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Stop Drinking. Start Juicing.

It has been about 4 months since I gave up drinking alcohol. 10 years of regular (and mostly moderate) alcohol consumption came to a rather indifferent end earlier this year. Whenever I mention this to people, the first thing I am usually asked is,”Did you get a DUI?!?” And when I respond that no, I have not been arrested for drunk driving, they are typically unsure why else I would have stopped drinking alcohol.

Fact is I simply lost interest. Yes, there was some motivation behind it in terms of bad cholesterol/LDL numbers. But in the end, that was nothing more than the equivalent of an excuse to bring in the change. And when I actually made the decision, it didn’t even seem like I was doing something monumental. I felt the same as when I decided to get off social media a month earlier. It was more of a “Whatever….it doesn’t seem to matter anyway” feeling than an actual ‘decision’. And it has continued to feel that way till today.

I perhaps should not make the statement that I have ‘given up alcohol’. That would imply that I would never drink alcohol ever again. And I know that is something that would be untrue. If I am meeting a good friend after a long time, or if there is a very special occasion, or even if my dad offers me some good Scotch, I am not going to take some kind of a moral or health-based high ground and refuse to join them.

Going on some kind of a dry streak doesn’t mean or do much to me either. It is not that I am afraid I will simply lapse back into my drinking habits if I were to get a beer tonight. I just don’t feel the temptation in the first place. In fact, I still go to my neighborhood bar 2-3 times a week to say hi to my friends; I just don’t drink any alcohol there. So even though I will always appreciate the taste of a good Scotch whisky, I don’t think I would have more than a drink or two in a year. Therefore, I think I would rather make the statement that ‘I have lost interest in alcohol’ instead of ‘I have given up alcohol’.

Losing interest in alcohol provided me with a number of side benefits including having a lot more time on my hands (perhaps because of which I am able to write this post tonight!). And so I started looking for something to do with all the time on my hands. It so happened that around about the same time, a friend of mine suggested that I explore the idea of juicing as a regular activity. I had only known about juicing in passing. So I did some research and found that it was a rather convenient and potentially tasty way to get a whole bunch of nutrients into my body, and, within a few days, had bought the most popular juicer on Amazon.

Then, to find good juice recipes, I went on to the (extremely creatively named) website JuiceRecipes.com. There I found a large database of not just recipes, but also information and general tips on the act of juicing, including some useful warnings on what not to do. I liked the structure of their website and have stuck with it since then for all my juicing needs.

And then I started juicing.

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The Wingman – my personal favorite

Wow. Turns out, juicing is fun! I thoroughly enjoy the act of juicing. And I am not just talking about the part where I drink it. I enjoy the whole experience – deciding on a recipe, preparing the fruit/vegetables, running them through the juicer, and even cleaning the entire apparatus! It is only after I have cleaned it all do I drink the juice. I feel so good when I juice that it has become some kind of a Zen activity; all my focus and energy is on the juicing and I am totally living in the moment! So I never juice in a hurry and always do it as a separate activity that needs its own time. Overall, it takes me about half an hour to decide on a recipe, prepare the ingredients, run it through the juicer, clean the juicer and the waste, and drink the juice. And I look forward to it every day after work.

I am not even going to make an effort to list the health benefits here, because it is the most obvious aspect of juicing. But what I will definitely point out is that juicing has given me something else to drink in place of alcohol. Yes, I would have probably continued to not drink alcohol in any case. But having a big glass of juice to keep sipping on while playing poker or throwing bags with friends who are drinking beer always makes the job so much easier.

So for anyone out there who is trying to quit/reduce drinking, wants to develop some kind of a healthy dietary habit, is looking for a convenient way to get great nutrition in their body or just wants to do something constructive in their free time, really just STOP DRINKING AND START JUICING!

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PS: I use the Breville JE98XL Juice Fountain Plus 850-Watt  for all my juicing. I am thoroughly satisfied with the product and have high praise for the general design and the ease with which it can be cleaned.

2015 Concerts in Review: Part 2

It appears that I am now able to actually conjure up Part 2 of a post, as opposed to simply intending to do so. So here is the Part 2 (of 4) for reviewing the concerts i went to in 2015 – the best year on record for me. Part 1 can be found here.

9. Tame Impala at Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO: One of the few bands that I have become a superfan of in the past 2-3 years is Tame Impala. Kevin Parker is well on his way to become a truly versatile musician and producer. ‘Lonerism’ was one of the best albums I heard in 2014, and his latest album ‘Currents’ is even better. However, the concert was scheduled prior to the release of his latest album (a practice I am not particularly a big fan of). So even though he did play Let it Happen, Eventually, Cause I’m a Man (he did NOT play The Less I Know the Better), I was not familiar with them. But he did play most of ‘Lonerism’, so that pretty much got me my money’s worth. In fact, it made up for the last time I saw them Live and missed half their show.

I have to admit this was the most ‘psychedelic’ show I had ever been to. The visuals, of which there were plenty, pretty much consisted of hypnotic wheels, laser beams generating abstract images, and pretty much just dope shit. I suppose that is the kind of stuff one sees when they are on shrooms, but I wouldn’t know (gotta fix that!). Quite fitting the band’s music for sure. I am definitely looking forward to seeing them live again when they play their new album – especially now that I know it inside out!

10. Dave Matthews Band at Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA: I got on the DMB wagon way way late. In fact I got on it so late, that I found out many people who were on it had gotten off it! I eventually learnt that his group of fans were the kind who get overly obsessed with the man – to the point where they know every single song he has made, and also believe that he can do no wrong. This would typically generate a hype among his super-fans that could appear manufactured for the non-super-fans. And I can totally see why this could be putting off for folks who do not want to be identified with the super-fans. As far as my own discovery goes, I had no clue about the overly obsessive mindset of his fans. I just happened to buy ‘Crash’ at a sale and proceeded to listen to it, and I loved it. Then I listened to ‘Busted Stuff’ and then to ‘Under the Table and Dreaming’ and loved all of it. Then I found out he was playing in Des Moines and went to the show with a friend. I still listen to him and will continue to do so and go to more concerts if I can.

Now about the show: I will go ahead and say it – DMB is in the top 3 shows I have ever seen in terms of pure musicianship. The other two being Steven Wilson and King Crimson. In fact, it is probably safe to say that Dave Matthews was the worst musician on stage. And the fact that that is a compliment should indicate how good his bandmates are. (I could easily say that about Steven Wilson as well). The band first played an acoustic set with Dave looking remarkably sober (to which my friend reacted “I didn’t pay all this money to see Dave play sober!”) and then played an electric set (with the ‘sober problem’ quite evidently fixed during the break). This being my first DMB show, it was truly fantastic to see how the whole crowd seemed to know the words to each and every song that he played. (Super fans indeed!) And with such a huge back catalog, the band plays a different set every night, preserving the element of surprise (or disappointment) for everyone.

With that being the state, I was pretty satisfied with the final setlist. He played most of my favorites #41, What would You Say?, Ants Marching, Space Between and, of course, Grey Street. Sure I would have loved for him to play Satellite and Jimi Thing, but hey there is always another time. Overall it was a very energizing experience being around such passionate fans jumping and singing and screaming all the time – something I will remember more than just fondly. And I truly mean it when I say I had no business being there in the first place – unstoned. Gotta definitely fix that next time! And trust me, there WILL BE a next time!

11. Esperaza Spalding at Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA: I like to play bass guitar. Esperaza Spalding plays bass guitar, and she is pretty good at it. That was pretty much the reason I went there. And she did not disappoint. Now imagine how well you can recite the English alphabet. Pretty easy right? Perhaps something that you can just play around and still get it right and not even put in any effort at all. It’s like you just own the whole act of reciting the alphabet. Playing bass is Esperaza Spalding’s equivalent of reciting the English alphabet. It was not just her skill I was impressed with. It was the fact that she made it look so god damn easy that blew me away. I just cannot emphasize that enough. She not only made the bass guitar sing, she also made it dance, headbang, clap, jump up and down and just make the crowd completely forget that it was just nothing more than a god damn bass guitar. Lots of funk, some reggae, some rock, and lots of jazz and a whole lot of fun! I may not explore her music separately but will definitely be going to see her live again if I get a chance!

12. Shania Twain at Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA: My one true guilty pleasure, and honestly I don’t think I would even think twice about calling it guilty. ‘Come on Over’ was one of the first albums I fell in love with back in high school. My friend and I were totally looking forward to this for months together. Unfortunately, the timing of certain events led to me just go there by myself. I have to admit I couldn’t enjoy the show as much as I had anticipated I would due to the circumstances, but I did see her play all the songs I wanted her to – Man! I feel like a woman!, Don’t be Stupid, Rock this Country, From this Moment on, You’re still the one, I’m gonna getcha good!, and of course, That Don’t Impress me Much! This was probably her last tour, so I am glad I got to see her. The venue was packed to capacity and I have to admit I was surprised to find a lot of dudes – much more than what I had expected!

13. The Aristocrats at The Gaslamp, Des Moines, IA: The Aristocrats is a band that consists of Marco Minneman, Guthrie Govan (both of whom play for Steven Wilson’s band) and Bryan Beller. I had missed out on watching Marco and Guthrie play with Steven as they were doing their own thing with The Aristocrats. But no worries. The band decided to play at The Gaslamp! (First reaction when I heard about it: “Wait, what? The fuckin’ Gaslamp? If I tried hard enough, I could get a gig for myself there!”) It is an almost dive bar with a makeshift stage and a room with a capacity of about 100 max, and it is just about 2-3 blocks from my apartment. And The Aristocrats played here. It was surprising to the point of being plain ridiculous. But it did happen, and 3 musicians put up a great show. There was a crowd of about 80 or so and the band played great music – mostly instrumental. It was not a jam band by any means, but a band which use their instruments to play precise songs. Smuggler’s Corridor was my personal favorite (apparently inspired by the Breaking Bad scene where Walt kicks a barrel full of money across the desert). All in all, I was majorly satisfied to see some of my favorite musicians play at the fuckin’ Gaslamp, of all places! Still don’t believe it!

14. Beach House at The Slowdown, Omaha, NE: One of the other bands (after Tame Impala) that I have become a super fan of is Beach House. This band simply makes some of the most depressing, melodious, poetic and ultimately beautiful songs I have heard in my life. I saw them at The Slowdown, which has become my personal favorite venue in all the Midwest – a very intimate place where everyone gets to see and hear the band optimally. Put it the other way round, I would say that Beach House is the kind of band you want to see at The Slowdown.

I cannot praise the band’s Teen Dream album enough. It is one of the most depressing albums I have ever heard and it is an album that I can never simply play in the background. It will always demand my full attention and require an emotional investment every time I choose to listen to it. It is THAT intense. The concert was exactly like that – intense. Nobody in the crowd said a fucking word throughout the show. (It probably helped that the band had the venue paste notes asking the crowd to maintain silence throughout the show). And neither did I. I was more than happy to just shut the fuck up and let the music do the talking. And speak to me it did. Songs from ‘Depression Cherry’, ‘Teen Dream’ and ‘Bloom’ concocted a feeling of great satisfaction and contentment – something that told me that I had everything I ever needed and that it was now time to give something back. And if I am to be very specific and honest, I will say that this was the show where I felt the strongest connection to the band and to the music – something that even led to the minor epiphany during Lazuli. Sure they didn’t play that one song (10 Mile Stereo) that I had believed would push my experience into the plane of higher consciousness. But in the end, they didn’t need to. Wild, Myth, Silver Soul, Walk in the Park, Other People, and Lazuli were sufficient to take me to that other place and gently guide me back to earth.

I will always cherish this particular show. It reminded me of the Sigur Ros show that I saw in 2013 – a spiritual experience that had to be set aside from all the other shows I have been to. I almost decided to make the drive to Lawrence, KS to see them live again the following evening. And next time I just might.

15. Kraftwerk at Arvest Bank Theater, Kansas City, MO: Honest to God, I didn’t even know the band members were still even alive until a couple of years ago. I have had an exceptionally memorable bond with this band. ‘The Man Machine’ was, after all, one of the first albums I fell in love with when I was just a 6 year old kid. I would play the cassette, close my eyes and imagine that I was on a spaceship with the band playing the songs to an ecstatic crowd. And late last summer, there I was, watching the band play their best hits. It may not have been a spaceship, but fuck you, to me it was!

First of all, it was a 3-D show. That is correct. A 3-Dimensional show where the band members stood behind their keyboards in some kind of a glowing space suit (I told you it was a god damn space ship!) and mind-fuck visuals were beamed on the screen behind them in 3D. The crowd were given 3D glasses for the show and the visuals were definitely very creative and detailed. It included a virtual race circuit for Autobahn, a Fritz Lang inspired Metropolis for, well, Metropolis, a bullet train for Trans Europe Express and so on. There was even a sequence during Spacelab where a spaceship landed in a spot that was clearly made to look like downtown Kansas City. And so yes, again, fuck you! I was in a god damn spaceship! (Don’t you dare mess with my childhood dream!)

Seriously, the stage just consisted of the 4 dudes and their keyboards. Nothing else, no one else. And I have to admit it was hard to figure out how much of their music was pre-programmed and how much of it was played live. But I don’t think that really mattered much. The setlist was pretty much their Greatest Hits, with an added bonus of them playing the full The Man Machine album! This included an encore where they played The Robots with 4 actual robots in place of the band members. Pretty cool really. Computer Love, Radioactivity, Autobahn, Trans Europe Express, all their best songs were played that night.

I truly wished it was not a seated show and instead consisted of sufficient amounts of alcohol consumption and general bad dancing and overall merry making in a standing show. But hey, I don’t think I can complain at all. The first thing I did after the show was call up my dad and tell him how exciting it was to see the band that he had introduced me to when I was a kid. I do wish I could have taken him to the show, I know it would have meant a lot to him, but alas, there was this small issue of him being half way around the world from me.

I will always be glad that I got to see the band play live in my, and more importantly, their lifetime.

16. Mark Knopfler at Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL: Mark Knopfler has a very special place in my life. Dire Straits was the first band that I truly fell in love with – well before I discovered Pink Floyd. I knew nothing about the band, but a cassette I rented in my high school became the start of a great bond that I would develop with the music and lyrics of Dire Straits. It was the band that began the ‘mellowing down’ process of my later adolescence, heralding a transition from all things metal to something more nuanced and melodious. I had the opportunity to see him open for Bob Dylan a few years ago in Omaha. But I knew that show did not do justice to his vast catalog and to his own deserved place as the main act. But this one did – for the most part. I am not going to dwell much on the fact that I have never seen any artist be so bored and uninterested in singing some of their own songs as I did with Knopfler singing Sultans of Swing and So Far Away. And the reason I am not going to dwell on it is because of what else he played, and played supremely well.

With every artist, I have a few songs that I truly love. These are not necessarily B-sides but maybe even like C or D sides, so to speak. They are almost never performed live and you will rarely hear them on the radio. I tend to strongly associate these songs with certain emotions, a specific state of mind, a place, a vision from the past, a vision for the then future, a certain someone, a feeling of what could have been perhaps, some regret, an awareness of the desire for a different set of outcomes in the past, and some inevitable, leftover hope for the future. And it has typically been an unfulfilled hope to see these songs played live. So when Mark Knopfler played two of those songs – On Every Street and Your Latest Trick – it actually took me a few seconds to figure out what song he was actually playing. I hadn’t heard them in years in an apparent attempt to isolate and box all the feelings, emotions and memories that came with it. And I had been largely successful at it too. Because when those memories came flooding back to me at the Chicago Theater, they were all firmly in hindsight; and I was looking back with a sense of sympathy and mature acknowledgment, instead of nostalgia and regret. It was a powerful experience being there and watching him play those two songs that captured so much of my later adolescence so deeply.

In the end, it almost became that everything else was a bonus. But that would be not only unfair, but also plain incorrect. Romeo & Juliet, Paraguay, Privateering, and Theme from Local Hero all stood out on their own. And at the end, I felt that I had finally laid to rest a longing from my adolescent days to see Mark Knopfler live and to see him play those songs that could have very well been the soundtrack to those times.

2015 Concerts in Review: Part 1

When I wrote about the concerts I had been to in 2014, I firmly believed that 2014 was as good as it could have gotten, and that 2015 could never really surpass that. I even wrote so in that post. Well, here I am, writing about my 2015 concerts (admittedly late) and being so happy to have been wrong. Thanks largely to my wild wild summer and me putting in those extra efforts to go to see the bands, 2015 ended up exceeding my wildest expectations. I saw about 40 to 50 bands (probably more) in total including some 30 or so of whom I actually wanted to see. So I am going to have to write 4 parts (primarily covering only the bands I actually wanted to see) to this thing to keep the length of the posts manageable. I may even have to skip a few bands but hey that is something I can live with. So here goes:

1. Foxygen at Blue Moose Tap House, Iowa City, IA: This was the first concert I went to in 2015 and it was by far the worst show I have ever attended. I really like the band. Their (then) new album ‘And Star Power’ had some particularly good psychedelic songs (See Cosmic Vibrations). And I was looking forward to see them live. But then this was what happened: The lead singer was very likely coked out of his mind and he was jumping around all around the stage like a madman. That would have been an energetic show in a good way except for the part wherein he rarely, if ever, held the mic near his mouth – essentially making him completely inaudible for most of the show. And when someone in the crowd shouted “I can’t hear you. Sing to the mic!” his response was “This is fuckin’ rock n’ roll man!” – as if the genre he was singing permitted him to be unprofessional on stage. And then just when I was getting into the groove of the show, it was over. It lasted just about 40 minutes and the band left the stage abruptly.

So here are my two middle fingers to your lack of professionalism Mr. Sam France. Rock n’ Roll deserves better than you.

2. Mini Mansions at Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA: This is one of the bands I began to explore after I found out they were playing at Wooly’s. Simple songs (See Death is a Girl, Vertigo) with good hooks and better than average production value. Their entire album is worth listening to on repeat and the songs sounded every bit as good live. It was a 3 piece band that remained rather quiet in their performance – which was surprising considering the lead vocalist is the bassist from Queens of the Stone Age. I did thoroughly enjoy the basslines through all their songs; in fact I will go ahead and say that that is their strength. Having said that, I did always feel that their self-titled album was not just a good album, but more of a missed opportunity to be a great album. So here is to hoping they make an even better one next time!

3. Royal Blood at Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA: This band was actually the main act with Mini Mansions the opening act that night. Can I just say that they blew my mind? Yes I could, and that would be an understatement. To start with, this is just a 2 piece band. Drummer and vocalist who also plays this bass guitar that also somehow, by magic, plays the lead (or is it the other way round?). No kidding. A weird set of pedals and other mysterious objects let him play the lead and bass at the same time. The riffs that come out of this monstrosity of an instrument reminded me of Led Zeppelin when they were at their best. Not just in the sound, but more in the attitude and rock-out-ability (whatever that means). Add to this, meaningful melody and lyrics that make you want to just get up and punch someone (I got a gun for my mouth and a bullet with your name on it; But a trigger full of heartbeat pulling from an empty pocket) – and all this makes the perfect potion you want to drink just before you go to war. The duo put on a high energy show too and everyone at Wooly’s left feeling energized and clearly ready to punch someone in the face!

4. Grace Potter at Brenton Skating Plaza, Des Moines, IA: I am just going to go ahead and say it: Grace Potter is the best performer I have seen in my entire life. She will probably continue to be a mid-size venue filling and late afternoon festival spot filling artist for the rest of her career. But that will never tell the full story of the quality of the music, the spirit of her lyrics, and most of all, the energy of her shows. This was the 4th time I saw her Live, and was probably the best experience of them all. Couple sufficient alcohol consumption with friends who know all the songs (like I do) and who want to dance the entire night through (like I do) and the stage was set for an extremely memorable night. She debuted her solo stuff but the highlight was always going to be the stuff she did with The Nocturnals. Songs like ‘Loneliest Soul’, ‘Keepsake’, and ‘Turntable’ are the kind that get even the most uptight person in the groove and dancing. I haven’t checked out her solo album, but I am hoping it is as good as ‘The Lion, The Beast, The Beat’. (Good news is that I will be seeing her again this year).

Special shout out to Jessica Lea Mayfield who opened for Grace Potter. She has the second most depressing song I discovered in 2015 (I Can’t Lie to You, Love).

5. Umphrey’s McGee at Brenton Skating Plaza, Des Moines: A friend of mine (who has lost count of number of times he has seen UM Live) had been continuously suggesting me to watch them Live. One fine day last year I did. I almost didn’t, but then I found 2 willing friends and I did. They played for over 3 hours with about a 20 min break in between. What I realized was that it didn’t matter if you have never heard them play before or haven’t heard their name. Their music was just phenomenal, and the light show was on par with the music. They even covered David Bowie’s Let’s Dance (well before he passed away). It is a band that you have to go see as a matter of general principle if they are playing nearby. They are playing again this summer and I intend to see them.

6. Steven Wilson at Barrymore Theater, Madison, WI: Perhaps the concert I had been looking forward to ever since I had seen him 2 years before that. He had just released Hand.Cannot.Erase and I totally wanted to see him play live. He did not have Marco (drums) or Guthrie (lead guitar) but he had equally capable replacements. He played the full HCE album interspersed with some of his older solo stuff. The highlight of the show, however, was Routine from HCE. He introduced the song as the most depressing he has ever created, and I tend to agree with that. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the visceral, heart breaking animated video that played on the screen for the entire song. I promise you most of the people in the crowd were either ready to burst out in tears or were already shedding them by the time the song ended. I myself was no exception and I rate that to be one of the most intense experiences of my life. The video wasn’t released online until the end of the year and was only played at his concerts, which preserved the exclusivity of that experience that much longer.*

In addition to HCE, he did play Lazarus, a song that I love and one that he hadn’t played when I saw him play with Porcupine Tree in 2010. So that closed the circle on that in some way and I was truly happy. He also played Sleep Together, another PT song, but I cannot remember if he played that in 2010. I do wish he would play more from The Raven.

The thing that did pleasantly surprise me was that he engaged the crowd frequently and on things he had something to say about. He spoke about making depressing music (“…as opposed to what else?”), accepting grief and loss, his new signature guitar, and even singled out a group of people he had spotted at the previous show (“You realize it is the same shit every night right?”). I had taken a friend of mine who had never heard about him to the show and he was mightily impressed. It was best encapsulated with his first comment as soon as we got out of the venue: ‘I need a drink’!

* I did see SW again this year in Chicago and it was only then that I saw the Routine video for the second time even though I could have seen it online by then. In any case, the 2016 show  led to a series of events I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams.

7. Lake Street Dive at Simon Estes Amphitheater, Des Moines, IA: I think this is a jazz band. There is jazz for sure, but there is some indie rock in there as well. So call it what you want. But there is no denying that voice will capture your attention anytime you hear it, and more so when you hear it Live. The band played a stripped down version of their instruments because of some unknown reason, but that barely seemed to matter at all. The band could have been non existent and then just the vocals would have been just fine. They played most of the songs from their ‘Bad Self Portraits’ album except for the one that I believe is their best song (Just Ask). But hey they covered Hall n Oats’ Rich Girl, so that was awesome! Also, did I mention about that voice?

And I am seeing them again this summer!

8. Electric Six at Vaudewille Mews, Des Moines, IA: I dare anyone to listen to Electric Six play High Voltage live and not be jumping around for the entire duration of the song. Come to think of it, pretty much all their songs are like that – which meant I was jumping around for pretty much the entire duration of their show. (Actually listening to that song right now as I write this at a coffee shop, I just want to start jumping around right here!) I had listened to their songs only in passing and found them to be rather upbeat intended to make you get the fuck out of your couch and do something – preferably along the lines of smashing something within immediate reach. When played live, however, that smashing-things-around-you turned out to just be the baseline. The only way the crowd could express their energy was by jumping around or headbanging. I chose the former. And I honestly do not remember a single concert where I was jumping through the whole damn show. I am fairly certain I do not possess that energy and which is why I was surprised to find myself do just that at that show. Now if only I could go to an Electric Six show every morning, I would probably end up that much more productive at work.

Well at least they are playing again this year, so once a year is good enough I suppose!

Next part will include my experience at the 8035 and Hinterland music festival: Wilco, Weezer, Lettuce, TV on the Radio, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Brandi Carlisle, and many more.

Lessons from Stressful Times

For someone who considers himself a champion of sorts of the Dudeist way of life, I had to endure a rather stressful 2 weeks in November. What was supposed to be a relaxing month of family time, great food and conversing in Kannada took a turn in an unexpected direction that lead me down a path I had last traversed (and never that far down) during the last 2 weeks of my Master’s program. It was a path that questioned my very own abilities to handle pressure, made me confront, clarify and reaffirm my deep held beliefs about this world, made me realize what it truly means to care for someone else other than myself, and held bare the unbreakable bonds I share with my parents.

The idea was for my ‘cooling down’ for 2015 to coincide with my parents coming to visit me. This was supposed to last for the full month of November. The first two weeks or so went great with my mom making all the food I could eat and we were happily catching up with each other. We even got to celebrate her birthday at the Cheesecake Factory (her choice). My parents saw all the fall colors and their first snow and were visibly excited for both. However, the weather also meant that they could not simply go out as much as they would have liked, which in turn led my mom to ask me to take them to the Amana Colonies on the day after the snow storm.

Long story short, just as we were heading out of the courtyard, my mother slipped on black ice and fell, breaking her ankle in the process. Visits to the ER and the Orthopedic revealed two fractures which would require surgery to fix. The surgery could wait a maximum of 10-12 days but had to be done. My priority immediately after that was to be able to send her home back to India where she could get the surgery done, and recover with all her family around her in our own home. (I was wise enough to have bought them traveler’s insurance here, but having the surgery done here was not an option). So my action item was clear. Cancel the ticket booked for Dec 2nd and book another one for the 25th or so.

But what appeared to be a simple, straightforward task ended up becoming one of the most painful and frustrating exercises I have ever had to go through. Turns out her medical condition required a clearance from the airline prior to departure. This further implied paperwork that had to be filed 48-72 hours in advance of the flights with the caveat that nobody (at Qatar, Etihad) really knew what forms to fill or whom to send it to. This ultimately led me to have to cancel and rebook flights 3 times after being late and/or rejected on grounds that were never specified anywhere in the first place. The fact that all this was happening over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend didn’t help either. In the end, I booked a business class ticket for my mom (with economy for dad) on an Air India flight from Chicago to Bangalore (via Delhi) departing on the 1st of December. And I did this still not knowing if she was going to be allowed to board – even after speaking to half a dozen different Air India people based in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chicago and New York City (each of whom, by the way, gave a different opinion on what paperwork was required, whom to submit to and by when).

But I don’t want this post to be about what happened and what I did. I am writing this more to document how I felt and all the things I realized in the process. So I will dedicate the rest of this post to just that.

I suppose I have to start with lack of control I felt with a lot of what was happening around me. My mom was in pain, airlines weren’t letting her fly, time was ticking down for the surgery, and my dad was getting stressed out. I have to admit that, at this point, the appeal of the divine felt extremely strong – especially when the circumstances facing me were beyond my control. Being able to ‘trust’ or ‘put my faith in’ an unknown force to help me take care of the situation sounded like a great option to just relieve my mental stress. But for someone who doesn’t attribute much significance to the existence of the said ‘unknown force’, I could never get myself to embrace that idea of putting my faith in it. But yes I will freely admit that the appeal was the strongest when the lack of control was the most pronounced, and I can definitely see why it is rather popular. I am a guy who instead believes in cause, effect, and the roles probability and chaos play in determining outcomes. And so instead of praying to something I didn’t believe in, I remembered the lyrics of a song Modern Jesus by Portugal The Man. It goes something like this:

Don’t pray for us

We don’t need no Modern Jesus

To roll with us

The only rule we heed is

Never giving up

The only faith we have

Is faith in us

 I would say that pretty much encapsulated my state of mind at that point. And so I decided to act and ensure I covered all scenarios to get my mom safely back home. I began to get proactive to make sure my mom did not aggravate anything. I decided she was going to be accompanied everywhere she went all the time. She would no longer help with cooking – even cutting vegetables. Essentially I tried to proactively minimize all probability of her getting into a situation that could aggravate her injury. And when she complained she was getting bored, I made her read Japanese Crime novels on my Kindle. (Problem solved)

I would like to say it was all positive and happy after that, but that would be far from the truth. In reality, what the precautionary measures meant was that I was living in a constant fear of something going wrong. In addition to that, watching her in pain was sapping my mental energy and will power to see this through. Add to this the effort I had to put in 24/7 to keep my parents’ spirits up while making decisions every step of the way. And then on top of this, the fact that this stressful situation was a personal one made it that much harder to view it in a detached manner (as compared to, say, working towards a deadline on a project).

It was during the first few days that I recollect driving to the hospital to get some paperwork done and deciding to listen to some comfort music. I picked the first thing that came to my mind – Portugal The Man. Plastic Soldiers started blaring in my car and I started to sing along. It took perhaps 30 seconds or so of the song before I almost broke down. You see, listening to that song reminded me of one of the memorable concerts I had been to in 2015. It reminded me of a very happy and care free time that stood for everything in contrast to where I was driving in my car. And I just couldn’t get myself to embrace that happiness the memory threw out at me. I felt I just couldn’t afford happy thoughts just yet. And that almost got me to break down. I didn’t though – I had to drive after all. But what I did decide was that I would not break down until my parents’ flight had taken off from Chicago. I had this image in my head of watching the ‘Departures’ screen at O’Hare and seeing the flight’s status change to ‘Departed’ and me breaking down right then and there – a consummation of all the hard work I had put in and the relief that came with it. That was the image I had in my head and I decided that I would not break down or lose my faith in myself until then – no matter what. My parents needed me and I would not let them down.

I was extremely fortunate to have just finished a big project the previous week. This allowed me to be at home for over 10 days without having to worry about work. I honestly do not know how I would have reacted with the additional pressures of work, if it had been there. One thing I did find that was uplifting and improving my general mood was to keep chipping away at all the things – small and big – that directly or indirectly helped the ultimate objective. Getting a form filled, getting prints, booking tickets, getting vegetables for home – anything at all – helped lift my mood in increments. It essentially made me feel in a little bit more control. And trust me when I say that being in even a little control is way better than not being in even a little control.

Perhaps one of the big insights I had during this time was in the way my mother rationalized the events. First, when she learnt that she had broken her ankle, her reaction was “Oh why is God testing me and my faith to him like this?”. After that it was “I suppose this is part of the consequences of my Karma that I have to live with it.” And then finally it was, “Thanks to God, this was restricted to just my ankle and nothing else.” In all fairness, yes, it could have been a lot worse, but it could have also been completely prevented. Had I been more proactive in estimating the risk of slipping on ice, I would have put my foot down and made my parents stay at home instead. I suppose that part is on me. So when I was listening to my mother go through the different stages of rationalization of the events, I couldn’t help but find some humor in it. And when I pointed it out to her, my mother gracefully acknowledged the logical shortcomings in her line of thinking and said, “But what to do? This is what we believe in.” And that’s when I realized that if it was good enough for her, and if that made her happy, then who am I to complain? Live and let live.

As the day of the drive to Chicago came nearby, we got packed and took all precautions. I rented a minivan to give her maximum space to rest her leg, along with a wheelchair to help her move around at the hotel and airport. The weather had a very interesting story that day. Starting from Des Moines, the west half of the entire state of Iowa was having significant snow fall (6-10”) and freezing rain. East of Des Moines (and towards Chicago), however, it was all rain. My father readily attributed this stroke of luck to his Guru answering his prayers. (I let him have his moment of peace). However, driving through the rain, it quickly became clear that this was not going to be an easy drive. Torrential rains in the night, coupled with semis spraying near blinding water on the wind screens all the way was not necessarily my idea of prayers being answered. It was the toughest drive I have ever made – more so with the things at stake – and I made it to Chicago safe and sound. My mother later told me that she was too scared to even look at the wind screen during the entire drive. I took that as a compliment.

The next day when we went to the airport and approached the check in counter, it was like I was walking towards a situation where I had no control whatsoever. This was it. I could only be so much prepared but this was where it came to a head. Would they let my parents fly home? As it turned out, yes, they did. And also, apparently no paperwork or clearance was required at all! (Yes I believe I will never have a stronger urge to roll my eyes as I did right then)

So after all that we had to go through the previous 10 days, my parents were set to go home. My mother called me to her side and told me the customary things (‘eat proper food’, ‘take care of your health’, etc). It was then that she also told me those words that reaffirmed the strong bond I shared with my parents. In return, I promised her that we would go visit the Grand Canyon next time she was here – something she has been wanting to see for a while. We then hugged and I said good bye to them.

I was obviously going to hang around the airport until the plane departed. I got comfortable at a coffee shop with a view of the Departures screen and just continued to stare at the screen. About 15 minutes after my parents went through security, my dad called me up. He told me they were all set in their seats and the plane was due to take off shortly. And then he said something to me that he had not told me my entire life. The significance of what he said did not register to me right at that moment. Instead, I spoke for a couple more minutes and wished him a happy journey and then we hung up.

It was only after I hung up and thought about it did I realize what he had just said to me. And it was also at the same time that I saw the flight status change to ‘Departed’. Sitting in that coffee shop, I suppose that would have been the time I was going to break down. But, somehow, I just didn’t. I was mentally so exhausted that I had just become emotionally numb. You could have told me I had won the lottery and I could not have mustered even as much as a smile. And so, I just sat there, finished my drink and went back to my car. I thought I was going to break down in the car, but that didn’t happen either. In fact, I never broke down at all. I do not know if that was supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing – I have never shied away from the act of crying as an expression of my emotions. But fact remains that I was completely numb to anything that was happening around me for the next few days.

I came back to Des Moines the same day. My parents reached Bangalore the following day and my mother had a successful surgery the same day. She is now rehabilitating well at home with my dad taking care of her and is due to return to work in a month or so. It took me a couple of days to gather all my thoughts and get back to my routine. It was also then that I realized the great group of friends I have here in Des Moines – every one of whom helped me out in some capacity or other. Be it helping my mom get to and from the hospital/ER, or just helping me with my own state of mind by just giving me good company – every one of them helped me and I am very grateful to them all.

Looking back, I am fairly pleased with the way I was able to handle the pressure and stay in reasonably good spirits throughout. I was also personally pleased that, even though this event happened during the month that I was scheduled to stay sober, I did not let the pressure make me say ‘Fuck it! I need/deserve a drink!’ when I would have been completely justified doing just the same.

I have always been close to my parents – even more so to my mother. And they have always been close to me – what with me being the only child and all that. But it is testing times like these that truly reveal the depth of that bond. And I was really happy to know that they are still as strong and sturdy as they can possibly be.

And lastly, people usually turn to a supernatural presence to help them through tough times, and if that helps them get through things, so be it. But I realized that, when faced with situations out of my control, I will always proceed with my own belief – a belief that says ‘The only faith we have is faith in us’. And that is good enough for me.

A Wild and Exhausting Summer

I am exhausted. And I may even be writing this just to get that point across. I am also writing this on my 30th birthday – which is apparently a significant thing. Apparently, I am now old, can be officially called an ‘Uncle’, and as my parents and relatives subtly remind me – my prospects in the arranged marriage market have now taken a deep hit. I am also writing this 2 days after my birthday celebration which involved the highest rate of alcohol consumption and (rather short lived) general feelings of invincibility I have experienced in the last 5-6 years – a combination that culminated in my very own “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!” moment (OK maybe not that dramatic). I am also writing this after a full day and a half of (completely necessary) recovery. But more importantly, I am writing this at the end of a wild, wild summer.

I AM A GOLDEN GOD!!

The idea of seasons took its time for me to get used to. It was at least 2-3 years after my arrival in the US that I realized that I cannot be as active in the winter as I am in the summer. And more importantly, that it was OK not to be going out and traveling all the time in the winter. At the other end of that realization was my effort to be as active as possible during the months of April to October. It is a change in my lifestyle that I have come to accommodate over the past few years, and am now actually quite content with the new mental states that I find myself in at various times of the year.

For the past few years, ever since I started working, I have tried to reach a particular point in my mental state around late October/early November. It is a state of mind wherein I can honestly tell myself, “I have done everything I possibly could this summer, and now I am ready for the winter.” I have been largely successful these past few years in achieving that state of mind around October/November – just in time for the winter to set in.

This year, I reached that state of mind in the first week of August.

This summer has been one long continuum punctuated with concerts, music festivals, weekend travels, night-outs at bars, work, poker, games of Settlers of Catan, games of bags (a.k.a Cornhole), lots of records and CD shopping and of working out. It has had its moments – from very intense and stressful to very peaceful and relaxing. 4 trips to Chicago, 4 to Kansas City, twice to Wisconsin (including my 4th visit to House on The Rock is as many years), 3 music festivals, 3 night-outs at an establishment that I’d rather not specify (one of which culminated in my rather memorable 530 AM question “Is that the fuckin’ sun?“), 30+ bands seen live, a month long stay in a resort at Storm Lake (for work), God only knows how many gallons of alcohol consumed, late late nights (more like early mornings) at the neighborhood bar, God only knows how many new friends made, and all this while working on a high profile highway project in the state of Iowa.

This is probably the point I post a meme summing it all up:

Yes. It was really exhausting. And I would do it all over again.

In all seriousness, I reached a point of complete exhaustion the first week of August. I had been on a non-stop schedule of weekend travel/concerts/general fun for over 3 months. And after my trip to Milwaukee the first weekend of August, I just felt I was done – which was really understandable. But the fact that I did not have any concerts/travel scheduled for the next 3 weeks made the timing just spot on. So the break was most welcome, which I spent doing exactly nothing. (OK I will admit I continued my obsession with Japanese crime novels during that time.) And towards the end of August, I got my energy back and was traveling around all over again.

In the end, I look back at these past 6 months with a sense of satisfaction that I haven’t felt in a while. This satisfaction came with a new found appreciation for just being fortunate enough to have the time, resources and physical ability to do all the things I did. It also came with a sense of pride for realizing that my passion and curiosity for exploring what’s out there are not going away. It came with the true understanding that I am really only as old as I want to be. It also came with the realization that I have a group of friends that I can truly depend on, and a neighborhood that I can call my own. This is the closest I have come to feeling like I am home here in the US, and I truly feel fortunate that I have all this.

My 30th birthday celebration was probably the last ‘exhausting’ activity this year. My concert calendar is now empty till January, and I am going sober for the next 4-5 weeks. But perhaps, more importantly, my parents are going to be here a week from today for a month. What better way to do the cool down lap this year than just feasting on mom’s food? There may yet be one final weekend trip this year where I get to take my parents out.

But all in all, I can confidently say that yes, I am indeed ready for the winter.

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!

 

My Tryst with Beer

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.

 

My Personal Favorite

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.

 

I want that on a T-Shirt

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.

The Art of Perfection: Porcupine Tree Live @ Charlotte, NC

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.

Updates

Warning: Long, Self Indulgent post ahead.

I am trying to remember how it is to write a blog post. Looks like I am already doing it now. So lets get down to the part where I actually make the effort to write something more readable than these lame introductory lines.

The idea of  this post was me to write something about a lot of things that have been happening around me and TO me since the last time I wrote about a lot of things that happened around me and TO me. Oh and that by the way, was way back in July last year when I decided to shift continents to do my Masters. And I believe the idea was to write a post before I completed my Masters and shifted continents once more to go back where I came from. So here I am, fulfilling my own expectations, way ahead of time!

1. Just to clear things up before I say anything, I am still in Blacksburg, Virginia-also known as “middle of nowhere” or “place where there is nothing to do”- with the only claim to fame of this place being that it is where Virginia Tech is located. Perhaps, at this point, if you are still not able to make the connection (i.e if your IQ<75 or if you are Timmy), I am doing my Masters at VTech (Go Hokies! I guess…). While my last post about my stay here would have indicated that there could not have been anything better I could have chosen, I have also come to realize that where it really matters, I have nothing to show. In every other aspect, I could not have asked for anything more. Having said that, I have also come to realize that things have their own way of setting themselves right and so am ready to play out the remainder of my stay here.

2. Now looking at the brighter side of things, lets just start off by saying that I was able to experience one of my to do things, somewhere pretty much on top of my bucket list. And I am talking about ME WATCHING METALLICA LIVE! All those times I listened to them back in India and felt so damn helpless that I could never get to see them live, I guess this is definitely one of those dream come true things. October 17th at  John Paul Jones (not the Led Zep dude) Arena Charlottesville is where I saw Metallica play Sad but True, Fuel, One, Master of Puppets, Creeping death and a lot more. So next time somebody talks about how they wish to see Metallica Live, I can show them this video and tell them  I was there when Metallica made their trademark entrance with Ecstasy of Gold (Remember Ennio Morricone and Good, Bad and Ugly?)

I WAS FUCKIN’ THERE when Metallica played FADE TO BLACK!

And I was there when they played Enter Sandman

And I was friggin’ there when Metallica played ONE.

I can go on and on posting videos of every single song that I saw Metallica perform live. But I guess you get the point. But I still remember that time when they were playing Nothing Else Matters and I began to think of all those times when I was fantasizing what I would do if I saw Metallica perform Nothing Else Matters live. I had thought I would sing along, probably play an air guitar. But in the end, all I could do was just sit back and just LIVE a lifetime through that song! Those 2 hours made the rest of my bovine existence get some meaning.

3. Sticking with concerts, I saw Eric Clapton & Roger Daltrey live last month at Raleigh, NC. Raleigh, NC, also being the same place where North Carolina State University is located where one of my fellow Alcoholics (and a stand in 🙂 for Team Rectilinear Redemption ) from NITK is doing his Masters along with a Mal who is still trying to learn the Mal language. Or to put it in simpler words, I met up with Masai and Hiran, who were staying along with Sounder. I met them after almost 2 years and needless to say, alcohol consumption was pretty much high on the agenda. (Come to think of it, that was the only thing on the agenda) Meeting them after that long and seeing that they have hardly changed was perhaps what made the whole experience even better. Masai, for one, still continued to be the opportunistic, manipulative, cogent speaking guy that he has always been. Hiran, on the other hand, still reveled in the wholesome process of Masai-belting. Sounder poor guy had a bout of sore throat, thus rendering his voice non existent. Getting drunk with an alcohol buddy and belting him just for who he is after almost 2 years is I have to say, quite priceless stuff. But perhaps, one thing I will take away from the trip is when we went to an Irish bar where Masai and I ordered Guinness beer to the waitress who asked “Is that all?” and to which Masai coolly and purposefully replied, “Thats all. Thank You SWEETIE!” Good Ole Masai! Hope he stays this way for the rest of his life! Either way, this was way better than that time when he was drunk and said “I wanna h**p the whores” at 2 AM in a temple on top of a mountain!” Here is a pic of me, Masai and Hiran at that very Irish bar.

Hiran, Me and Masai- after almost 2 years.

And as far as the concert itself is concerned, it was quite an eventful affair. This included missing out on more than one exit on the way to the arena (thanks to an awesome GPS), consequently getting stuck in traffic for more than 2 hours while I was setting new records for holding some salty stuff in my bladder for an extended period of time. This eventually made my friend and I miss out on a few Roger Daltrey songs but we were both in time for Baba O’ Reily though!

But of course, the reason I went there was to see Eric Clapton set his guitar on fire and to hear him sign Layla. Which he did of course, along with a host of other songs. But I really got my money’s worth ten times over when he sang OLD LOVE- that one song which I used to listen to day in and day out in my hostel. With an extended lead and mesmerizing vocals, I really could not have asked for anything better. That sweet sound of the Fender was a treat in itself. This is by far the best Old Love version I have ever heard. Here is the video-not that great quality but you can still hear the song clearly.

I have to admit. His vocals, even at this age, are as good and mesmerizing as ever. Just listening to him sing Wonderful Tonight is a treat in itself.

He played the acoustic version of Layla in which he distinctly messed up the lead once. But I was really looking forward to him playing Badge from his Cream days. That song has a killer bassline but then Clapton made it more riff oriented-which sounded good anyway.

Again, one of those few nights that make the rest of your life feel meaningful.

4. Still sticking to concerts, I have to say fortune seems to be favoring me a lot of late, especially with the convenience at which things seem to be happening. I got to see Prasanna Live. Right here at VTech, free of cost and at about 10 feet distance. Whats more? I got to meet him backstage after the concert! Amazing chap. Extremely humble and nice. Got to learn that I would be missing out on Victor Wooten’s workshop back in Bangalore. Damn! But either way, amazing experience for more than one reason I would later learn.

And just so I complete my concert experiences here, I will be going to see Porcupine Tree Live this month end.

5. My Trip to Florida: West Palm Beach, Florida. 5 days of unlimited fun including unlimited alcohol, and unlimited inspiration. Meeting all my idols, going for a swim in the Atlantic ocean under inebriated conditions at 12 AM, enjoying the 40 deg C increase in weather, generally getting drunk, awesome 12 hour road trips and trying out some awesome exotic food- all in one place and in a span of 5 days is I have to say pretty damn awesome.

6. My experiences with Snow: Here is how I reacted to Blacksburg being covered with snow:

Day it snowed: This is friggin awesome! Mindblowing stuff this snow is! I LOVE SNOW!

1 Day after snow: Yeah! There is snow everywhere!

2 Days after snow:  Hey look! There is still snow everywhere.

3 Days after snow: Oh it is still covered in snow.

4 Days after snow: No bus service on weekend. Stuck at home. Damn this snow!

5 Days after snow: Weekend plans messed up. WTF is this snow doing here?

6 Days after snow: Total disaster. Cant walk out of the house without 5 layers of clothing and shoes.

7 Days after snow: My Facebook status: “In the next few days, if anyone spots a snowman who is significantly deformed, beaten up, or simply violated, then you know where all I have been.” and “RIght now I am so damn pissed at the snow that is going to ruin my weekend plans, that I think I will build a huge snow man and molest it every single day for the entire next week. And you can be sure there will not be any protection in sight!”

And then snow was the reason why I ended up  having a nice time one Sunday, which, I would realize later, meant a lot more.

7. My Awesome Culinary Exploits: It took me all of one week in America to realize that I DO NOT like American food. Apart from the mandatory presence of beef and other meat in practically every dish, I still do not prefer bland, mix-a-lot-of-stuff-together-and-you-have-a-meal type of food. (I liked the Cookies and the Pumpkin Pie though 🙂 ) And I am sick of having to eat the same Veggie Patty sandwich at Subway.  As a direct consequence of this, my culinary skills have gone from edible to tastes-like-something to tastes good to simply-mind-blowing! Most of the stuff are South Indian dishes including Masala Dosa, Onion Uthappam, Gojju Avalakki, Nucchinunde, Coconut Burfi a.k.a Kobri Mithai, etc. All this has made my parents and well wishers warn me that this might work against me as my eventual would be wife would make me do all the cooking thus ‘escaping her duties!’ You can find most of the awesome stuff that I have prepared here.

8. The last 7 days have perhaps been the most eventful days I have had in a long long time. They were painful, stressful, filled with helplessness, frustration and at the same time also blissful, memorable, filled with clear skies, pancakes and one nice meteor. It is almost like I have been living life for the past 7 days filled with extremities at both ends. Technically I guess this would perfectly qualify for a week wherein MY LIFE WAS AVERAGE! But when in reality, it was anything but average. In more than one way, I will look back to this week and say “Those 7 days were when I learnt that I have the capacity to reason my way through the tough times and the memorable times.”

In regard to this, I guess it will be relevant now to tell Kitta : “I am no longer able to continue on our rounds of Mathematical Induction every birthday. My ‘n’ stops at 24. I am sure you know what I mean. Keep the comments discreet though!”

So there you have it! My past 6 months in less than 2000 words and a few videos. Now I have to go do something more worthwhile such as publicizing this post in all social media circles.

Bliss Factor

It has been close to two months now, since I set foot here in America. Two months of experiencing something new and experiencing it first hand. And I like it here. Thats just it. I simply, like it here. Maybe its the small size of the town, or maybe its the nice climate, or maybe its the excitement of meeting new people. Perhaps, it may just be about how happy and contended I feel about my decision to come here. Whatever maybe the reason, I can, without any hesitation, say that I like it here

PEACE...

PEACE...

Perhaps I could attribute a major portion of my satisfaction to my program including the professors and the facilities that come along with it. Not to forget some very like minded classmates that I have been able to befriend. It is difficult to express the bliss I feel everytime I decide to study and find people around me actually encouraging me to spend time studying. This in contrast with all the mockery and ridicule I faced back in India during Undergrad while trying to do the same (And incidentally, unlike most of the other programs, I find that there is just one more Indian in my class). It really is something different to be in a position to decide to study at any point and actually be able to do it well. And the way ideas and concepts revealed themselves when I recently immersed myself in a topic for a few hours, reminded me of the long forgotten raw bliss, the experience of which was my only purpose in life. And now, when I realize that I really don’t have anything else on my mind and that  my greatest concern is about submitting my assignments on time, I am quite certain that this is the time when I can go back to fulfilling that purpose.

There have been a whole load of things that have definitely contributed to my bliss here. One of them, and inevitably I have to say, is alcohol. After discovering that Beer is cheaper than water here, my weekends have inevitably involved at least 2 l of Beer, the operative words being “at least”. The entire town just comes alive on Friday nights when every single person is likely to be found in some or the other pub/bar. If you want to see and appreciate the feminine beauty in this place, you need to necessarily visit downtown bars on a Friday night. Beer is really such an everyday concept that it is almost considered a taboo if you do NOT drink beer! And you will know you are in America when you find yourself drinking a whole load of beer and wine with all your professors in their home! In fact, that was part of the icebreaker arranged for everyone in my program and to which I had taken the Bhel Puri that I had prepared myself (Ellarigu Kadlepuri Thinnisdhe!!).

And then there is this whole new experience of seeing skin. You know it for a fact; you have been prepared for it; you have seen them in all Hollywood movies- but irrespective of all of that, when you see that extra piece of feminine skin in front of your own eyes, it is only then that you truly understand that you are indeed far, far away from home! Seriously speaking, sometimes you see some females wearing such clothes that you really wonder why they even need to wear whatever they are wearing. And everytime you feel you are getting used to it, there comes along a girl wearing a dress that makes you go “WTF??!!???” all over again. Not that I am complaining, but its just the fact I have seen more skin here in the past 2 months than I had seen in my entire life previously.

Technology and infrastructure take whole new meaning in here. The fear of getting sued for millions of dollars has probably put everyone on the path to perfection. And so you will find internet connections of 7Mbps which basically means that I (FINALLY) get to watch 4 Champions League matches simultaneously! Pandora and MySpace become the two new sources of music that I have never gotten tired of exploring. Of course, with all this, the price we pay is the inability to download torrents without ending up in jail. But I think I will settle for that.

And with regard to my food, about which I had cribbed so much last time around, I have to say that my culinary skills have vastly and very quickly improved. I find it extremely easy and nice to cook twice a day. And make no mistake here. I am not talking about bland stuff like rasam or Upma. I am talking serious cooking like Sambhar with different vegetables, different gravies, dal palak, dal, Akki Rotti, Veg Pulao, Peas Pulao, Shavige bath, Brinjal and Capsicum Bath, egg curry etc. I somehow am pleasantly surprised myself that I am able to cook everything with such ease.

And so, on the whole, I have to say that, contrary to my expectations,  I really don’t have anything to crib about here. And, having been at the receiving end of many plans-in-life-going-wrong, I am not setting any long term goals nor am I making any plans as to where I will be when. I am just going with the flow, letting the system take me wherever it is supposed to take me and all I am concerning myself with are my assignments and tests. Everything else seems to either fade away or just fall into place. Such a certainty in having made the perfect decision comes but very rarely……

And I am going to a METALLICA concert on October 17. LIFE IS GOOD…..FINALLY!