Terrorist organizations all around the world joined hands for the first time to condemn and express disappointment over the failure of gun control legislation in the United State Senate. Media outlets all around the world, but predominantly in the middle east and Africa, have been receiving a barrage of video tapes and CDs showing terrorists from different terrorist groups expressing shock, disbelief and ultimately disappointment over the apparent hypocrisy of the US.
Al-Jazeera beamed an image of that Al-Qaeda guy, whom the US have not yet caught, in a prerecorded tape trying to imitate the late Osama Bin Laden.
We the surviving members of Al-Qaeda condemn the United States (well, Duh!) for their failure to pass any gun control measures even after the shooting of many school going kids. This inaction is goes beyond all morally accepted double standards and hypocrisy all around the world!
In what appeared to be a prepared statement, the man went on to explain why this was totally unacceptable and unfair – to the terrorists.
Guns have been killing people in America at a rate of more than 10,000 a year. But the Government doesn’t find the need to do anything about it – not even pass a stupid expanded background check bill. We terrorists have not done ANYTHING for more than a decade and we are still being hunted down! How is this fair?
More than a decade ago, we killed some 2000 Americans. OK I get it. That was a big deal. But now it has been so long since our last attack that I don’t even remember why we want to kill Americans anymore! In spite of this we are being hunted down. But then during all this time, there have been so many mass shootings killing so many people in the process and nobody wants to do anything to stop it.
If we terrorists had carried out those mass shootings, we would have been wiped off this planet. The USA would have gone to war against all of us and finished us off once and for all! But when it comes to guns, they don’t want to do anything about it!
This is disgraceful! This hypocrisy is worse than what I am used to.
A spokesman for another terrorist group founded on religious extremism also condemned the US Senators for yielding to the NRA.
I can’t believe all the ridiculous reasons and ‘logic’ that all these pro-gun activists and the people from the NRA have been screaming about – tyrannical government? good guy with a gun shooting bad guy with a gun? second amendment violations?? Really??
And all this time I thought MY arguments were bad!
Yet another terrorist organization, which has pledged to end “American dominance” pointed out to the overwhelming opinion in the US for expanded background checks.
90% of Americans want expanded background checks for gun sales. 90% of Americans also want people like us killed. So why is it that background checks do not get expanded but we are getting killed? This is just not fair to the terrorists around the world. This hypocrisy will not stand man!
When asked about the terrorists’ demands, President Obama started on a long and inspiring speech that made sure everybody forgot what they had initially asked and instead started crying and yelling and clapping and generally behaving like 6 year old kids who have just been promised candy.
Oh well, that’s how it works I suppose….
I frequently speak about the experience of being ‘taken to another place’ during so many of the concerts I have been to. That is because that is exactly what happens at these shows – more so considering they mean so much to me. This experience of being ‘taken to another place’ usually occurs during a particular song or a set of songs which may or may not have been the ones I was looking forward to. Sometimes it can be gradual, with me becoming aware of it only towards the later stages.
Last night was an exception. I was in a different place right from the beginning and all the way till the end. It was inevitable. Especially when the band is Sigur Ros and the show opens with Ny Batteri and closes with Popplagio.
I have always maintained that concerts cannot be truly reviewed. They need to be experienced. There are no exceptions and irrespective of your taste in music, the experience is always going to be more revealing than reading the most detailed of reviews. But if there is one thing I really wish I could accurately describe from last night’s Sigur Ros concert at the Starlight theater, it would have to be Jonsi Birgisson’s voice.
There is a certain other worldly feel to the Sigur Ros sound and much of that has to do with his vocals. The sadness in his voice is what gives it that other worldly feel. (Yes this means that I am not a fan of their ‘happy’ sounding songs such as Hoppipolla or Festival) Any Sigur Ros fan will attest to the sadness in the songs. But it is only when you hear that sadness in his voice Live that you truly begin to appreciate the depths of the band’s sound.
That sadness and melancholy I experienced last night – amplified by the starlit sky, the cold spring evening and the Live sound - was just so beautiful I did not want it to end. There have been times when I have listened to Ny Batteri in a depressed state of mind and actually cried in response. It is one of the saddest songs I have personally heard. So when Jonsi Birgisson practically opened the show with it, that haunting bass line and the sadness made me think.
It made me think how sad must someone be to be able to sing that song with that much emotional intensity, and mean it?
The rest of the concert was an exploration - seeking that state of mind which answered my question. My exploration was encouraged, aided and ultimately validated by the most beautiful sadness I have ever heard in my life. I think it was during Varud that I truly stopped resisting my descent into the dark depths of the answer I sought. The chilling climax to that song was finally brought to an end with the female backing vocalists taking over the outro chorus – and adding a new voice to the gloom in the process. The darkness encompassing Saeglopur and E-Bow showed me the path further forward (or down) to that answer. It appeared that the more I began to descend, the more I feared that the answer may be lying that much deeper.
Festival and Hoppipolla served as nothing more than temporary interruptions to my gradual but steady descent. Clearly the rest of the crowd were not on the same path as I was – especially considering how they cheered on for those ‘happy’ songs.
Meanwhile, I found that the more I closed my eyes and just let the voice speak to me, the faster I descended to my elusive answer. And so I just closed my eyes during Glosoli. And then the band started playing Popplagio – a long drawn out rendition that may not be the most depressing song on their catalog. But it was definitely the song that builds up to the most tumultuous climax one can imagine – a crescendo to the unknown. His searing vocals rising with every bar and taking me up with it. I was not sure where it was taking me but I went along anyway. The crescendo kept building up and up to dizzying levels of anticipation and wonder. And when it hit the zenith, it was the most intense, mind numbing, revealing and ultimately fulfilling experience I have had in the longest time.
Because you see, I had an epiphany when the crescendo peaked. The music and the sadness spoke to me then and it said: “It is OK not to be happy all the time. There is a certain joy in experiencing sadness too.” And that meant so much to me. It was like the most satisfying answer anyone had ever given me. I do not know if I found the answer I was looking for. But I definitely found the answer I needed to know.
This is why I crave to go to a lot of concerts. At home, they are just songs on an album. At a concert, they can be your journey to the unknown. Sigur Ros will always be remembered for taking me on the most fulfilling journey ever. The band members must be truly depressed individuals – and I hope they stay that way.
I have been tested this time. I will admit that. It had been a while since I was made to go through something that demanded more than what I had been able to offer previously. Things that change me fundamentally, things that help me appreciate the subtleties of my thoughts that much more. I am talking about things like the will power to see off persisting gloom, the determination to not let something overwhelm me. I am talking about faith in times of complete hopelessness, resilience in times of defeat, and self assurance in times of haunting solitude – it had been a while since I dealt with them.
But I have had to do it again. This time, the painful ordeal lasted for 4 months and had me go through a circle of emotions I never knew existed. Four months during which I tracked my graceful descent into the bottomless depths of melancholia. Four months during which I had no ownership over the state of my mind. Four months during which I came that much closer to accepting who I really am.
I think it must have been November when it really started because I remember I was happy in October. The degradation of the weather and the shrinking of the days were seemingly on a malicious yet purposeful loop. The numbers kept up too – falling steadily and offering no sign of ceasing. It might have all been gradual, like darkness creeping up on a cloudy day. But it was heading only one way and there was no end in sight. Lady winter had just made it clear that there was no point looking for the bottom. There was never going to be one.
Denial: This is not happening to me.
Anger: Endless snowfall.
Depression: I hear my 2 year old cousin speak to me for the first time. Broken hearts. The price I pay. Not hearing back for several weeks from….
Acceptance: There really is no end.
The acceptance brought with it a sense of gloomy calm. A calm that revealed and reveled in the futility of hope. And there was something strangely satisfying about it. It was almost like I belonged there. No complaints or unfulfilled desires. Just a peace that comes with the true acceptance of complete loss of control.
Take me wherever you go.
And now I no longer wish to know.
For if I knew where you went
I would want perhaps to be somewhere else.
I was now celebrating tragedy and depression. Knowing now that it is OK to do so provided a clarity that had avoided me all my life after being told otherwise by every living soul. My mind now wanted something more profound and so I went about looking to satisfy my new needs. I found respite in books and music. A couple of depressing books and some really depressing music got me digging deeper, exploring the realms of the newly discovered rooms in my mind. But this time I was not falling into the bottomless abyss. I was going in search of it.
During my search, I wondered what it really meant to be ‘comfortably numb’. I think I did feel it a few days ago. I remember I was watching the snow falling endlessly and aimlessly on the barren trees covering them with it, listening to Kreng, had just finished reading ‘Snow’, and was reminiscing about all the things that could have been in my life. And it was at that point when I just smiled. It was such a beautiful thing to think about. All the missed opportunities, lost relationships, friends who have moved on without me, unfulfilled dreams, uncertainty about the future, and about that call that never came – it was simply the most beautiful collection of thoughts I had all winter.
I was always told to be happy. But by trying to do so, I realized that I was just running away from that one thing that made me ‘comfortably numb’.
Now I know not to run at all.
Note: I had initially written a post describing my travails of the Iowa winter which was made to look like it was a ‘fun’ thing that I could simply just laugh about in hindsight. The weather is back in the 50’s this week and I was already feeling ‘happier’. But then today certain events got me back to a more introspective state and hence this version of my story.
In a surprising development towards the end of yesterday, hundreds of reports from all over the world poured in claiming large masses of people going to depression simultaneously. The reason : Democracy – or more specifically the realization that it does not appear to be working.
It first started with people in Japan reporting en masse to psychiatrists and psychologists complaining about general depression and a growing inability to trust anything. People were seen making long lines outside pharmacies waiting to pick up their prescription medication to battle depression.
Meanwhile, many reports started coming in about similar developments in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Italy and a few other European nations. This was then followed by reports in the United States where millions of people were first confused if their depression was the result of the extended winter this year. However, after continuing to watch their preferred News Channel - Fox or MSNBC – just to see the ‘other party’ get thrashed, the people found their depression getting worse and ultimately attributed it to the failure of democracy.
Common questions the people seem to be asking all around the world included: “Why isn’t anything getting done here at all?”, “If a party is elected by the people, then why doesn’t it get to do anything?” “Majority means they should be able to pass all the bills right?”, “I thought Obama had won the reelection. But then why is he still campaigning against the Republicans instead of getting things done?”
Questions like these were asked repeatedly by people when journalists inquired about their depression and what they thought of the economy.
A worldwide survey had shown a few years ago that democracy was “The Shit, Yo!”. It was apparently not just a ‘good system’ of governance, it was also the ‘only system’ of governance. People all around the world appeared to agree that the United States was ‘just awesome’ because it kept bringing in ‘democracy’ to all those poor souls in the middle east who were ‘totally suffering without democracy’.
A noted commentator who has been supporting democracy setups all his life had this to say about the new democracies in the Middle East: “It’s cool yo! I mean, there are a lot more people getting killed, more religious persecution, more security problems, more economical problems, and on top of it all, nobody is able to do shit about it! But it’s cool because they have a democracy, right?”
Another pro-democratic intellectual
masturbator said this in response to all the increased violence and unrest in the new democracies: “Hey! At least now they get to feel awesome and brag to the rest of the world that they live in democracies right? I mean, now they actually have a RIGHT to brag and feel awesome! Yeah, take that Bitchas!”
Actually, this reporter was unable to find anybody who held anti-democratic views who could talk about the other perspective. Apparently, it was just ‘not cool to be anti-democracy’. Why? The only answer this reporter was given repeatedly to that question was “Because Democracy is the Shit, Yo!”
When more people were interviewed to hear their perspectives about why they felt democracy would not work, many of them echoed similar thoughts.
“I was told from my days in middle school that democracy is the shit. I never understood it back then but just thought it was something cool that everybody liked. So I began to trust it as well. But I just don’t see it working ANYWHERE.”
Citizens of India, the largest democracy in the world, were initially upbeat about the next elections so that they could vote the ruling Congress party out. But then they realized that even a different party would never be able to satisfy the needs and demands of hundreds of retards who will still be in the parliament- all thinking differently.
“The only thing that will continue for sure is the regular adjournments of the parliament sessions. No bills will get passed and no reforms will take place. Because this is democracy right? So you get to put down a bill just because it won’t help you win reelection.”
The only people who appear to be celebrating democracy and those that have not gone into depression are the folks who have been making their lives out of subsidy and welfare money from the governments. Social Security, disability, medicare, medicaid, unemployment benefits, you name it. People who utilize these welfare schemes appear to be extremely happy about democracies.
“I hope democracy continues. This way nobody will have the balls to take away my disability checks and Medicaid because if they do, I will vote for the other guy who promises me my free money. Isn’t that awesome? I hope the people in the Middle East also begin to reap the benefits of democracy soon. Go welfare schemes!”, said a 43 year old American who has been claiming disability checks simply because his ‘back hurts a bit when he tries to stand up’.
It appears that only people who work, making money and leading generally better lives were affected by the depression epidemic that has swept the globe. The poor who have been living mediocre lives through welfare schemes and subsidies appear to be more than happy to continue to live in mediocre conditions as long as they keep getting their free money that in turn supports their mediocre existence.
All the people living off subsidies and welfare schemes were of the strong opinion that ‘Democracy indeed is THE SHIT!”.
When President Obama was asked about this mass depression epidemic, he responded with a prepared statement with beautifully crafted sentences, messages of hope, general GOP bashing, and a lot of promises and by the end of his speech, people were so excited and enthusiastic that they seemed to have forgotten what it was that they had asked him in the first place.
The President did refer this reporter (who pressed him with the same question a second time) to the following video from The Dictator…..
…..thus missing out the whole point altogether.
In conclusion, it appears that Democracy is not just ‘The Shit’, it is simply SHIT.
Last year my friend introduced me to this man who went by the name of Omar. (Till then, the only Omar I had heard about was the trench-coat wearing, shotgun wielding badass who robbed drug dealers for a living). It turned out that this new Omar had about half a dozen musical projects going on all at the same time and that he had a really good ear for progressive rock and experimental music. Without having to spend much time or effort, I was immediately captivated by the sound of The Mars Volta and most of his solo work (including that extremely disturbing album Despair). And now he has got this latest band – Bosnian Rainbows – and they were on tour with their last date at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis on Feb 28.
So there was just this small matter of doing the 4 hr drive from Des Moines to Minneapolis on a Thursday afternoon, watch the concert, do the 4 hr drive back to Des Moines that same night and then go to work at 8 on Friday morning. Well, of course I was always going to do it! And I did do it.
This was the first time I was going to a concert wherein I had not listened to ANY music of the band at all. Bosnian Rainbows has not yet released an album and I had not listened to either of the 2 Live singles they had released. But make no mistake. This band sounds real good Live. Omar has created a refreshing new sound that is not only well textured and oozing with craftsmanship, but it is also very catchy (Wiki calls it Alternative rock, experimental rock, electronic rock, art rock, and art punk). There is a generous dose of catchy electronic beats that is layered with Omar’s equally catchy guitar riffs. Deantoni Parks, the Mars Volta drummer, played a lot of drums, electronic percussion and keyboards (at the same time) and I am really curious to see how that sounds in the album recording. A defining characteristic of this band is the near perfect blending of the percussion, the electronic beats and Omar’s guitar riffs. But what pulls it all together is Teri Bender’s soaring vocals. Her voice gives this sound that cutting edge which it would otherwise have missed badly.
Most of the songs were about 4-6 minutes in length and did not contain any expansive passages or for that matter, any room for improvisations. As Omar had indicated in an interview earlier, these songs are very tight compositions with well defined structures. But, as with ANY Omar compositions, irrespective of how catchy or poppy this sound may be, all the songs are meticulously written and executed and some inevitably contain experimental passages.
A quick word about the performance. This was the first time I was seeing Omar Live, and boy does he get involved in the music! For extended periods of time, he appeared to be lost in the music and living in a different plane of existence. Immersed in the music, he was vigorously moving his body to get into the groove of his guitar riffs. He spoke very little to nothing at all except towards the end when he acknowledged the audience by thanking them profusely for showing up and supporting the band all the time and every day. The fact that he said this directly to the crowd instead of to the microphone tells me that he really meant it.
Teri Bender really did steal the show with her robotic movements and gyrations to accompany the music. She even crawled on the floor where the crowd was standing at one point. Her stage presence does indeed complement her voice. Deantoni Parks, on the other hand, looked like he just came back from a workout session at the gym. This man is huge and with his massive muscles, was playing the drum kit, electronic percussions and the keyboards - all at the same time!
A quick note on Omar himself. This man looks really really young. He looked like a college graduate who was just looking for a job. Humor aside, this in fact is an important reminder of how much he has composed and produced in such a young age (he is right now 37). The more I think about it, the more I am prone to draw analogies between him and Steven Wilson. Both have several projects going on, do the writing on most of them, produce all the albums, give special attention to releasing albums instead of singles, and are always looking to explore new sounds. It is the last part that makes me develop true respect for people like Omar and Steven Wilson. The fearlessness that is needed to go ahead and create a new sound that may very well be against what they are popularly known for among their fans is something to be admired. With regard to Omar, making this well textured and meticulously written music, albeit in a catchy song structure, had to be a challenging process – but one that did not deter him from going ahead.
As much as I am disappointed that both Omar’s The Mars Volta and Wilson’s Porcupine Tree are on a hiatus, I am not unduly worried about it as both Omar and Steven Wilson continue to write music exploring new sounds. And as long as they don’t stop doing that, I wont have much to complain.
Oh and turns out I will be watching Steven Wilson Live at the exact same music venue in the first week of May. Already have my tickets for it and looking forward to watching him Live for the second time in a pub.
PS: Special mention to MARRIAGES – the opening act for Bosnian Rainbows. Imagine Sigur Ros and a slightly heavier version of Sigur Ros. This band is pretty close to the latter. The female vocalist is really worth the comparison. Cool artwork too.
So this post has been sitting in my draft box for quite a while now. And then after I read about this particular concerto-phile’s recap of her year in concerts, I just had to put forth my own recap. After all, I have her beat pretty damn good!
Living in Des Moines in Iowa, there are two ways to look at the ability to go to concerts. The more popular frame of reference, and one that is perhaps quite obvious too, involves noting the glaring lack of big name bands coming to town and instead choosing to go to any or all of the bigger cities around Des Moines – Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, Kansas City et al. It is almost like the bands just don’t SEE Iowa – they simply go around it. Now the other line of thinking essentially involves the ability to travel to ANY of these aforementioned bigger cities (and that too on a date of my convenience) to see most of the big acts that travel through the United States. Needless to say, I choose to classify myself under the latter category of people. And have I reaped my rewards or what?!!?
I have said this before but I will say it again.
When I want to go to a concert, the universe conspires with me to make it happen.
And again, I can only hope not to get jinxed by saying so. But in all seriousness, looking back to 2012, there is simply no other way of interpreting the sheer number AND quality of the concerts I went to. So here goes:
1. Puscifer in Omaha, NE: There is something about Maynard Keenan’s Live voice that can take you to a place you haven’t been before. I had seen him Live as A Perfect Circle in 2011 and I was haunted then. Puscifer was even better. The show itself was more like a theater play complete with props and filler videos showing Maynard Keenan as General Douche. It was clear that he wanted to do more than just sing. He wanted to teach. (Among the many memorable quotes, sample this: “Good aliens listen to Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and the Glee soundtrack. Bad aliens listen to Tool!”) And the concert was handcrafted to help in that regard. I wrote 1 part of what was supposed to be a 2 part review back then. But clearly, no amount of reviewing can capture the calling of that haunting voice when you hear it Live. Add to that the most unlikeliest of scripting for a concert, and you probably already know you will be thinking about it for a long time to come.
2. George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic All Stars in Council Bluffs, IA: Funk has been something I discovered only in the past one year (and to this day, I cannot figure out why). Funkadelic, on the other hand, well – let’s just say I knew every single note of Maggot Brain. I have very fond memories, from back in undergrad, of being in a ‘higher’ state of mind and playing the song’s arpeggios on my acoustic and on an infinite loop. So what if Eddie Hazel is no more? Michael Hampton played the whole song note for note – 10 ft in front of me, and at a bar. But that was just the beginning. George Clinton maybe 71 years old, but the energy he shows on stage is more fitting for a 25 year old. Still singing with a respectable voice, he even smoked a joint on stage. Sir, You have my seal of approval! I am just glad that I got to see him live and in such an intimate setting before age (finally) takes over him.
3. Megadeth and Rob Zombie in Sioux City, IA: I had seen Megadeth once before in Bangalore, the most significant memory from which was the extremely horrible sound quality on stage. And I had vowed to watch them again if I ever got the chance to. I did get the opportunity and I did take it. Much closer to Dave Mustaine and the band this time around, I headbanged my way through Hangar 18, In My Darkest Hour, Holy Wars and much more. Redemption was indeed complete.
I have to admit I have not listened to much of Rob Zombie. But it barely mattered. That dude has a stage presence incomparable to any I have seen. Filled with massive and creepy robotic props, he lit the stage on fire – quite literally too! The pyrotechnics was phenomenal and I headbanged some more.
It had been a while since I had been to an outright loud metal concert and this will surely take care of that need for the near future. On a side note, I have to add that I had an extremely bad inflammation in my neck muscle as a result of all the headbanging. It took more than 6 months for the pain to reduce to manageable levels. The real awkward moment was when I had to explain the cause to the doctor.
4. Roger Waters at Wrigley Field in Chicago : What can I say? He was the first person I saw Live all the way back in 2002 in Bangalore in what was my first concert ever. And I had always fantasized about watching The Wall played Live with the same settings from the 1970s. I guess I really did indeed get to live out that fantasy. The simple fact of the matter is that The Wall just sounds too damn good in a stadium. This is not just something you will brag about when you are talking to your friends about concerts. This is the kind of stuff you tell your grandchildren about. This is the kind of stuff you can look back on and know that you made the right choices all your life to have ended up at Wrigley Field on June 8 2012.
In any case, I did recollect my full experience from the concert some time back and I am so glad I did it. (I still pride myself over the fact that I convinced my friend to cough up $300 for the ticket through a text message. Practically conned her into wiring me the money!)
5. Radiohead in Chicago: I had never been a fan of Radiohead (apart from Karma Police) for the longest time. Other than the result of a handful of friends strongly recommending the band to me, I somehow was never able to get into their music. Then something happened about a year ago when I went back to NITK to say hello to my undergrad Professors. I stayed over at my cousin’s hostel room and let us just say certain ‘completely natural’ things were consumed. It was at this point that my esteemed cousin (also the official slacker of NITK) told me he would play a song and wanted me to tell him how I felt. About 5 mins later, I am in a trance. The song has taken me places I had never been before. I particularly recollect this very strong and desperate feeling building inside me just wishing that the song wouldn’t end. But when it did end, I just asked my cousin which song it was. And to this day, I have a crystal clear memory of what he said, and more importantly, how he said it. He told me: “The song’s name is ‘How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found Again’”. It was almost like a revelation – like I had suddenly become aware of some arcane, hidden mysterious knowledge. It was probably in the way he said it, but for a moment, I believed that the song really possessed the secret of how to disappear completely and never be found again. And then, right at that very moment, I began to worship Radiohead.
So it was kind of ironic (to my cousin) when I learnt that Radiohead would be playing in Chicago the same weekend that Roger Waters was playing at Wrigley Field. A $15 ticket later, I found myself at Tinley Park with both my hands over my head, mouth open and staring in simple disbelief to the sheer profundity of the situation. There may not have been any natural substances this time around, but I perhaps didn’t need them. Thom Yorke’s voice is up there with all the best voices I have heard Live. And yes, he will take you places too! They played one of the longest setlists and I have a recording of the entire concert that I keep listening to even today. Another instance when I just wish it didn’t have to end.
6. Black Sabbath in Chicago: There are certain things that can make life worth living and help validate all those choices you have made all your life. The night I saw Black Sabbath at Lollapalooza will definitely rank high up on that list of things. To see the very people who have defined 2 generations of music, to whom so many many bands today owe their influences – to see them play all those songs right in front of you is a tremendous experience. Black Sabbath played EVERY single song that I wanted them to. Every one of them – including Snowblind and Fairies Wear Boots. Considering this was their ONLY show in North America after Toni got diagnosed with cancer, I just feel so blessed and fortunate to have been there. I might have already seen Ozzy at Ozzfest, but this is something I will tell my grandchildren and probably put it on my epitaph.
6. Grace Potter and The Nocturnals in Des Moines: If you like going to concerts, you must go to a Grace Potter show as a matter of general principle. This is irrespective of whether you like her music or if you have even heard of her at all. If Grace Potter and The Nocturnals are playing in your city, you simply MUST go! Yes it definitely helps if you like her music – a catchy and melodious blend of pop, rock and even some country – but you will love her shows nonetheless. I had seen her at Kansrocksas in 2011 for the first time ever and I didn’t even know who she was back then. And so when I learnt that she was coming to Des Moines, there was simply no way I was going to miss the show.
She played for over 2.5 hours, a setlist that included a Rolling Stones cover (because it was Mick Jagger’s birthday) and a Heart cover (Crazy on You). Her new album has more than a few songs co-written by Dan Auberbach (of The Black Keys) and when played Live, they can really get you in the groove! Add to that, Grace Potter’s passion and enthusiasm on stage along with her beautiful voice, and you have a concert experience worth remembering. In an interview just before the concert, she had remarked, “I play every concert like it is my last.” And she is not lying. Not by any stretch. There were periods during the show when it seemed that the audience let the music take a backseat and instead let her performance fill their experience. Her stage presence will rival any performer that has ever played at a concert. And those who have seen her Live will definitely attest to that.
That Grace Potter show by the river and overlooking downtown Des Moines is definitely among the top 5 concerts I have ever been to.
Special mention to Natalie Prass -the opening act for Grace Potter. Some of the best music I had heard in ages and definitely one of the best voices around right now. Must check it out.
7. Death Cab for Cutie in Des Moines: I just like Death Cab. There is no other way to put it. Simple, straightforward melodious alternative music with songs (almost exclusively) about breakups and troubled relationships. Ben Gibbard plays a good show and I was definitely happy to see so many of the songs I loved played Live at 80/35 music festival.
8. Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan in Omaha: Simply put, I grew up with the music of Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler’s voice was synonymous with and perhaps the cause of my transition from death metal to more classic rock. And for the longest time, I have been troubled by the fact that I could not watch him Live when he came to play in Bangalore. Not to mention my good friends who did go to the concert have constantly reminded me of that ever since. I could not care less that Mark Knopfler was playing mainly his solo songs when I came to know about his concert in Omaha. I just had to see him Live to absolve myself of my past misdeeds. And really, you did not need to know any of his solo songs to let his voice mesmerize you. He still has that voice for sure – not changed one bit. And that was all that I needed to hear. A lot of my friends went to see him in the current tour and were disappointed that he only played ‘So Far Away’ from his Dire Straits catalog. But fact is, his solo songs are equally good and I am not sure if my friends were familiar with his solo work. In any case, I had a bonus thrown my way when I heard him play the intro to ‘Brothers in Arms’. Turns out, that was the only show in his entire tour (at least that I am aware of) wherein he played Brothers in Arms in addition to So Far Away – and I do not have any complaints about that!
And then came on Bob Dylan. Well, I knew his voice was shot and all that – but still, he was Bob Dylan. So I was looking forward to him playing as well. If Mark Knopfler’s voice had the ability to mesmerize you, Bob Dylan’s voice had the ability to give any death metal band’s vocalist a run for his money! No kidding – it was THAT bad. It was so bad that I could not even know which song he was singing. His songs were reminiscent of the Hindu priest conducting a ceremony – wherein his long and incomprehensible chanting is followed by a loud and prominent SWAAHA! at the end. I realized Dylan was playing one of my favorite songs - Tangled up in Blue – only about halfway through the song when I deciphered him speaking out the words “Tangled up in Blue”. His current concerts really are a disgrace to the legacy that he seeks to leave. So much so, I actually walked out of his concert before he was done. Even for the sake of it, I would not recommend anyone paying money to watch Bob Dylan live. Not anymore definitely.
So there you have it! A long post recollecting my best experiences from 2012. Without a doubt, I have a lot to look back upon and so I consider 2012 successful. I already have a nice run of concerts coming up for 2013. Already watched Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (AGAIN) Live in Des Moines. Upcoming are Omar Rodriguez’s new band Bosnian Rainbows, Fleetwood Mac, Steven Wilson and Sigur Ros. All tickets have been purchased and I am looking forward to these things like always. Maybe I will write a separate review for each of these this time around. Maybe.
No. Fernando Torres’ woes in front of goal are not going to be attributed to him appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated – and I don’t even think he has made it to the cover at all. This is about something more fundamental.
The Sports Illustrated cover jinx is an urban legend that states that individuals or teams who appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated magazine will subsequently be jinxed (experience bad luck). A star athlete makes it to the cover of the magazine after having a remarkable season or a particularly outstanding performance. Following his appearance on the cover, his performances suddenly see a dip or his very next performance (after the outstanding one) turns out to be a really bad one. There are dozens of instances that corroborate this jinx, and there will no doubt continue to be many more in the future. And as much as this is a clear cut case of confirmation bias, I will argue later in the post that there is another fundamental principle underlying this urban legend.
Now let us look at Chelsea FC. For anybody who knows me even remotely, I am a well established Chelsea supporter – (you know that team in the Premier League that plays football with at least 2 different managers every year. The same team that went on to win the Champions League last season only to get knocked out in the group stage this season. Yeah, that one).
Being a Chelsea fan for close to a decade now, I have seen many many transformations in the team – thanks largely to a bankrolling AND trigger happy owner. I have seen many successful years and many unsuccessful years. However, the past couple of seasons have been particularly frustrating and energy sapping for any Chelsea fan. (Yes, we did win the Champions League last season, but it could have as well gone all wrong so easily). And the biggest factor in all of that has been Chelsea’s inability to field a striker who can score goals.
We all know the story. Fernando Torres comes in after a few scintillating seasons with Liverpool and for a hefty transfer fee. Didier Drogba, a fan favorite, is approaching his twilight years and will make way for Torres in the front line. It all looked good on paper. And then reality sunk in. Torres barely scored. His record of goal scoring was so pathetic that Emile Heskey began to sound like a better option. And this continues to this day – even after the departure of Drogba and with the infusion of creative midfielders like Hazard and Oscar.
But before we pass around judgments, let us take a step back here and go over recent Chelsea transfer history – specifically on the strikers. Chelsea has been widely accused of being the club that buys world class center forwards for big money, only to make them mediocre players as soon as they started playing for their new club. Even a hardcore Chelsea fan like me cannot deny the dip in performances of the TWO actual instances – Torres and Shevchenko. However, upon closer look, one sees a more fundamental principle at work here.
Torres and Shevchenko were world class strikers before they came to Chelsea, after which they suffered a terrible dip in form and are/were never likely to regain the top form that they displayed at their previous clubs. But ‘joining Chelsea’ was not the reason why their form dipped. The reason Chelsea even purchased them was because the club had a reputation of spending big money on players who were at the peak of their careers. Torres and Shevchenko definitely fit the bill then and their services were acquired for significant sums of money. But where does anyone go from the peak of their careers? There is only one way – and that is down. So when reaching the peak of one’s playing career is followed by going to Chelsea FC, the headlines are already written. A simple correlation is easily mistaken for causality.
Not only does this bring about an image of being a club that apparently spoils players’ talent and form, but more importantly, the team is now playing someone who is on the way down in his career. Add to this a change in the system of play, the psychological barrier that comes with the hefty fee and the intense media and fan scrutiny/expectations involved – and you have a perfect recipe for disaster. The player stops performing and the club’s results begin to go down in a spiral. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Because this is exactly what has happened with Chelsea’s striker position.
Torres was already on the decline at Liverpool. His performance at the World Cup before joining Chelsea was laughable and I personally rated him to be the worst player at the tournament. Spending 50 million in that situation was never a good idea. Didier Drogba, on the other hand, was brought to the club under none of the above circumstances. He was young (24-25), far from his peak, didn’t cost as much, and Chelsea built their playing system AROUND him. As a result, he gave his best years to the club and no wonder the club’s best years coincided with his career peak.
Demba Ba is not the solution. He is a temporary fix who is expected to be better than Torres. So what then is the permanent solution? Well, for one, it does not involve anyone whose name has either Falcao or Cavani in it – for acquiring the services of players like Cavani and Falcao in their current situation clearly falls under the same set of circumstances in which Torres was bought. (Yeah sure they may give a couple of good seasons but that is not the objective here is it?) And if Mr. Abromovich does not intend to repeat the same mistakes, he would be better off buying someone younger and who has not yet reached his peak.
Going back to the Sports Illustrated jinx, it is now quite easy to draw the analogy. A star athlete makes it to the cover BECAUSE he is at the peak of his career or at the least, a local maxima – and there is only way to go from there – down. Not only is this just a case of confirmation bias, it also serves as a textbook case of correlation being mistaken for causality.
This underlying principle deserves a closer and more detailed look – especially with regard to how football teams are built and its correlation with the success the team achieves. But that is a topic for another post – hopefully sometime soon.
I am writing this at the outset of having just finished watching all the available episodes of Breaking Bad. It has taken me close to 41 hours of my life to finish watching it, and I was able to complete it within 2-3 weeks. A thoroughly enjoyable show, and am glad that I made the decision to watch it – just like I have made the decision to watch countless other shows lasting for weeks or even months together over a long period of time. But this post is not about how much I like watching TV shows. On the other hand, it is about the inevitable side effects and the collateral damage that I have become all too familiar with over the years. Without an alternative, it is a choice that I am forced to make.
I have been watching TV shows on a marathon for more than 7 years now, spending weeks (if not months) of my life in the process. And it always starts with that one episode – the episode that goes by the name of ‘PILOT’. It is quite scary to think that something as innocuously named as ‘PILOT’, can in fact end up being the single biggest factor that can practically ruin your life for the foreseeable future. The Pilot is only one episode, and once you are done with the Pilot, you are inevitably looking at a few dozen more. Because you see, in the current age of NetFlix and torrents, it is always likely that you have the complete series at your disposal at any time of the day.
And so it begins. You watch the Pilot episode and you are all excited about the new series. You are probably watching it on your computer or perhaps streaming it from Netflix on your TV through that Blue-Ray player that you bought recently. There is nobody around to bother you or ask you any questions because you are likely to be single and/or surrounded by people with the same mentality and priorities. It is perhaps just early in the evening/night and you are yet to have your dinner – but it can wait, because you need to know what happens in the 2nd episode. And then you put on the 2nd episode. 45 minutes later, you have still not had your dinner and are perhaps feeling a little hungry. But it is nothing that you cannot suppress as you really want to watch that 3rd episode. And so on goes the 3rd episode. 45 minutes later you are already watching the 4th episode and before you know it, your brain has done the miraculous act of completely forgetting the existence of your hunger! Ultimately, when you do look at the watch, you realize it is somewhere between 2 and 3 AM and you need to wake up early in the morning to go to work or to attend some class. Fuck work and classes! Right?!? Well, turns out, NO. You realize you do not have an option with regard to not attending work or classes and so you retire to your bed, on an empty stomach and with the images of the TV show still lingering on in your aching head. It doesn’t take you long to get to REM sleep.
And so the cycle repeats the next day, the day after next and after that and it will not stop until you have finished all the seasons of that damn TV show! Weekends are invariably lost. If it is a good show, you just cannot stop watching it as a matter of principle. You will do whatever it humanely takes (and a little more) to get to the end of the show. You will perhaps even feel a solemn moment of pride and achievement when you finish watching the Series finale – you have invested so much time and effort into it after all.
And if it is a bad show and you have already gone through a full season, you will continue to watch it just because ‘you have already watched so much that you now just HAVE to know the truth’! The Sunk Cost Fallacy in all its glory! You will still do everything it takes to get to the end of the show and you will still have a sense a pride and achievement at the end of it. (Even if it is for unforgivable plots such as those found in LOST).
Just like a drug addict whose only purpose in life is to find that next shot, the only thing on your mind as one episode winds down, is to start watching the next episode. Nothing else matters at that point. Nothing.
In the process of watching all the seasons of a TV Show, several things and events take place with or without your knowledge. For starters, you are doing NOTHING else. Irrespective of whether any of your other activities would have been productive or not, fact remains that you do not end up doing any of those. These include reading books, cooking, paying your bills on time etc. Again, these are just for starters.
You then gradually become a loner. You don’t talk much to your friends and stop going out to meet them or hang out with other people in general. Even on that rare occasion when you do go out, the only thing on your mind is how much you’d rather be at home watching that next episode. People stop inviting you to hang out with them and that only reinforces your desire for more viewing time.
You stop having your food on time. You gradually stop cooking, or if you are living in a dorm, you stop visiting the dining place at the usual times. You are too lazy to get up and do anything about it so you begin to order pizzas. Pizzas and beer – there is always beer available at home. And so you are back on your reclining couch eating pizza directly from the box and gulping down that Budweiser bottle while you put on the next episode. Problem solved.
You become a slacker. You stop doing any form of exercise and instead start putting on weight. You go out of shape and don’t care much about it. Give it a few months of TV show viewing and you find yourself certified overweight.
There are also many intangibles and could haves involved in evaluating the potential loss of productivity of each individual. The amount of other enjoyable work that could have been accomplished during the same duration is always going to be of mammoth proportions – especially in hindsight. Perhaps you could have studied about 10% of all that time you spent watching those TV shows. Or maybe if you had invested a fraction of that time into learning that instrument, you would have probably mastered it by now. How about that trek that you had always planned but never got around to it because you were in the middle of some season? Or all those books that you could have read? How about that book you had always wanted to start writing? Forget a book, you could have written so many more blog posts.
All in all, there are umpteen productive habits that you could have developed and many more things that you could have completed during all those hours of watching TV shows. But this realization, unfortunately, comes about only in hindsight. It is always harmless fun to share with friends about how much time you have wasted watching the newly discovered TV show. But in reality, it really is about the could haves and would haves when it comes to all that wasted time.
Needless to say, much of this insight stems from personal experience (except, fortunately, the getting overweight part). Was I happy when I was watching all those shows? Most definitely! Am I happy to look back at all those wasted hours now while I wonder why I never did all those things that I had always wanted to do? Absolutely not. But I hope to learn from this and not repeat the same choices.
Perhaps I should start some kind of a TV Show Addicts Anonymous. Come to think of it, that might not be such a bad idea after all. Or maybe there will be a new TV Show with that idea! Can’t miss that one for sure!
There are few things that can get me riled up like watching a news item that tells me that 20 young kids were murdered by a gunman who used legally obtained guns to carry out the attack. We are all familiar with the story now and I have no intention to recap it here. But back then, when the reports were still emanating and the media did not have all the information, ALL news articles ran one line midst their coverage. Upon initial reading, it appeared innocuous. Looking back, however, it could not have been phrased better to truly show the situation for what it was. Quoting it verbatim, it simply said:
An entire class was unaccounted for.
That line sent shivers down my spine. I had to reread that line over and over again, trying to comprehend its complete implications. It was as if the “class” had somehow become a commodity – like a production batch that had gone missing, or like a monthly payment that was never recorded. But these were small kindergarten kids that were ‘unaccounted’ for. If the only available context for the above line was ‘a classroom of kindergarten children’, it would likely be viewed as a bullet point in some school audit report indicating wrongly maintained student roll. It would also be made to seem like an inventory of lost homework that was destroyed in a small fire.
But without the full context available, NOBODY – and I really do mean NOBODY – would even be capable of thinking along the lines of what actually happened. 20 school children were brutally murdered by a gunman who fired 3-11 bullets into each of these kids. Most of them were in a single class. And all of their lives will remain ‘unaccounted for’.
Suddenly the homework-destroying school fire and the incompetent school accountant sound so much more desirable.
I intended to write a long piece voicing my opinion against gun possession and all that it entails. While doing my research on it, I came across two articles. One of them, in the NYT, was by Jeff McMahan, and it articulates every single thought and opinion I have about gun possession and gun laws. Jeff McMahan has said everything I ever wanted to say. A small excerpt from his article:
The logic of private gun possession is thus similar to that of the nuclear arms race. When only one state gets nuclear weapons, it enhances its own security but reduces that of others, which have become more vulnerable. The other states then have an incentive to get nuclear weapons to try to restore their security. As more states get them, the incentives for others increase. If eventually all get them, the potential for catastrophe — whether through irrationality, misperception, or accident — is great. Each state’s security is then much lower than it would be if none had nuclear weapons.
I wish I could copy-paste the entire article as there are really so many points made there. But the internet is a wonderful thing. It allows me to simply link to the entire post. Here is the link again.
The other link is to an article in Jim Emerson’s Blog. This is NOT an opinion piece. It is comprised solely of facts about guns, gun laws and other statistics about homicides. It is a necessary read for anyone who wishes to debate or voice an opinion on gun control. Here is ‘a modest proposal’ that he does suggest though:
If you believe that the government is plotting to take away your guns, then you are paranoid and crazy and should have your guns taken away.
These two articles cover everything that I ever wanted to SAY or KNOW about gun control in America. Needless to say, I favor a world where nobody has guns except the police. Far from a reality I know. But as John Lennon said, “You may say I am a dreamer; But I am not the only one.”
For people with no knowledge of the Placebo, I will start with what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
“A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient. Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect.”
A small variation of this test is the generally accepted standard of testing for any new treatment or drug, and is known as the double-blinded placebo test. To summarize it (from India Uncut):
“The standard test in medicine for seeing whether a treatment works is a double-blind placebo-controlled test. In this, patients are randomly divided into two groups, one of which is given the treatment being tested, and the other is given placebo—such as pills that look like real ones, but are actually inert. Neither the patients nor the doctors know which group is getting the treatment and which the placebo (that’s why it’s ‘double-blind’), thus eliminating psychological biases on their part. The mere belief that they are being treated often helps patients, so the true test for a treatment is if it can do better than placebo.”
This appears to be a fair and effective method to weed out non-performing drugs – and it is. This has been used for many many decades, even centuries, and so has passed the test of time. Drugs from many alternative systems of medicine have failed these tests repeatedly – due to which, these tests have served as the primary basis for these systems’ criticisms. These tests imply that the drug is to be considered ineffective if it cannot outperform the placebo. In other words, a patient needs to be getting better because he has taken the drug in question – not because he has taken just ‘some medication’ that he has been told will cure his ailment (in this case the placebo). My question now is not targeted at the veracity or the fairness of these tests. My question, however, concerns the implications of these tests when they are taken to the other extreme.
Consider a situation where a patient is given a medicine – from any system of medicine – for a particular ailment that he is suffering from. This drug is made specifically for the patient taking into account ALL necessary information needed as per the corresponding system of medicine to treat him. The medication is taken by the patient at the intervals the doctor/practitioner has recommended and the full dose is completed. However, there is a small difference. In this situation, the patient is completely unaware that he is taking ANY medication at all.
I am not going to get into ‘how’ the above mentioned situation can be executed in reality. I am also not going to get into a debate about the ethics and responsibilities at play here. My interest in this is purely that of inquiry and so if it means that ethics are broken during the potential implementation of this situation, I am fine with that.
What I AM interested in, however, are the results of a series of such potential tests on many patients. A slight variation of this test could include some patients being administered a known placebo – again, without their knowledge. But perhaps the best situation would be what I have outlined below:
For the sake of argument, let us assume that these tests are to be conducted on 100 randomly selected patients with no particular pattern in their medical history – but who are suffering from the same ailment. These patients are then divided into three equal sets. (Well OK smartass, one group will have 34, happy?). Set 1 will have the corresponding drug administered, as tailored to meet each particular patient’s needs, without any knowledge of consumption of ANY medication. Set 2 will have a known placebo administered into them, again without any knowledge of the same. Set 3 will have absolutely NOTHING done to them AND they will not be aware that nothing is deliberately being done to them. The full recommended dose of the medicine/placebo (or the lack of it) will be administered for all patients. The condition of the patients are monitored continuously and the progress (or lack thereof) is noted.
At first glance, administering a known placebo without a patient’s knowledge can appear to be ridiculous. But it is necessary to measure and compare the effects of the drug itself against a similarly induced placebo. Similarly, the absence of a treatment is also necessary to measure a situation where the patients get better ‘anyway’ and to see if the drug was needed at all.
Now let us look into all possible result scenarios and the corresponding implications for the drug and the placebo effect:
Scenario 1: Set 1, for whom the medicine was administered, show a general improvement and/or curing of the ailments. Set 2 and Set 3 do not show any signs of improvement over the same measured time frame. This is perhaps the most expected situation of a drug that actually works. One does not expect the unknowingly-administered placebo patient to recover without any of the subjectivity involved in the knowledge of having taken the placebo. Set 3’s results also go as per expected.
Scenario 2: Set 1 do not show any marked improvement in their ailments as compared to Sets 2 and 3. This is the other extreme and clearly shows that the drug is completely ineffective as compared to those taking the placebos and those having no treatment at all.
Scenario 3: All sets show general improvement at similar rates. This is similar to scenario 2 in that the drug has not outperformed the placebo and the non-treatment.
Scenario 4: Set 1 has not shown any signs of improvement whereas Sets 2 and 3 have exhibited improvements in their ailments. This is clearly a sign that the drug is actually inhibiting improvement and/or making matters worse, and should not be used at all.
Other scenarios include those wherein the patients in Set 2, who have had the placebo administered to them, suddenly display symptoms different from those in Set 3 (they could be better or worse). If this were to indeed happen, it would be the most curious case of clinical trials ever studied. Such tests have indeed been administered, albeit with the knowledge of the patients, and so cannot be referenced here.
But the bigger implications of these tests lie elsewhere. Consider Scenario 1 wherein it can be stated with good certainty that the drug does indeed work. Would the converse be true? That is to say, would the same drug pass the standard double-blinded placebo test? Is there a possibility that it would fail the standard placebo test but pass the modified placebo test as described in this post?
Looking at it differently, can this modified placebo test be viewed as both a necessary AND sufficient condition/test for a drug to be declared effective? I would certainly think so. If a drug is working without the patient being aware of its administration, it should certainly work (perhaps even better) if the patient is indeed aware of it. That, in fact, is the crux of the placebo effect. The effects of the knowledge of ‘something’ being consumed that is ‘supposed to’ cure an ailment is what lies at the root of the placebo effect. With that in mind, it follows that drugs passing the modified placebo test should definitely pass the standard placebo test.
If the modified placebo test is accepted to be the necessary AND sufficient condition for a drug to be considered effective, then it also follows that every drug that passes this test must be accepted as effective – irrespective of the system of medicine and without regard to its composition. Now, this is where things can get a little tricky.
For instance, consider Homeopathy. This system of medicine has long been criticized and ridiculed for prescribing drugs that have minuscule and even negligent concentrations of the active ingredient in them. Irrespective of any explanation that may have been put forth by the proponents, the extreme low levels of concentration can make one wonder how something like that can have ANY effect at all. But in my current inquiry, all this is completely irrelevant and beside the point. My only proposition is that ANY drug passing the modified placebo test should be considered effective.
The next question is obvious. What if there are instances wherein Scenario 1 was replicated in reality with Homeopathic drugs? That is to say that a patient was unknowingly administered homeopathic drugs and got better in a relatively short time – as compared to the time he spent suffering from the ailment with no medication. In such a situation, the exact workings of the drug – biological and chemical – become irrelevant and fade into the background. What matters then first and foremost is the fact that this drug indeed works.
Note that this particular illustration is definitely not restricted to Homeopathy. It can be used with ANY system of medicine and the implications will still remain the same. Sure, there will always be questions asked (and mostly answered) about the composition and workings of the drug itself. But in any case, the drug should simply be accepted as something ‘that works’. I am saying that it is OK if one is unable to explain how or a why a drug is working – as long as it passes this modified placebo test. But going back to an earlier observation, what if these very drugs, that have passed the modified placebo test, fail the standard placebo test?
Ideally, they should not. If they do, then the very mechanism and thinking behind the standard placebo test will have to be questioned. Fortunately or unfortunately, we will NEVER have sufficient data to ever make either claim with complete certainty. For one, this modified placebo test will almost certainly never gain approval in the medical community – not with all the ethical issues involved. And secondly, it would be very difficult to actually find a way to administer these drugs (or placebos) without the knowledge of the patient. And finally, and perhaps more importantly in the current scenario, nobody will ever publish such data even if such tests were indeed conducted, due to obvious ethical and professional reasons.
It is a shame that such a test cannot be conducted in the real world. It would answer so many questions and raise so many more. I suppose I can now relate to the pains of economists like Stephen D Levitt when they talk about the need for a controlled randomized experiment to explain the dynamics of this world. (A big smug follows).
In any case, I invite more discussion and differing points of view on this. Please feel free to point out possible misconceptions and overlookings.