Category Archives: Alcohol
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.
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.
In what could be the next biggest development in the history of football, ABSOLUT Vodka and UEFA have announced that the winners of the upcoming EURO ’12 and UEFA Champions League ’12-’13 tournaments will play ABSOLUT Football – a new brand of football that nobody has ever seen so far. This announcement was made on UEFA’s website and was confirmed by a spokesman of the Pernord Ricard group which owns the ABSOLUT brand.
UEFA’s official website carried a new posting outlining the rationale behind the new legislation:
After an executive committee meeting of UEFA, it has been decided that the winners of EURO ’12 and Champions League ’12-’13 will be based on the ability of teams to play the ABSOLUT brand of football. The objective behind this decision is to provide fans and spectators all across the world the opportunity to watch the most entertaining brand of football ever played.
The UEFA executives concluded that all teams must raise their games to include more entertainment aspects into it. And, as currently, the most entertaining and exciting brand of football is considered to be Total football – born in the Netherlands and currently played by the likes of FC Barcelona - it was decided that in order to be fair to all teams, even those playing total football had to raise their games.
However, after further investigation by this fearless reporter, new sh*t has come to light. It appears that the UEFA executives had a very controversial motive behind this decision.
Most of them were unhappy that Chelsea FC won the UEFA Champions League, for apparently deploying negative (read extremely effective) tactics to secure wins against the likes of FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Munchen. Sources revealed that the members refused to consider the inability – of either Barcelona or Bayern Munich – to finish even 5% of all the chances that they created as a sign of the weaker team. This, as compared to Chelsea’s almost 100% finishing record, appears to have had no bearing on the executives.
One of the executives, who wished to remain anonymous justified the motive in the following way:
How can you have entertainment when all you are getting from Chelsea’s tactics is a scenario when one team is constantly on the verge of scoring the decisive goal and the other team is defending for its life – suffocating and frustrating the attacking team- only to provide the most dramatic finishes in the history of the game? That Barcelona game might have given people heart attacks. But then since Chelsea had deployed negative tactics, this simply cannot be considered entertaining, right?
In a related development, Websters dictionary publishers have agreed to use the above executive’s quote to explain the words ‘retard’ and ‘hypocrite’.
Johan Cruyff, one of the most vocal protesters of Chelsea’s tactics – and himself an ex-Barcelona player who was also involved in the development of Total football – had a few thoughts of his own:
What is the point in having all these different styles of football - from different leagues in different countries all across Europe – competing against each other in one tournament? Teams playing widely different tactics pitted against each other in a game of football is completely pointless! There simply cannot be any value in doing this! Everybody should try to play the same type of football – the type that is played at Ajax or Barcelona.
I don’t know how this ABSOLUT football will work but right now, the only way to win a tournament and deserve it is by playing total football. Every other style of play is inferior to Total football. Even if other styles of football aim to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses, or even if they culminate in the most exciting games ever played, those styles are still invalid and do not deserve to be rewarded!
This reporter initially suspected that Mr. Cruyff could have been stoned when he made the above quotes. Turns out, this is how Mr. Cruyff is.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Pernord Ricard group which owns the ABSOLUT brand shed more light on what this means to the company and also about how this is going to work.
ABSOLUT Vodka is proud to be associated with this new chapter in the history of football, where ABSOLUT Football makes Total football absolutely obsolete!
The methodology of playing ABSOLUT football, inevitably involves the consumption of copious amounts of ABSOLUT Vodka. Following this, the players take to the pitch and the game begins. However, once the game begins, this style of football will now require you to make use of the players of not only your own team, but also that of the opposition’s. The players will bounce the ball like a pin-ball machine and make it go towards goal.
We are absolutely confident that ABSOLUT football will provide the highest amount of entertainment in the game of football. Of course, the best way to enjoy a game of ABSOLUT football is to be absolutely drunk yourself with our Vodka! CHEERS!
“….or how I embraced Dudeism, unwound myself and became happy..”
Yeah. So I have now officially converted my religion to Dudeism. This merits a complete post to itself containing all my fundamental realizations and changes and thats what I aim to do now. Let me first state that I have never found more peace, contentment and happiness in whatever I may have been practicing so far. I have gone through different stages of believing and non-believing in my lifetime. From an ignorant kid ready to believe whatever my parents told me to an outright rebel atheist in high school to a gradual transformation back to belief eventually leading to 3 years of total cult-like worship and practice of ‘authentic spirituality’, saved only by the 80 page John Galt speech in Atlas Shrugged to become a skeptical believer and then finally to completely understand the inherent atheistic nature of this world and man’s own need for a God. Through all this, I never felt that satisfaction or happiness in being at peace with the world even once. I tried in all places, tried to convince myself that I was already happy, performed many diverse activities, looked for meaning in every school of thought I ever came across- but all to no avail.
Now, I just say, “Ah! Fuck it!” and get on with my life.
As the Dudeism website says:
Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man. Stop worrying so much whether you’ll make it into the finals. Kick back with some friends and some oat soda and whether you roll strikes or gutters, do your best to be true to yourself and others – that is to say, abide.
There is more truth in that quote than what appears. There are simply so many schools of thought on this planet and all of them are equally convinced their explanation of the world is the correct one and all others can, NO make that NEED TO, eat shit. Earlier I used to sharply defend whatever I believed in at that time while painstakingly point out the flaws in their line of thinking.
Now, I just say, “Ah! Fuck it!” and get on with my life.
In all seriousness, life is indeed short. It is almost a crime to spend even the smallest amount of time worrying about which God is the authentic one while rendering the other Gods unauthentic by default. And as I learnt it the hard way some time back, you never know if you are going to wake up from your sleep tomorrow. So as it is said in my mother tongue Kannada..
So what does this mean apart from me deciding not to give a fuck about religion and everything associated with it? For one, I feel different. I spent a lot of time thinking about WHY I was feeling so different. Eventually I realized something very fundamental.
All my life, everytime I met somebody new, the first thing I did was to pass some judgment upon them and/or frame some kind of an opinion. As one of my ex-roomies put it,
Everyone’s a dick until proven otherwise.
Damn! Think of it. Thats pretty much how most of us look at others. Simply put, we look at everyone as a dick until they prove otherwise to us. Thats how fucked up we are. Well at least thats how fucked up I was. And thats really sad. And then the difference I was noticing in myself became evident.
I had simply stopped judging people. Suddenly every single person around me looked as a potential good friend to me. This could never have happened earlier. Earlier, I used to judge people on so many parameters and so easily conclude that one person is worth talking to while another isn’t. These ‘parameters’ used to include things such as taste in music, books, movies, sports, activities, age, views on religion, views on alcohol and drugs, liberal/conservative, food preference, where they studied and their level of ambition..You name it!
Now, I just say, “Hey man! Whats up?!?” and get on with the conversation.
And this has helped me make so many new friends here in a place which has been tried, tested and certified by many Indians to be the “…best place to start and raise families.” Point being I was finding it extremely difficult to make new friends of my age who I can talk freely to and get drunk with. And now I have an awesome group of friends around my age and I still get drunk with people a lot older than me.
The idea of judging is not restricted to just people. Even other things like music, books, movies and the like are not spared of our judgments. There is this issue of ‘taste’ and then there is this issue of ‘elitism’. I just dont get it. I was actually feeling ashamed and embarrassed that I liked some music, book or a movie when it was being considered as too ‘popular’, ‘cheesy’ or that it simply did not qualify for being explored because it was associated with somebody who didn’t make the cut.
Now, I just say, “Ah! Fuck it!” and go ahead to see what the book, music or movie is all about.
There is a word I recently came across. UPTIGHT. Go look it up. Dudeism simply helped me NOT to be that. It is so damn easy to just stay in your comfort zone and not explore whats out there. Again, life is indeed to short. You need to go out, see places and do things. And its not gonna happen if you are just too damn uptight! I was so damn uptight before, not willing to let go of some routines and lines of thinking. Now I realize I have only been imposing rules on myself- with no tangible reward.
For instance, my Saturdays and Sunday mornings were mandatorily filled with Premier League, Serie A and La Liga matches. Then one day I just said, “Ah! Fuck it!” and I found myself in Minneapolis eating an Octopus and feeling the cold air pierce my eyes while I was sliding down a snow slope in a tube at breakneck speed!
And I was like “FUCK YEAH!!”.
Simply put, I was just too damn uptight in my thinking. I needed to stop passing judgments on people and things. I needed to accept and acknowledge whatever I was feeling irrespective of how others viewed it. I feel some way about something? Well…Fuck it! I feel that way about that thing! End of story. I am not going to apologize for who I am and what I feel.
Dudeism has helped me get so damn relaxed and at peace with the world now. I don’t remember the last time I got upset about something. And knowing how I was before, that means I have come a long way.
And I am Happy…..
Its been a while since I wrote anything about my encounters with alcohol. Its definitely not been due to a lack of consumption on my part. (Lets just think of what the sloth has come to represent and go on further) Instead, I have had some really interesting experiences with quite a few exotic alcoholic beverages. Of late, most of them have been with alcohol, in the form of beer.
Beer has almost become synonymous with male bonding over time. And by over time, I mean ever since I came to America. This may have something to do with the fact that beer is cheaper than water. And so, beer became the most freely and most frequently consumed alcoholic beverage. (So much so, I had totally forgotten the taste of good Scotch). Having pretty much exhausted all the cheap beer that America had to offer- the list going from Steel Reserve (the Old Monk of American Beer) to Natty Lite to Budweiser- I set my sights on trying out some beer that was actually good.
And so my first tryst with good beer came about in the form of Corona and the inevitable piece of lime. And it was goooooooood! A refreshing change from the banalities of everyday cheap beer. Then I went on to try the other standard well known ‘good beer’ brands: Stella Artois, Blue Moon, Guinness, Samuel Adams, George Killian etc. And every one of them was rightly classified under the ‘good beer’ category. But then, I eventually realized that most of these ‘good beer’ brands tasted more or less the same. Most of them were Lagers (except Guinness and Killian) and they tasted a little less bitter and had the same amount of alcohol. And so the alcoholic gene in me began craving for some better beer.
And in time, I had the opportunity to visit this nearby small town by name of Floyd. This town warrants an entire post dedicated to itself. It signifies everything that I had imagined in a typical American small town- cozy book stores where you find some amazing titles at cheap prices, a house serving as a coffee shop, a bunch of antique stores, bars playing live music from the local scene, beer stores selling hundreds of only the totally unknown local beers and most significantly: bars serving locally brewed beer.
And it was in a place called Dogtown Roadhouse in Floyd, that I had my first experience of some totally mind blowing beer. It came in the form of Bourbon Barrel Beer. Yes. This stout is actually ‘aged’ in used bourbon caskets. And it was god-damn good! Then I tried another beer: Hopsecutioner. As the name suggests, it is a treat for hop-heads. Not knowing what ‘hops’ even stood for prior to that, I drank it without the least idea of what it contained. It was extra bitter – the good bitter kind that is. And I liked it.
I would eventually go back to Floyd and try out more awesome beer. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and Allagash Belgian White Ale- each made with a plethora of very interesting ingredients such as cherries, coffee, spices, dark chocolate etc. Needless to say, these beers taste like nothing you have ever had before. It is a memorable experience really when you first drink beer which was made with the intention of tasting good.
I later found that the international grocery store in Blacksburg (Oasis), has this geographically diverse collection of awesome beer. I also realized that being geographically diverse inevitably meant that the beer itself was quite diverse. The store thus has all kinds of beer. So much so, everytime I go there to buy beer, I have a problem of choice. The first time I did buy beer, the beer expert in that store suggested a Latvian beer: Aldaris Porteris. It is a malt based Baltic Porter with a chocolate and burnt caramel taste to it. Next time I went, there was a beer tasting session going on. I ended up sampling a few Irish beers- Smithwick’s and Guinness. Smithwick’s is a beer that does not use hops at all and so is hardly bitter for a beer. I ended up buying Shooting Creek’s Farmhouse Stout, another Floyd brewery product. It tasted similar to Aldaris except for the fact that the hops were more significant and there was a hint of maple syrup in it.
And so as is quite evident from my above mentioned experiences, I suddenly found myself drinking beer for its taste! Which got me thinking- WTF has gone wrong with me? I am not drinking beer to get drunk? Also, I am paying attention to the kind of beer that I consume and to how much I like or dislike that particular type. Lagers, Ales, Stouts, Porters etc, I have realized, have their own specific taste, primarily arising out of the brewing ingredients and processes. So next time you have beer with me, I might have a tendency to spoil the entire occasion by describing the beer with words such as ‘notes, undertone, after taste, cloudiness etc.’
In all seriousness, I have gotten quite interested in exploring new beers- not just for their taste, but also for their historical, geographical and brewing aspects. I can already see myself developing this as a hobby of some kind. And fortunately, I am in the right continent to be able to do so.
Which got me thinking, why Indian breweries fail to make good tasting beer? I am pretty sure that they do not lack the resources or the equipment for it. My only guess is that the demand is so damn big that the breweries do not really need to think of good tasting beer for making profit.
Oh and one very important tip for those who plan to drink beer to enjoy its taste. Always, drink from a glass. Never drink from a bottle. Drinking from the bottle masks so many fine aspects of the beer. Drinking it from a glass instead is the complete experience.
Ever since I learnt that I would be missing out on Porcupine Tree coming to Mood-I in Mumbai in December, I began to feel frustrated with life. Seldom have I let something that has meant so much to me just pass by looking from the sidelines, unable to do anything but wish it wasn’t that way. And very conveniently, Porcupine Tree were giving me a chance to make amends by touring the US within a few months with dirt cheap ticket prices. Without giving a second thought, I booked my tickets for the Charlotte gig. But when I booked my tickets, I never had the slightest idea it would turn out to be so much more than just a Porcupine Tree concert. Through a series of totally unpredictable and unbelievable events, which culminated in an all-is-well-that-ends-well feeling, I found myself on a road trip to Charlotte to see Porcupine Tree on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
Fast forward to concert arena- a PUB by name Amos’ Southend. It must have had a capacity of about 100-150 max. And one of the best living bands on the planet was going to be playing there in an hour! I almost considered that an insult! But I wasnt exactly complaining. But first up, the opening act was BIG ELF. This band, half from Finland and other half from LA (or something like that) has by far the most refreshingly new sound I have come across after I started listening to THE BLACK KEYS. This band should definitely go right at the top of your To-Listen playlist in not so sober conditions. Total psychedelic, progressive rock. I am already a big fan.
Ok, now getting right to the most relevant part. Porcupine Tree took stage at around 9:10 PM. And went straight into Occam’s Razor. Oh and before I go any further, it should perhaps be mentioned that I was approximately 8.385 feet away from Steven Wilson’s microphone, already buzzing with 1 bottle of Budlite + 1 bottle of Corona (with lime obviously), sipping from a glass of Jameson Irish Whiskey (on the rocks) and generally smiling and feeling happy.
So as PTree took stage with Occam’s Razor, the first thing I noticed was how lean Steven Wilson actually was! No kidding. I wonder how he manages to tour all over the world and stay fit and be so lean at the same time! Anyway, apart from Steven Wilson, the rest of the band was there too: Richard Barbieri on two big ass keyboards (and a Mac), Colin Edwin (with a fretless bass), Gavin Harrison on drums and touring guitarist John Wesley with other guitars and backing vocals. But make no mistake. It was Steven Wilson all the way who took centerstage. And with good reason too.
They went on to play Blindhouse after which Steven Wilson started talking to the crowd. He explained how the concert worked in two halves – but I guess every PTree fan there already knew that. Great Expectations, Kneel and Disconnect and Drawing the Line followed along with Steven playing the Mellotron for Kneel and Disconnect. That sound – and his voice- and that haunting tune (along with the Jameson in my hand) began my journey to a different dimension. Incident came after that with those keyboard percussions and that haunting voice again. But of course, everyone were waiting for the band to play Time Flies. I am not sure whats with that strumming pattern, but it can get anybody’s attention within 2 seconds for sure. He played that- and the complete song- all 11 mins of it. It is something to listen to that song full volume on your i-Pod, but it is something else to see Steven Wilson play that live right in front of you. You just tend to shut up and listen without being asked to do so.
They went on to play the rest of THE INCIDENT album winding up with Drive The Hearse (one of my personal favorites). They took a 10 min break after which they started their second part of the setlist- which basically included all their old stuff. They started off from DEADWING and one of my personal favorites- Start of Something Beautiful. It was indeed the start of something beautiful. There is something about that song, (the whole album actually) that one can never get tired listening to. The best part of the song was when the keyboards and the bass come together in perfect harmony and I was not disappointed. My journey to that different dimension was well underway.
Russia on Ice (first part) came up next with that eerie bassline followed by Taking the Pills part of Anesthetize. That was perhaps the heaviest the concert got the entire evening. Anybody having a fantasy of headbanging to PTree should have realized that by then. The whole crowd definitely did get fully pumped up for Anesthetize. That riff is definitely catchy and that other dimension was definitely in sight by then.
Now I have to tell you that before I went to the concert, I had done considerable research about the setlist that they were having for this tour. I had made sure I was not going to be caught off guard during the concert. But all that was thrown out of the window when Steven Wilson announced that the next song: STARS DIE. Fuck! It had been ages since I had listened to that song! That soft guitar intro and Steven’s melodious vocals were totally eclipsed by that mind blowing bass line! And as the song went into the middle part with that mesmerizing acoustic rhythm, followed by that sweet bass, I knew my transition to that different dimension was complete. Anything else they played was only going to be a bonus from then on. I had hoped they would play some of the songs which I was desperate to listen to. But looking back now, I dont think I would have traded this to anything else on their entire catalog.
They went on to play part of Strip the Soul and part of .3. Then came one more song I was really looking forward to: NORMAL. It is really surprising how one band can come up with such arresting melody for almost every single song they ever compose and yet not make them sound the same as something else. Playing heavy riffs followed immediately by a melody backed acoustic part and make the song sound better just because of that is something Porcupine Tree have mastered over the years. Normal is one perfect example- especially when you are listening to it being played LIVE by the very band that made it and when you are listening to it from a different dimension.
They then played Bonnie the Cat (one of the songs I had wished they would play something else instead of) and then went for an encore. It was quite predictable what they would play for encore. Started off with Sound of Muzak. Apart from the part wherein I say how awesome the song is, I would also like to say that I fully believe that if at least half the people on this planet know what the song is about, then the world is going to be a much better place. Porcupine Tree then wound up their show with TRAINS. That intro acoustic riff is sufficient to make me smile any time, any day and anywhere on this planet. So no points for guessing what the expression on my face was when Steven Wilson played that in front of me. I had imagined I would sing along throughout the song, but all I could do was just shut up and listen, joining the chorus only towards the end.
The band then got together on stage and waved at the crowd saying “We will be back” which actually had some meaning as this was their first time in Charlotte. But perhaps the only regret I have of the show was that I couldnt get a single pic of the concert. Photography was strictly banned and the one opportunity I had of taking the pic when the band got together at the end, I let it pass as I was busy clapping and screaming my lungs out. Photograph or no photograph, I was there. And nothing is going to change that!
But perhaps I should say a word or two about the performance as such. I have been to many many concerts. And in almost all of them, what the band plays on stage differs vastly from the original song. In the name of improvisations, many just end up playing a lead which bears no resemblance to the original or singing the song with some of the syllables having a different tune than the original. I believe that it comes more from a lack of effort in most cases rather than the popular perception that it stems from an attempt at improvisations. When somebody improvises, you will know it. In all other cases, it is just a lack of effort. But not Porcupine Tree. If there is one thing that will always seperate a Porcupine Tree concert with all the other dozen or so concerts that I have been to, it will have to be the effort that PTree put into making the concert so very memorable. All their songs had a note-to-note perfection. All the vocals were in the right key and in perfect harmony with the rest of the instruments. The co ordination was impeccable. If there is anything called a complete concert experience, this is it.
Like I have been saying over and over and over, concerts give me the only meaningful purpose to continue my existence. And I know for a fact I will be going to many more Porcupine Tree concerts.
PS: Thank You and due apologies to that someone because of which all of this was possible in the first place. Inconvenience prevents me from elaborating.
So finally here I am, writing this inevitable post, after I have got settled in my new home. It has been just over 2 weeks since I arrived here in Blacksburg, Virginia. Two weeks during which I came, I saw and I drank beer!
Leaving India for the first time, I somehow just didn’t go through any of the pre-departure blues that was so much drilled into my head. In fact, my last day in India was all a bit surreal. As I was done with most of my packing by then, I was never really in a rush. So went to visit a couple of my close friends and then I was all set to go to the airport. The flights-Bangalore to Mumbai, Mumbai to Atlanta, Atlanta to Roanoke- were quite uneventful in themselves, apart from of course the highly admirable Kingfisher Air Hostesses and the very very large collection of movies that was on offer in the 18 hour non-stop Delta flight. But I will probably remember the Delta flight more for the missed opportunity on my part to have free beer and wine on flight and get high-literally and figuratively! (HTF??!!??)
And since arrival, I have had much to see and do. Blacksburg, being a village by American Standards, made my transition into America much easier. Sure there are wide roads and the people are different and there is a lot more order around but it hasn’t taken me long to get to know this place well and feel at home in here. The excitement of meeting people from all over the planet never abated at any point of time. Attending the regular get togethers at the International Center has been one of the highlights over the past 2 weeks. And also due to the significant Indian contingent, I never really felt out of place or alienated.
The place as such is quite small and it took me all of 1 week to travel all around it. But at the same time, it is one of the most beautiful and picturesque places I have ever come across. Situated right at the heels of a mountain range, Blacksburg provides many breath taking views, many times right from the windows of the houses. A 45 minute drive to a nearby Claytor Dam lake was perhaps the best of it all. The weather here, is pretty much the same as it was in Bangalore, with the only difference that this place reserves the right to rain with absolutely no prior notice of any kind. And also of note, is the day timings what with the sun deciding to set only after 9 in the night!
There have been many changes that I have had to adapt myself to -inevitably. Some good, some not so good, and some bad. On the good side, there is the very useful law (and one that I have never got tired of exploiting to my own benefit) that requires vehicles to stop for pedestrians to cross. There is also this really really punctual Bus service that runs through the town where one has to actually “request” for a stop! (At this point, I am making an honest effort not to compare the aboriginal BMTC back home with its counterpart here). But perhaps, more significant than any other observation that I might have made, the friendly nature of the people here is definitely worth mentioning. Back home, we are never really used to being wished by complete strangers or being thanked for something that we are just supposed to be doing. There is a basic sense of courtesy around here that everybody respects and follows.
And now on the bad side, is the food! Where I used to eat dosa for breakfast, Americans eat beef. Whenever I had Samosa or Pani Puri, Americans prefer beef. Where I used to eat rice, Americans prefer beef. And sometimes they even eat random parts of the leftovers of the cow carcass which somehow magically metamorphoses into a conveniently edible form of a pizza. The name given to this – I think it is called Corn Dogs- is almost euphemistic in nature! And so you now see, where my troubles begin. My own cooking, I have to say, has already gone through various stages on the “edible” chart. Incessant experimenting led me to making Aloo Capsicum when I had set out to prepare a rice bath. A mixed vegetable gravy eventually traspired to be more of an Aloo Mash. Upma, the one dish that I had sworn I would never touch, suddenly became the staple food for a few days. Other staple food include eggs, bread, to an extent rice, and of course the Veggie Burger at Burger King. Also trust me when I say that the Apocalypse is indeed near. If you don’t believe me, then please look out for the mutated vegetables that one is bound to eat here. These include 1/4 kg capsicum ( and I am talking about 1 Capsicum), wax bananas, onions the size of a small watermelon and some really really long carrots! And so canned vegetables is now the new order of the house. Oh and BTW, TORTILLAS SUCK!!! For the uninitiated, Tortillas are supposed to be the Mexican equivalent of the Roti or the Chapathi-only they are NOT! It lies somewhere between a Dosa gone horribly wrong, stale bread, decayed cheese and some randomly chosen white or brown powder for flour. But thankfully, I discovered an Indian food store where I get the original roti and parathas and hence am now not in the process of asking my mom to courier food everyday.
But apart from all the food, lies the drinks. And in case you are not aware, Beer is ACTUALLY cheaper than water here!!! It is not a myth, but a solid fact. In fact, if there is one thing that you CAN convert into Indian rupees, it would only be BEER. And here is the best part: It is still going to be cheaper! And so, as a natural consequence, some extra-ordinary amounts of beer has been bought and devoured in the past couple of weeks. This included a 5 day nightly ritual of 3-4 cans of Budweiser and the consumption of a 1 liter bottle of JACK DANIEL’s by just me and my friend- with some totally delirious consequences (there are still traces of unclaimed food stains in the bathrooms!). And last night’s dance party at a nearby pub was also inevitably filled with loads of beer, and fun!
On the whole, I have to say that I am finding my feet here and am already feeling at home. Just a little more purchasing to do-including my mobile and laptop- and then I will be fully set. I have personally undergone many changes myself- in what I talk, in the way I dress and in the way I see things. It is almost that I am sensing a kind of a paradigm shift taking place. I am already looking forward for the classes to start. And of what I have been repeatedly told, “I WILL BE BUSY”. I just hope this doesn’t come too much in the way of my blogging. There will definitely be more that I will seek to write about in the near future as and when things happen.