School of rock
The cricket season is upon us, which means in my part of the world it is time for year end exams. It is nearly 15 years ago I had my HSC. I couldn’t go to my 15th high school reunion because of work pressure – damn the Wall St! Instead, I’m going to write about some songs I loved in those four years.
As the title suggests, I was heavily into rock music those days. But rock music comes in many forms, and I devoured them all. The song that absolutely rocked my world in 1990-91 was, for example, in Bangla. It was about Srabon – the fourth month in Bengali calendar. Falling in July-August, it is when the monsoon rain sweeps the delta. With the rain comes the seasonal floods that shut down the countryside. Rain also affects the urban middle class with their restless minds (udashi mon) and poetry (kobita). And that’s what Different Touch’s classic is all about. It is not, however, a traditional Bangla song. Rather, it sounds like something inspired by that other great delta musical tradition — Srabon, then, is Padma meets Mississippi. In 1990, when the band released their eponymous album, this was not the biggest hit. The band itself was neither the first Bangla rock act nor the most popular — Azam Khan, Souls and Feedback preceded them by years (a very interesting recollection halfway down this link), while Ayub Bachchu and James easily sold more albums. But this days it is considered a veritable classic. I have no idea where these guys are now, do share if you know. I couldn’t find an original video, but here is a 2005 rendition:
In terms of intensity though, this has nothing compared to the 1991 open air concert in Dhaka University – the first of its kind in Dhaka I believe. While I attended that one, the next song is from a band that ended many years before I was even born.
They say that everyone has a Beatles story. Well, may be not everyone. But most of friends do. A friend of mine sipped wine sitting on a rug in a balcony facing the ocean, until the hostess dashed his hopes of a happier end to the night by telling him that she had work early morning, all the while Norwegian wood played on the stereo. Another friend had her high school admirer sing Eight days a week during recess. Yet another remembers being worried because he didn’t feel any higher while listening to A day in the life. Someone else remembers driving around the Pacific Coast in a beat up Pintara listening to the White Album. There is a married couple who fought over whether Help marked the end of the early Beatles or the beginning of the middle Beatles. Another one insists on playing the last half of Abbey Road uninterrupted. I know a girl who hates Beatles covers, but loves I am Sam. And I know a boy who saw strangers cry the day music died.
And everyone can relate to those four — George the quiet genius, Ringo with that goofy laugh, and Paul is really quite a good guy once you know him, and John, oh then there’s John.
Such Beatles stories are not the sole preserve of the West — a brother once told me how his mother would make dinner while playing Rubber Soul, so twenty years on, he can smell ghee-fried paratha listening to Girl.
I have no such story about Get Back. I don’t know why it is my favorite Beatles track. It is not easy to pick a single Beatles song, but this is the one I absolutely loved in 1991.
This is not the Beatles track with the most influential lyrics. Nor does it have the most groundbreaking musical technique. In fact, it is in many ways a straightforward rock and roll number. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said get back to where you once belonged. Perhaps. Real aficionados know that there are bootleg versions where the song urges a Paki to get back to where he belongs — this was meant to be a political satire denouncing racism. I, of course, had no idea of this when I first heard the song. And I still don’t know what Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman but she was another man means.
I didn’t listen to only golden oldies or little known Bangla tunes. I also rocked with more contemporary riffs. I started high school in the very late 1980s, before Nirvana and Pearl Jam, before the megaconcerts by Metallica and U2. Terminator 2 was still a forthcoming movie. But its ‘theme song’, You could be mine, was all over music channels. That song had clips from the movie, especially the iconic scene where the T-800 first meets John Connor, drops its bouquet of roses and takes out the gun to shoot the T-1000 that is chasing John.
This was not the first metal song I was exposed to. Scorpions’ Wind of change was the rage after the Berlin Wall fell. And Survivors’ Eye of the tiger was a familiar tune from a few years earlier when VCR was still a luxury for the Bangladeshi middle class. But those were ‘soft rock’, and Terminator 2 publicity brought the ‘hard stuff’ to me. I soon raided a friend’s collection and got myself a mixed tape — new CDs were too expensive, and technology to write CDs were years away. This tape had Aerosmith old and new (Sweet emotion, Walk this way with RUN DMC and Janie’s got a gun), Bon Jovi (Living on a prayer, and some other stuff that I don’t remember), Def Leppard (some tracks from Hysteria), KISS (God gave rock and roll to you) and Paradise City, Welcome to the jungle and Sweet child o’mine.
Guns N’ Roses became my favourite band right away. Then Use Your Illusions I and II were out — my first original albums (still tapes). But Paradise City was, and still is, far and away the best hard rock song I’ve ever heard.
Most of my school mates are now married, some with kids and mortgage. If I had gone to the reunion, I’m sure there would be a lot of talks about what the Boss called glory days. I also think there would have been a few discussions about the grim prospects of job losses and mortgage forclosures — anxieties hitherto unknown to younger Gen X folks like me. Gen X? Absolutely. May be not quite what Douglas Coupland had in mind. But how can someone who owned an original tape of Nevermind not be a Gen X?
Yes, I had that tape. Yes, I got high and thought, well whatever, nevermind. Yes I thought Jeremy was a kick arse video. But the song that appealed to me most in 1993 was Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the name.
F… you I won’t do what you tell me — what else do you expect from a guy with a blog named Mukti but that live free or die trying motto?