Author Archives: Akshay N R
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.
So this has been a new thing to me: Noise Rock and Shoegazing. At least as categorized by those words. In hindsight I can perhaps lay claim to being drawn to the ‘noise’ part of a few songs here and there since a long time. But I have begun to explore this genre and the bands in earnest only for the past couple of months. During my exploration, I came across this:
Well, what can I say? I was just drawn to it. I have never had anything assault my hearing senses so much. (OK maybe Justin Beiber but that was another extreme. More on him later). This, my friends, is pure and unadulterated ART.
And if you can listen to it for 10 mins straight while taking in the true essence of the lyrics, you are a true art connoisseur.
In all seriousness, Whitehouse is an extreme noise music group. You will need to look into something more survivable if you want to keep exploring the genre. And it was around this time that I got to know that this group of 3 noise rock bands were playing at the Mews in Des Moines on Sunday night.
First there was The Vandelles. Loved the sound and loved the drummer. She looked like she was totally where she wanted to be – behind the drums and in the zone. Judging by her expression, I don’t think she wants to do anything else in life – which is totally fine by me. Here is a sample:
But I wanted more noise – as in more noisy noise. Fuck, this can be an infinite nested loop.
Then came the band I was looking forward to see: LSD and the Search for God. Not as much noise as it was shoegaze. But fuck genre naming, right? I had already ordered their LP online before I saw them Live. This is real stoner sound. Not of the weed kind, obviously. But who am I to judge? The lead singer – she has the voice of a seagull. And they got their shoegaze distortion and looping spot on. That voice, the pedals, the effects, the drums, the distortion and the bass formed a beautiful end product that was both sufficiently noisy and refreshingly new. Think of the Silversun Pickups but only with a more generous dose of noise and shoegaze and more awesome vocals.
Then came The Telescopes. OK so there was this bit of mishmash between the bands with some members playing for more than one band. So I could not say who was ‘supposed’ to be in The Telescopes and who was not. I know for sure Stephen Lawrie was in there. And he sang with such intensity that I think he would have probably passed out of dehydration if he kept that up without beer consumption at regular intervals. No, seriously. I have not seen anything like it. I have been to dozens of concerts of all kinds but I have not seen anyone get so fucked up just singing their own songs – and this includes my religious experience of watching Sigur Ros Live. This man just had to go to a different plane to get all that emotion into his screaming vocals. In the end, he just collapsed on the floor out of exhaustion. (Then he got some beer)
And 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.
It was about 1230 in the AM when the show was over and I knew that I would be partially impaired in my hearing for the next couple of days. Insignificant side-effect of noise, really. But one thing I was certain about. Noise rock and shoegazing is one sound that you do not want to miss out on experiencing Live. There is simply put no way anyone can reproduce THAT sound on a CD or an LP.
All in all, eye opening show and meant a lot more to me than many of the other concerts I have been to.
At this point, I cannot escape from mentioning the fact that there were all of 5 people (including me) that was at the show – that is if you do not count the bandmembers themselves. Serious. No jokes here. These folks are on a nationwide tour and decided to stop over in Des Moines on their way to Detroit. And they had all of 5 people listening in. Granted this was the day after 8035 Music festival – Des Moines’ biggest musical event of the year – and there was Brandi Carlisle singing a few blocks down the road, and there was not much time for publicity due to the relatively late announcement of the gig. But I would have still hoped that more people showed up.
Specially in view of this, I have to give enormous credit to ALL the bands for playing through the show like they were playing in front of hundreds of die hard fans. I know there is an element of professionalism that every musician learns to develop but it appears more commendable when you actually see that in practice. It does not take much to get motivated to put on a show in front of a large crowd. But when you are in front of 5 people and a bunch of fellow touring bands, it is a different story altogether.
So to members of The Telescopes, LSD and The Search for God, and The Vandelles: Thank you for stopping by in Des Moines and putting on an excellent show. Trust me. Des Moines is way better than this and I hope to see you here again under different circumstances. For what it’s worth, the show made a huge difference to me and you have a fan.
Just one other thing before I sign out. A few blocks in one direction, there was Brandi Carlisle playing. A few blocks in the other direction, there was Justin Beiber playing. And due to his now-well-documented late appearances on concerts, the Beiber show got over around about the same time as the one I was attending. This inevitably led to me being in the midst of a swarm of teenage girls while I walked to my car. So there I was, wearing my Led Zeppelin shirt, coming from an ear assaulting noise rock show that had just thrown me in a whole new direction in music, and then I was surrounded by dozens of giggling, texting teenage and pre teen girls wearing I Heart Beiber shirts. I swear to God somebody definitely thought “Hey here is a guy who came to the Justin Beiber concert wearing his Led Zeppelin shirt! What a douche!”
Guilty by association I guess. Well, FUCK.
One of the things that has truly fascinated me after me coming to the USA has been the state of the mainstream media in the US.
For one, it is downright pathetic and despicable. News has been conveniently and deliberately replaced by a toxic amalgam of speculation, sensationalism, hype, exaggeration, “expert opinion”, and dramatized debates – all aimed at providing no useful information or perspectives. I have personally come across very few instances of actual news reporting over the past couple of years among American news channels.
Secondly, and perhaps, more significantly, almost every single news channel in the USA is, simply put, biased. It is either Left or Right. But, to me, what appears to be the real talking point is that there is barely any effort made by the news channels to try to dispel the general impression of bias among the viewers. Yes there have been a few statements released by the channels and a few of them may even have something indicating no bias in their slogans. But these efforts appear to be nothing more than rhetoric. It is a way of saying : “We will say we are unbiased just because we are required to, but you the viewer already knows better.”
My intention here is not to expose the obvious fallacies in a biased media. It has been well documented and a google search will provide ample references to read through. Instead, I intend to explore the contrast I have seen with the biased media back in India. In fact, after due contemplation, I have come to realize and appreciate the NEED for a biased media.
Back in India, the story isn’t that different from the first point I mentioned earlier. It is equally pathetic and despicable and checks all the boxes of the toxic amalgam. It is also heavily biased. But where the Indian and American mainstream media differ, is that ALL the news channels in India are biased towards only one political party.
Just a quick summary of the current political scenario in India. The ruling party is the Congress (with its allies) and the main opposition party is the BJP (with its allies). The Congress party has historically dominated the elections and they have been in power for the past 7 years now. They are also extremely corrupt. The opposition party has had its own fair share of troubles from within and is now looking to challenge the upcoming 2014 elections with a popular and charismatic new leader in one Narendra Modi.
The mainstream media (both print and TV) have almost without exception stuck behind the ruling Congress party through all its scandals, failed economic policies and the impotent Prime Minister. News items are routinely twisted to portray the Congress in favorable light to the public. Questions are repeatedly asked of the BJP and its allies while no similar inquiry is made into the Congress. This process has been going on for a while now. So much so, it has become the norm of any news channel.
In such a situation, I have always looked at the US model of mainstream media – and its bias. If the Republican party leaders say something totally ridiculous (which appears to happen every other day nowadays), MSNBC will eat those Senators or Congressmen alive on Live television. Whenever a scandal breaks open for the Obama administration (which also appears to happen every other day nowadays), Fox News is right there to keep pounding on the issue till….well…the next scandal breaks out.
Ultimately, there is no letting up for either party. A Congressman can have some media outlets putting out a story in his/her favor but there is no stopping a bunch of other media outlets who will keep harping away at his/her story until something bigger comes up.
Now here is where the contrast becomes very evident. In a country where the entire news media favors one single party, the scales are already tilted. The solution to this does not involve in getting the existing news channels and print media to become unbiased. Instead, the balance in the scales can only be achieved by throwing an equal weight on the empty scale.
The subtleties and fine details of any bill, legislation, scandal, breakthrough or victory is best revealed through a critique. That is an observation I have repeatedly seen to be true. And simply put, there is just not enough air time for a news channel to critique/analyze BOTH sides of the story on any news item – definitely not when the priority is the previously mentioned toxic amalgam. In such a situation, the only solution is to create two extremes and allowing them to balance out the scales to the best of their abilities. This allows for both points of view to be presented in full and anybody who wishes to hear both sides of the story will have their needs met.
The downside of this proposition is the obvious. The general population may already have certain beliefs and opinions that are usually in agreement with one or the other political party. This inevitably leads them to watch the news channel that serves their bias. Because you see, when people watch news, they are not looking for information. They are looking for confirmation. This then becomes a classic case of confirmation bias – a perfect platform to reinforce already existing beliefs and opinions. So for instance, as time passes by, it will become increasingly difficult for a liberal to get himself to watch Fox News to see the other side of the argument.
Not to say that this isn’t already happening in the US. But the crux of my argument is that the alternative – a balanced and unbiased media – is just not a reasonable expectation. If this is acknowledged, then the only other option that would balance the scales is having a fully biased media – with certain media outlets catering to one side of the story and another catering to the other side of the story.
Sometimes things work out. Sometimes they don’t. Mostly they do. Or we just make it work.
We have all seen it. People living together and staying together. People moving to a new city and staying there for the rest of their lives. People sticking to one job or profession all their lives.
Because that’s what people do.
Yes marriages and relationships fail. People move to different places and change jobs. But then that was never the argument. My argument is that if you stay long enough, you will stay for good.
As far reaching as my contention may appear, I wish to elaborate.
When two people get into a relationship, there is attraction at some level to start with. Always. Then comes the part about getting to know the other person. New things are discovered about the partner. Some are likable. Some, not so likable. Barring one or many shocking revelations, the relationship continues.
When someone moves to a new city, they move for reasons that span the entire spectrum: from an exciting new job to blindly following a sweet heart. It could be an opportunity or it could be a compromise. Take your pick. But irrespective, there is a period of getting to know the city – all it has to offer, what it lacks, the people, the places, the weather. And again, barring one or many shocks, they continue to live in the city.
When someone takes up a job, the reason is more likely just pure necessity. It gives money, it pays the bills, it gives peace of mind, and it helps you feel secure about the future. But then over time the rigors of a regular job are revealed. Some things are likable and some things are not. But yet again, barring a deep rooted hatred for the job or the boss, people continue to show up every single working day at the same place.
But why? Why don’t more people seek new relationships, new city experiences or new job challenges?
The answer is simple:
Because everyone’s ongoing predicament is not sufficiently bad.
That’s pretty much it.
A relationship need not be passionate or significantly compatible to work out for the long term. If the two people involved like each other to some minimum extent and don’t hate each other’s guts on a day to day basis, there is usually very little motivation to leave. They just learn to live with it.
A city need not be exactly what one is looking for. As long as there are things to keep people occupied, friends to hang out with, and some basic fulfillment of expectations, people will stay. The city may not have a vibrant social life but the light traffic and laid back lifestyle is perhaps a relief. Or put it the other way around, the traffic may be a pain, but there may be so many things to do and places to go to, that it makes everything else worth it. So unless there is something that is completely unacceptable or when even the most basic of expectations are not met, people will just stay.
A job need not be a dream job. The security the regular income provides goes a long way in making a job pretty darn comfortable. Not necessarily enjoyable, but very comfortable. The coworkers maybe a pain but the boss is good and there is some pride and recognition for the work. Or perhaps the work is monotonous and the boss is just barely manageable, but the work ultimately provides for the family and helps people stay close to their loved ones. So yet again, unless there is a complete breakdown in professional relationships or the hatred for the job is intense, people will just continue to stay.
There is an obvious and clear thread running through these situations. All of them involve spending significant time in a particular set of circumstances. Then follows the revelation and understanding of the good and the bad the situation has to offer. And then comes the part where people just get very comfortable wherever they are.
And then they just stay.
So ultimately, if under any set of circumstances involving a person, place or job, as long as you like the things that it has to offer and can put up with the things that it lacks or goes against your preference, and you spend sufficient time under those circumstances, you are likely to stay wherever you are. You will get comfortable too, and will even begin to feel lucky that you are able to experience all the good things that everything has to offer.
It is called a trade-off. And the longer you find the trade-off worth it, the more you are never likely to seek new challenges, experiences or relationships. It is the reason why arranged marriages work. It is the reason why people don’t move around as much. It is also the reason why the whole economy works like a clock.
People just get comfortable if things aren’t sufficiently bad. They ACCEPT, ADJUST and ADAPT.
There are a couple of lines in one of the songs in Steven Wilson’s new album. It goes thus:
Eliza dear, you know there is something I should say
I never really loved you but I’ll miss you anyway…..
- The Watchmaker
It is really scary to contemplate the depths of the message in those two lines. Familiarity, comfort and security are not necessarily things to strive for. Sometimes they are just obstacles to a better life.
The grass maybe greener on the other side. But the pasture here is not bad enough to make people want to climb that hill and see what’s on the other side.
There is rarely any pride in inertia.
In the past few months, I have gone through states of mind that I was initially apprehensive to acknowledge. Admittedly, I felt ashamed to think about it and expected ridicule, condemnation and judgment if I spoke about it. Why? Because that is the way I was brought up. And that is still the way society expects me to be. Society wants me to be happy. Nobody wants me to be sad or depressed. Come to think of it, it is not that everybody wants me to be happy. It is that everybody requires me to be happy.
Anger was one of the earliest responses to my depressed state of mind. Anger not only at the endless snowfall this winter, but more at myself for allowing my mind to get depressed. It really was a matter of ego and pride that I simply continued to refuse and deny the sadness that was consuming me. But why? Why did my pride feel hurt just by me becoming sad? Why did it even become an issue for my ego? The problem was not with my ego or my pride. The problem was what was deemed unacceptable and frowned upon and how I was brought up with those values.
You see, the way I grew up, there was just no room for being sad. Except for an event involving the passing away of someone close, there was never a set of circumstances leading to sadness that could be justified or tolerated. The objective always was to be happy in life. There were always instructions to be happy – by people at home, at school, in the books you read, in the ads that you saw and in the movies you were told to watch. Sadness was never tolerated as a normal state of mind. If you were sad, you just had to put in extra effort and do things that made you happy. Or worse, just stop feeling sad – just like that! Simply put, there was always immense pressure to appear to be happy when you were sad. And if anything, that only made matters worse – starting a vicious loop in the process.
But it got worse. The line that was drawn between being sad and being happy also doubled up as the line between being a failure and being a success. Success and happiness were deemed to feed off of each other in a never ending loop. So was failure and sadness. If you were not happy, you were a failure. Or put it the other way around, you were considered successful only if you were happy. Nobody ever told me, “It’s OK to not be happy all the time.” I wish someone had. Because then I would not have spent so much time growing up feeling like a failure.
You see, just the way success and happiness were deemed to be in a reinforcing ‘positive’ loop, the feeling of apparent failure and sadness were also on a reinforcing loop – albeit a ‘negative’ one, so to speak. And once you get stuck in it, there is no way to come out of it unless someone tells you that it is OK not to be happy all the time.
Truly, there are very few things that can match the profundity of the realization that follows that event - the event when you are told that it is OK to be sad. Till today, nobody has actually told me that. I just decided that was the case. And once I did that, it was the most beautiful and fulfilling feeling ever. It relieved me of so much stress and lifted the massive burden of expectations off my shoulders. Suddenly, there were no obligations that I had to fulfill. I was truly a free man.
Come to think of it, society has made us believe that we have an obligation to feel happy ALL the time. Trying to be happy ALL the time is easily the most exhausting thing mankind has ever conjured up in its entire existence. And the fact that this has been successfully perpetrated through hundreds of generations does not make it easy for anyone to live against this norm.
I see it everyday around me – people making a sincere and inevitable effort to not only tell the world that they are having an amazingly happy time, but to also desperately seek their approval for it. None more evident than on the phenomenon that is Facebook.
If I take Facebook for its word, it means that my friends are always travelling, getting married, having kids, partying with friends, hanging out with buddies or families, in fulfilling relationships, showing off their new acquisitions, cheering for their favorite sports team, coming up with witty or quirky sayings, sharing apparently profound sayings or just being extremely happy and successful ALL the time.
As much as I wish for everyone to be in whatever state of mind they prefer, I cannot help but feel a sense of desperation at play in all those posts and photographs seeking approval and validation for their current states of existence and for what they are able to portray for their life. I suppose mankind has always been that way. With the advent of Facebook, the platform to do that just got a whole lot more convenient and easy. I would be lying if I said that I have not done the same myself. I know how I was when I did that back then. It was also the same time when I used to envy all the happy posts that my friends put up and the approvals they received. I look at that whole experience as a necessary step to take to get to where I am now.
Ultimately, there are just so few instances in life when one feels truly happy. All the other times, it is just an end product of rationalization, denial or pretense. On the other hand, sadness is always genuine – simply because nobody wants to be sad.
But really, why does sadness have to be a taboo? Why can’t it just be another state of mind that completes the experience of human emotion? Why should anyone feel obligated to be in one state of mind or another? Why can’t someone be accepted for who they are even if they are drawn to sadness? Why can’t people be encouraged to generate more art when they are sad? If I am feeling sad, why do people have to sympathize with me? Why can’t it just be a fact? Why should anyone have to deal with their sadness? Why should anyone be judged as a success or a failure based on their state of mind? Why does anyone have to feel sorry for someone else’s loss? What does it even mean to feel sorry for someone else’s loss? Why aren’t we encouraged to read sad and melancholic stories when we are kids? Why do all self help books have to tell us the way to be happy? Why can’t they tell us that it is OK to be sad and tell us how to enjoy its beauty? Why don’t people realize that the most beautiful works of art were created by people who led really sad lives? Why can’t people be encouraged to explore the depths of sadness in addition to the heights of happiness?
When will sadness receive its due approval?
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….