Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Unloaded: The Mind's Baggage

Music and all that
From where comes this music? Who sings it? What is the song about? When was it first sung? And why does it affect me so much?

Having asked myself the five important 'W' questions, I can now sit contented. I can wallow in the fallowness of perceived logic. I can now brave conjecture, rumour, established understanding, opinionated study. And simply believe in it all. Or not.

So I listen without reservation, perhaps armed with some scattered knowledge; and I like and I don't, because I do.

And so...

Why does music break me down? When will it not? What more can it keep doing to me beyond all the infinite things it has already done? Where can I go with it? Who will go with me?

Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter
They played at the Dalhousie Institute grounds on Sunday, January 14th. The entire community of western music lovers in this city could not stop talking about the event days before it happened. The press hyped it in their usual, boring manner. And then at 9.30 on the evening of the day, it was over. Just like that. They came, they played, they went.

HH & WS, with musicians from the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz performed for about two hours. An estimated crowd of approximately 2500 people thronged the space. There were irritants. Many with no interest in jazz spent a fruitful time socialising with no concern for genuine listeners. Others were there to be seen, to be able to say the next day they were there, just in case something exciting was reported in the gossip or review pages.
But that's Calcutta. It happens at any event. Nevertheless, those who wanted good jazz, got it. In a healthy dose. And free of entry cost too!

While leaving, someone mentioned the poor sound amplification; someone else gave the show a rating of 6.5 on a scale of 10 for “after-show feeling” against an anticipated 8 or 9. Does anyone listen to the music anymore? I doubt it. Too many folks seeking criticism value and others trying to get in touch with “inner feelings”. A distinguished reviewer, a don at a university, known for his knowledge and avidity as a music buff, writing in Calcutta's highest selling rag, claimed it wasn't, at the end of it all, a good enough show. The savant speaks.

I heard Weather Report's Mysterious Traveler and Hancock's Watermelon Man when I was 17 years of age. Both were part of a large, varied, but limited collection I was exposed to, which would completely change my approach to music listening and appreciation forever. For the better too, I should add. Not having had the advantage of going to western shores and being able to choose the live music I wanted to hear, I waited for jazz fests and other like events to be able to hear some of the names I respected immensely. With no choice, I heard whoever performed. With that, my growing interest in the music expanded my horizons. A minuscule number of the big names came to India, only a few of them played in Calcutta, and it was not always possible for me to be present at their shows. Still and all, every moment and rupee spent at the shows I did go for was worth more than I'll ever have.

And the same is true of the Herbie and Wayne concert last Sunday. I had goosebumps for as long as the two played and for a long while after that. I sneer at every reviewer, critic and envious musician for their post-concert opinionated rot. I ignore the uninitiated, the chatterati, the social wanna-bes who were there, as they have no desire to know, or do, better. For me, that concert was a music event of a lifetime. I shall probably never see them live again and I'm glad I went.

I listened to the music. Did you?

Bag Stories
My friend slings a bag on his shoulder; a cheap, polyfibre thing available on most of Calcutta's streets for under a hundred rupees. It contains his spectacles in a case: tucked away when he must reluctantly admit that his eyesight is failing. To further compensate for age-related ocular weakness, the bag also carries a small battery torch; a penknife masquerading as a Swiss Army Knife; some nicks and some knacks; and more usually than not, a pint of whisky in its original bottling, or distributed among several small plastic bottles, (previously containing carbonated poison sold by brands whose values far exceed the economies of many of the countries they sell in), and now mixed with water. Handy at a movie or a jazz concert.

She carries one on her back, manufactured in similar material as mentioned above, but of superior quality; roomier; of a bright red hue; and handy on a trek down urban thoroughfares. This season, it contains a dark cardigan for possible protection against the city's winter chill; and its smaller, outer pocket hosts another small red case of the same fabric, containing her loose change, a stick or two of makeup and a comb, a scrunchy, and her cellphone. When the phone rings, sounding as if it were ringing submerged in a distant swimming pool, she goes through a ritual of un-shouldering her red backpack, zipping the pocket open, taking the smaller case out and unzipping it, then withdrawing the mobile to peer at the screen, and finally answering it with a frantic: “Ya! Hello-o-o-o!”

I remember her as she would wearily trudge past me as I walked to school. Muttering under her breath, constantly searching the pavement for something, she must have been in the poverty-stricken, malnourished age range of 30 to 60 years. Her shoulders and back were slung with cloth and jute bags, like shapeless, organic growths on her body. These bags were discards retrieved from garbage heaps, and all of them were stuffed to overflowing with even more cloth and paper. Plastic carrier bags were not common then, and it was incongruous to see the familiar logos and names on the few which she carried, which too contained stuffing. Bags within bags within bags.

Mobile phones. Another piece of baggage our age of technology has provided, suddenly the most essential thing that anyone carries. Suddenly people have begun communicating, after the centuries of silence which preceded its invention. And then you have all sorts of bags to carry this piece of baggage: around the neck, umbilically corded to a pocket, low-slung at your waist, in a case... And the phone too has its own bags within. Compartments which are cameras, music players, minicomputers, gaming consoles, TV screens, radios, web browsers, geographical locators. And some different kinds of baggage to complement the main piece: earpieces looking suspiciously like cancerous growth, wires spilling out of ears, people talking to no one in particular that you can see.

I want to live my life out of four suitcases. Two for clothes and stuff, the third for music and the fourth for books. Just replace the ones I'm done with, no adding on.

Save me
o god
save me from women who have it
and don't know it;
from those who don't, but believe they do


david mcmahon said...

Nice to know you went bananas over Herbie!
And at the DI, too!
Hope you've noticed the new, regular features - Trivia Pur$uit and Gizmo Machismo :) - on my blog. Let me know what you think.

Prerona said...

lol @ "Save me
o god
save me from women who have it
and don't know it;
from those who don't, but believe they do"

my sister went for the di thing! why does all this always happen when i'm not there :(

p@tr!(k said...

hi prerona! yup, you missed a great show. i think they know you won't be around when these shows happen so you can miss cal all the more!! your sis, rahul, ranjit, me and a gang others also ate dinner together later.


dave me boy! good to see your new features. and the di will again start rocking..(jazzing?)from tonight till the 22nd. nice to be there. wish you could have been...