Month: January 2015

Give this man the Nobel! – An Ode to Bob Dylan

Reading through the posts on this blog has made me realize how poor my writing actually is; and more importantly, it made me remember the necessity for proofreading before hitting ‘Publish’. My apologies for the typos and crappy phrasing in my old pieces, I’ll try harder in future.

Bob Dylan has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times since 1996. In this letter http://expectingrain.com/dok/art/nobel/nomination1999.html, an English professor lobbies for his cause, saying-

His blend of poetry and social consciousness with music is
entirely appropriate for Nobel recognition. His songs from the
early 1960s to the present have been passionately concerned with
civil rights, world peace, the preservation of the environment, and
other crucial global causes.

During the peak of the the American counterculture boom of the 1960s and 70s, Dylan’s powerful lyrics appealed to the young. He rode the wave of the anti war movement with anthems like The Times They Are Changin’ and Blowin’ in the Wind. It’s not surprising that his folksy tunes became an integral part of the pop culture of the time.

Even today, though, I believe that Dylan’s work deserves a place among the classics of English music. I’m pretty far removed from the American Civil Rights movement- being in 201x India- and his music still seems relevant and relatable; the sign of an evergreen classic.

You can learn and grow up with Dylan. From the bitter Positively Fourth Street (“You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend”) to the wise Blowin’ in the Wind (“How many deaths will it take till he knows/ That too many people have died?”), he covers a whole gamut of emotions. How many breakup songs today can claim to be as classy as Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, with it’s resigned “You just kinda wasted my precious time/ Don’t think twice it’s all right”?.

Dylan’s music is an acquired taste- or maybe something that you appreciate as you get older. All I know is that his scratchy vocals and occasionally harsh harmonica playing take a little while to get used to. I’m not alone either; the cover versions of Knockin’ On Heavens Door (Guns ‘n’ Roses) and Like a Rolling Stone (The Rolling Stones) were much more successful that their originals, probably due, in part at least, to the more melodious interpretations by the covering bands. On the other hand, Dylan’s imperfect voice singing Forever Young sounds better to me than the smoother cover by Johnny Cash. Not all songs need professional voices to make them sound good.

Recently, some lyrics were uncovered that had apparently been handwritten by Dylan way back in 1967. A group of currently popular musicians (including the lead singer of Mumford and Sons) came together to make an album- Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. Personally, I think this is a brilliant initiative, because they’ve composed the music and put a modern spin on these (pretty old) lyrics. The end results, though, weren’t as impressive as I had expected. There are only two outstanding songs, in my opinion- Nothing To It (vocals by Jim James) and When I Get My Hands On You (vocals by Marcus Mumford).

The former is a breezy, light song that reminds one of the invincible feeling of having no responsibilities- “Well I knew I was young enough/ And I knew there was nothing to it”, “Heads I will and tails I won’t/ Long as the call wouldn’t be my own”. The latter is the highlight of the album, a song that should rank among his best work. Mumford pulls off this love song perfectly, and the strangely trippy video makes it even more addictive. Here ya go, you can thank me later:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDUDx15KdkI.


			

Happy New Year!

Hello again! After reading American Psycho last month, I detox-ed my (very traumatized) head with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story about a young second generation immigrant in Brooklyn, New York. It fit the bill perfectly- cheerful (for the most part), uplifting, inspiring- but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a preteen girl. Even then, I’d point you to Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl instead, for more hard hitting and realistic content. This gets a 2.5/5 from me.

Now that the trailer’s done, on to the review of the day/week/month!

The Gun Seller- Hugh Laurie

Some people read to improve their general knowledge, broaden their worldview, and become acquainted with world culture. I read for entertainment. That’s probably why I liked this book. It provides laughs without demanding much investment of time or intellectual effort. I would place it at a 7 on the laughter scale (with 10 being PG Wodehouse and 1, Khaled Hosseini).

This is a fast paced comedy/thriller book, set in the world of spies and industrial espionage. It starts off slowly, with more focus on witty puns and character development for the protagonist, before quickly diving into the twisty plot. It’s almost as if the author suddenly remembered that yes, stuff needs to happen here. To be honest, I lost track of the plot about three quarters of the way in (“So is she with the good guys or not?”). Luckily the conclusion considerately summarizes the story. Our hero defeats the baddies (terrorists/ gun runners/ drug smugglers, I’m not completely sure) and needless to say, he gets the girl in the end.

The spy theme is deliberately cliche, there are shootings and pretty girls in abundance, but it’s the brilliant humor that’ll keep you hooked. 3.5/5

If you liked this, you might like Plugged by Eoin Colfer (author of the extremely awesome Artemis Fowl series). It has a similar storyline- ex-military chap who finds himself investigating the murder of an acquaintance, all the while worrying about his premature balding.

PS: And yes, Hugh Laurie is the comedic genius behind A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Blackadder.

Humbug!

A Christmas Carol, of course!

The book needs no introduction, and any review done by us mortals today will fall short of truly appreciating the beauty of the play. The book was published on 19-12-1843 (Charles Dickens hoped to publish it in time for Christmas). Here’s a review that was printed, four days after it was published, in The Atheneum:

A christmas carol

A christmas carol 2

PS: We hope you had a very merry Christmas! 🙂

2014, in review

The title’s punny, get it?

Jokes apart, 2014 was a good year. Much work was ignored and many responsibilities shirked to ensure that quality time was spent with novels. Didn’t get to read as much as I would have liked, though.

English, August- Upamanyu Chatterjee

I’d vaguely heard of this book, years ago, but I’d forgotten where. When it turned up on my Goodreads feed this year, I was surprised that it was written by a desi author. The name suggested an old, colonial school story or a heavy English Lit type of book. Which is ironic, because that’s exactly what the novel is not about.

Agastya Sen is a twenty-something college graduate who has just qualified the Civil Services examination and has been given his first posting in the tiny-dot-on-the-map town of Madna. He’s an a city boy, educated in convents and who can quote Shakespeare like… well, Shakespeare. “He’s the sort who’d love to get AIDS just because it’s raging in America,” is his snarky comment on a former classmate, but he anglicizes his name to August, and speaks a Hinglish hybrid while sipping Coca Cola. His initial homesickness is followed by culture shock after culture shock as he learns to handle the local babus and keep himself occupied and sane in a new town. This gives way to dissatisfaction with the path he has chosen.

Though this book was written before I was born, I still found that I could relate to many of Agastya’s woes. When I first started working (in a private company, far from the government service described in the book), I had the same feeling of being a fish out of water. Every person I met seemed like a convenient caricature that fit in with mainstream stereotypes- the sarcastic, demanding manager; the brilliant but lazy techies; the ebullient and talkative director. It seemed unreal for months, until I began to learn more about the personalities behind the cartoons. In the same way, Agastya discovers some kindred spirits among the civil servants of Madna.

I laughed as Agastya learned the power of emotional blackmail, and cringed when I realized that I would have done the same to get myself out of eating mess food. When his friend dissuades him from resigning from his post with the argument that taking time off “to find oneself” is a typically first-world thing to do, I wondered if Upamanyu Chatterjee had read my mind. In today’s rat race, surely Agastya isn’t the only young person to wonder if they’ve let themselves be swept along by herd mentality without questioning conventional ‘wisdom’. And the philosophy, masturbation, marijuana- which college student hasn’t gone through those phases?

I think, though, that his feeling of displacement would have struck a chord with me four years ago when I moved from a huge bustling city to a small town. It’s a pity I only discovered it now.

5/5. Beats Chetan Bhagat hollow.

Upamanyu Chatterjee has written another book, too, called The Mammaries of the Welfare State. It’s been on my to-read list for a while now, but has proved to be elusive. Hope it’s worth the hunt.