regretted it every bit. The panel of commentators included .... you guessed it right, only american commentators. Well and a respectable lot at that. There was america's top male goalscorer (I'd estimate the number of goals to be 6) and america's top female goalscorer (The last time I saw a female commentator was Mandira Bedi... so you must forgive my apprehensions). The match they were supposed to previewing was France vs. Switzerland or something but it didn't matter. They had a bunch of cheesy, crappy, oh-so-sentimental stories about Claudio Reyna and Oguchi Onyewu. The stories ended with "will this be the golden year for the US?" and I found myself shouting aloud "Are you kidding me??!?!?" . Sorry, but I have seen my last three world cups with impeccable coverage by fantastic commentators like John Dykes and Andrew Leci. And if I remember right, USA got nothing but a passing mention. Here I was, seeing some jackasses on national television talking about winning the world cup. Perhaps they thought it was like the NBA, NFL or MLB, where they just hold a local club tournament and christen themselves "World Champions" only to be thrashed by Argentina (in basketball) or Ghana (as in this world cup). My world cup had started off on a sick note. So you can guess I felt really happy when the Italians could not name a single member from the US team; what I call separating the "who's who" from the "who's he?".

If the pre-game show was anything to go by, things only got a lot worse in the match commentary. The commentators were talking like retards, like a cricket fan watching a baseball game for the first time. Their language was ridden with artefacts like "drew the contact" and "sold the play" to which the English would have said, "bugger off, you wanker, thats not quite football". They seemed to have no concept of how the game flowed, raving about ubiquitous skills from Christiano Ronaldo and cheering for Beckham, by far the worst player in the English team. Obviously they had seen little or no European football, abandoning their lives to watching Chicago Fire or whatever. They were not just uneducated about football, they seemed proud of their wonderful opinions and littered the airwaves with their ineffable twaddle. They had people in America believe that "Casey Keller is the best goalkeeper in the world". I mean the names Dida, Buffon and Cech strike a bell??
This free circulation of their jaundiced opinions spilt over to refereeing and yellow cards.(jaundiced opinions about yellow cards ... beat that!!) . These guys had a God's eye view of things and were so god-darn sure of all the calls and constantly heckling the referee, calling him ineffective. If I were the referee I 'd find the ABC camera and show these morons the finger. They obviously had no idea of how these offenses are judged in Europe and how mistakes are inevitable. I could not fathom how the same asses had no problem accepting blatantly ridiculous decisions in favour of Shaq or Wade or Bryant and reconcile them as "home-court advantage" .

As a counterpoint to this awful unprofessional display was the constant jokes on every talk show about how boring "soccer" was. Well, I dont know about "soccer" but I know I've seen the most absurd sport when I saw baseball. Frankly I think the world would be better without these twats participating and polluting the fun of football. Please keep your hands to those commercial gimmicks you pass off as sports; lionizing individual players in team sports and making a whole sham of it. No wonder these guys cannot appreciate a sport which 3 billion people in the world find irresistible. They cannot understand what a real team sport is. They just seem at a loss when faced with anything larger than the "individual"... ooh, the sacred individual, the mantelpiece of american life.

When Ghana made it through to hte round of sixteen in the world cup (which the americans call "sweet sixteen" ... can they ever get over their own egotist selves), the government decided to reduce the amount of electricity used by the country's gold mines so they could use it to power up TVs for people to watch. USA is believed to have offered Ronaldo $120 million to come play in the american soccer league and .. . he REFUSED.
Just an afterthought. .....

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shot and counter shot

A lot of us have been introduced to the wonderful world of "The Office" on NBC. Some even more fortunate ones among us have had access to the original British series from which it is inspired. I dare assert that the essential idea which the British version brings to light is an absolute revelation. A new way to view comedy and a certain grisly neo-realism which makes it all the more avant-garde and cutting edge. A lot of these rough exterior qualities are smoothed out in the American version, much to my dismay. It has been made a little more tractable and gag-oriented, something which Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant particuarly wanted to avoid. Further, while the original brit series had just 12 episodes over two seasons, the american version has been commoditised and has too many episodes to retain the cutting edge which defines the concept. It still manages to succeed commercially, due to Steve Carrell's antics (for lack of a better word) and still grabs awards because of the novelty of the original concept.

And novel, it certainly is. This is where I'll lend credibility to the title of this blog. Let me start with a fundament al question and try to proceed with reason, as far as my wits permit. So, What is cinema? Okay, a medium through which you tell a story using light and sound. What is a camera? It is a device which acts as a medium which transports images and perhaps, sounds from one place to another. Now, lets invoke (guess who?) Einstein (hey wait, I have got a lil complaint?? Yeah, just hold on). Einstein's essential thesis is that the very act of observing affects a physical system. Thus we can never really determine the configuration of a system with certainty (pat on the back to Heisenberg). Let us extend this to the world of cinema and cameras. What would you do if you were being seen? You'll put on your makeup and act oh-so-nice and behave well and even say "excuse me" when you sneeze. But if that camera was candid. Well, you would do few or none of the above things . Even worse, you might me caught with your pants down, quite literally. So we see that the process of cinema has for the large part been using an "invisible" camera. What I mean by that is : We are being told a story, seeing characters "pretending" to do this or that. BUT, these characters are "acting" like they cant see the camera! Its like the camera dissolved itself and there was just this tube which transmits images of what is a fantastic reality, if you know what I mean.

This essential thesis behind the making of cinema encourages pretense. Its not like the camera is picturing you candidly. You are fully aware of what is happening. You rehearse the dialogues. You are supposed to be talking to the audience when you really are talking to a camera. The dynamic is just one-way, from actor to camera. There is no counter dynamic caused by the presence of the camera i.e. the actor does not respond to the presence of the camera or even acknowledge its presence. There is SHOT, which is the camera capturing the character's actions but there is no COUNTER SHOT. Simply put, you'll never have a guy on camera saying "Is the shot over??".

This is where "The Office" makes a departure. It makes an attempt to encapsulate this effect. At the beginning of the first episode, we are told that these are documentary tapes of activities in an office of a company called Wernham Hogg. Well, nothing new there? Well, yes there is! All the people you see are fully aware that these cameras are watching them. The whole "story"(for lack of a better word) is told by means of these not-so-candid recordings and extra interviews conducted with the people of the company. The series was conceived to bring out the ennui and boredom in an office environment. So there are a lot of scenes of blank inactivity and fairly mundane conversations. But to uncork the comic element, there are a core group of characters whose lives we follow. These people are not unlike the people we see in a normal office environment but mildly caricaturised to really get the comic parade going. But a lot of the humour is created from the viewer's prerogative and the resonance that he can establish with the tone of the series.

To me, it seems to be absolute genius to come up with two great avant-garde ideas. One, to make a departure from the gag oriented comedies which have become slightly repetitive and eminently reproducible. Two, they have managed to exhibit this special dynamic between viewer, actor (though that word begins to have a strange meaning here) and the camera. Each of these three becomes an integral part of the whole experience.

Hope I haven't destroyed your appetite by miring the whole idea in (what seems to me like) reason. Go ahead and enjoy one of the finest works of comic moving pictures. And if you like this, you might also like The Ricky Gervais Show, a podcast which has a quirky and distinctly absurdist perspective of human life. More on my thoughts on this show sometime later.

yeah yeah Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt - Ricky Gervais

Monday, January 02, 2006

whats the hangup?

Jerry Seinfeld has this terrific observation about answering machines/voicemail. There are times when you call people and hope you get the automated message and are bitterly disappointed when a real human picks up the phone. Not only do these anthropoids lack the sacharrine politeness of a voicemail message, there is no beep after which you are given freedom to talk. Conversation with human beings takes so many twists and turns, many of which you'd rather avoid. Given a chance, humans just want to talk about the things they are interested in. Who wants to listen to others troubles. I've got enough of my own. I dont need to listen to how your lovelife is on a downturn or how many bottles of beer you hammered last week. The only solution for misanthropic sick people like me is voicemail. Firstly, it limits my talktime to about 45 seconds which works perfectly since I usually cant talk sense for much longer than that. Secondly, I am not rudely interrupted in transit and my idiocy exposed. Thirdly, I have completed my duty of calling up and "keeping in touch". Now the ball is in his court. I can sit here, like a king and remorselessly wait for the other person to call and then, of course, shatter his hopes by picking it up.

The deeper insight which Seinfeld draws is that, people are expected to call a lot of people for social courtesy or whatever, and in reality, we have very little to say to this group of people. Similarly they have very little to say to us. But we've got to call each other to "maintain contact" and not appear rude. So, at xmas or new year's, with a horrid hangover from last nite's merriment, you need to pick up the phone and begin the ceremony. Since you have nothing to say, you call up at 6 in the morning or 11 in the night and just leave a message. The queer thing is, as much as we hate this stupid game, we absolutely love receiving messages from faraway friends. Just messages, mind it, because a call will put too much strain on our conversational skills. These messages make us feel popular and powerful. As Seinfeld says, "Humans want to be popular amongst a group of people they dont care too much for".

Thats one helluva observation. That really drives home the point that in a relationship (I dont mean just the cootchie coo - I love you - you broke my heart types) which involves two humans, there has got to be a clear definition of where each person stands. Sweep aside all that crap about "Friends are equals". Most human interactions have a dominant partner and a recessive partner. And funnily enough, a lot of recessive partners are quite happy with this scheme of things. They feel protected and honoured to be in the company of the dominant partner. They dont care too much about asserting themselves or losing their identity or self esteem. These are the people who are ready to do more than their bit to improve their image in the eyes of the dominant partner. One example that springs to mind is the friendship of van gogh and gauguin. Gauguin was a stockbroker who had quit his job in London and arrived in Paris to look for solace in art. He was completely immersed in himself and his art. Van Gogh regarded Gauguin very highly and was almost obsequious in his admiration. The relationship reached its torrid worst when they lived together at Arles. Gauguin, was dismissive of Van gogh's admiration and was lost in his single minded pursuit. Van gogh, unable to bear this rejection, cut his ear off and even attempted suicide. But the strange thing is that, even after being rejected, Van gogh bore no bitterness towards Gauguin.

Needless to say, all of us want to be dominant partners. This completely explains the remark "Humans want to be popular amongst a group of people they dont care too much for". We want to be dominant partners and hence, we'd like to be the guys receiving the calls, not making 'em. Like movie stars, we want to be relentlessly pursued and stalked by this army of fans and then brush them aside remarking, " oh! all this public attention! Its a hard life". What roobbish! Not being famous and spending time writing articles like this, thats the hard life.

And then my alter ego replies "Not being famous and READING articles like this. Thats the hard life!"

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mother Tongue - tied

A week ago, I was shopping at this store in Chicago. As usual I was just pulling out shirts one after the other and acting very choosy. By now, I have mastered the art of looking at the all-important price tag when nobody is looking and then changing my expression to disapproval with the occasional tch tch and placing the shirt carefully where it belonged. God forbid the sales rep accosts while you are going through this sacred routine and interjects with the oh-so-cliched " Is there anything I can help you with?" , "Anything particular you were looking for?". This is what I would describe as a spiritual dilemma. Of course I am not looking for anything particular. Well of course if you can find me something which looks like its worth fifty bucks and costs only twenty....... then we can talk. But otherwise I am just looking for the "sort-by price" button. Unfortunately this is not a website. So you just smile sheepishly and assure the rep that you are doing fine.

After a few runs of this routine, I had to think of other creative excuses. But like Calvin says "you can turn on creativity like a faucet". You need to be in the right mood which of course is "last minute panic". So while I was staring vacantly and singing to myself, a sales rep appeared out of nowhere to offer "assistance" and this time, I really had nothing to say to exonerate myself and found myself blurting out, "I am waiting for my friends". Thankfully, he swallowed the excuse without much ado and then the two of us got talking with the usual "where are you from", "how do you like chicago". I have absolutely no enthusiasm to reproduce the conversation here. But to help you fill in the gaps, I have a suggestion. Walk up to any coffee shop anywhere in the US and start talking about (what else?) the weather. Wait.... actually dont go anywhere. I dont trust you to return! So we had some innocuous conversation during which he casually complimented me on my good English( the first time that it has happened since , well.. hmm. hmm......... forget it!). I humbly replied that it was because we had most of our education in English.

That evening, we went across to this jazz club and while listening to some traditional jazz, I was turning over the conversation in my mind ( Why?? Well, obviously because that was the first time somebody had complimented me in , well, a long time). As time went by and the bluesy songs started playing, the spirit of self-congratulation slowly melted and I started realising that it was really nothing to be proud about. I recalled the several incidents when I tried to convey something other than abuses in Kannada and how miserably I had failed. I remembered how many times I had mercilessly switched channels whenever I saw the yin-yang symbol in the top right corner; only to stop this meandering when I reached MTV. I realised the damage the "English medium school" had caused.

I understand that writing this article itself is an expression of the apathy of the situation. This whole charade of trying to express our thoughts in what will always remain a foreign language is seriously changing the socio-cultural physiognomy of India. The hankering for "English medium schools" or "convent schools", the decline of our culture and art and the systematic excision from our original cultural identity; all promise to leave us permanently wounded. We are creating, in metropolitans, a whole generation of Indians, who have as little to do with Indian culture as polity has with politics. Our mother tongues have suddenly become these exotic commodities reserved for "cultural" occasions. We walk around with our English sensibilities acting too sophisticated for our own culture, estranged from our own identity, we "tolerate" it as a vestige from the past thus eroding its importance from generation to generation.

A lot of people seem to convince themselves with the argument that English is serving as the (pseudo) mother tongue for this new generation and that works perfectly fine since its just a medium of communication. A very naive thing to say. It is accepted worldwide that there is a close relation between the language and societal characteristics. Its time we shoved aside all that rhetoric about "global village" and experiencing other cultures. We are just rationalizing what could become a catastrophic error. Heaven knows that each community is different. The only thing one can admit about a global village is that we should have enough tolerance to co-exist peacefully with other cultures and learn from these other cultures. Here we are talking about a systematic decimation of our own culture.

I, unlike George Dubya, believe in genetics and evolution. If there's one thing I have learnt from it, its that my genetic makeup is trained in a certain way based on the generations before me. My reflexes, my impulses, my creativity: all of these are tuned to a certain wavelength. Language forms an integral part of this identity. Over the course of 50 years, we have switched not JUST a language, we have shifted lifestyles. The houses we build, the music we make, the art we create all of these have undergone a sea change. But there is nothing wrong with change, is there? Of course not. But there is something wrong with the nature of this change. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security by saying that this is just the merging of cultures while overlooking the serious problem at hand. By hankering for that English medium school, we are going one step closer to ensuring that the kid is never going to read any novel in its mother tongue. Its never going to find words in English to express the complex emotions its genes manufacture. Its probably never going to hear any Indian music or appreciate any Indian art. And chances are it might even feel a scorn for its own culture.

If you think, I am making a mountain out of a molehill, look around you. How many people in their middle ages have read one single book in any Indian language? How many have any appreciation of Indian classical music? How many have HEARD of Raja Ravi Verma? I am guessing not many. And these facts are not in the least bit surprising to me. How do you expect the generation to relate to its culture when you take away the medium?

If you are still not convinced, look at any Indian metropolitan. We seem to gloat over the fact that we almost look like any big city in the world. Is that what we want. This pathetic paucity of imagination where we build building after building, train hordes of men like machines to talk the talk so they can waste away in call centres. We replace our "amma " and "appa" with "mummy" and "daddy". We boo when we hear an invocation from the Vedas and cheer when we hear some sick artist produce an impression of Backstreet Boys. We stow away our kurtas 'cos its uncool and have no qualms about wearing torn jeans instead. We go ahead and buy MJ cds and groove to them while Bharatanatyam is just something you have to put up with when you want to please your grandparents. What would you attribute all this to? I'd say the answer is pretty clear. The British did a pretty darn good job!! They managed to impress on the Indian psyche, quite in Animal Farm style, " English good, Indian bad", "English cool , Indian uncool". We got our freedom alright but we forgot that we had signed away the rights to our identity as well. And once the wheels were rolling, there was no looking back. We now congratulate ourselves on our English speaking skills. It gives us software and call centre jobs, you see.

So what measures can we use to remedy the situation. The typical Indian Government's answer would be to introduce reservations or introduce compulsions of some sort. I am not so sure these measures work. The ideal thing of course, would be if every Indian makes sure we reinforce those thin strings which remain between us and our culture. But is that going to happen? I very seriously doubt it given the current situation.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

October Revolution........ A little too late perhaps!

The "holier than thou" attitude of democracy is absolutely unpardonable. Winston Churchill once said " Democracy is not the best form of government but I will stick by it until I find a better form" and this attitude clearly represents the pomp with which democratic countries conduct themselves.

Was reading this article in the New Yorker about Noah Webster. Apparently inspite of his reputation as a highly educated man, Noah Webster strongly opposed granting voting rights to everybody. He seemed to think that only selected members of society should be granted the right to vote. Granting the right to everybody would mean demeaning the right itself

Ridiculous as it might sound, I mildly agree. The right to vote is just one of many others. If there is any argument to support the fact that everybody has equal voting rights, that argument can be further extended to justify equal property for everybody which is the thesis of communism. So we have reached a contradiction, or have we?

What we have is an exposure of the fallacy of giving equal voting rights to everybody. Let me explain. Consider the capitalist mindset that you dont share your riches with anybody and what you earn is just yours because YOU worked hard for it. Now draw a parallel with a plutarchy or aristocracy where only nobles or wise men or rich people have the right to vote. One can always argue that these people EARNED the right to vote and the others have not. So we have justified an aristocracy! What is so sacred about the right to vote that it is the only thing we want to equate across the board. It doesn't matter if you are poor or dont have an education, but you have the right to vote. That is a sorry attitude.

Frankly, I feel communism is the only political theory which can really be justified. It uses the simple logic that we are all born equal and all the resources we have should be equally shared. But the tragedy is that it doesn't work in practice. And I attribute that to two reasons

1) The whole problem of solving the problems of people is intractable. What I mean is that.......... the typical way to do it is to have representatives but that is a contradiction which plagues both democracy and communism. The very fact that some person is a representative places him at a different stratum from the others and defeats the original axiom that all humans are equal. So democracy is out. In communism, by giving absolute powers to a group of people, you could have disastrous consequences like dictatorship.

2) Human history has been plagued (yeah, I dare to use that word!) by a sort of capitalist mindset from the beginning of Time. The only way we can undo the damage is by starting afresh, which we cant. What i mean is the following. Lets say we declare a communist world from this moment onwards. The guys who are below the average are going to be happy and the guys above the average are going to hate it. And the reason why we can never shift to communism is because the guys who are above the average are the guys who hold sway in the capitalist world

A lot of people say that communism will not work because there is no incentive for people to excel, because they are going to share the fruits of their labour anyway. Firstly I think thats one of the most selfish statements to make. That statement destroys in one stroke the rhetoric about "one world one people". Secondly, I admit that the industrially lethargic attitude is inevitable as you could see in communist russia. But I would attribute that to the fact that we have been so accustomed to the capitalist philosophy that it will always prevent us from understanding the beauty of communism. For example, if I am a successful industrialist and you declare the world communist ( ?!?!?! like you could...... but anyway!!), then I'll have to share my money with the smallest worker in my company. Of course I would be unhappy....... not because I dont have enough for myself but because I remember those capitalist days and think about how much more I could be earning.

How I wish we could erase all memory and start afresh in a communist world. Then you can remove one word from the dictionary................. GREED!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Soprano

Recently, I have been looking for what really is driving my existence.... and I have been getting the most unexpected answers. Most of the things which prod me to go on, I cant even mention because they are either stupid and ridiculous or obscene and sick. But there are a few things I can mention. Thats what this post is all about.

Now for those of you who are still under the delusion that the title of a post should have something to do with whats in it........ WAKE UP! We are in the age of absurdity; the age of shameless and rationalized absurdity. (thats more moronic than oxymoronic......... as against the cheap welding flame which leaves that ugly scar ... more oxy than oxy-acetylene)( Cant believe I wrote that previous line...... and cant believe you are reading my asides, much less my posts!). Anyway, as we can see in the world around us, whats in a name? One of the hottest selling vodkas is Kalashnikov.. named after the luminary who has lent a new dimension to 20th century violence. The lady who sings the most obscene songs with the most obscene music has named herself Madonna. Saurav Ganguly calls (or atleast used to call) his teammates "the boys" while Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble were sordidly looking on at this upstart who calls himself the "Tiger of Bengal". The story of an Indian family with random reincarnations , easy-to-find "hamshakls", convenient memory loss, widespread polygamy and vicious relatives is called "Kahani Ghar Ghar ki". And finally the bloody serial about gangwars and mindless violence is called "The Sopranos"

Ah... you let out a sigh! Hold your breath. Thats not the only connection this post has with sopranos. Let me refresh your mind. I started this post with some profound thoughts about why I think I should prod myself to go on.(Does that ring a bell? ......or have my digressions served thier purpose!). I started engaging in this profound line of thought after I attended this concert by the world renowned mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. It was my first classical concert experience and let me start off by saying that it blew my mind. Most people find this hard to believe, because I have a severely limited knowledge of opera and they fail to understand how I could enjoy it so thoroughly inspite of not being able to appreciate the nuances. But you know...... all the talk about "music without borders" and all that which you scoffed at........... well guess you've got to eat humble pie now and huge portions of it.

I had my apprehensions before buying the ticket which was a neat 35 bucks. But, I had just received my stipend that day and you know the thing with money, dont you. It follows the law of diminishing returns(read balance). 90% of my money is spent in 40% of the time. And the other 60% of the time is spent thinking about how I lost my money or blogging or anything else which doesn't cost money. So it appeared that I had bought my ticket in youthful folly. But I still waited with bated breath for the day of the concert. Got back from office much earlier than usual and listened to some random classical pieces just to set myself up. I then realised that while I was lost in my dreams dancing an imaginary waltz with Julianne Moore to the music of Tchaikovsky, I had gotten late. I hurried and made it to the concert hall just in time for the concert. I was all shabby and sweating and panting and inspired quite a few concerned glances as I walked in. I collected my guide book for that evening's performance and proceeded to sit down after asking half the audience to move while trying to get to my seat. I caught my breath, straightened my shirt, tied my shoelaces and tried to stay still and be on my best behaviour. The guy that I am, I found it quite hard to handle all the polite coughing, the "god-bless-yous" when you sneeze and the elbow etiquette (never managed to figure out who gets to keep their elbow on the armrest when you are sharing a common armrest). Nevertheless, I pulled myself together and steeled myself up for the best behaviour of my life. I looked around and noticed a couple of things. Firstly, most of the guys in the audience were in the "sunset years" of their life so to say. Secondly, a more than reasonable number of them were dressed in glorious black suits and I seemed like an out-of-place twerp. Just when these thoughts were clouding my mind, God relented and the lights went off.

The orchestra players walked in to a cultured applause ( my description of an applause not punctuated by random catcalls and "xyz rules" and little girls screeching). While they took their places, my mind was already being overwhelmed by the visual spectacle. All the ladies in their flowing black evening gowns and the men in impeccable suits; The 35 bucks was a distant memory. Just while I was congratulating myself on making one of the few good choices in my life, the audience roused to welcome the woman herself, Cecilia Bartoli, or as the Italians would say Chechilia Baartholi. At once I was entranced by this angel in a flowing green gown which was glistening under the spotlight. She took a bow and thumped her fist against her heart to indicate her gratitude. The concert began .

Words cannot express the pleasure the heart feels when you hear the voice as it tears across the hall not in a way that disrupts the piece but in a way that it becomes part of the flowing music. The distinctly feminine voice portrays both the gentleness and the strength blended together in a way only a woman can. The way she could evoke different emotions like happiness,sorrow, revenge, gratitude and love really amazed me. For the period of time I was inside there, none of my worries seemed even remotely significant. I was thinking to myself that I'd go through a life of pain if I could occasionally be afforded such a pleasurable experience.

Three hours and three glorious encores later, I was filing outside the hall distinctly happier. Life seemed to have more colour than it had before. You know those movies which are called "feel-good", they dont know what the hell they are talking about. This was feel-good and as "feel-good as it gets". I feel so impaired that the pleasure I derived from this experience, I cannot express. I guess thats why its called art. But what I can tell you about is Cecilia Bartoli's latest CD called "Opera Proibita". This CD features opera from the 18th century when opera was banned by the Vatican. Apparently Rome had escaped from what could have been a great disaster and in order to thank the gods, the Vatican banned public performances of any kind. But great composers like Handel, Scarlatti and Caldara continued to produce great operas. To revive these operas, Cecilia Bartoli has released this CD. These operas were actually written for castratos (males who were castrated to develop a feminine voice) since women were not allowed to perform. So essentially this album is a reinterpretation of those arias. Funnily, the album cover is based on the "La Dolce Vita" cover, a movie which was also banned by the Vatican. Needless to say, this album is a must-have if you want to enjoy some wonderful afternoons alone or with your significant others.

It is experiences like these which drive me on from day to day in the hope that at the end of the stinking routine, there is something which will make me glad I'm alive. Like I was pointing out to a friend, it really doesn't matter what I am doing for a living because in any situation, it is the other things in life which capture my imagination. At which my friend remarked wryly, "Ha! the eternal dream of a human is to be a professional dilletante"

Friday, November 04, 2005

Steely Dan: Now you CAN buy a thrill!

When you're done with Metallica and Maiden and the mindless headbanging; if you're tired of long hair, cacophonous guitar solos, pretentious lyrics and the tedium that metal brings. Here's just the messiah to deliver you from the pretence of trying to enjoy the same stuff in new noisy packages. A band with brilliant talent, superb innovation and jazz sensibilities......and no frills attached. Check this out.... in their Live concert, Donald Fagen introduces the band saying " We are the all new Steely Dan orchestra and we are going to play some MUSIC for you". Yeah, just MUSIC. No yelling. No abusive language. No animal slaughter.

If you are about to skip this article 'cos it's about 'just another unheard of band, I'd like to clarify that this is not soem vague European band with exactly 2 hits and 12 breakups in 20 years. On the other hand, it is an American band (and dont frown at that!) with 7 critically acclaimed albums of supreme quality. It is the modern image of the only musical culture America has reason to be proud of. Drawing heavily on ragtime, jazz and South American influences, Steely Dan has synthesized these to create the artform that their music has become. Steely Dan's music represents the transition from classical jazz to 'rock', as it were, while still retaining the innocence and the sex appeal, if you will, of the former.

When you listen to a Steely Dan number, the first thing which strikes you is its Bohemian nature. Those novel chords, the teasing bass lines and the passionate, yet controlled drumming.... and all these blended together in blissful harmony. Each piece revolves around one compelling and haunting bar. This tantalising an apparently inaccessible nature of their music might lead you to dismiss it as insipid at first. Much like you would write off Monet's art as patchy and imperfect. It is only with repeated listenings that you can fathom the beauty and the mindboggling detail in each piece.

The guitar solos, have a distinct musical quality and are creatively incorporated into the scheme of things( and not mere finger gymnastics). The sax solos ( played by greats like Wayne Shorter and Walt Weiskopf) take you on a musical roller coaster ride; and though you might feel like you are on a freefall in a bottomless abyss, you are overwhelmed by the flowing melody and a surge of adrenalin, that only Steely Dan can manage to create. However, my favorite feature of Steely Dan music is their unique ability to play that perfect note, or time that perfect beat, which causes a rush of sentiment and instantly helps you relate to the song.

To cap it all, Steely Dan manages to strike the right chords with their lyrics too. ( yeah…. I know that sounds awful). Their songs are a welcome relief from the usual anti war crap, senseless rebellion, ‘head over heels’ love and ‘give the children freedom’ issues; Issues that America really has no business to be talking about. Instead, they are songs which talk about how things have changed and how whimsical it appears to an outside observer. About all those strange people you meet and the strange things they do, about the crazy adventures you’ve had, all those memories from childhood which seem surreal in retrospect. A number of songs have a melancholic undertone, the disappointment of being a forgotten star of the past or the visceral hatred of all those guys who never lose. But this hatred is not communicated as a violent outburst but as a sort of mellow requiem to the dead hopes and aspirations. A sort of epicurean, lackadaisical and whimsical attitude dominates the lyrics.

This is the part of the article when I run out of ideas. So, I thought I’d just put together some of my favourite lines from Steely Dan songs. So here goes.

In Cousin Dupree, this Dupree guy suddenly meets his cousin after a long time and is bowled over. He says with evident effrontery

Honey, how you’ve grown… like a Rose

Well , we used to play when we were three

How about a kiss for your Cousin Dupree

In Midnite Cruiser, there is this characteristic nostalgic line

The world that we used to know

People tell me it don’t turn no more

The places we used to go

Familiar faces that aint smiling like before

The time of our times has come and gone

I fear we’ve been waiting too long.

In Jack of Speed, which is about this guy who becomes a drug addict, there is a line which is as frightening as it is beautiful

Teddy’s rolling almost every night

Skating backwards at the speed of light

And finally in Everything must go, they are talking about giving it all up when they say,

Talk about your major pain and suffering
Now our self-esteem is shattered
Show the world our mighty hidey-ho face
As we go sliding down the ladder
It was sweet up at the top
'Til that ill wind started blowing
Now it's cozy down below
'Cause we're goin' out of business
Everything must go

From Charlie to Calvin : It's losers ball

Charles. M. Schulz and Bill Watterson are probably the greatest cartoonists of the 20th century. They lent a new dimension to the art of writing cartoon strips and introduced a new genre of cartoon strips where the writing was as important as the art. Their handling of everyday issues and chronicling of innocent yet melancholic childhood has created an immense fan following.
The most prominent similarity between "Peanuts" and "Calvin and Hobbes" is that both strips are about losers. It gives a unique perspective of the world through the eyes of a loser. On one side we have Charlie Brown,the inveterate worrier. He can be spotted in his sweater, head down, hands in his pockets heading towards Lucy's psychiatric clinic. He's awful at baseball and flying kites, but is undeterred in his quest to conquer adversity. He greatly adores his li'l sister Sally, the sweet girl next door who is always looking for the easy way out and whose view of life gives us an insight into the frustration and confusion that kids experience. Then there is Linus and his security blanket, the intellectual who comes up with deep philosophical revelations. And of course Snoopy, the dreaming beagle and his little companion Woodstock. Schroeder- the Beethoven afficionado, the loud, argumentative, know-all, selfish, crabby Lucy, the baseball star and academic dud Peppermint Patty complete the scene. These are all the people you ever knew as a child and it is this close resemblance to everything in the real world that has endeared "Peanuts" to a whole generation of people.
On the other hand there is Calvin, every parent's nightmare and every little boy's dream. Calvin is very much like Charlie at heart but the essential difference is because of the time the two cartoon characters were created. Charlie and co. were from another generation where children were still little angels going about their own business and settling their own squabbles(there is no adult main character in Peanuts at all!); he lives in an American society rather different from Calvin's. Calvin is thrust into the far more liberal and materialistic world of the eighties and imbibes all the american values. Through Calvin's opinions, Watterson tries to convey how ridiculous the "American dream" is. The birth of heavy metal, the violence on T.V, the philosophy of advertisements,the cold war, the flawed education system- Watterson takes potshots at all these issues through Calvin.
Calvin is vibrant, outrageous, disgusting, the eternal dreamer, the guy with the great ideas, the unfailing optimist, the cutthroat entrepreneur, the academic dud, the economic analyst and the solemn philosopher all rolled into one. Hobbes is the common sense part of Calvin. He is Calvin's sounding board,confidante,companion on his various adventures and at the same time he scares him, teases him,and taunts him. There is an air of maturity about Hobbes and his wry,sarcastic and witty statements are a perfect foil for Calvin's foolhardy ideas.
Watterson has also sprinkled in all the other "more normal" characters. There is Calvin's classmate Susie Derkins -the teacher's pet who is eternally worrying about her post-graduate studies.She is always at loggerheads with Calvin over snowballs, lunchboxes and class assignments; Then there is Calvin's Mom and Dad who keep quarrelling over why they didn't buy a daschund instead; Moe , the biggest jerk you ever knew ;and Miss Wormwood whose nicotine addiction grew after Calvin came along.
Bill Watterson himself cites "Peanuts" as one of his deepest influences. But the similarities between the two strips are still striking, to say the least. Calvin's lemonade and "great ideas" stalls remind us of lucy's psychiatric clinic. Snowballs and snowmen are a regular feature in both these strips, more so in C&H. Snoopy's escapades as the Red Baron and ErichEagle is probably the inspiration for the alter-egos of Calvin- stupendous Man , spaceman Spiff, the T-Rex, Tracer Bullet and several others. Perhaps, both of them seek to convey the sense of running away from the drudgery of everyday life. While Snoopy is embroiled in the post World War turmoil, Calvin is part of a world where values and ethics seem to have vanished and " it's all about the money, honey".
Though the two cartoon strips are penned in the same vein, both the cartooning styles are quite different. While Watterson seems to have a more elaborate drawing style and his writing is par excellence, Schulz is known for his simple, innocent cartoons with sparing strokes.
The characters of both these strips seem to have a more than normal intelligence, a very important requirement for the author to get the most subtle ideas across. It gives the cartoonist the advantage of a child's innocence while trying to convey ideas of deep significance. They are both cartoon strips written essentially for adults; it whips up the nostalgia and reminds you how it was to be a kid; itching to bomb your school, wanting to know what adult movies are all about, clamouring for that extra hour of TV, scoring a duck, dropping a catch and getting pushed around by all the other bullies, hoping your partner will complete your project, wanting to be a millionaire without making a shred of an effort.
These strips are a welcome change from the usual strips that hog the newspapers. For one, it is not about some superhuman guy with rippling muscles, the upholder of democracy, the harbinger of peace and prosperity out to rescue the hapless human race from the clutches of some mad scientist or extraterrestrial out to destroy the world with his laser gun and nuclear missiles. Nor is it about some run-of-the-mill husband-wife cartoon strips with the age-old jokes and stupid banter. Or about some handsome dude in college who does nothing but look good and let out snappy one-liners to the swooning ladies. These cartoon strips are about little children who are trying to make sense of the whole wide world and all its incongruities.