A Promise To Stand By…

I ended my 2018 by watching Nathicharami on 31st December. It was one of the best things I did on new year’s eve. 

I must admit, the desire to see the movie was because I heard the music before and Nathicharamiloved  every bit of it. Then I saw the official trailer and my curiosity was piqued. I do not know of other Kannada directors having explored the subject of what two young Indian women go through in a particular phase in their lives. I saw the movie & spoke to some friends who had seen it. Most of them emphasised on the theme as “awakened sexuality of the young widow”. I beg to differ here. 

To me, the entire experience was going through Gowri’s journey after she becomes a widow. It is about how she battles loneliness, sleepless nights, parents who pressurise her to get married again (perhaps for the wrong reasons), a predatory boss and her own desires that make her feel guilty. Salvation comes in the form of two office colleagues & friends who help her with a dating app and connect her to Dr Carvalho, the psychiatrist. He helps her peel the layers of her emotions, and, deal with the mental conflicts. Loved his metaphors and one liners!

A parallel story unfolds with Suma, an educated woman from a village, yearning for her husband, Suresh’s love & affection. I appreciated the unfurling of this marital relationship, where Suresh is always condescending in his behaviour towards Suma and criticises her supposed “village mentality”.  The director, beautifully leads you to question Suresh’s frustration at one level & audacity at another level, because he also displays “village mentality” in the movie.

Yes, sexual desires or sexuality has been used as a subject to bring out deeper issues like guilt, societal reaction & gender sensitivity. Nathicharami is metaphorical, refreshing & relevant. Metaphorical, because it shows Gowri anchored to a time & relationship in the past. Refreshing, because it talks about consent for sex in a marital relationship & sensitively explores predefined notions of morality & desires. Relevant, simply because it opens up a sea of questions that ordinary women today face in the many facets of relationships. 

The movie by award winning director, Mansore, has good cinematography and amazing music by Bindhu Malini. Her unique voice is what you hear in the songs and her ease of combining various musical instruments to create hauntingly beautiful music is testimony to her musical expertise. The use of the trombone, drums & guitar is melodious and it is the kind of music I would love to play while I sit in my balcony or on my terrace, sipping a glass of wine and watch the sun go down & the moon come up with the stars shining. 

I wish more and more directors, producers and actors give us such wonderfully crafted & engaging movies like Nathicharami. We will promise to stand by them. 

 

If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick everyday…

Rest in peace Leonard Cohen.

In Beautiful Losers, his second novel, he said, “Do not be magical, be magic.” Cohen was magic and therefore, magical. Poet, novelist, songwriter, singer all rolled into one, Leonard Cohen entered the music scene in New York in 1967. For almost 60 years he mesmerised those who heard him.

I first heard Cohen in 1983 at a friend’s place on a rainy afternoon in Hanoi, Vietnam. Those were the days of a cassette recorder and when Cohen’s voice echoed in that room, eight other voices went silent. It was a distinct voice…one which took “500 tons of cohenwhiskey and, you know, a million cigarettes” to develop as he said in an interview. The album was “Recent Songs”. To say we were hooked would be an understatement. There was this hunger and curiosity to know who Leonard Cohen was. Personally, I thought & still think he was the only other person whose songs influenced me as much Bob Dylan. His response to Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature was, “giving the award to Dylan is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain”

One of the most fascinating and enigmatic song writer/singer, Cohen rarely made it to the pop music charts. Influencing many musicians and winning numerous awards, including The Companion of the Order of Canada (highest civilian award in Canada), Cohen’s folk-rock music commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960’s who continued to work till the outset of the 21st century. The testimony to this was the release of his latest in October 2016 – “You Want It Darker” a solemn album of elegies. The power of his words can be felt in his last letter to his muse Marianne Ihlen. It said, “well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” She died in August 2016.

Cohen’s successful blending of poetry, fiction, and music is made most clear in “Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs”, published in 1993, which gathered more than 200 of Cohen’s poems, several novel excerpts, and almost 60 song lyrics. It may have seemed to some that Leonard Cohen departed from the literary in pursuit of the musical, I would call him as a quintessential Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines.

Thank you for speaking from specific vantage points at every stage in your life.  Thank you for the quiet nights, the solitary reflections, the 360 degree perspectives, the wry smiles and the truth.

I will miss you.

When I Fell In Love With Mr Tambourine…

May God bless and keep you always black-and-white-bob-dylan-hero-i-love-him-favim-com-874865
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young…

That’s my prayer tonight for the one & only Bob Dylan. Young in terms of reinventing yourself, creating new poetic waves and awakening a delicious sensation in the likes of me, when we listen to you.

Falling in love with Dylan is something that happens every time I hear him sing. It did not happen the first time I heard him, though. I was all of 14 when I first heard him sing “Forever Young”. I also heard Joan Baez sing it and fell in love with her voice. Then something compelled me to listen to Dylan again…and again…and again. “Forever Young” is part of his album called “Planet Waves” which also had some other amazing songs “Something There Is About You”, “Tough Mama” & “Never Say Goodbye”. I didn’t want to say goodbye…in fact I wanted to say hello all over again.

The next day saw me in a music shop asking for Bob Dylan cassettes (yes, those were the days of cassettes and LP records). The store owner looked at me as if I didn’t know what I was asking for. He told me there is no singer like that! I argued and he finally gave me the address of another store and said “try there…you will find English music”. I walked into this shop that looked like it needed repairs 50 years ago & approached the old man at the counter who was humming “Country Roads”. He smiled and I asked him”Bob Dylan?”. His reply was “No darling. John Denver” and both of us laughed. “Aren’t you too young for Dylan’s music?” he asked and I said with all the passion of a 14 year old, “I can’t get his songs out of my mind”. In later years when I started dating the love of my life, he actually wooed me with Dylan’s music – “Tangled Up In Blue”, “You’re A Big Girl Now” & “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome  When You Go”.

So, began my love affair with Dylan’s poetry, music and writing. I couldn’t get enough of him or Joan Baez for that matter. I would look for every piece of information I could get about them. My brother & I were holidaying in Vietnam with my parents in 1984 and my Dad sat with me to listen to “my kind of music”. I got him to listen to “The Wall” by Pink Floyd first and then “The Times They Are A Changin'” by Dylan. One of my happiest moments was when he said, “Out of all the music I have heard you listen to, over the years, this man sings in a way I can understand”.

MusiCares Person Of The Year Tribute To Bob Dylan - Show

That is actually the power of Dylan’s music. It is something that most people can understand and relate to. Guitar & harmonica, bass, piano & ensemble strings all accompanied the lyrics to create musical poetry. Dylan phrases his writing so perfectly that the meaning is rendered starkly and with profound resonance.

The Nobel Prize for Literature has surely created a buzz among critics & analysts of his career.That Dylan has never conformed to the usual and Dylanologists love that about him. After five decades of “creating new poetic expressions” and not separating the music from the words & voice (you simply can’t), Dylan came up with The Tempest & Shadows In The Night primarily drawn from the great American Songbook. What’s so different, one may ask. Almost every singer from Robbie Williams to Paul McCartney to Carly Simon to Rod Stewart have done it. Just one difference I think will suffice – most singers make albums vaguely attempting to create a blend of their best-loved classic works; Dylan makes albums that bring up a world before Bob Dylan existed – filled with music that sounds like blues, country or just plain rockabilly from an era when pop was still untouched by his influence. That, my dear readers & friends is quintessential Bob Dylan.

He has threaded himself without any obvious knots & cuts, into the complex tapestry of American popular music. He has borrowed from the past, reworked melodies, images, characters and most of all, attitudes. The Dylan I fell in love with mocked the world from behind his grey – blue- black shades by combining  symbolic poetry and the tempo & energy of various music forms. He deserves this Nobel Prize only for that. For just being himself!

A Music Concert That United The World…

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.”
 Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Live Aid Logo

Live Aid Logo

Thinking of the Live Aid Concert held thirty years ago, those words made a lot of sense to me. I was in one of my “walk down memory lane” moods, just after my man had shown me a video of Cliff Richards singing Bachelor Boy and was also very nicely reminded that I hadn’t blogged for a very long time.

I know a lot of people in my generation will remember that event. I was in my first year of under graduation and was madly in love with most of the singers who performed in two different places simultaneously. It was truly a one of a kind concert. Sixteen hours of music from the who’s who in the musical world, 72,000 people at London’s Wembley Stadium, 100,000 more at Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium and nearly two billion TV viewers at home watched more than 75 popular acts & some of the outstanding performers teamed up in interesting combinations, including (temporary) reunions of three of the most important groups in rock history. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Black Sabbath & Led Zeppelin reunited to perform for this event.

The inauguration of the event by Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the excitement of the performers and audience and

Live Aid Inaugaration

Live Aid Inaugaration

the triumph of technology combined with sheer good will – all made it hard to forget. A lot of us still recount how some of the acts were performed….Mick Jagger and Tina Turner in a very Vegas like act with Jagger changing costumes mid song (bizarre is how some would define it), Sir Elton John belting out five of his super hits, including ones with Kiki Dee and George Michael and Sir Paul McCartney singing “Let It Be”.

My personal favourites were also there Bob Dylan, Queen, Sting, Bryan Adams, U2, Tome Petty & Phil Collins. Phil Collins riding high both as a solo star and as Genesis front man at the time — thrilled the audience with his humour and singing. With the help of the Concorde supersonic jet, he played solo sets at both the London and Philadelphia shows. Plus, he played drums for both Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. After he was introduced on the Philly stage by Jack Nicholson & Bette Midler, listening to him sing, “In The Air Tonight”  & playing the piano, was treat beyond words.

Live Aid was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, the singer of an Irish rock group called the Boomtown Rats. In 1984, Geldof

David Bowie, Chris Taylor, Brian May, Roger Taylor, Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Bob Geldof at Live Aid, Wembley Stadium-1985

David Bowie, Chris Taylor, Brian May, Roger Taylor, Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Bob Geldof at Live Aid, Wembley Stadium-1985

traveled to Ethiopia after hearing news reports of a horrific famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians and threatened to kill millions more. After returning to London, he called Britain’s and Ireland’s top pop artists together  to record a single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was written by Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure and performed by “Band Aid,” an ensemble that featured Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, U2, Wham!, and others. It was the best-selling single in UK to that date and raised more than $10 million.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was also a No. 1 hit in the United States and inspired U.S. pop artists to come together and perform “We Are the World,” a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. “USA for Africa,” as the U.S. ensemble was known, featured Jackson, Ritchie, Geldof, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and many others. The single went to the top of the charts and eventually raised $44 million.

The event had Bob Dylan, Keith Richards & Ron Wood (both guitarists from Rolling Stones) performing. Some artists’ works speak for itself and some artists’ works speak for it’s entire generation – that’s the power of Bob Dylan’s contribution to the world of music. To be called America’s voice of freedom is no small achievement and he once again proved it on stage that evening when he spoke about the plight of the American farmer. This actually led John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson & Neil Young to organise Farm Aid, a concert that was held a few months later and has continued to be held every year, except for two years.

Queen in action

Queen in action

Beatle Paul McCartney and the Who’s Pete Townsend held Bob Geldof aloft on their shoulders during the London finale, which featured a collective performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Six hours later, the U.S. concert ended with “We Are the World.” Live Aid eventually raised $127 million in famine relief for African nations, and the publicity it generated encouraged Western nations to make available enough surplus grain to end the immediate hunger crisis in Africa. Bob Geldof was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts.

In a lot of ways, to me this global charity event was like the final fanfare of the musical industry. The kind of reverence the world had for pop music and it’s stars came to an end during that period…with the internet changing how music is heard, downloaded & stored, the reduced combination of acts of kindness, influence and music or even the absence of a younger version of Sir Bob Geldof willing to take the lead to bring musicians together for an act like this. I have always wondered…why couldn’t we have another Live Aid?

The picture that will remain forever in my mind, will be that of the audience – the real stars. Real stars for  no one could

The enthralled audience...

The enthralled audience…

have worshipped and enjoyed music as much as they did on that 13th July 1985. Deliriously happy, swaying their hands and pumping their fists in unison to Queen’s Radio Gaga, clambering over shoulders to listen to Sting sing Money for Nothing with Dire Straits or join the artists in the two songs that will represent musical harmony to me – Do They Know It’s Christmas and We Are The World….that ecstasy transformed millions of living rooms that day, when the proxy audience was glued to their televisions and donating their money. Live Aid created a surreal, magical experience of listening to thrilling live music…something I will never ever forget in my lifetime.

Language Of The Souls…

Music is the shorthand of emotion…the language of souls – Leo Tolstoy.  

When we seek to express or evoke emotion we turn to melody. It is on this premise that entire movie industry is based on. How else do we account for heroes & heroines breaking into a song at the drop of a hat :). There is an inner connection between music and the spirit. When language aspires to the transcendent and the soul longs to break free of the gravitational pull of the earth, it modulates into song. Music, said Arnold Bennett is “a language which the soul alone understands but which the soul can never translate.” It is, in Richter’s words “the poetry of the air.”  Goethe said, “Religious worship cannot do without music. It is one of the foremost means to work upon man with an effect of marvel.”

Words are the language of the mind. Music is the language of the soul. Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons.  You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body, said Oliver Wendell Holmes.

We use music in every aspect of life and one of music’s most prominent and most important role has been within the realm of religion. In various world religions, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism, music plays a significant part in the way that the believers relate to their Gods, to other believers, and in how they understand and pass down their religion. Music works as a means of expressing passion and gratitude to the subject of worship and for religious adherents to convey their feelings to the deity of choice.

Every day, in Judaism, the morning prayers are with Pesukei de-Zimra, the ‘Verses of Song’ with their magnificent crescendo, Psalm 150, in which instruments and the human voice combine to sing God’s praises.

The most important texts in Hinduism are the Vedas. The Veda “is regarded by some Hindus as a timeless revelation which is not of human authorship, is eternal, and contains all knowledge, while others regard it to be the revelation of God.” The original four Vedas, the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda are all comprised of hymns, songs, and mantras. Hindu devotional music is called Bhajan and finds it roots in Sama Veda.  With easy lilting flow, the colloquial renderings, these are sung in a group comprising devotees, with a lead singer.

Christian music is music that has been written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life and faith.  Most Christian music involves singing, whether by the whole congregation (assembly) or a specialized subgroup—such as a duet, trio, quartet, madrigal, choir, or worship band. One of the earliest forms of worship music in the church was the Gregorian chant. Pope Gregory I was acknowledged as the first person to order such music in the church, hinting the name “Gregorian” chant. The chant took place around 590–604 CE (reign of Pope Gregory I). 

While the question of permissibility of music in Islamic jurisprudence is historically disputed, and there are two perspectives, music nevertheless does exist as part of offering praises to the Lord. Certain sects of the mystic Sufi Muslims, believe that music impels a person to seek the spiritual world.  It is said that, “the nature of music’s influence on man very much depends on the basic intentions of the listener (Shiloah, 1995). Therefore, music is not inherently evil: rather, the listener’s interpretation of musical experience can be evil.”

Irrespective of what the source is, whether it is religious music, instrumental music, pop, rock, classical etc, one common factor is transcending racial, cultural, and ideological boundaries, music is a universal language that brings together human beings from all different origins, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Used in many cultures and traditions as a vehicle for inner reflection and contemplation, music invigorates the spirit and strengthens higher love. In addition, in recent years musicologists have explored numerous therapeutic and psychological benefits of music.

In his book, Musicophilia, the neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks tells the poignant story of Clive Wearing, an eminent musicologist who was struck by a devastating brain infection. The result was acute amnesia. He was unable to remember anything for more than a few seconds. As his wife Deborah put it, ‘It was as if every waking moment was the first waking moment.’

Unable to thread experiences together, he was caught in an endless present that had no connection with anything that had gone before. One day his wife found him holding a chocolate in one hand and repeatedly covering and uncovering it with the other hand, saying each time, ‘Look, it’s new.’ ‘It’s the same chocolate’, she said. ‘No’, he replied, ‘look. It’s changed.’ He had no past at all. In a moment of awareness he said about himself, ‘I haven’t heard anything, seen anything, touched anything, smelled anything. It’s like being dead.’

Two things broke through his isolation. One was his love for his wife. The other was music. He could still sing, play the organ and conduct a choir with all his old skill and verve. What was it about music, Sacks asked, that enabled him, while playing or conducting, to overcome his amnesia? The answer was that when we ‘remember’ a melody, we recall one note at a time, yet each note relates to the whole. Victor Zuckerkandl, who wrote, ‘Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once. Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown.’ Music is a form of sensed continuity that can sometimes break through the most overpowering disconnections in our experience of time. 

Music is also like faith. Music integrates. And as music connects note to note, so faith connects episode to episode, life to life, age to age in a timeless melody that breaks into time. I will say music is a signal of transcendence. So, every generation needs new songs. The history of human spirit is written in the songs we sing. The words do not change, but each generation needs its own melodies.

When the soul sings, the human spirit soars!