An often denied fact concerns the accumulation of stress during any vacation. Be it a trip to a national park, a visit to a big city, a hike through the woods, a road trip – vacations usually consist of stress filled days that are stitched together midst the experiences of visiting new places or hanging out with friends/family. A fair amount of planning has already gone into the vacation: we visit these places on day one, drive to here on day two, meetup with friends on day three hiking, camp and hike further on day four, drive back on day five, take flight back home on day six. Feel free to make up your own schedule. We all have.
We want to ‘cover’ as many places as we can jam into our schedule. Consequently, this ends up demanding a lot more effort in getting to those places and ‘covering’ them while we are there. We want to put up photographs on Facebook showing us at as many different locations as possible. We want to tick all those places off our bucket list – whether they are on it or not. Life is so short after all…..right?
Getting started on a vacation with an agenda is what most people do. There is a certain expectation of returns for all the investment you are putting into this vacation. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps us see the places we always wanted to see in a timely and economical fashion. But it is also important to recognize the role of the agenda in building up stress levels during any vacation.
And that is what I decided to avoid last week when I took a few days off work. No agenda, no expectations, no stress: the Dudeist-Vacation
I took a Wednesday off work and this is a list of things I did in Des Moines that day:
1. Spend 2 hours eating breakfast at Perkup Cafe
2. Cash checks.
3. Visit the library, read Dune for an hour and rent 5 audiobooks for my drive the next day.
4. Watch Chelsea draw with Galatasaray in the Champions League at the Royal Mile drinking beer and eating lunch.
5. Come back home and watch a couple of episodes of True Detective and listen to a couple of LPs.
There is not one item in the list that can be even remotely classified as ‘constructive’. It was one of the most awesome days in recent memory. A complete day of doing absolutely nothing that required me to acknowledge any stress at all. Just like The Dude lives.
This inspired me to extend the same thinking for the rest of my vacation. So when I reached Ann Arbor the next day, I had absolutely nothing on my mind that I wanted to do. Sure I wanted to see my friend successfully defend his PhD. But that was it. Other than that, I was just hanging out doing absolutely nothing.
I drove to Detroit on Saturday to visit a couple of my other good friends. The only agenda I had for that trip was to visit the Motown museum. Other than that, all I told my friend was that I wanted to drink some beer and buy some records. And that is exactly what I did: drink beer at a brewery and buy some records at a record store. To kill a couple of hours, my friend and I hung out at a coffee shop chatting. Then I ate dinner and went back to Ann Arbor. That was it. That was how I spent my only day in Detroit. Barely any agenda and still extremely satisfying.
My friend (now with a DR. before his name) and I then drove to Chicago because it is on my way back to Des Moines. And also because Chicago is awesome. It is an even more awesome place to do absolutely nothing and just hang out with no agenda. All I wanted to do was meet a friend, drink some beer, eat some deep dish pizza and buy some records. And that is what we did. Met a friend, drank some beer, ate deep dish pizza and bought a lot of records. We also celebrated his PhD at the Signature Lounge on top of Hancock tower with a glass of Glenmorangie on the rocks overlooking the night view of the entire city from up top. I stayed one more night and went to a downtown breakfast place in the morning and just sat there by myself for two hours doing absolutely nothing. And then I drove back to Des Moines. Never visited any tourist attraction, never did any sightseeing, and did not even look up any ‘things to do in Chicago’.
It was the best vacation I could have had under those circumstances. For a week, I did not even have to acknowledge the idea of stress – even minuscule amounts of it. There was nothing that could go wrong when you were doing absolutely nothing. And I was able to do that because I had absolutely no agenda set for my vacation. No expectations, no plans – just a whole bunch of doing nothing. More importantly, it was a whole bunch of doing nothing in different places – which is awesome.
After I came back, I realized that anytime I did absolutely nothing for extended periods of time is always awesome. You should try it too. It would be important to identify those particular activities you would want to do that do not require any set agenda whatsoever. To me, apparently, they include eating breakfast, drinking beer and buying records. It is just something that you do because you like it and you don’t care how it turns out. There is absolutely nothing at stake when you are doing these activities. Only you know what those activities are. And once you know what they are, you should just take a vacation doing those things – wherever you want to. For all I care, take a flight half way across the country to just sit at a coffee shop and do nothing for an entire day. (That would be an awesome idea by the way).
All in all, it is an extremely satisfying and fulfilling experience to just be able to do nothing and continue to live a normal life. Also, the very act of doing nothing for extended periods of time tells you that “nothing’s fucked!”. The Dude’s lifestyle is not just for a character in a Coen Brothers movie. It is an increasingly overlooked way of life for us every day men and women. Maybe we will never be able to live like The Dude every single day of our lives. But, at the very least, when we decide to take time off, we can remember to ask ourselves the question:
“What would The Dude do?”
And then decide to do absolutely nothing. Because it is always awesome to be The Dude.
PS: After this experience, I have decided to take a weekday off from work every 2-3 weeks and do absolutely nothing. I won’t be at home, but I intend to do absolutely nothing constructive the entire day. It is like my day of rest.
Hopefully I get to do this every year. 2012 was awesome. 2013 started off awesome but kinda tapered down towards the end. But it still had some phenomenal highlights. Here is a quick recap:
1. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines: So this officially made Grace Potter the band I had seen the most number of times Live at 3. And I will watch her live again and again and again. I still maintain that there is nobody else I have seen who can match her stage presence. Having said that, her concert at the Nitefall on the River series in 2012 had set the bar so high that it was never going to be matched again. Memorable experience for sure and I will donate my money without a blink of my eye to see her perform Live again. She really means it when she says that she performs every concert like it is her last.
2. Bosnian Rainbows at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis: After my good friend introduced me to the universe of Omar-Rodriguez Lopez, I was always going to go watch Bosnian Rainbows – his latest venture – in Minneapolis. Dude looks like he just got out of high school and he really gets into his music.
Terri Gender Bender knows how to put on a show and I loved the sound. Best part of the show was when – at the end – Omar thanked the crowd at the bar for coming out and supporting the band. He did that by speaking directly to the crowd instead of talking into the mic. Respect. Full Review here.
3. Sigur Ros at Starlight Theater in Kansas City: What can I say? I think the correct terminology is ‘a religious experience’ or ‘a spiritual experience’. I was going through a very gloomy stage of my life largely due to the never ending winter. It had taken a toll on me and I was barely surviving. And then when I watched them Live, it was close to being a life altering experience. It is one of those experiences when you reach a higher state of consciousness and you have an epiphany about your life. No need for any drugs, just the sadness in his voice is sufficient. As I wrote in my detailed recollection, “I do not know if I found the answer I was looking for. But I definitely found the answer I needed to know.”
4. Steven Wilson at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis: Having missed his previous two visits to the US (Blackfield and first solo tour), I had to make sure that I saw him Live this time around. Conveniently playing at Minneapolis over the weekend too. So pretty much a no brainer and everything else had to just wait. His latest album ‘The Raven…” is his best piece of work since Deadwing. Drive Home and The Watchmaker along with The Raven moved me close to tears. But the song I really was looking forward to and one that had grown on me was ‘Deform to form a Star’ from his earlier album.
Not disappointed. I ended up buying The Raven T-Shirt (the one with the spooky moon) and it has been one shirt that has attracted a lot of attention everywhere I went. No seriously, I have had a whole bunch of people come to me and talk to me about it everywhere I went.
5. Opeth with Katatonia at Wooly’s in Des Moines: Opeth was in Des Moines! Do you believe it?!?? It had been like ages since I had listened to Opeth. I had seen them Live at IITM a long ass time ago. But this time I was watching them in a significantly smaller venue – like all of 10 ft away and with a glass of Jameson in my hands. Always better with Jameson in my hands. He played Hessian Peel. That made my day. I will freely admit I had stopped listening to metal for a while by then. But Opeth with Katatonia in Des Moines?? Well, I just had to see them Live as a matter of general principle. Fully satisfied.
6. Fleetwood Mac at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines: This is a band I had wanted to see Live since high school. One of the few bands whose music connected to me at a very fundamental level. Stevie Nicks’ live voice is different than what it sounds on the albums. But then if I wanted to listen to her sound like she does on the album, I would just play the album. And that is what made the concert really good. The band just sounded different – with more of a live music feel. I think it is important that I fully attest to the fact that Lindsay Buckingham has an awesome awesome voice – and he is an extremely underrated guitar player. Mick Fleetwood is OLD. But I don’t think he knows that. Dude was drumming the shit out of every song – and THEN he decided to do a drum solo. Talk about passion. The only thing disappointing about the sound was John’s bass. It was barely audible. Extremely disappointing considering how much I grew up inspired by those basslines.
They played every single song I wanted them to. Of course there was no Christine, so they only played those that had Stevie/Lindsay on the vocals. Best surprise was when they played ‘Sisters on the moon’ and ‘Seven Wonders’! Did not see those coming at all!
Apart from the songs themselves, one aspect of the concert I truly admired was the genuine acknowledgement and appreciation the band members showed to the crowd for their continued support. It was the appreciation of a band that has been around for decades together, who have seen it all, who have everything they ever wanted, who have absolutely nothing left to prove to anybody, and who realize that after all these years they are only around because their fans want them to be around. Stevie Nicks spoke at length to the crowd before the last song actually explaining how she felt about all the support she has received from the band’s fans all through her career. Truly remarkable gesture from the band and the crowd knew it.
All in all, very very satisfying concert – more so because it was something I had pretty much given up on ever witnessing. Could have been even better if it wasn’t for that annoying 40 something woman in front of me who kept dancing like she had the entire place to herself – hitting people around her without as much as a sense of space. I get it – people enjoy music differently. But then, still, f*** you.
7. 80-35 Music Festival in Des Moines: This was 2 days of awesome fun. This was the first time that I truly experienced a music festival – everything it has to offer. I realized that music festivals are not about watching a lot of your favorite bands play in one place. It is more about just wandering around and finding a band that you had no idea about playing some wonderful music and being drawn to it. The festival was skewed more towards alternative and indie rock bands, but also included a few folk, acoustic bands and a bunch of DJs. Biggest discovery for me was Deerhunter, Yeasayers and Umphrey’s McGee. Deerhunter especially. Who knew I would just walk into some noise influenced band at a music festival in Des Moines? Always loved the summer atmosphere on display during the festival. Reminds me of why it is OK to live through the god forsaken winter.
8. Telescopes with LSD and the Search for God: This was right after the 8035 festival and it was all noise and shoegaze. As I wrote in my detailed recollection, as far as the sound goes, well, FUCK! I felt that I had finally got what I was unknowingly looking for all my life. That one sound that would just ‘hit the spot’. The Telescope’s noise and shoegaze hit the spot alright. And more importantly, it opened me up to a whole new set of bands and sounds. Perfect Noise and mindblowing Shoegaze. Special shout out to LSD and the Search for God. Awesome Stoner music.
9. Blue Oyster Cult at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines: Free show at the State Fair! WoW! I didn’t know these guys were still even playing. The only day I was able to go the fair, I caught these guys playing all their hits – every one of them. Fuckin’ A!
10. Tame Impala and The National at Starlight Theater in Kansas City: The best album of 2013 as far as I have explored music is Tame Impala’s Lonerism. Finally a band that knows how to use the bass guitar. Tame Impala is the biggest discovery I have made in all of 2013 and I got to see them live. It was a short setlist – a little more than an hour – but they played most of their new album. You just got to check out their latest album.
The National was the main act but I had personally gone there to see Tame Impala. But clearly The National is awesome. The vocalist dude could sing one song in a haunting melancholic voice and the next he would be screaming like he was in a hardcore punk rock band. Great songs too.
So that was it. All the concerts I went to in 2013. 2014 has so far started off slow, but am looking forward to seeing Mogwai in Des Moines. I am also going to make an additional effort to visit the local smaller venues more frequently. After all, music is music. Where I discover it doesn’t make any difference.
Last year I was on vacation in Chicago with my parents. I had spent a good 60 hours with them at a stretch. On the 3rd evening, I reached a point when I just needed some alone time. The sun was just about to set and so I put my parents on one of the awesome double decker buses that would just take them around downtown showing the night view of the city’s skyline. And within 100 seconds of them boarding the bus, I was seated at a bar, drinking Oberon.
Sitting alone there and drinking my beer, I got into a fairly introspective state of mind – having an existential conversation with myself in my head. Continued consumption of alcohol clearly helped sustain it. I must have spent a good two hours there, because by the time I was about to leave I had a good buzz going in my head. I remembered that I had asked my parents to meet me at the Hancock tower by 9. So I closed my tab and the bartender gave me my copy of the receipt and wished me a good evening. I was just about to leave in that buzzing state of mind when all of a sudden I found myself IN THE ZONE. It came calling out of nowhere – like it always does. And I had to answer. The Zone is where my inspiration comes from – for anything and everything – and when I am in it, I need to explore it in full.
At that moment, sitting at that bar in Chicago, what came to me was a set of words and lines. Not too many, but something that I just had to write down immediately, lest I forget it the next minute. So I quickly asked the bartender for a pen and started writing on the first piece of paper I could find – on the back of my copy of the receipt.
And I was able to write down everything that came to me at that moment. And once I knew there was nothing more to write, I felt truly content. I stored that receipt in my wallet and went searching for the Hancock Tower.
Today, I decided to clean out my wallet to see all the hidden treasures it housed. And it was then that I found the receipt still in there – still containing all the words I wrote. And that made me smile – and write this post.
So here it is – the words that came to me at a bar in Chicago last summer.
It is truly phenomenal what contrast can accomplish. Just being subjected to the ideas and circumstances that you so desperately crave for can make you truly see what you don’t have. That’s all it takes. A true acknowledgement of what you don’t have. And you will get into that beautiful introspective state of melancholy. It is so intimate – just the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. It is something you can always count on – the intimacy of helplessness and hopelessness. In a world filled with such uncertainty, when something like this provides an enormous sense of certainty, it is hard not to fall in love with it. Think about it – the intimacy of helplessness and hopelessness. It is just so beautiful!
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts dealing with society’s incomplete, unfair and misplaced perception of happiness.
The Happiness Industry is everywhere. It exists because we all want to be happy all the time. From the self help books, to the ‘Lead your life’ seminars, to the daily inspirational quotes, to all the websites and blogs giving you their own unique tips, to the religion sponsored salvation guarantees, to the different schools of thought offering that elusive ‘inner peace’, to the innumerable God Men who claim to know the path to enlightenment, to the beauty products that guarantee your confidence, to the prescription pills promising to alleviate your stress, to the never ending advertisements that promise you happiness in exchange for some of your money.
IT IS EVERYWHERE.
It is also completely missing the point.
It starts off with parents telling their kids that everyone should be happy in life. That is then upgraded to be a requirement. Subsequently, it becomes an order. Then there is talk of REAL HAPPINESS and that it comes from within. Materialistic objects are then perceived to be providing only temporary pleasure and are apparently never fully satisfying. Then there is the sudden realization that maybe REAL HAPPINESS lies in religion and God. Then there is an alternative school of thought that promises that elusive ‘inner peace’. How about living in the present? Or how about that really charismatic person who apparently performs miracles and who seems to want to help everybody be happy? He can surely make people happy? Perhaps falling in love is the key to fulfillment. Having children and starting a family is maybe what is missing. That promotion should help things get better. No? Then perhaps go back to religion and God. That is always a safe bet, right?
How hard people try….. All the places they look…. All the things they believe in…..
All searching for HAPPINESS. All the time.
I have only one question: WHY?
The answer to that is not a WHY NOT? The answer to the question ‘Why are people always looking to be happy?’ is that wanting to be happy is simply a consequence of societal and religious expectations. Same as getting an education, getting a job, starting a family, etc. This expectation of being happy is so deeply ingrained in us that it is extremely hard to justify to somebody that being happy should never be considered a necessity. The idea that, as a human being, the objective in life is to be happy is an extremely fundamental and fixed frame of reference. Everything everybody ever sees is through this frame of reference.
A few instances: when we are not feeling good, we are encouraged to talk to people to feel better – nobody says it is OK to feel down; when a friend has lost someone, we tell them everything is going to be OK – nobody reminds them of what a big loss they have just had; when someone is feeling down, we make it our responsibility to make them feel better – we don’t suggest that they try to express it through a form of art; a therapist is always expected to solve other people’s problems so that they feel better; counselling is always encouraged for people to get out of traumatic situations; when we are angry we are told to calm down because being calm makes it easier to be happy – nobody encourages us to listen to heavy metal music in that state of mind.
Ultimately, every state of mind that is not directly linked to being ‘happy’ is always judged to be something inferior – and people are expected to rise above it, whatever it takes. If we are unable to rise above it, we are then considered weak. If we are not considered weak, we are shown a lot of sympathy and/or pity. Being treated with sympathy or being considered weak – fact is that both these are still going to consider us to be inferior and as somebody who needs help. Note that both society and religion has already decided that every individual personally desires to be happy all the time. If there is an exception, then, well, there is apparently something wrong with that person. Right?
And this is where I have a problem. I realize everyone likes being happy – if happy things happened to them. I only question the deeply ingrained dogma of a society to judge a person who is not ‘happy’ as someone inferior to the rest. I also question the even more fundamental idea that everyone in this world should actively strive for happiness all the time and that everything else is a bad idea.
Being a human being is not just about being happy. We have evolved to be able to experience an unbelievable spectrum of emotions. Happiness is only one small part of it. Being happy makes you experience a certain specific sensation or feeling. If the sum total of all the feelings that we have experienced in our life is restricted to this one specific feeling, then can we even claim to have fully lived like a human being?
Happiness is good. But this should never imply the converse – that anything apart from happiness is miserable and unacceptable. And it should never make it acceptable for the society to simply demand and expect people to be happy all the time and consider them inferior if they are not. And so I personally reject all schools of thought that make happiness/salvation/enlightenment as the fundamental objective of a human being during his or her lifetime.
Come to think of it, if everyone from the beginning of time was happy all the time, how do you think our history would read? It would perhaps comprise of one sentence: “And then Mankind lived happily ever after”. That would be such a boring and one dimensional history and I would not want to be any part of it – even if it had made me happy.
In the next post, I will explore the role of ART in explaining why the societal and religious perception of happiness is incomplete and completely misplaced.
This coffee tastes good. Maybe it always has. I have bought the same coffee for the past 3 years you know. But it’s only now I am really tasting it. Tastes good. I can even feel the nutmeg flavor lingering on my tongue as an after taste. I think I like it. Too bad this is the last time I will be drinking this. Hey, at least I did taste it before the end, right?
Funny thinking about all the things I had never noticed all this time. Like that neighbor’s dog. Did you know they had a dog? Apparently they have had it for over 5 years now. A cute little Labrador that one. Not sure if it is a male or a female though. Just don’t remember it barking or making any noise. Maybe they trained it that way and it never barked or something. I have lived here next to them for 9 years now and I just don’t remember any dog at all. Maybe they even had one before Spice. Yeah that’s what they call it. Weird name if you ask me. I mean, what kind of a name is that? SPICE? Oh well, maybe they like it. The dog surely won’t know what it means. Poor thing.
Well, I definitely know one thing that has happened over the past 5 years. YOU. You just got up and left one morning. I still remember that day. I woke up and you were gone – just gone. Instead I found everybody else – your family, my family, our close friends – all in our house. For some reason I cannot understand to this day, they were all very happy to see me wake up but just refused to tell me where you were. Oh they didn’t have to really. I knew where you had gone. You just got up and left. I knew it was coming for a while – even back then. But didn’t expect it to be so sudden. I mean, you didn’t even pack your bags or take your clothes. You must have been in a real hurry then. Didn’t know you hated me so much.
I never heard back from you again. I tried calling all your friends, family, even your ex boyfriends to see if you were cheating on me with them. But all of them were very rude to me as if it was all my fault somehow. How dare they? They should have seen what a wreck I had become without you – because of you. Maybe then they would see who the victim really was. When I asked my own family or friends, they just gave me some very vague responses. Some would just ask me how I was doing, if I had everything I needed. Some would even volunteer help!
Slowly even my own family and friends stopped talking to me or answering my calls. So much for being the real victim, eh? I hope you are watching this and glowing with pride and satisfaction. I know this is what you wanted – for me to suffer. Well, guess what, your wish has been granted and then some more.
Remember that bar we always went to – the one right beside the university? It’s the same bar we went to the night before you left, remember? Of course you remember. You probably planned it all along – that you would runaway in the morning after I got drunk, knowing very well that I would be fully asleep. I know all your plans now – I am smarter than you think you know. Coming back to that bar now, for some reason those guys don’t like me anymore. I mean, I – we – have been going there for so long and I know those bartenders very well. But when I went back there a couple of weeks after you left, the bartender just started abusing me and yelling that I was not welcome there anymore. They actually got the bouncer to throw me out. Can you believe it? Of course, you probably planned all this too, didn’t you? Making sure that I would be humiliated wherever I went – maybe you had some kind of a deal with that bartender to make sure I was embarrassed in front of a lot of people. Guess what? That worked too. Hope that makes you happy.
I bought a new car too after you left. Well I had to, after it was stolen the night you left – stolen by YOU to runaway! I tried to file a complaint with the police for the theft of my car but then they just sent me away. They said I was mad! Can you believe it? They think I am mad for YOU stealing my car to run away! Maybe you planned all of this too – probably bribed the cops to make sure my complaint would not be registered. Well, guess what, you can have that car! Never liked it anyway – always smelt of your perfume inside it. Good riddance!
I started smoking again you know. You never allowed me to do it when we were together so I had quit when we first moved in. But then after you left, I just had to start smoking again as a matter of principle. It was my way of saying ‘Fuck you!’ to you. And I do not regret it. I started drinking heavily too. It made it so much easier to get through the day. Then came the coke. I guess I have to thank you in a way for introducing me to coke. I would have never ventured there if you hadn’t left. It took me to a different world altogether. But then, after a few months, I burnt all my savings and got kicked out of my job. My family has been helping me out now for a while. But that’s a different story for another day.
Anyway, I just don’t see the point anymore. Yes, I hate you for leaving me. But I hate you even more for not being there for me when I needed you most – when I was going through rehab or when I was crying myself to sleep every single night since you left. I used to reach out for you across the bed but never found you there again. I thought someday I was going to wake up and find you back in bed lying next to me. But that day never came. And I now know it will never come.
Because I know you have left me for good.
Wherever you decided to go, whomever you are with now, I hope you are happy. And when you read this someday, I hope you will understand why I did what I am going to do now. Fact is, there is simply no other option for me.
This coffee is getting cold. Now I have to go. I can still feel the nutmeg.
In a bizarre turn of events, young Americans under the age of 35 all over the country have stopped talking to each other after Congress accidentally passed a new law that banned the use of the word ‘Like’ – the most widely used word by Americans. The word ‘Like’ has been in popular usage not as a verb or a conjunction, but as a filler that is used in between ANY two words in any sentence in a role of complete redundancy that serves absolutely no purpose. However, in spite of it not serving any purpose, young Americans have shown a very strong affinity to throw in as many ‘Likes’ as possible while talking to each other. Now all this has been banned under the new law which took effect last week.
Now anyone using the word ‘Like’ in a redundant manner while talking will first receive two warnings. A third offence will invite a fine and more than 10 offences will make it mandatory for the culprit to take English classes demonstrating the redundancy of the word in regular grammar. As part of the law, employers will also be able to check how many offences any job applicant has to their name before hiring.
All this has not gone down well with Americans for whom the word ‘Like’ is fundamental to the successful construction of a sentence. A normal sentence such as:
After a long working day, he said, “I am feeling really tired and want to go home”
has always been spoken out as
After, like, a long, like, working day, he is like “I am, like, feeling really, like, tired, and want to, like, go, like home”
Young Americans have regularly demonstrated their inability to speak more than 2 sentences without using their favorite word. Linda, an American teenager, spent tremendous amounts of energy to focus and avoid using the word LIKE in order to tell us how she felt about the new law.
“I ….. don’t know …… what I’ll …..do……My friends…..cannot …..talk to ….each other anymore. I guess…I’ll have to….text them if I ….want to ….. say anything.”
This appears to be the ready made alternative to this new law. Teenage girls in America have always communicated with each other via text messages even when they are with each other, so this has become the go-to option for them.
Following this new law, demands for speech therapists has increased astronomically. John, a New York based speech therapist, had this to say about the new law and its impacts:
“This has always been an epidemic. It is not just Americans who have been affected with this disability. All immigrants who have stayed in the country long enough and interacted with other Americans on a regular basis have shown growing symptoms of this condition. So, I believe this really is an epidemic that keeps spreading and affects even those who speak without using redundant words.”
Some young folks have tried to protest the law by shouting slogans in front of the White House. But almost inevitably, their slogan shouting included the redundant use of the word LIKE (e.g. “We, like, like our like, right, to use, like, whatever, we like, like, when, we like, speak to , like, each other!”) and were subsequently slapped with a hefty fine and asked to enroll in English classes.
Guest speculators on the official Republican Speculation Channel Fox News have laid the blame squarely on Obamacare. Their Democratic counterparts on the Democratic Speculation Channel MSNBC have, as expected, blamed the existence of the Republican party for the consequences of the new law.
The international media, on the other hand, were perplexed about why anyone would be using the word LIKE in this manner in the first place. Most English speaking countries just failed to understand the idea of a spoken sentence such as
Like, I’m, like, very irritated to know, like, I, like, cannot even, like, talk to, like, my own, like, friends, like how I, like, want to.
Most English speaking people outside America said that by the time they heard the full sentence, they could not remember what it meant.
The power and influence of music over my life cannot ever be understated. It is where I have gone to when I have been happy; it is what I have embraced when I was depressed; it is what I have sought when I felt helpless; it is in the lyrics that I have found my advice; it is that one thing that has never ever deserted me; and yet there is always more to explore.
Without a doubt, I owe my passion for listening to music to my dad who went out of his way to buy music systems with whatever it was we could afford at that time. Right from the age of 6 or so, I have always had at least one stereo system at my home to listen to music. And I always made the most use of it. God knows how many cassettes I have played on a loop for hours together. And God alone knows how much money I had spent on buying them. Come to think of it, before the advent of the internet, listening to music was not just an act, it was always an experience.
Listening to the song or the release of an album on radio or watching it on TV, pestering my mom and dad to get me that album, going to the store and getting lost in the myriad of choices and having to settle on one cassette or CD with a heavy heart, coming home with great anticipation of what the new album would have in store for me, removing the cover and taking the liner notes & lyrics out, admiring the album art, putting the cassette or CD into the stereo, hitting play and letting the music take me places.
THAT was an experience.
And then the internet came and with it, the mp3.
In hindsight, I cannot really find fault with the mp3. If anything, it suddenly made me discover a lot more music than I had ever imagined I could. It exposed me to metal – the perfect form of expression to my then rebellious mindset – and it provided me more albums than I could listen to. It had sufficiently good quality and I was more than happy to not have to spend a single dime on any of it. This would eventually become the norm in the way I listened to and discovered music for the next decade of my life.
My ‘experience’ of listening to music would eventually be reduced to staring at my computer screen, a few clicks, a few mins of ‘downloading files’, opening the ‘file’ and then listening to the songs – or should I say ‘playing the files’ – while my mind was elsewhere surfing the web. No sense of anticipation, no wonder at the joy of holding something new in my hands, and no admiring the album art. Maybe I would play the files a few times and then I would either move them into the recycle bin or I would have them join the growing list of songs I never played because I just liked to play what I already knew. (Hey I never paid for them so don’t really have to listen to them, right?)
I do not particularly remember ever complaining about it to be honest. That was largely because every single person around me did the same thing and had similar ways of listening to music. Nobody expected to pay for music and did not appear to be disappointed that they never really owned anything. It appeared to be an acceptable trade-off : the ability to listen to music for free in return for not really owning anything. And I do not recollect having any thoughts to the contrary either. Piracy was here to stay and with that came the mindset that free access to music was a fundamental right. After all, all the musicians are rich buggers who wont really mind missing out on their next million, right?
I had that mindset even until after I started working here in the US and started making enough money to buy CDs. It was only by accident that I found a Borders store closing down and they were having a sale. That was when I first paid for music in more than a decade. I think I bought 3 albums the first time and then I kept going back to the closing store as they kept increasing the discounts every 3 days. In the end, during a span of 2 weeks or so, I had visited the closing sale about 4-5 times and had purchased about 12-13 CDs. I did not know it then but that was just the beginning.
Those who know me well know the influence Steven Wilson has had on my taste in music, my thinking and my opinions in general about music. After I watched Insurgentes, I developed a strong desire to start a collection of music- a physical collection, not a collection of files. Following this, when I eventually started buying music, I bought myself a vinyl player. Then when I moved to my own apartment and started living by myself, I bought a JBL 5.1 home theater system. Then I started collecting records and CDs.
This was the time when I finally started to listen to music again – and not just play files. I was now going to record stores in all the cities I went to, digging through hundreds of old and new records, smiling with great joy at finding a great album, going home with great anticipation, opening the record and placing it on the player, admiring the artwork and letting the music take me places.
Listening to music had become an experience again.
It is only when one experiences something more fulfilling do they realize what they had been missing out till then. This has certainly been true in my case with the way I listened to music over the years. There is something truly rewarding in the actual physical act of going to a record store, spending hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon digging through old records and CDs, driving back home, opening and placing the record in the player and holding the artwork in your hand while you watch the record spin. It actually means something to listen to music that way.
There are strong arguments online and offline about the sufficiency in the quality of the mp3. But to me it is no longer just about the quality of the compressed mp3 files as compared to the analog vinyl. It really is about the complete experience of listening to music that brings the sense of wonder and discovery back to the fold. To me, there is no joy in going to iTunes online, typing in a search word for an artist, click a few times to download ‘files’ and listening to the songs on a device the size of my two fingers which may or may not display the ‘artwork’ on a 2″ screen.
The argument of convenience has never worked for me – definitely not with regard to music. And I just feel grateful to know that there are many like me – including many many musicians and artists – who feel that music should not just be listened to as a playback of files, but as a fulfilling experience that brings the joy of wonder and discovery back to one’s life.
I currently own about 200 vinyl records and some 100 CDs. I recently upgraded my JBL 5.1 to a Bowers and Wilkins 686 series speakers (I replaced the front two JBL speakers with the B&W 686 and kept the other JBL speakers and subwoofer) at a cost of about $850. It is a lifetime investment which I strongly believe I have already reaped the returns and then some more. The clarity has brought me to tears on a few occasions. But I still listen to Pandora and the mp3s I ripped from my CDs at work (and during travel) on my Klipsch earphones. I discover new artists on Pandora (which would have been otherwise an almost impossible job) and then go buy their CDs/records. I buy CDs from Amazon when I know I will have a hard time locating them in stores.
There really is no boundary I can draw which I can use to define the way music should be listened to. However, I CAN speak from the perspective of having experienced the extremes in the way I listened to music – and the vastly different levels of satisfaction and fulfillment it has brought me over the years. I will continue to buy CDs and records, will continue to explore new artists and sounds on Pandora, and will definitely continue to experience the joys of letting the music take me places – like it has always done. But I will never get sucked into the warp of convenience over quality and completeness of experience.
I follow one principle when buying vinyl records:
Never order online.
There is no romance to it. The real excitement lies in digging through hundreds of used and new records in record stores and finding that one awesome album that you never expected to find. Every time that happens, I feel like a kid in candy land.
However, after over 2 years of unsuccessful search across the country to locate this particular album, I had to give up on my coveted principle and order it online.
The one that made me compromise: The Man Machine by Kraftwerk.
I just received this record in my mail and I headed straight to frame the album cover on my wall. Then I headed to my record player and started the record spinning. And then those sounds – possibly straight out of a Stanley Kubrick movie – a prolonged bling, then another and another, and then…..
We’re charging our battery
And now we’re full of energy
We are the robots
As far as I am concerned, The Man Machine easily has the best album cover ever made. A minimalist photograph of 4 expressionless German dudes in blood red shirts with black ties and faces as pale as they had seen a ghost – or maybe they ARE the ghosts – standing one behind the other and staring sideways at something that appears to be commanding all their attention, respect and admiration. The inner sleeve contains more haunting photographs of what appears to be wax models of the 4 men playing instruments and posing for photographs. Try coming up with something more awe inspiring and profound than that and you will make your mark in history.
There is something otherworldly about this album art. Holding it in your hand while listening to the music makes you feel like you are holding a product – a creation – from a world far far away in both space and time. While this music is definitely not from the present, it definitely makes you wonder if this music is from the future or from some mysterious time in the past when 4 strange looking men envisioned how music in the future would be.
To me, the reason this album holds special significance is because I was exposed to it when I was a kid. Of all the people, my dad had brought this album home on cassette. Till today he does not remember how or why he got hold of it. He has not heard to any other Krafwerk’s albums and he does not even recollect the exact name of the band. But when I asked him a month ago here in America, he distinctly recollected owning and listening to the album (in his own words, it was an album “which showed 4 white faced men staring blankly away from the camera”) when I was a kid of maybe 5-6 years old. For reasons I do not recollect or comprehend, I did not play that tape a couple of years after I first listened to it and had never listened to any of that album since then – even by accident.
As a 5-6 year old kid, The Man Machine had captivated me to no end. I remember playing it on a loop for hours together. It transported me to another world – a world in my own imagination filled with space ships in which 4 strange expressionless men in red shirts captivated thousands of people with their hypnotic music. It filled up my imagination with the same intensity as comic books or sci-fi cartoons.
It is hard to describe the sudden and intense rush of memories from the past that comes about when I listen to a particular song or album – something that was strongly associated with that particular time or person. It is stronger than nostalgia. The Man Machine took me back to a time when the biggest worry in my life was to do my homework, eat my vegetables and polish my shoes. It reminded me of squatting in front of a Phillips 2 speaker system, putting in the cassette, rewinding it all the way, hitting play and then just staring at it in eager anticipation for that hypnotic bling to take me to a spaceship far far away. And it never failed to do so.
And then today, almost 20 years after I had last listened to that album, when the needle of my record player landed on the brand new vinyl, I was back on that spaceship. I was back on that spaceship and I did not get back to Earth for more than 2 hours.
There are a few people and things on this planet who/which can make me smile and laugh and feel happy in an instant – just to have known or experienced them or to be able to experience them again. The right music can definitely achieve that for me.
The Man Machine by Kraftwerk had me smiling and laughing and dancing in a spaceship like I had not done in almost 20 years.
5 seasons and a lot of intense and memorable hours later, Breaking Bad’s finale is finally upon us. I got on to the bandwagon very late – in fact only after the first 6 episodes of the last season had been aired. Fresh off completing all 5 seasons of The Wire for the second time, I had decided to not watch any more TV shows. It was just not worth it – all the time spent (wasted??), the lack of any productivity, a desire to do something more useful and constructive with my time, etc. got me very hesitant to embark on another massive investment of my time and ….., well, nothing else really. But ultimately it was the lack of sufficient returns with regard to the quality of the shows available that I decided to take a break.
I do not know who finally tipped the scales in favor of this show, but I got started on Breaking Bad. And that was all it took – getting started – and I had committed ALL my non-working time to complete watching all available episodes. Thanks Netflix. Within a few weeks I was done. 41 episodes of drama of the highest quality – a quality matched only by very few TV shows. Only 2 come to my mind – The Wire and the first 3 seasons of Damages.
The story line and the plot was what kept most people hooked on to the show. Admittedly original, the premise of the show opened up a range of possibilities for the story to develop and take shape. But the writers stood grounded – all the time. No outrageous plot developments, no fabricated coincidences, no cliche situations, no Deus ex Machinas to save the day, and for once we did not see the inevitable game of institution politics being shoved down our throats in the name of reality. None of the painful cliches holding up plot and/or character development – something any seasoned TV show viewer will attest to.
However, the real strength of the show lay not in the successful absence of the cliche, but in the development of plot and characters. Fact is these two were never separate entities. Most story lines (TV shows or movies) have scripts where the development in character follows the development in plot. That is something happens to the character and then the character begins to think and act differently. Breaking Bad, for the most part, did this in reverse. They defined an initial sketch and history for all the characters and created initial situations (Walter White diagnosed with cancer and his meeting with Jesse). After this, the characters’ own natural responses and weaknesses were allowed to dictate the direction in which the story and the plot developed.
Walter White’s persistence with ‘providing for his family’ on his own terms, Jesse’s inability to cope with the impacts his actions have had on those he loved, Skylar’s disapproval of Walter’s choices and her initial fear of her family coming under harm, Hank’s single minded obsession to nail Heisenberg – and all the things that led to and resulted from these formed an intricate web of action and consequence involving every single character in the show. It is really a beautiful thing if you meditate on it.
Think of it. A set of people with a certain initial characters/personalities and tendencies living through different times in their lives. An initial set of circumstances are thrust on them and thus begins the indefinite and incremental loop of response, consequence and further stimulus. But every time the response is going to be incrementally different because of the characters’ previous experience and newer set of circumstances to respond to. All this happening with minimal to no external interference or involvement. It is almost like an elegantly crafted genetic algorithm.
Maybe it is. (Or maybe it is an allegory for free market economics).
But to me, personally, Breaking Bad was a celebration of the human condition. A celebration of how everyday people respond when subjected to stress, loss, unexpected wealth, getting caught, uncertainty, guilt, cancer, and ultimately just plain old fear. Everything – Walter White deciding to embark on his meth making venture, Jesse helping the cops to capture Walter, Skylar cheating on Walter, Marie returning to her kleptomania, Walter revealing the location of the money in the desert – was all just the perfect portrayal of what a normal person under extreme stress and uncertainty would do.
There is an inevitable viewer disillusionment that comes with the vicarious experience of watching the plot unfold on a Television screen. It leads the viewer to having a false sense of superiority over the character for ‘knowing’ what the correct choice the character ‘should have’ made for his/her own good (which is usually nothing more than just the viewer’s preference). But the question to ask yourself is this: If you were really in that character’s shoes with that much stress, fear and uncertainty looming around you all the time, would you be reacting any differently? Once you answer that question honestly, Breaking Bad begins to transcend to a whole new level of TV drama.
The show will be missed. All the characters will be missed – everyone from Walter White to the most adorable Saul Goodman and Huell. But most of all, I would sincerely hope that the series finale does not go overboard just to create a happy ending. I would be at complete peace if Walter never gets to see his family, Jesse commits suicide and Skylar gets hold of part of Walt’s money. But that’s just me. I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed.
It is now a little more than 4 years since I set foot in America. The last 2 of them have been under far more financial freedom and stability than ever before in my life. It was during this time that I traveled significantly – taking in new experiences and dwelling in the wonder of what I saw. I went to dozens and dozens of concerts, visited big cities, explored national parks, discovered places that even none of my American friends knew about. At no point in time did I forget to appreciate how fortunate I was to be able to do all those things that I did and to visit all the places I wanted to. Yes I had to work hard and go through significant troubles and bear through uncertain times to get to where I am now – like so many of my friends who chose the same path. But behind all of that was this one constant, unchanging thing: the support, encouragement and trust of my parents. Having always been very close to them since as long as I can think of, they gave me a sense of belonging and a platform I always knew I could fall back on in times of need. I have absolutely no hesitation in declaring that I would not be where I am today without their effort over the past 25 years or so. And so, during my travels in America, everywhere I went and felt the wonder of having discovered something beautiful, I ALWAYS imagined myself sharing that same experience with my parents – to bring them there and show them what they had helped me to do.
I finally got the opportunity when my parents’ visa got approved (in what ended up becoming a 1 minute interview with exactly one question asked). They arrived in the second week of July and I immediately absolved myself of all responsibilities related even remotely to the kitchen and other household stuff- including but not limited to the maintenance and upkeep of the house, laundry, dishes etc. My mom was more than happy to take over for the duration of her stay and I just let her run the house – like she has done for the past 27 years or so.
I was more than happy to have them at my place. But there is no denying my apprehension about how my lifestyle would be affected with their arrival - especially with having lived by myself for over 2 1/2 years. Fortunately, I was able to work my way around it and my parents were understanding of my evening disappearances to see my friends. And I have to admit, just the food almost made it worth it. I had long forgotten about the idea of a proper breakfast during weekdays. There was also the whole thing about someone actually serving me food – that felt like a long forgotten experience. My mom’s cooking also reminded me about the existence of so many different dishes that I immediately decided that I would simply over eat at every single opportunity and not care one bit about potential weight gain. And today, I am extremely happy to have over eaten (to the point of feeling gluttonous) at least 3 times a day continuously for about 2 months straight.
There were exactly 4 places I wanted to take my parents to. And I am very happy that I was able to accomplish all of that and under very pleasant circumstances. I got my parents to ‘hangout’ at the Old Market district in Omaha – something they never got tired of. It was and still is one of the most beautiful few blocks of downtown I have ever seen, and my parents clearly shared my view. The 3 days we spent in Chicago was extremely fulfilling too. More than the downtown boat ride, Navy Pier or the Shedd Aquarium, I had one specific thing in my mind that I wanted to do. On the second night, I took my parents to the Observatory on top of Hancock tower. A mind blowing night view of the captivating Chicago skyline – especially when you get to look down upon it. But it was not just the view that I had in mind. Yes, both my parents were thrilled beyond words at the sight in front of them. But it was only when I got my dad a glass of Jameson, right there in the Observatory, did I feel the experience complete. Sharing a drink with my dad at the Observatory was the first thing that had come to my mind when I had visited the place previously. And finally being able to do it felt like a landmark moment and a perfect celebration of my relationship with him.
As far back as I can remember, my dad has always wanted to see the Niagara Falls. My mom too. So I took them there in the Maid of the Mist. For about 5 minutes, we were completely transported to a different world – one where all you could see was this gigantic rushing mass of water. It really is one of those out-of-this-world experiences when you are at the foot of the falls in that small boat and looking up at this massive sea of water falling with an incomparable intensity. It was there at that moment that I asked them to remind themselves of where they came from, how and where they spent their childhood, and all the things they went through. And with that as the context, I asked them to look around and see where they were at that moment. The contrast dawned on them immediately and with that, a strong sense of fulfillment took me over.
Our trip to New York City happened mainly because my parents wanted to go there. I had no intention to visit the place as a big city experience has never been my idea of travelling somewhere. If you want a tip, here it is: Don’t go to NYC unless what you want to see is swarms of tourists every step of the way, a big gaping hole in your pocket and generally nothing to admire. (I will admit the Museum of Modern Art was a clear exception. I saw Starry Night and THIS painting which I now have on my wall). But my parents wanted to do the tourist’s trip which inevitably included the Empire State Building (and the mandatory 2 hour waiting period), the Statue of Liberty (an eyesore that is to be avoided under all circumstances), a drive through Wall Street (the only place where it is OK to openly admire the testicles of a bull) and the Brooklyn Bridge (good engineering, no aesthetic offering). So clearly, I did not enjoy it (and I would definitely not be going back) but I was fully aware that this trip was not for me – it was for my parents. And so it never occurred to me to complain at all.
But perhaps the best was really kept for the last. I took my parents to Wisconsin over Labor Day Weekend. Arguing against my parents’ wishes to see another big city in Minneapolis, I took them to House on the Rock, Madison, New Glarus (including the Brewery there) and Lake Geneva. The House on the Rock was where I really wanted to take them. It is a place which nobody can ever satisfactorily describe. It is a celebration of humans going beyond the limits of imagination. It is a reward for those who seek something beyond the mainstream offerings of tourism. And my parents were left in complete awe and wonder – and rightly so. Trips to New Glarus, New Glarus Brewing company and Lake Geneva was really an eye opener for my parents with regard to the other side of America – the one with the small town, antique shop and record store feel to it. My dad was particularly pleased with the New Glarus Brewery – a place which felt more like some ruins in an old Mediterranean city than a brewery where you could sample some of the best beer in the Midwest. Lake Geneva was perhaps the best portrayal of a small town American city which had maintained its small town feel in spite of the popularity of the place among tourists. Both my parents enjoyed it and the whole trip was an extremely satisfactory end to their travels here.
In addition to the travels, I was particularly happy that my parents just took in what the American Midwest – and specifically Des Moines – had to offer with great satisfaction. The extremely good nature of the people, the laid back lifestyle, a complete lack of noise or air pollution and a beautiful and safe suburb experience – all served as the perfect getaway from the stress of working life. My mom declared her love for Dunkin’ Donuts, making that her first go to place for breakfast in Chicago and NYC. My dad had never been spoilt for choice in beer before he came here (For one, he was not even aware that there were options beyond Lager). So I took him to the El Bait Shop on his birthday and he was clearly overwhelmed at their selection of beer. But perhaps my dad’s biggest achievement during his stay here was his discovery of Pink Floyd and his strong desire to see The Wire. Clearly, my dad is going in the right direction.
They left a couple of days after the Wisconsin trip. My mom made sure I did not have to cook for the following 2 weeks and I still have quite a bit of her cooking in the fridge. They took back with them bags loaded with goodies for all my family back home (including what is perhaps the best of the lot – a ‘Better Call Saul’ shirt for my cousin) along with some memorabilia from every one of their trips. But to me, their trip was more about all the things that they had always wanted to do, all the places I wanted to show them and all the experiences I wanted to share with them. It was also an opportunity for me to connect with them after a long time. And I can happily say that I was able achieve all of them.
All in all, very satisfying experience for my parents and me. Now I am back to living my old lifestyle and still savoring my mom’s cooking.