Category Archives: The things that happen only to ME…

Going Back Home After 3 Years

I finally went back home to Bangalore after a gap of almost exactly 3 years. I had never been so long away from home prior to that. Even with my parents visiting me in between, that long gap didn’t lose its significance on me. I stayed there for 4 weeks, visiting friends and family and spending time with myself at home. I had no real agenda apart from that and the 4 day trip that my parents had planned. Mostly, I just wanted to sit at home, eat my mom’s food and not worry about work or any of the many other aspects of my existence. But there was perhaps one thing that I was indeed looking forward to.

I just wanted to talk to people around me in my own language. I just wanted to talk in Kannada.

Perhaps the biggest handicap I have faced after moving to the US – and especially Iowa – is the complete and absolute absence of my ability to converse in Kannada with the people around me. Simply put, there isn’t a single person I have met in all of Des Moines who speaks my mother tongue. I am sure they exist, but the probability of them being someone I get to meet, develop a friendship with, and have conversations with them in Kannada on a regular basis is minuscule. Maybe if I lived in a big city, I would have stood a much better chance, but not in a city the size of Des Moines. And as a result, I have had to accept and live with the handicap of being unable to talk in my own mother tongue. It has never been problematic – considering my command over the English language – but it is something that I have constantly missed.

I have mostly dealt with it through secondary means. I speak to my parents, my relatives and a couple of my friends over the phone in Kannada on a regular basis. I also watch Kannada movies on Youtube or Videogirmit, listen to old Kannada songs, and read Kannada books. But none of this has ever come even remotely close to giving me the fulfillment I get from talking to someone in Kannada in person. Which is why when I went back home, the thing I was most excited about was just being able to talk to the people around me in the language that is my mother tongue.

Everybody from the immigration officer at the Bangalore airport (who began questioning me in English and happily changed to Kannada once I gave my responses in Kannada), the local grocery store guy who was trying to find me a pack of cards, the owner of the local medical shop (whom I have known since I was in high school), the guy serving me extra sambhar for my Idly at the fast food Darshini next to the bus stop, all the neighbor aunties who had differing opinions on the changes in my body mass, the old man at the small clothing shop where I bought part of my new wardrobe, the waiter at Vidyarthibhavan, all the nice folks of North Karnataka who made my vacation-within-a-vacation a memorable one, the guy who helped me get a Vodafone cell number on my Verizon Galaxy S5, the BMTC bus conductor who gave me a free ride to the next stop when he realized I was on the wrong bus, the auto driver who had Ambarish pictures all over his vehicle, the guy who cut open an extra coconut (eLaniru, or coconut water) for free because he felt he had given me a smaller-than-average coconut the first time around, the guy selling liquor on credit at the local shady bar, the bartender at Arbor Brewing Company (to whom I bragged about having visited the original one at Ann Arbor in Michigan), the guy who gave me all the snack goodies at Subbamma Store, the local gym owner who had a hard time understanding why I needed the membership only for 3 weeks, my friends from Undergrad and before, my family members of all ages and degrees of separation, and before I forget, Blackie – the creatively named black colored dog of the Black Dog fame –  I took great pleasure in speaking to every one of them in Kannada (including Blackie).

It was something that I had taken for granted all the time I was in Bangalore, and something – whose absence – I refused to acknowledge after moving to the US. During my visit, I sometimes almost forgot that this ‘return to how it used to be’ was only a temporary thing and something that I would very soon not have in my daily life. But I suppose that is what happens with the things I took for granted. I tend to trick myself into thinking it was all going to be OK every time I got to experience what I had missed for long. But the eventual and inevitable return – from nothing more than a vacation to the true consequences of my choices – never fails to expose the glaring deception my mind has me in. And I find myself looking to the past or to possibilities in the future when I get to experience first hand all the things I grew up taking for granted, and whose absence I am yet to come to terms with.

I am now back to talking to people over the phone in Kannada, watching Kannada movies, listening to SPB and S.Janaki’s old classics, and reading a Kannada translation of Kalidasa’s Meghadhootha when I get the chance. I do not know when I will get my next chance to converse in person in Kannada, but when it does happen, I will very likely just trick myself again into thinking it’s all back to the way it used to be – at least for the duration of that conversation.

And then I will go back to reality.

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The irony of choosing to write this in English is not lost on me. But such is the circumstances I chose and find myself in.

2014 in Review: All the Concerts – Part II

First of all, I find it hard to acknowledge that I am actually typing a part 2 to anything. I mostly always intend to write a part 2 and just leave it at that. So, yay! I guess… With that out of the way, here below is my recollection of the 2nd half of the concerts from 2014 – a year that proved to be the best one yet for both quality and quantity of concerts.

The entire lineup of Fleetwood Mac

                    The entire lineup of Fleetwood Mac

12. Fleetwood Mac at United Center in Chicago, IL: What do you know? Never thought I would see this band Live ever in my life and I now got the opportunity to do so twice within a year. This time Christine McVie joined the group and the lineup was complete. All the songs I had longed to listen to Live – all of them – I finally got to do so. Everything from ‘Over My Head’ to ‘Say you love me’ to ‘Everywhere’ to my personal favorite ‘Little Lies’. Christine sounds fabulous Live and Lindsay Buckingham is such an under-rated guitarist. Mick Fleetwood is up there with the likes of George Clinton and Mick Jagger – people who are simply incapable of understanding the idea of growing old! Last time I saw the band, I wrote that this was a band which had nothing left to prove. And now with a second massive tour within a year, these people who are in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, are showing the world that passion and energy defies age. I am just glad to have been here to witness that.

13. Creedence Clearwater Revisited at Downtown Denver, CO: Absolutely accidental and free concert that I had not planned in any way. Come to think of it, I didn’t even know that half the original band was touring with a new vocalist and guitar player under the same acronym. I essentially just happened to be in downtown Denver on the first day of my solo vacation exploring Colorado.And that was also the day they had a food festival going on with CCR as the headlining group for the musical entertainment. Me. Not. Complaining.

Creedence Clearwater Revisited in Denver

Creedence Clearwater Revisited in Denver

Any apprehensions I had about the vocalist was easily put aside. John Fogerty himself couldn’t have done any better. It was about a 90 to 100 minute show that featured all their best hits – ‘Born on the Bayou’, ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Have you ever Seen the Rain?’, ‘Fortune Son’, and a 20 minute rendition of ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ that included a bass solo and a drum solo. What a way to start my Colorado vacation!

14. Seun Kuti at Englert Theater, Iowa City, IA: If you know Fela Kuti, you probably figured that Seun Kuti was one his 10,000 sons from his 1,000 wives. If you don’t know who Fela Kuti is, you WILL find out. Wait. You are still reading this? Go Google Fela and make your life worthwhile. Anyway, with Fela dead and everything, I was making a remark to my close friend (same guy who strongly suggested Ziggy Marley and who also helped me discover Fela) that we may never get to see an Afrobeat concert ever. And right next week, we found ourselves front row to see Seun Kuti. I regret I was not sufficiently inebriated for this adventure but it was still a memorable show. I was mostly glad to just be able to attend an Afrobeat show. And that it was Fela’s son made it a huge bonus! Fairly similar music and style as his father, Seun Kuti had still carved out his own identity from his music. I clearly remember everyone dancing the entire time at the show – never a dull moment in Afrobeat!

15. Handsome Family at Englert Theater, Iowa City, IA: No TV show had got me captivated to an extent that The Wire did a few years back. Damages and Breaking Bad came close but still lacked that final punch I longed for. In came True Detective. I felt that punch right the first time I heard that opening track by Handsome Family. I still cannot think of a better song that would set just the perfect mood for the show than ‘Far from any Road’ by Handsome Family. I was an instant fan. The show at Englert Theater was particularly unique as the audience was seated ‘on stage’ with the band occupying a smaller portion of the stage. It was as close as I would ever come to an Unplugged concert – except I was probably even more close to the band here. I do not believe a more intimate setting is possible for a concert. In any case, they played everything from ‘Sister’s tiny hands’, ‘Bottomless Hole’, ‘Giant of Illinois’ and of course ‘Far from any Road’. Before they played the True Detective song, the band remarked something along the lines of: “Before True Detective, nobody really knew us. Now we can afford shoes!” It was perhaps an exaggeration – both of the state of not-so-popular musicians and the impact of a primetime HBO show feature can have on a band – but it definitely showed the couple’s (yes they are husband and wife) passion to just make dark and depressing songs. After the show, I was able to personally thank them for making such dark and depressing themed songs. They are a great sounding alternate country band and you should definitely check it out. ‘Through the Trees’ would be the album I would start with.

16. King Crimson at The Vic in Chicago, IL: If someone had asked me if I would ever see King Crimson Live about a year ago, I would have placed a sizable bet  against it happening. There was simply no way a band that started in the 1960’s, progressed through the decades with an ever changing lineup and whose frontman was close to 70 years old could ever reform again – let alone hold a multi-continental tour. But, they did just that – AND they had Gavin Harrison in the drumming department. No fuckin’ kidding! The show was more of a symphony than a concert. The kind of symphony wherein a group of highly highly highly highly highly highly talented and skilled musicians played some of the most intricate pieces in rock history in a manner only those present could appreciate – and feel blessed. Yes. I wanted them to play a bunch of songs that I liked from the KC era that I was familiar with. I suppose they did. But that took a backseat to just the sheer awesomeness of their musicianship. There have been very very few times that I have been left in awe to that extent when it came to musical concerts. I have been to many Indian classical music shows where the coordination and skill displayed by the musicians is impeccable. And this seemed to surpass even that. The highlight of the show was clearly the band playing ‘Lark’s Tongue in Aspic’ – both parts. With 3 drummers on stage, the coordination and timing had to be spot on – and it was more than just spot on. Gavin Harrison’s drum solo will always be remembered. Robert Fripp essentially just sat in a chair all show looking at a screen scrolling music notes and played the guitar to perfection. Jakko Jakszyk was the vocalist for the touring band and he did a great job at channeling the angst in the show ending ’21st Century Schizoid Man’. Perhaps the only man even trying to put on a show was Mel Collins on his sax. But all this doesn’t seem to matter when one is enveloped by a quality of music that is simply too audacious even to attempt to play Live. It wouldn’t have mattered if you knew who or what King Crimson was. If you had just showed up, the band would have still blown your mind away.

As a side note, I have to mention that I was easily the youngest guy in the whole theater. I was younger than at least half of the median age of the rest of the crowd. I was sitting between two old men who were discussing their experiences of seeing KC Live on their tour in the 70’s. I suppose music does transcend barriers. But am also left to wonder if the next generation will ever even know who or what King Crimson is.

17. St. Paul and the Broken Bones at Wooly’s in Des Moines, IA: Southern soul music has never been a genre that made me feel like I should explore. SPBB changed all that one day when I heard ‘Call Me’ on the radio in my car. The only thought in my head as I heard it was ‘I need that CD and I need it right fuckin’ now!’. And I got the CD within an hour and listened to it on a loop for god knows how long. My friend described the singer’s voice as ‘He opens his mouth and Ottis Redding comes out!’ and he is absolutely right. Great voice from a lead singer who was brought up to become a Pastor/preacher. And you can see it in his Live performance – it really did look like he was preaching his songs to the crowd. But the reason I fell in love with this band was mainly due to the bassist. There was such an intense moment of inspiration for me when I heard through their album, that I picked up my bass and started playing it non- stop till my hands couldn’t take it any more. And I hadn’t played my bass for over 4 months at that point. I met the bassist outside the venue and was talking to him. He told me that him and the band members try to listen to new music all the time – to keep feeling inspired. And I responded to him by saying, ‘Well, just know that it is now you who are inspiring others with your music.’

18. Pearl Jam at Pinnacle Center in Lincoln, NE: I would pay to watch Eddie Vader SPEAK in a Live setting. So when the band played for close to 3 hours and over 25 songs, everything was a bonus. ‘Black’ has always held a close spot in my life. And I have discovered other gems as I have explored their other albums. The concert itself was not what I had hoped for – mainly because I got seats in the nosebleed section.

Pearl Jam from nosebleed section

Pearl Jam from nosebleed section

That pretty much set a bar on how great my experience would be. No complaints about the sound, but there is only so much one can enjoy seated at the back and top of an indoor arena. I believe there is one more Pearl Jam album in the works in the near future and another tour as well. Will make sure I make amends during that tour.

19. Amon Amarth at Wooly’s in Des Moines, IA: I will openly admit that heavy metal as a genre in itself is a ship that sailed a long time ago. I will fondly remember headbanging to a lot of metal bands in my adolescence but I am past that phase now. I still do go to metal shows if there is a familiar band playing in town. But that is pretty much it. I had never put in the effort to actively explore unfamiliar metal bands. Amon Amarth proved to be an exception. I started listening to the band only after I came to know that they would be playing in town. And I am extremely glad that I put in the effort to listen to them. This is a band whose ‘metal’ aspect of their music is purposeful and direct – and not present just because they are a heavy metal band. Their riffs and hooks complement that metal sound. And I was an instant fan. The concert was high energy and never a dull moment. I found myself headbanging and jumping around like I hadn’t done in ages. The lead singer even humored the crowd by asking them to repeat the lyrics after him, and then proceeded to say “This is death fuckin’ metal! It doesn’t matter what the lyrics are!” and then ripped straight into the chorus of Pursuit of Vikings!

I have to note that there was a certain spark of inspiration in me when the band played Pursuit of Vikings and Runes to My Memory among many other of their best songs. I truly felt alive in those moments. And that was when I realized that of all the genres of the bands I go to watch live, heavy metal is still the one with which I feel the strongest and the most raw connection. Perhaps I should start listening to metal again after all.

20. Trombone Shorty at Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA: Never heard of him before I learnt that he was playing in town. The band was the main act for the show with St. Paul and the Broken Bones. But it didn’t matter one bit after the band took stage. The quality and upbeat nature of the music was more than sufficient to make it a great show.

21. Antemasque at Majestic Theater, Detroit, MI: I was heartbroken when I learnt that The Mars Volta had disbanded. But I suppose Omar grew tired of putting out only 10,000 albums that previous year and wanted to make more music. So the end result was The Mars Volta reformed under a different name and with a different sound – with Flea on bass no less. No prog rock anymore, just straight up infectious punk. It appears that Cedric’s voice is something that suits punk just fine. And with Omar’s minimal guitar riffs, this is a surprisingly easy to listen record with a lot of great hooks. The show was high energy – with most of the energy coming from Cedric who was pretty much in his own world. Except perhaps for that one time when he had the bouncers kick a couple of idiots in the crowd out of the show. I was just glad that I got to see Omar and Cedric back together and making music and playing concerts again. It doesn’t matter under what name or what genre they make their music, because the quality is always going to be there.

22. Future Islands at Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA: One more band I wasn’t familiar with until I learnt that they were going to be in town. Their latest album SINGLES is what introduced me to the genre of synthpop. It was also one of the albums I listened to plenty of times during, and which set the mood for, my solo Colorado trip. The show was fabulous with their enigmatic frontman showing the crowd why he is considered one of the best at putting on a show. ‘Like The Moon’ is one of the top 5 songs I discovered in 2014. Minimal beats and a haunting bassline with dark vocals and great melody. Will be watching the band again in 2015.

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So there it is. My best year so far for concerts. My schedule for 2015 is building up slowly but I don’t think it would ever get near or surpass 2014. Steven Wilson, Wilco, Tame Impala, TV on the Radio, Weezer and more area already on the books and hopefully more will get added on.

2014 in Review: All the Concerts (Part 1)

Clearly, this is becoming an annual event for me: recollecting and reliving the highlights from the previous year. This post may be 4 months late, but this is me not being concerned about it. 2014 was the best year for me so far with regard to concerts. The quality and quantity of concerts was so good that I even contemplated writing a mid-year review just so my annual post wouldn’t get too long. Since that did not happen, here we are gain. I am still splitting this into two posts. In any case, this is still a long post below – and only because I have so much to recollect and say.

1. Wolf Eyes at Mission Creek Festival, Iowa City, IA: My first true noise concert. This was held in the basement of the Yacht Club in Iowa City and started at 1 AM. The stage was about 8′ X 5′ and about 1 ft off the ground level. The crowd (including me) was exactly 3 ft away from the band. And I was also about 2 ft from the blaring speakers. The music (if you can call it that) of Wolf Eyes grew steadily in cacophony as their set went on. The noise of the guitar, the energy and intensity of the guitarist and vocalist (both of whom were jumping around so hard that they kept bumping into each other), and just the image of the noise-maker (that’s what I will call him) having a soundboard for a fanny pack and a gas mask on his face was sufficient to make my night. Their best song (again, if you can call it that) was their last one when all they did was create a 20 minute ‘jam’ with noise of all types and intensities. By the time that last jam hit its climax, I had an extremely strong urge to take the nearest chair and start smashing everything around me with it. And the fact that I couldn’t do so will remain as one of biggest regrets of my life. Such is the power of the music (again, if you can call it that) of Wolf Eyes. And it is a compliment to their art in as much as how it made me feel that night.

And if you have no idea what I am talking about, here is  sample Wolf Eyes song (again, if you can call it that):

And here is a pic of the noise-maker with the world’s most awesome fanny pack.

The World's Most Awesome Fanny Pack

The World’s Most Awesome Fanny Pack

2. Warpaint at Mission Creek Festival, Iowa City, IA: I watched this band under strange circumstances. I essentially thought it was the opening act until I found out otherwise the next day. I fell in love with their sound instantly – not having heard any of their songs before. This is the band that essentially introduced me to dream pop. A 4 piece all-female lineup with great bass sounds, haunting vocals and a sound that I had been seeking all my life without even knowing it. This is one of the few times you fall in love with a band after you hear their music for the first time – and that too in a live setting. Become a big fan of them since then and have their double LP on vinyl now!

Shout out to other Mission Creek acts including Circuit des Yeux (a one-woman project of something I cannot define but which I keep find crawling under my skin) and Earth (guitar drone, and then more guitar drone).

3. Eric Johnson at Wooly’s in Des Moines, IA: An hour and a half of great guitar work from one of the most well respected guitarists in the industry. Some of his songs brought back great memories of me sitting in my hostel room with His Holiness and my roommate and listening to Cliffs of Dover. I have never had much respect for guys like Yngwie Malmsteen who mostly just exhibit their shredding abilities. Sure that is a skill to admire but nothing ever comes out of it. Eric Johnson is at the other end of the argument – a man who CAN shred but does so when it makes the songs better. His focus is first on melody and harmony – not on showing off his skills. On stage, he was a very affable character who revealed that he was actually born in Iowa and that his grandma still lives here.

4. Mogwai at Wooly’s in Des Moines, IA: When my cousin first made me listen to Mogwai under certain ‘elevated’ conditions, I just hated the band. I didn’t want anything to do with it ever again. A year later, I gave the band one more chance and bought their ‘The Hawk is Howling’ album. Since then, there was no looking back. The sound of Post rock is pretty much epitomized by Mogwai. And so I was all smiles when I learnt they were going to be playing at Wooly’s. I particularly fell in love with their then latest album Rave Tapes and was listening to it on a loop for the longest time. No Medicine for Regret still stands as my personal favorite of the band’s entire catalog. They did not play that song at the concert but there was one moment of true inspiration that I will always remember. It came at about the 1 min mark when the song’s chorus (if you can call it that) just begins. I had listened to that song dozens of times by then. But that moment when the band reached that note LIVE and that transition into the chorus happened, I went into a different world. And I didn’t even need to be high. Of course, the highlight of the evening for me was ‘I am Jim Morrison, I am Dead.’ Very satisfying to see them Live.

I am Jim Morrison, I am Dead

I am Jim Morrison, I am Dead

5. Envy Corps at Wooly’s, (and 8035 Music Festival) Des Moines, IA: A Des Moines/Ames based band that you never have and would never hear of (unless you are reading this now). The lead singer would easily win the ‘Sounds Like Thom Yorke’ contest – even if Thom Yorke himself participated in it. The band’s It Culls You album is probably their best and deserve so much more credit than they are are currently getting. One of my best discoveries from last year. Ended up seeing them twice last year. Would do so again at the first opportunity.

6. Guided By Voices at Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA: I had never been to a punk concert before. And I was not familiar with the band either. But I decided to check it out. In the end, this was the longest concert (over 3 hours with 3 encores) I had ever been to. There is something authentic about a band with 50+ year old members play a straight up punk show with high energy – especially as the singer consumed a full bottle of Jack Daniel’s on stage during the show. It was probably the attitude that made it a good show. I will probably never invest in exploring the band as such but I was just glad I went to the show.

7. Cake at 8035 Festival, Des Moines, IA: When the lead singer of a band quotes from xkcd during the interlude of one of the songs, it is something worth remembering for a long, long time. But Cake’s John McCrea had the entire crowd in his complete control even without the help of xkcd. Performing the band’s songs – the equivalent of deadpan humor in movies – you could almost believe he was an evangelical leader preaching to a crowd of eager minds. ‘Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell’ was perhaps the best example of this. This was perhaps the best portrayal of putting on a great show without having to try too hard.To me personally, the band’s best feature is the bassist and the way he incorporates  bass lines with an appropriate groove to complement the rhythm of the songs. Perhaps, one of the other reasons I will remember this concert is because I got to hear a cover of War Pigs where the iconic guitar solo was played with the trumpet.

8. Ziggy Marley at 8035 Festival, Des Moines, IA:  I have only listened to reggae music in passing. Always enjoyed it and found it very relaxing, but had never put in the effort to explore it any deeper. But I suppose I was sober all that time I listened to reggae (as pointed out by a good friend and a Ziggy concert veteran). So when Ziggy Marley played for an hour and a half on a hot summer day, I made sure I was sufficiently inebriated. And how glad I was to have been drunk then. So much so, that I now strongly believe that everyone on this planet should get drunk and/or high and attend a reggae concert as a matter of general principle. If it is not on your bucket list, it should be. And if you do not agree, I am OK if you are shot dead right now. In all seriousness, that hour and a half was the most carefree I have been in a long, long, long time. No worries, no concerns, no expectations, no obligations. For that hour and a half, everything was just right and I just knew that I was where I was supposed to be at that point in time. This is not even an exaggeration. I have been to many shows where the music has taken me places. This one just made me believe everything was awesome wherever I already was.

9. Conor Oberst at 8035 Festival, Des Moines, IA: The Ziggy Marley show was followed with Conor (of the Bright Eyes fame). And what a contrast it was. Nothing wrong with the show. Just that the sad and depressing music was in stark contrast with the I-feel-awesome music of Ziggy. Yes, I am a big fan of sad and depressing music, which is why I went into a profound gloom during his show. It was easy too – considering how drunk I was. Good show, I guess. But don’t remember it for the right reasons in hindsight.

10. Portugal. The Man at Brenton Skating Plaza, Des Moines, IA:  It had been a while since I encountered an album that had me listening to it for months on end. But Portugal. The Man’s ‘Evil Friends’ filled that void. And that August night in East Village, I had one of the most memorable experiences at a concert in recent history. This concert went from being good to great for the most basic of reasons: great tunes, good performance, and sufficient inebriation. That was it. Songs that you could and wanted to sing along to, dance to, a crowd of people around you with the same intentions- all under the influence of sufficient amount of alcohol. That was all it took. The fact that the band started the show with a cover of Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and ended the show with Baba O’Reilly ended up just as a bonus. This is a band that I will be following very very closely for the rest of my life (or their’s). And I cannot recommend Evil Friends enough. Special mention to the artwork on the album (I have even framed the album cover from my vinyl).

11. Grouplove at Brenton Skating Plaza, Des Moines, IA: Was not at all familiar with this band, but they were actually the main act when Portugal. The Man played. By the time PTM’s show was done, I was already at a point where everything else was a bonus. But Grouplove did not disappoint. Same ingredients: great tunes, catchy music, great to sing along to (if you knew the songs) and great to jump around or dance to – all with a crowd of fellow inebriated folks.

In part 2 I will be recollecting Fleetwood Mac (full lineup!), Handsome Family, King Crimson (!), CCR, Amon Amarath, Seun Kuti, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Trombone Shorty, Pearl Jam, and Antemasque.

Discovering New Music: A Fan’s Perspective

When I visited home last month after a gap of 3 years, I found out that my 13 year old cousin had suddenly become very interested in listening to music. She now owned an iPod and was quite enthusiastic about the whole idea of listening to music. So I asked her what she was listening to. The ensuing conversation went something like below (keep in mind she is only 13).

Me: So what are you listening to?

She: One Direction! I love that band!

Me: OK. Sounds like about the kind of music a 13 year old would listen to nowadays. Come to think of it, I was very much into Backstreet Boys and Boyzone back when I was your age.

She: Yes, One Direction is really good!

Me: So what other music do you listen to?

She: I really like One Direction! I have all their albums!

Me: That is good that you really like One Direction. What other bands do you listen to?

She: I just listen to ALL their songs on repeat! I really like them!

Me: For how long have you been listening to One Direction?

She: About 5 to 6 months now.

Me: Have you listened to any other English music in this time?

She: No. I really like One Direction!

Clearly, this conversation was going nowhere. I could have asked her how she did in her exams, and her response would have been, “I really like One Direction!”. So I gave up on the subject. Instead, we decided to play some kind of a passive card game along with her classmate – another 13 year old girl (who incidentally introduced my cousin to One Direction).

And before we started our game, I told them I was going to play some music from my phone. I told them it will be playing in the background and we can start playing the game. I put on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and on came “Give Life Back to Music”.

It must have taken about all of two minutes before both my cousin and her friend remarked, “What band is this? This is really good music!” I just smiled and told them who it was. And last I heard, they was listening to ‘Random Access Memories’ on a loop.

There are two very significant lessons to be learned just from this one seemingly trivial (and admittedly hilarious) incident. But before I go into that, an important thing to understand is this: What was seen with my 13 year old cousin is also highly representative of the mindset of a large fraction of the population when it comes to listening to and discovering new music.

The first of the two lessons is about the act of getting stuck in some kind of a comfort zone. For my 13 year old cousin, it was with the music of One Direction. For a lot of other people at different stages in their life (age-wise or exploration of music), it is something else. One of the simplest ways this phenomenon manifests itself is perhaps also the most common: A person who has spent a few years of their life listening to (and coming to like) a specific genre typically finds it very difficult to put in the effort to actively explore other genres by themselves. (As an extension, there are even some people who tend to stick to the few bands that they know of and rarely put in the effort to explore other bands – even within the same genre). A little thought into this and into our own habits can reveal the different manifestations of this particular aspect in the way we ourselves listen to music (past and present).

Essentially, it is the sense of comfort that familiarity brings with it that can make a listener continue to seek out what they already know. As a corollary, the perception of the effort that one has to put in to actively and consciously go out of this comfort zone and explore new genres of music is sufficiently big, such that few actually cross that barrier. This phenomenon is more significant than what we are willing to acknowledge.

The second of the two lessons is to do with those instances when a person actually crosses that barrier and discovers new music. By default, any person who has become really obsessed with a particular band or genre of music has had to have gone through the process of actually discovering the said (at the time) new genre. So, if we go by the previous proposition that it is very difficult to get a listener to actively explore new music, how then have most people discovered new music and genres so far?

The answer is simple. Most people discover music passively. 

It is typically a moment of inspiration that drives people into exploring a new band or a new genre of music. Perhaps you heard it over the radio on your way to work and it struck a chord with you; maybe you heard it being played at your friend’s place and you wanted to borrow his CD; it came up on one of your Pandora stations and you instantly liked it; or you heard this song on a movie soundtrack and you just had to know which band it was; or a band/playlist that your favorite artist (or anyone you respect) recommended.

All the above examples of listening to music and discovering something new that you like has a common thread running through it. In none of the cases were you actively, consciously, proactively seeking out to explore new bands or genres. Instead, in all the cases above, you just happened to be listening to music when you had absolutely nothing at stake. There was no pressure on you from those sources of music to ‘like’ that band. Nor were there any expectations of what would come out from the act of listening to music under those circumstances. Ultimately, there was no real ‘investment’ or ‘effort’ required by you in order for you to experience that moment of inspiration.

This is essentially the act of listening to music ‘passively’. And it is this process that leads people to discover new music and explore new bands. The strongest connection between a fan and an artist is made when there is absolutely nothing at stake. And it is only after such a connection is made that the fan begins to invest their time and money on the artist. They buy their albums, go to concerts, buy merchandise, etc. And what’s more? They even recommend the band to their friends thus starting a positive feedback chain. All banking on a moment of inspiration that mostly happens when there is nothing at stake.

And this is exactly what happened with my 13 year old cousin and Daft Punk. She formed a connection with the band in a situation where there was no pressure of any kind whatsoever. ( I proceeded to give her a playlist of what I thought she should explore and after a couple of days she came back and said, “I really like this band. I think it is called Led Zeppelin.” Mission accomplished).

This post would be incomplete without pointing out the fact that there is a small fraction of people who do not fall under the category mentioned above. These are people who do not necessarily need a ‘nothing at stake’ situation in order to experience a moment of inspiration. These are people who actively go in search of new music and looking for new recommendations – being fully aware that there are many yet-to-be-explored bands out there that are creating music that you would love. These are also usually the highest spenders on music. And if you are one of them, chances are you have friends around you who are like that as well. But this should not imply that a majority of the population is like that.

Music may appear to be everywhere. But the true gift of music is yet to be given to most of the population, and that moment of inspiration should reach out to as many people as possible. It is a win/win situation.

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As the title indicates, this post is about the fan’s perspective of discovering new music. But what about the music industry? And the artists themselves? This I intend to explore in the next post – hopefully in a week’s time.

The One Thing I Took for Granted

It was May of 2010 and I had just landed at the Bangalore International Airport early in the morning. I was coming back home after my first two semesters at Virginia Tech. By the time I reached home, it was about 8 AM and I was already hungry. My mom was clearly enthusiastic about cooking for me, but that morning she mentioned that I would have the Idli & Chutney that my grandmother had cooked an hour earlier. Apparently, my grandmother – who lived just a few blocks down the road – had woken up early just so she could cook breakfast for me. And she knew exactly what to cook. The Idli and Chutney that she used to make was the kind of stuff that could fix anything and everything. I think the word I am looking for is ‘panacea’.

So here I was, not having eaten ‘home food’ for over 10 months and my mom served me my grandmother’s best creation for breakfast. I sat in my chair and broke the first idli into a small piece, took a generous dipping of the chutney and put it in my mouth.

To this day, I cannot think of a more profound moment I have had when I ate something. Before I could chew the food and swallow it, I had broken down and was crying like a little baby. It was not just the feeling of experiencing something after a long time that made me cry. It was the realization that I was experiencing after a long time, something I had just taken for granted all my life that hit me like a cannon ball. And I didn’t have to tell my mom anything. She knew exactly why I was crying and that there was just no consoling me at that point. I cried for some 10-15 mins before I resumed eating my breakfast. Needless to say, I stuffed myself with what would have otherwise been a sizable breakfast for 3 people.

In hindsight, that realization seems a lot more obvious. But it does not make it any less significant. Food is one of the things that we are conditioned to take for granted (unless you are in a poor financial situation or related circumstances) while we were growing up. We always assumed that no matter what happens in this world – barring a natural or man made disaster – we would always have dinner served at the time we expect it to. So much so, that we even felt entitled to complain when it was delayed by a few minutes. Breakfast was always prepared 15-20 mins before we left for school or college. It just had to be. There was no other option. It would be an apocalyptic hell if it was delayed even for a few minutes. And all the food we were served had also better be something we liked to eat.

And so being served food that I preferred, at the right time, day after day for over 20 years was something I had gotten so used to that I had never comprehended the idea of anything different. Even when I lived in the hostels during college, the hostel mess always had the food ready at regular times. In any case, I went back home every 2 or 3 weeks during my undergraduate years. So it was only when I moved half way across the world here to the USA did I face the extremely strange situation of nobody serving me my preferred food 3 times a day at my new home.

In hindsight, the way I initially reacted to that is almost comical. I was in complete denial for the first couple of weeks and just did not eat any breakfast. I ate out for lunch and made some makeshift dinner (read cereal). It was at least a month before I came to terms with it and started cooking. Fortunately for me, I found that I took immense pleasure in the act of cooking. And after that there was no looking back. I learnt – mostly through experimentation and long phone calls with my mom – to cook most of the dishes that my mom made on a regular basis and took great pride in sending her photographs of my cooking. Needless to say, she was very impressed and very happy that I was eating home cooked food. And so after the first couple of months, I rarely ate outside and continued to get better at cooking. I even became popular among my Indian and American friends at VT for my cooking!

But when I had that first bite of Idli Chutney on my first return back home, I also knew that I would never ever match the taste that my mom or my grandmother made. Because you see, the dishes my mom or my grandmother ever made were not just made up of spices and vegetables. They were always made with unconditional love. And I suppose it really was THAT ingredient that I had taken for granted in all the food I had ever been served at home. It was also the ingredient that I had missed the most and could never put into my dishes. No wonder I broke down when I had that breakfast back then.

A few months after that, when I was back in the US and having just graduated, I learnt that my grandmother had unexpectedly passed away.  I will never see her again and that pains me to no end. I will also never have her Idli and Chutney once more, but I know that she is still out there helping me to recreate that taste I fear I will never get to experience again.

So yes, we take a lot of things for granted and don’t even know it. It only comes to the surface when it is absent and absent for a long time. So enjoy it while you still have a chance. But also, always pause to appreciate its existence while it lasts.

 

 

 

 

Settlers of Catan Strategies and Spending Money

               Settlers of Catan

Over the past year or so, I have become mightily obsessed with the board game Settlers of Catan. It involves collecting, managing and trading resources to build settlements and cities – with the final goal of being the first person to achieve a preset development stage. But that is just the gist of it. There are innumerable strategies that can be incorporated into the game. But there is one common trait to any strategy I choose to use. And that is to ensure that I ‘spend’ my resources as fast as possible in order to ‘build’ more settlements/roads/cities. This means that I do not ‘save’ my resources with the hope that I build a lot more at a later time. And because of this, when the robber is played, I usually do not have to forfeit my excess resources which I might have otherwise had. So as and when I get resources, I ‘spend’ them and acquire a road/settlement/city/D-Card. This typically increases my development points tally immediately. And as I keep doing that, I keep inching towards the target development points of 10 (varies). Of course, there is some other strategy always involved regarding whether you build ‘vertically’ or ‘horizontally’ or if you plan to connect all your settlements for the longest road points, etc. But in any case, ALL these strategies require me to ‘spend’ my resources to add to my development points. Saving has almost never helped my cause.

This brought me to observe and question my own spending habits. What do I do with my money? Do I tend to spend it fast or do I tend to save first? Do I live a comfortable life spending money within my means, or do I live a frugal lifestyle while I save money for some unknown future purpose? The answers to these questions was extremely simple and glaring to me.

I am an unequivocal and unapologetic spender. I spend money on every single thing that I decide is desirable/necessary and worth it. I spend, what some consider, an obscene amount of money on music related products and experiences. I am more than happy to spend a few hundred dollars extra in rent just so I can avoid having a roommate. I recently went on what turned out to be the most expensive vacation I had ever taken – and all by myself too. I upgraded my car within 2 years of buying one that was brand new then. I spent a small fortune on having my parents over and taking them on numerous vacations here in the US. And I continue to spend money to live a very comfortable lifestyle in which I do not deny myself any product or experience that I find desirable and can afford.

No. I am not a rich guy. Far from it. I still pay out loans, I send money back home every month. And when I do my accounting every month, all I see is that I just about break even. In a way, I just barely make ends meet. Only difference is that my ends are sufficiently far apart for me to live a very comfortable lifestyle. The point I am trying to make here is not that you can do more things and buy more stuff if you have more money. This is already understood and is nothing more than common sense. What I am more fascinated about is just the idea of NOT spending money, or as is more popularly known – saving money. Why do people save money? What incentive do they have to save money? Why do people give up everyday comforts of life just to save more money?

It is the first question that I am still trying to find the answer to. Most replies I get have something to do with the words ‘for the future’, or ‘in case of emergency’, or ‘you’ll never know when it might come in handy’, etc. Granted, there are people who save money for a specific reason, such as paying for school, children’s fund, etc. It is not these people that puzzle me. What does puzzle me are the kind that sacrifice everyday comforts just so they can ‘save more money’. These are the people who have no idea why they are saving the said money. They just go with the idea that all that saved money will come in handy ‘at some point in the future’. And they live a frugal lifestyle – not because they feel comfortable with it, but because they just want to save more money!

When I observed this contrast between the way I handle my money and people like these who are just all about not spending, I stopped for a second and wondered if I was doing something wrong here myself. Perhaps I should be saving some money after all? Maybe some emergency is just around the corner? I might even feel proud of myself for controlling my spending? I can prove to myself that I don’t need any materialistic pleasures? That is supposed to be a good thing, right? Maybe I will need to start saving right now so that later my future kids can do something for free? Maybe it will work as a down payment on a mortgage that I might take on a house sometime in the future? Maybe I should save money just for the sake of it?

Naa…..Fuck all that!

Those questions pretty quickly began to sound like nonsense to me. The idea of ‘What if?’ does not appeal to me. Neither does the idea of giving up something now so that something else can be done in the future. I am all about right now. Instant gratification? No. More like enjoying the present moment – because that is where we live – in the right now. Not in some distant future that you have imagined – no, decided – is going to take place. I am all about making the most of what the world has to offer to me – today and right now. I do not understand the idea of consciously making myself live less comfortably now for some perceived benefit in the distant future.

For example, I have spent about $5000 over the past 4 years going to concerts and all other music related purchases. $5000 is always going to be a lot of money. But, as I sit here typing this post, would I rather have that $5000 in my bank account now? Well the answer is an easy NO for me. But if I had chosen to save that $5000 for ‘some future use’, just imagine what I would have missed out on in the meantime? All the innumerable moments of inspiration and wonder that I experienced at every one of those concerts would be gone. Those were the moments that defined my life for 4 years. It is just horrible to think of what I would have missed out on if I had chosen not to spend all that money. And then when I ask myself what kind of a life I had been living the past 4 years, I would never have a satisfactory answer. “Oh I was just saving up so I can lead a better life in the future” is the most nonsensical answer I could give to that. So, NO, I would never ever want that $5000 in my bank today at the cost of having missed all the things that defined my life for 4 years.

Back in 6th grade, I read 3 verses of Someshwara Shathaka – a collection of 100 verses by a 14-15th century Kannada poet. The first two words of the 2nd verse is something that has resonated with me all my life:

Unadhirpa Dhanamirdhodenu?

Translation: What’s the point of having money that is not spent?

It is that simple. A few years ago, I was watching The Wire. During one of the many many memorable scenes, I heard Omar Little say something extremely similar – except he said it with infinitely more badassery. And anything Omar says is wisdom from the gods. Here, watch it for yourself.

Found the money quote? Alright, here let me break it down for you

Omar breaks into a cash rich poker game where Marlo Stanfield is playing and proceeds to rob him. 

Marlo Stanfield: That’s my money.
Omar: Man, money ain’t got no owners, only spenders

(This is followed by an even more epic quote but I am sure you can figure that out from the video. BTW, if you have not watched The Wire, you will).

And that is pretty much the mindset with which I live. Just like in Settlers of Catan, I earn resources. Once I earn these resources, I almost immediately spend them all in order to buy products and experiences that makes my life at THAT moment more comfortable and enjoyable. Money in my bank account is just a number. Money spent, on the other hand, immediately implies something that I had gained. I do not wait for the future before I choose to lead a better life. I choose to lead a better life right now. And I am extremely glad that my parents fully approve of this.

All I heard about money during my formative years (except from my parents) was how evil it was and that materialistic pleasures were the devil’s luring, and how one must find happiness in non-monetary things.  Right now, that advice looks like a complete piece of BS to me. All the experiences I have had with all the money I have spent have generated such intense feelings in me and have provided me inspiration at such a fundamental level on so many occasions, that it is hard to not feel in awe of it. For someone to say that I shouldn’t be doing that is just plain dumb.

Sure, all that money in your bank account does not follow you when you die and go to heaven. Which is exactly why you should spend all of it NOW while you LIVE and die with nothing in the bank.

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PS: If you think this applies to gambling, you are a worse douchebag than I thought you were.

Are You Replaceable?

It’s a simple question, but one that is perhaps the hardest to ask of yourself. 

“Am I Replaceable?”

Well, maybe not everyone, but most of us.

A few years ago, a friend of mine working for a company that provided background checking services decided to quit the place as she found a new job elsewhere. When she quit, nobody in her company expressed even the least bit of concern that someone who had a lot of experience and who was good at their job was leaving. The way they looked at it was that once she left, someone else would be in line to take over her position. Simply put, she was ‘replaceable’. 

That was, like I mentioned, a few years ago. But over the past couple of days, for reasons unknown to me, I have revisited the idea of being replaceable very deeply. So I am wondering:

Are We Replaceable?

All of us like to think of ourselves as unique, as one of a kind. There is something different in us that separates us from everybody else. It must be in our character. So on and so forth. Right? Right? 

Just take a look at where you are, what you have done in your life, what you have achieved in your life, who you are married to, who your friends are, what kind of life they are leading, what kind of a life you envision for the future, and what kind of a life the other people you know in your life have envisioned for their future? Fact is that every one of us have done something or the other with our lives. We have gone to school, perhaps gone to college, got a bachelor’s degree, perhaps even a Master’s degree, (and for an immigrant like me, made the trip to the USA for my Master’s), some of us are now married to someone, maybe we even have kids or are planning to in the near future, have a steady job that promises good career growth, helping out a lot of people at the job, working on new products, etc. etc. 

Which is all good – as long as people agree that all these things that they have done could have/would have been done by any one of a lot of other people as well had they been in the same position as they were. That is to say, we haven’t done anything that someone else (among a lot of people) in our position would not have done. Or in other words: “We are replaceable.” 

Anytime we live our lives by putting in the effort to do mostly what we really ‘have’ to do in order to be considered successful in the eyes of society and family, we are replaceable. This is because there is always someone else who, with similar upbringing and societal influences, will achieve the same things with the same opportunities that we have had. 

But what about our relationships, you might ask? Surely each person is loved for his unique character and personality, right? Else, relationships could not possibly work at all, correct? 

No, wrong. 

Both my parents have shown me unconditional love all my life and I am extremely grateful for it. If, for instance, my character and personality was instead more like one of the dozens of friends I know, my parents would still love me just the same. I could have been like any one of the many different people I know and my parents would have loved me just the same. What about a husband and wife? Surely there is a higher demand of a specific character requirement there, right? 

Again, wrong.

Think of your partner right now. Now, also think of some of the other people of the opposite sex of about the same age that you know fairly well and you respect. Now think about what would have happened if you had met one of these other people at the right time and under the right conditions. You would perhaps be sharing your life with this other person instead of your current partner. It just so happened that you ended up meeting your current partner under the right conditions and so you ended up with him/her. 

So essentially, anyone (of the many many people in this world) fulfilling your set of basic criteria, who happens to be at a particular place at a particular time and under the right set of circumstances will very likely end up as your partner. Whatever may be your partner’s quirks or character flaws, you will just learn to adjust, adapt and not complain about it in the long run. And the sense of ‘irreplaceability’ that you may feel towards a person after being with them for a long time comes not from a sense of individual uniqueness, but more from a sense of security, familiarity and an inherent fear of change. 

So yes, your partner is replaceable. And since that applies reciprocally as well, it means that you are replaceable  too. 

If this sounds very depressing, that is because it is. Nobody wants their sense of self worth to take a beating. It is one of the worst feelings in the world. The objective here is not to belittle who we are or what we have achieved. Instead, the crux of this aspect of the human condition is to be brave enough to ask ourselves a very tough question:

“What have I done in my life that anyone else in my position with similar upbringing and influences would not have done?”

Another way to frame it would be:

“What have I done in my life that is beyond my basic duties as an employee/student, husband, son, father, friend, etc?” 

Or:

“What have I created in this life that nobody else in my position as an employee/student, family man, friend, etc. would have?”

If you are struggling to find answers to these questions, then you – like most of the earth’s population – are replaceable. You could be leading the life of any one of a million other people just like you – and any one of the million other people just like you would have done pretty much the same things as you have in your life. They would offer the same things as you do. And so, you are replaceable by any one of them.

Questioning your own sense of self worth is easily one of the hardest things to do – which is why nobody does it. Instead, we all want to feel good about ourselves and think of ourselves as unique and remarkable in our own way. But the truth is that most of us are neither remarkable nor unique. 

Because most of us are just REPLACEABLE. 

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PS: At some point in time in the future, I intend to write about the one exception to this rule: ART. 

 

 

 

 

Taking a Dudeist Vacation

An often denied fact concerns the accumulation of stress during any vacation. Be it a trip to a national park, a visit to a big city, a hike through the woods, a road trip – vacations usually consist of stress filled days that are stitched together midst the experiences of visiting new places or hanging out with friends/family. A fair amount of planning has already gone into the vacation: we visit these places on day one, drive to here on day two, meetup with friends on day three hiking, camp and hike further on day four, drive back on day five, take flight back home on day six. Feel free to make up your own schedule. We all have.

We want to ‘cover’ as many places as we can jam into our schedule. Consequently, this ends up demanding a lot more effort in getting to those places and ‘covering’ them while we are there. We want to put up photographs on Facebook showing us at as many different locations as possible. We want to tick all those places off our bucket list – whether they are on it or not. Life is so short after all…..right?

Getting started on a vacation with an agenda is what most people do. There is a certain expectation of returns for all the investment you are putting into this vacation. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps us see the places we always wanted to see in a timely and economical fashion. But it is also important to recognize the role of the agenda in building up stress levels during any vacation.

And that is what I decided to avoid last week when I took a few days off work. No agenda, no expectations, no stress: the Dudeist-Vacation

Because being The Dude is awesome

I took a Wednesday off work and this is a list of things I did in Des Moines that day:

1. Spend 2 hours eating breakfast at Perkup Cafe

2. Cash checks.

3. Visit the library, read Dune for an hour and rent 5 audiobooks for my drive the next day.

4. Watch Chelsea draw with Galatasaray in the Champions League at the Royal Mile drinking beer and eating lunch.

5. Come back home and watch a couple of episodes of True Detective and listen to a couple of LPs.

6. Pack.

There is not one item in the list that can be even remotely classified as ‘constructive’. It was one of the most awesome days in recent memory. A complete day of doing absolutely nothing that required me to acknowledge any stress at all. Just like The Dude lives.

This inspired me to extend the same thinking for the rest of my vacation. So when I reached Ann Arbor the next day, I had absolutely nothing on my mind that I wanted to do. Sure I wanted to see my friend successfully defend his PhD. But that was it. Other than that, I was just hanging out doing absolutely nothing.

I drove to Detroit on Saturday to visit a couple of my other good friends. The only agenda I had for that trip was to visit the Motown museum. Other than that, all I told my friend was that I wanted to drink some beer and buy some records. And that is exactly what I did: drink beer at a brewery and buy some records at a record store. To kill a couple of hours, my friend and I hung out at a coffee shop chatting. Then I ate dinner and went back to Ann Arbor. That was it. That was how I spent my only day in Detroit. Barely any agenda and still extremely satisfying.

My friend  (now with a DR. before his name) and I then drove to Chicago because it is on my way back to Des Moines. And also because Chicago is awesome. It is an even more awesome place to do absolutely nothing and just hang out with no agenda. All I wanted to do was meet a friend, drink some beer, eat some deep dish pizza and buy some records. And that is what we did. Met a friend, drank some beer, ate deep dish pizza and bought a lot of records. We also celebrated his PhD at the Signature Lounge on top of Hancock tower with a glass of Glenmorangie on the rocks overlooking the night view of the entire city from up top. I stayed one more night and went to a downtown breakfast place in the morning and just sat there by myself for two hours doing absolutely nothing. And then I drove back to Des Moines. Never visited any tourist attraction, never did any sightseeing, and did not even look up any ‘things to do in Chicago’.

It was the best vacation I could have had under those circumstances. For a week, I did not even have to acknowledge the idea of stress – even minuscule amounts of it. There was nothing that could go wrong when you were doing absolutely nothing. And I was able to do that because I had absolutely no agenda set for my vacation. No expectations, no plans – just a whole bunch of doing nothing. More importantly, it was a whole bunch of doing nothing in different places – which is awesome.

After I came back, I realized that anytime I did absolutely nothing for extended periods of time is always awesome. You should try it too. It would be important to identify those particular activities you would want to do that do not require any set agenda whatsoever. To me, apparently, they include eating breakfast, drinking beer and buying records. It is just something that you do because you like it and you don’t care how it turns out. There is absolutely nothing at stake when you are doing these activities. Only you know what those activities are. And once you know what they are, you should just take a vacation doing those things – wherever you want to. For all I care, take a flight half way across the country to just sit at a coffee shop and do nothing for an entire day. (That would be an awesome idea by the way).

All in all, it is an extremely satisfying and fulfilling experience to just be able to do nothing and continue to live a normal life. Also, the very act of doing nothing for extended periods of time tells you that “nothing’s fucked!”. The Dude’s lifestyle is not just for a character in a Coen Brothers movie. It is an increasingly overlooked way of life for us every day men and women. Maybe we will never be able to live like The Dude every single day of our lives. But, at the very least, when we decide to take time off, we can remember to ask ourselves the question:

Always ask the question

“What would The Dude do?”

And then decide to do absolutely nothing. Because it is always awesome to be The Dude.

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PS: After this experience, I have decided to take a weekday off from work every 2-3 weeks and do absolutely nothing. I won’t be at home, but I intend to do absolutely nothing constructive the entire day. It is like my day of rest.

On the Back of a Bar Receipt in Chicago

Last year I was on vacation in Chicago with my parents. I had spent a good 60 hours with them at a stretch. On the 3rd evening, I reached a point when I just needed some alone time. The sun was just about to set and so I put my parents on one of the awesome double decker buses that would just take them around downtown showing the night view of the city’s skyline. And within 100 seconds of them boarding the bus, I was seated at a bar, drinking Oberon.

Sitting alone there and drinking my beer, I got into a fairly introspective state of mind – having an existential conversation with myself in my head. Continued consumption of alcohol clearly helped sustain it. I must have spent a good two hours there, because by the time I was about to leave I had a good buzz going in my head. I remembered that I had asked my parents to meet me at the Hancock tower by 9. So I closed my tab and the bartender gave me my copy of the receipt and wished me a good evening. I was just about to leave in that buzzing state of mind when all of a sudden I found myself IN THE ZONE. It came calling out of nowhere – like it always does. And I had to answer. The Zone is where my inspiration comes from – for anything and everything – and when I am in it, I need to explore it in full.

At that moment, sitting at that bar in Chicago, what came to me was a set of words and lines. Not too many, but something that I just had to write down immediately, lest I forget it the next minute. So I quickly asked the bartender for a pen and started writing on the first piece of paper I could find – on the back of my copy of the receipt.

And I was able to write down everything that came to me at that moment. And once I knew there was nothing more to write, I felt truly content. I stored that receipt in my wallet and went searching for the Hancock Tower.

Today, I decided to clean out my wallet to see all the hidden treasures it housed. And it was then that I found the receipt still in there – still containing all the words I wrote. And that made me smile – and write this post.

So here it is – the words that came to me at a bar in Chicago last summer.

It is truly phenomenal what contrast can accomplish. Just being subjected to the ideas and circumstances that you so desperately crave for can make you truly see what you don’t have. That’s all it takes. A true acknowledgement of what you don’t have. And you will get into that beautiful introspective state of melancholy. It is so intimate – just the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. It is something you can always count on – the intimacy of helplessness and hopelessness. In a world filled with such uncertainty, when something like this provides an enormous sense of certainty, it is hard not to fall in love with it. Think about it – the intimacy of helplessness and hopelessness. It is just so beautiful!

 

Making the Case Against Happiness: Societal and Religious Expectations

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts dealing with society’s incomplete, unfair and misplaced perception of happiness. 

The Happiness Industry is everywhere. It exists because we all want to be happy all the time. From the self help books, to the ‘Lead your life’ seminars, to the daily inspirational quotes, to all the websites and blogs giving you their own unique tips, to the religion sponsored salvation guarantees, to the different schools of thought offering that elusive ‘inner peace’, to the innumerable God Men who claim to know the path to enlightenment, to the beauty products that guarantee your confidence, to the prescription pills promising to alleviate your stress, to the never ending advertisements that promise you happiness in exchange for some of your money. 

The Happiness Industry’s Product is now for sale: EVERYWHERE

IT IS EVERYWHERE.

It is also completely missing the point.

It starts off with parents telling their kids that everyone should be happy in life. That is then upgraded to be a requirement. Subsequently, it becomes an order. Then there is talk of REAL HAPPINESS and that it comes from within. Materialistic objects are then perceived to be providing only temporary pleasure and are apparently never fully satisfying. Then there is the sudden realization that maybe REAL HAPPINESS lies in religion and God. Then there is an alternative school of thought that promises that elusive ‘inner peace’. How about living in the present? Or how about that really charismatic person who apparently performs miracles and who seems to want to help everybody be happy? He can surely make people happy? Perhaps falling in love is the key to fulfillment. Having children and starting a family is maybe what is missing. That promotion should help things get better. No? Then perhaps go back to religion and God. That is always a safe bet, right?

How hard people try….. All the places they look…. All the things they believe in…..

All searching for HAPPINESS. All the time.

I have only one question: WHY?

The answer to that is not a WHY NOT? The answer to the question ‘Why are people always looking to be happy?’ is  that wanting to be happy is simply a consequence of societal and religious expectations. Same as getting an education, getting a job, starting a family, etc. This expectation of being happy is so deeply ingrained in us that it is extremely hard to justify to somebody that being happy should never be considered a necessity. The idea that, as a human being, the objective in life is to  be happy is an extremely fundamental and fixed frame of reference. Everything everybody ever sees is through this frame of reference.

Just one question: WHY?

Just one question: WHY?

A few instances: when we are not feeling good, we are encouraged to talk to people to feel better – nobody says it is OK to feel down; when a friend has lost someone, we tell them everything is going to be OK – nobody reminds them of what a big loss they have just had; when someone is feeling down, we make it our responsibility to make them feel better – we don’t suggest that they try to express it through a form of art; a therapist is always expected to solve other people’s problems so that they feel better; counselling is always encouraged for people to get out of traumatic situations; when we are angry we are told to calm down because being calm makes it easier to be happy – nobody encourages us to listen to heavy metal music in that state of mind.

Ultimately, every state of mind that is not directly linked to being ‘happy’ is always judged to be something inferior – and people are expected to rise above it, whatever it takes. If we are unable to rise above it, we are then considered weak. If we are not considered weak, we are shown a lot of sympathy and/or pity. Being treated with sympathy or being considered weak – fact is that both these are still going to consider us to be inferior and as somebody who needs help. Note that both society and religion has already decided that every individual personally desires to be happy all the time. If there is an exception, then, well, there is apparently something wrong with that person. Right?

And this is where I have a problem. I realize everyone likes being happy – if happy things happened to them. I only question the deeply ingrained dogma of a society to judge a person who is not ‘happy’ as someone inferior to the rest. I also question the even more fundamental idea that everyone in this world should actively strive for happiness all the time and that everything else is a bad idea.

Being a human being is not just about being happy. We have evolved to be able to experience an unbelievable spectrum of emotions. Happiness is only one small part of it. Being happy makes you experience a certain specific sensation or feeling. If the sum total of all the feelings that we have experienced in our life is restricted to this one specific feeling, then can we even claim to have fully lived like a human being?

Happiness is good. But this should never imply the converse – that anything apart from happiness is miserable and unacceptable. And it should never make it acceptable for the society to simply demand and expect people to be happy all the time and consider them inferior if they are not. And so I personally reject all schools of thought that make happiness/salvation/enlightenment as the fundamental objective of a human being during his or her lifetime.

Come to think of it, if everyone from the beginning of time was happy all the time, how do you think our history would read? It would perhaps comprise of one sentence: “And then Mankind lived happily ever after”. That would be such a boring and one dimensional history and I would not want to be any part of it – even if it had made me happy.

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In the next post, I will explore the role of ART in explaining why the societal and religious perception of happiness is incomplete and completely misplaced. 

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