Welcome To My World

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Thank God for Cassettes!! (and Music)

I still get my daily dose of music from cassette tapes. Seriously. In this age of iPods and whatnot, I think I’m stuck to my cassette tapes. Now that I think of it, I think it’s in my destiny, karma, fate, whatever. That I continue to lug around my collection of 100+ cassettes from way back wherever I go is just incidental.

I think they don’t even sell them anymore and I am pretty sure many of the kids out there have probably not even heard of them. I know that even my collection of 100+ audio CDs have become redundant in this age of youtube, iTunes, etal and the internet where you can download any song you like. But I’m stuck with my old faithful cassettes. Not totally out of choice, I must admit.

Let me explain. In Tokyo, I drove a Toyota Corona which, for some reason, only had a cassette player (and radio) and I happily continued using my cassettes (https://ruolngulworld.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/rockin-in-tokyo/). Then when we transferred to Hanoi, I bought a Daewoo Magnus Classic and the first thing I noticed when I went to check it out was the lovely CD player. I looked forward to finally being able able to play my CDs in the car and even made a mental list of what CDs I’d take with me when I finally took possession of the car from the lovely Ms Eun of the Korean Embassy.

Finally the day arrived and I, armed with a handful of my favourite CDs, took possession of the car. As I drove away and slotted in my favourite Deep Purple CD and turned up the volume, instead of Ian Gillan’s ‘Highway Star’, the only sound that came out was the gentle hissing sound the CD made as it vomitted out of the player which showed ‘error CD’ on its display panel. I, of course, immediately and impatiently pushed it in again but, despite several tries, the player simply refused accept the CD. That’s when I knew I’d have to unpack my cassette collection again.

And so, here I am, again, probably the only one in Hanoi (and, possibly, the world) still listening to music on cassettes on a daily basis. Not that I really mind, mind you. Because I have a whole bunch of really great music cassettes in my car, all personally selected from my CD collection as well as selections downloaded from the Net and burned on CDs which I have recorded on several ‘collections’.

The mode of delivery may be ancient but the contents are quite up-to-date. I even have the very latest Adele, Katy Perry, Pink, Gotye…. all courtesy of my daughter who shared all her latest music with me before she left us for college. I put them on whenever my thoughts turn to the time she was with us (which is most days) and I am transported to the wonderful times I had with her when we’d put on her music full blast on the car stereo and sing along full blast as I drove.

Though I can’t sing to save my life, music remains and will remain a central part of my life. I simply can’t think of my life without music. My car stereo is never ever turned off. I tell my family and friends that when you sit in my car, you listen to what I am listening. There is no option. There was a time, not so long ago, when I would immediately turn on the stereo as soon as I reached home and only to switch it off before I drifted off to sleep. But now that I’ve ‘met’ Abraham, I suppose I’ve mellowed down and I rarely turn on the stereo at home now. Though I still catch ‘The Voice’ or any music show on TV if they happen to be on when I’m watching. I even watch Chinese songs on Channel V (which, for some reason, is what is shown on our cable in Hanoi). Though I don’t understand a word they are singing, they are not too bad, by the way, reminding me of the latest Mizo hit songs in a way.

All these thoughts came as I was checking through my old files and found something I wrote seven years ago. 26 Oct 2005, to be exact. Back when we had just returned from Africa where we lived without cable TV for almost four years and among the pleasures of being back in India was cheap cable TV and, in particular, VH1 channel, when both MTV and V had all turned desi.

Reading it after all these years made me realise that, musically, I am stuck somewhere in the 90s or the ‘pre-rap’ era. Whatever post-90 or later music I now listen to are basically a continuation of the same old type or genre – new releases from the same singers/groups along with new ones I picked up along the way, but still of the same genre. So, at the risk of this post being too long, I present below something I wrote back in the days…….

I WANT MY VH1

They no longer play my songs. Songs that could make you soar and fly ‘high, high, like a bird in the sky….like an eagle that rides on the breeze’. Or songs that bring back many ‘precious memories…..(how they linger)’. Now all they do is ‘rage against the machine’ or rap it up ‘doggy’ style. They no longer have those mellow tunes that could ‘bring the tears to my eyes’ or ‘sunshine on my shoulders’ to make me cry. Its not just ‘the end of the world’ but the end of the world, ‘as we know it’.

My car stereo may be the only place where the ‘strictly rhythm’ Guitar George still plays his stuff with the ‘Sultans of Swing’ though ‘ol Mark is still around doing his thing. The ‘Revival’ has been forgotten, ever since Fogerty left, ‘chooglin’ off ‘around the corner’. Its been a long time since I’ve ‘seen the rain coming down on a sunny day’.  ‘Maybe, someday,….we’ll never know’.

I may not miss ‘Billy Jean’ but what would I not give to ‘beat it’ back to those times when the highlight of the year was the Grammy on DD. Love has nothing to do with it, and I certainly do not miss the long, crammed DTC rides where I would dream of one day owning and driving a scooter which would have been nothing short of getting on the ‘stairway to heaven’.

Life was simple then and all that mattered was somehow finding the right excuse (and a few bucks) to see the new movie playing in Chanakya, and the occasional letter from home, from her. ‘Asiad 72’ was all there was, the ‘bagpiper’ still played his tune even as some of the more ‘spirit-ual’ ones poured out their hearts to the ‘old monk’, while the ‘desi’ from Uttam Nagar would make an occasional appearance towards the end of the month. ‘Kingfisher’ meant a bird in those days while ‘Castle’ meant a big house where princes and princesses lived out their ‘happily ever after’ lives.

Maneka Gandhi had just become a bahu and probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if all the ‘stags’ in India, ‘royal’ or not, were hunted to extinction. The only soda we knew was something that made your ‘changalhme/baih’ foam and give it its fantastic taste. Tonic was something you gave the kids to make them grow faster. ‘Beafeater’ was anyone from the northeast whom you would find making his way to Uttam Nagar every weekend, getting his quota of so-called beef for the coming week. Only the few who were lucky enough to have the right kind of foreign-returned friends had made their acquaintances with Mr. ‘Smirnoff’ and the only ‘label’ we knew were stuck on the back of our collars.

I no longer ‘want my MTV’ which, except for the logo, turned desi many moons ago. Even ‘V’, which hung on for a while, followed MTV, leaving many broken hearts. Then VH1 parked itself in its rightful place in my TV, on Channel 12, and became THE channel we all watched day in and day out. After four years living in the ‘dark continent’, being able to once again watch my old favorites was pure bliss, and finally ‘happy days’ were back.

Except for the occasional, brilliant pieces that can really make you forget your blues and transport you into the ‘zone’, I can no longer appreciate or understand some of the latest, so-called ‘hits’, however much I try. Except for the occasional ‘jewel’, which tells me, ‘…don’t move, this mood is a painting….’, I eagerly and patiently wait for old friends who now appear only in the ‘classics’. They transport me back to those simple, good old days, when ‘heavy metal’ meant workers struggling to push a ‘thela gari’ laden with iron rods from ‘Thangzam Hardware Store’ meant for someone’s pucca building somewhere in town.

It was a time when there was still hope in the air, and people were building for the future. It was a time when metal was still metal, when the only guns you saw were either airguns, which the fortunate few who owned one used to shoot birds with, or policemen with their ancient WWII vintage ‘303’ rifles, or the occasional double or single barrel ‘ulbun’ guns meant for big games, ceremoniously taken out on occasions to be cleaned while the owner would boast of the many animals he had shot, but mostly hung on walls to impress guests. Our village road had just become a pucca road for the first time and even the fact that potholes appeared almost immediately did not take away from the pleasure of walking on a pucca road, because we walked with hope in our steps. Hope that the future held wonderful things for us – that it would bring wonderful things for us and our society, for our children.

Those were the days, my friend…… We thought that the times, they were ‘a-changing’, for the better. Little did we know. Yes, the times, they did change, but the change has been for the worse and our only option now is to cling to our own hopes, if not for a future, at least for a return to old times when life was much more simpler and hope was in the air, the future before us. Our only option now is the hope that ‘someday, somewhere, together’ we will ultimately make it. We can only hope that the time will come when we will carry on from where we left off and finally start rebuilding our shattered lives and society. It would be ‘just like starting over’.  (Delhi, 26 Oct 2005)

Advertisements

Rockin’ in Tokyo

I am probably the only driver still using audio cassettes for my daily dose of music in this hi-tech city. In this age of DVD/Blu-ray players or at least a CD player fitted in almost all cars, I ain’t got a CD player in my car – only a stereo cassette player and radio – that’s how ancient my car is. Though one of the rear woofers has started giving out strange, scratchy sounds when I turn up the volume beyond the half-way level, it is still a great stereo. Whenever the need for ramping up the sound arises (usually on the drive home after office on Friday evenings), all I need to do is adjust the setting and silence the rear speakers 🙂

The usual suspects accompany me on my faithful car stereo during my daily drives to and from office. From classic acts like Deep Purple, CCR, AC/DC, Rainbow, Van Halen, to the occasional soft ballads and country to Mizo/Hmar and sometimes, lately, gothic rock (Evanescence, HIM – courtesy my kids). But for the last few weeks Mizo-rock from t-melody (Thinlung Thawnthu) and soft ballads/covers of old Zodi/Vulmawi hits and others from the newly released ‘Zoawi’ CD seem to have elbowed out my perennial companions.

Before I got the new ‘Zoawi’ VCD a few weeks ago from a friend, it was t-melody’s ‘Thinlung Thawnthu’. I had really looked forward to the album especially after the superb ‘Sweet December Concert’ CD of a few years back. I had expected more ‘Sweet December’ type numbers and was initially disappointed with the ‘heavy’ stuff when I first played the CD. But after I transferred the album on to audio cassette and played it on my car stereo, some of the songs began to cast their spell on me. I especially love the heavy-metal-rock sound of ‘Nun Khawhar’ – a really superb number. The other numbers I like are the blue-sy ‘Inpuana’ and the heavy rock sounds of ‘Dawn La’ and ‘Hringnun Hi’. But I must confess that my fingers automatically hit the forward button whenever the other songs in the album start playing until one of the four numbers I’ve just mentioned come on. Sadly, I just can’t stand the others.

The new ‘Zoawi’ CD, on the other hand, carries on from the ‘Sweet December Concert’ and is a superb collection of terrific songs and melodies. Songs like ‘Duhaisam’, a great cover of the Zodi original song of longing for a united (mythical?) Zoram, brought so many nostalgic memories of Zodi and Vulmawi during their heydays all those years ago. Another great number is the superbly arranged ‘Liandote unau’. I love the musical arrangement in this song – starting slowly with a slow, folksy

“Oh, Liandote unau unau

Dar enge in tum in tum

Dar engmah kan tum love

Liando bur chhete kan tum kan tum”

which immediately brings on visions of a more simple time and memories of children holding hands, singing in the village fields. The simple guitar riff that follows is followed by more lusty voices before the mood suddenly changes as a heavy-metal guitar riff suddenly explodes before slowing down again and the song goes on:  

“Zo hnathlak te unau unau

Dar enge in tum in tum

Dar engmah kan tum love

Insuihkhawm leh zai I rel ang u kan ti…”

The song ends with a group of small children singing the refrain. Superb (at least, to me). The odd number, and the worse, is ‘Mizo Takin’ set to a reggae beat (or is it blues). I love the reggae music of Bob Marley, UB40 and African singers and bands but I have yet to hear any of our songs set to their (reggae-type) beat that I like. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, I don’t know, because I find them most mis-matched. Our songs set to the beats of country, rock, heavy metal, gothic, even rap, are all fine provided they are well arranged, but reggae is just not on. 

Hard Rock On My Mind

I don’t headbang. I’m too old for that. I regularly get up with a crick in the neck just from sleeping, and I shudder to think what all that headbanging would do to my neck. But, mentally and in my mind, it’s a different thing. And I think I understand what makes some people want to headbang.

Classics like ‘Highway Star’ or ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple automatically make my head bob up and down, a tuai version of headbanging, I suppose. My air guitar immediately comes into my hands as Ritchie Blackmore’s lead guitar announces ‘Smoke on the Water’, quickly accompanied by Nick Simper’s bass. By the time Ian Paice’s drums get into the act, I have become Deep Purple, alternating between Blackmore, Simper, Paice and Jon Lord on his organ. At least in my mind. Even if I’m driving, my fingers play the guitar riffs, and I’m lost to the world. David Gilmour’s guitar riff on ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part II’, the great Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’, the one and only Mark Knopffler’s unique and unmistakable guitar riffs on ‘Sultans of Swing’, etc. with Dire Straits as well as his solo albums, especially his collaboration with country great Chet Atkins, and so many other greats make life so much more worth living. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, CCR and all the other ‘real’ great bands, to me, still represent real music, real rock. Now most of what we get to hear are synthesized, artificial, studio-produced music, masquerading as rock. Some of them are OK, even good, but I wonder if anyone will remember them 10 years down the line. Though some of the new kids on the block, like Greenday, are really good, especially their latest ‘American Idiot’ of which ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, to me, is already a classic.

Strangely, I find all these ‘hard’ stuff really relaxing – specially after a hard days’ work. There’s nothing like coming home, relaxing, with good friends for company, drinks in hand, Deep Purple on the stereo…. The only problem is that it’s mostly the other way round now. I suppose all my good friends have become mellow, and if at all there is music on the stereo, it is turned down so low that you have to strain your ears to even make out what’s playing. Unless the mood takes, and everyone’s bopping around to ‘Aw di, ka ngai em che’. But that’s another story for some other time.

 

My Place of Refuge

I have a place where I spend at least an hour a day. It is probably the only place that I can call exclusively mine. The stereo, which is the centerpiece of this place of mine, starts the moment I enter and sit down. I keep it stocked with all my favorite songs, which I keep within easy reach from where I always sit. From Deep Purple to Guns N’ Roses, Emmylou Harris to Jim Reeves, Mozart to Vivaldi, Youssou N’dour to James Blunt, Coldplay to Greenday, Bob Dylan to U2, Zaituokung to Daduhi – they are all there, just waiting to keep me company. It is the one and only place where I am the Boss, and anyone entering the place listens to what I play – and yours truly normally does not do requests – except for my daughter who has me wrapped around her fingers. In any case, with me, she doesn’t request – she just goes ahead and puts in whatever it is she wants to hear. I’m happy listening to what she wants to hear, as long as I have her for company.

I have the place to myself on weekdays. After a hard day’s work, I rush in to relax and find comfort in my music. I am often found lingering there more than necessary, especially after a tiring day at work, or when a particularly good piece is playing on the stereo. Friends and my better half occasionally drop in on weekends. They have all come to accept that listening to whatever music I play is a part of the price they have to pay to enter this place of mine – because the music simply never stops as long as I am there. Even the more religious minded have been serenaded by the likes of Jewel, Tracy Chapman or Cyndi Lauper in this place of mine. Depending on my mood, I am known to occasionally do some requests, or turn down the volume. The volume, though, usually returns to its original level after some time. I have perfected the art of returning the volume to its original level little by little by fiddling with the volume control whenever the person is not looking.

The place has all the comforts of modern life including an air conditioner, which is switched on only when my better half comes calling – for me it does not matter one way or the other, as long as the stereo is there and my collection within easy reach from my seat. The Delhi heat and my humdrum existence fade away as soon as the stereo starts, and I’m transported into another world.

If you happen to pass by Motibagh Crossing around 9:30 in the morning or 6:00 in the evening on any weekday, you will find me comfortably ensconced in this place of mine. It shouldn’t be difficult to spot me – I’ll be the one drumming my finger on the steering wheel, listening to my music, as I patiently wait for the lights to turn green along with the other drivers.

Delhi, 3 Sept 2006

Gentleman Jim

Jim Reeves would have celebrated his 83rd birthday yesterday, had his plane not crashed on that fateful 31st day of July, 1964, just 20 days short of his 41st birthday. He was deeply mourned by those who knew him, personally and through his legacy of some 38 albums, 17 of which were released posthumously by his widow, Mary Reeves, who combined unreleased tracks with re-recorded previous releases by mixing updated instrumentals alongside Jim Reeves’ original vocals.

Driving home from church yesterday with our own balladeer extraordinaire Pu L.Keivom, I mentioned that 20th August was Jim Reeves’ birth anniversary. His mind went back instantly to that day 42 years ago when, as a student in Gauhati University, he heard about Jim Reeves’ untimely death. Pu Keivom told me that he skipped dinner that day, to mourn the passing away of one of the greatest voices of the last century.

So, who was this man who, more than half a century ago, captured the imagination and hearts of a whole generation in faraway NE India? It was a time when, just before my generation was born, our people and society found themselves at the crossroads, the future before them. There was hope in the air as our first graduates and future leaders returned home from far-off places such as Gauhati, Calcutta, Allahabad and even the UK and USA, having completed their studies. I imagine them in my mind – bright, starry-eyed, young men from our society, the first to reap the fruits of our fledgling Mission-driven education system and legacy left behind by the white missionaries. Even though rumblings of the coming implosion in our society and church may have been sensed by some of the more discerning, our people and society were still more or less organized under one umbrella and worshiped together in the same church on a Sunday morning.

Arriving into the scene after the implosion in our society and church in the late 60s and 70s, I remember listening to great bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, Slade, Tony Orlando, Elvis, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and, of course, Jim Reeves, whenever we visited my grandparents both in Old Churachand (Mission Compound) and Muolvaiphei. In Lamka, old timers like the late Pu Jeff Biekthang, Pu Mawia Khawlum were busy playing their adaptation of the Beatles’ ‘Obladi-Oblada’ which went ‘In rock shoes, beatles shoes hai bun raw…..boys, kawng bawng rakin inher raw…’ Much to my loss, I never had the privilege of hearing them live. I was still too young – but I remember this particular song being sung by those who were a little older than us. If I’m not mistaken, it was also recorded by AIR Imphal and used to be played on the Hmar Programme on radio.

On the gospel music scene, my uncles were at the height of their own popularity as members of the ‘Mission Compound Quartet’. I remember preening with pride whenever people commented on how good their voices blended together. Songs like ‘On the Jericho Road’, ‘Lily of the Valley’, come to mind whenever I think of that era. This may not be true of everyone of that era, but in the privileged circle of western music lovers that I was a part of during my wonder years, thanks to my music loving extended family from both my parents’ sides, country legends like Skeeter Davis, Freddy Fender, et al formed a big part of our lives. I remember upcoming young stars like Olivia Newton-John on whose ‘Banks of the Ohio’ I learned to play the guitar. Unfortunately, my guitar playing ability never progressed beyond that particular song which, by the way, could be played just by interchanging three chords.

Above and beyond all these great singers, was Jim Reeves. His 1962 gospel classic ‘We Thank Thee’ remains THE gospel album of all time to me, and, I’m sure to each and every one of us from that era. To hear him croon ‘Never Grow Old’, ‘Across The Bridge’, ‘Take My Hand Precious Lord’, ‘This World Is Not My Home’ is to be transported to another world and, perhaps, the closest one can come to experiencing real heaven on earth. His 1963 Christmas album, ‘Twelve Songs of Christmas’ which include perennial favourites like ‘Silver Bells’, Blue Christmas’, ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, ‘An Old Christmas Card’ also remains THE Christmas album for me. I don’t remember any Christmas when I’ve not listened to this classic. To a great extent, the album defines the spirit of Christmas for me. From ‘…silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city….soon it will be Christmas Day’ (Silver Bells), to ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ and ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ Christmas would simply be not Christmas without this great Jim Reeves album.

His warm, velvety, rich and light baritone voice immediately transported you to another world where you either pined for a lost love or reveled in the warm embrace of a loved one. Poignancy is redefined when one hears ‘I Missed Me’, ‘Rosa Rio’, ‘Is It Really Over’, ‘Distant Drums’ while one experiences what warm, everlasting and true love should be when one hears ‘I Love You Because’, ‘Anna Marie’, ‘I Won’t Forget You’ or ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’. Then there are songs like ‘Bimbo’, Mexican Joe’, ‘Yonder Comes a Sucker’ which transport you to a world of innocence and light-hearted banter. That he was a part of our lives was amply demonstrated by the fact that no wedding was complete without Jim Reeves being played on the PA system. In fact, if someone asked ‘When will you be playing Jim Reeves?’, it meant ‘When are you going to get married’. Seventeen years, two months and twelve days ago, we played our Jim Reeves. I still have the ‘Hitachi’ cassette in which I recorded the songs we played that Day. Though it remains a treasured part of my music collection, I don’t play it anymore. My Jim Reeves now does his stuff from CDs I’ve collected through the years.

So, here’s to Gentleman Jim. Happy Birthday, wherever you are. Forty two years after you left us, the world you created remains, and I thank you for welcoming me into that world.

Delhi, 21 Aug 2006

Tag Cloud