Mr Mojo Risin’: Happy Birthday, Jim Morrison

My earliest memory of The Doors was when my uncle use to put in this cassette into the player and play Roadhouse Blues. I never understood the words (later when I did, I felt that my uncle loves the song only because of the beer reference); it was the music and I and the beginning of a wonderful relationship with The Doors.

Today, December 8, 2011 would have been The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison’s 68th birthday. Although he passed away 40 years ago, his music lives on. His legacy still inspires awe in people few others can manage.

Jim Morrison was many things. And equally good at all of them. If ever a case has to be made to consider song lyrics as poetry, I would present his lyrics as evidence. Throughout the short career that The Doors enjoyed, we have been presented with lyric of all kinds: reflective, shocking, funny, sarcastic, and even narcissistic. But none of them have ever been short of poetry.

He was storyteller, a raconteur like no other, dramatic at times, subdued when needed.

One of my favourite lyrics by The Doors is the opening lines of one of their earliest songs Break On Through (To The Other Side).

You know the day destroys the night; the night divides the day.

If his songwriting was mysterious enough, folks who have read his poetry will know that it is much more enigmatic and strange. He wrote about himself, about sin and power, about lovers and lust, about the American lifestyle and self-doubt. A few of his poems can be found here.

His charisma on stage very few could match. Beatlemania happened at the same time, Jagger was turning on the heat with The Rolling Stones, Zeppelin and The Who were not far behind, and yet as these British acts conquered the world with their music, songwriting and showmanship, The Doors, from the US of A, were in a league of their own. As the documentary When You’re Strange points out that at times people came to The Doors’ concerts just to watch Morrison go wild on stage. This happened especially after Morrison was almost arrested when he attempted to spark a riot at a concert in Miami in 1969. (It was another issue altogether that the police issued a warrant against him for indecent exposure.  Drummer John Densmore denies the exposure ever happened.) But his allure never died.

It must have been difficult being a member of The Doors, making good music but having just the singer of your band receiving all the attention. The way Robbie Krieger, John Densmore and Ray Manzarek ‘handled’ Jim Morrison, his attitude, personality, eccentricities and his alcohol and drug addiction was something that very few could have managed. And the music kept on coming too.

Morrison’s death was under mysterious circumstances. Till date, no one knows the actual events; it is believed to be the result of a drug overdose. The Doors continued without Morrison for two years before disbanding. Morrison was, fittingly, buried in the Poets’ Corner of the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

You might say that Jim Morrison led the typical rockstar life. But I’d say he showed everyone how to be a rockstar. He has influenced many musicians till date, and will always continue to. He was free, he was one of the Riders On The Storm at Moonlight Drive, a Wild Child destined to Break On Through To The Other Side when The Crystal Ship would come, the one singing the Roadhouse Blues when The End would arrive.

And although Jimmy’s no more, we remember what he told us to do When The Music’s Over:

For seven years, I dwelt
in the loose palace of exile
playing strange games with the girls of the island
now, I have come again
to the land of the fair, and the strong, and the wise
brothers and sisters of the pale forest
children of night
who among you will run with the hunt?
Now night arrives with her purple legion
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready.

Written by Runcil Rebello.


Rockstar Not So Rocking

Rockstar leaves one perplexed and disappointed. Another Bollywood offering that has failed to come good. Imtiaz Ali had a promising story on hand and he has frittered away the whole potential with wasteful gimmickry. Disparate flashbacks, poor characterisation of the lead characters mar the proceedings completely, making the viewer wonder what the director was actually getting at. After the hype and expectation that Rockstar generated, one would have expected better from Ali.

Janardhan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor), scion of a lower middle class business family, and an aspiring singer, pursues pain in order to make his music more ‘meaningful’. Nice thought. But what does he do? Chases the most sought after girl in Stephen’s, Heer Kaul (Nargis Fakhri) and follows her through the lush locales of Prague, where she lives post marriage. Meantime our protagonist rises to fame and stardom as Jordan, the Rockstar – The pain of love works its magic on the music he makes.

To give Ali his due, the first half seems like the movie is heading towards poignance and maybe even towards becoming a modern classic. But, the second half just peters into nothing; nothing at all. Fakhri, will at best, remain a pretty face, a country cousin of Katrina Kaif, unless she is bitten by lady luck, oh yeah, the same one that bit Ms Kaif.

There was this expectation of seeing the making of the star, exploring his psyche, the deconstruction of stardom and the man behind it, but sadly, Ali did not do justice to any of these. Ali missed the point that the movie should have been more about rock and the rock star (so much for vague references to Jim Morrison). Instead, what we are subjected to is a confused crossover between a love story and a musical journey. A R Rehman’s score is good (Naadaan Parindey and Sadda Haq are infectious), but not superlative and does nothing to elevate the movie to a true-blue rock musical extravaganza. So, what are we left with? Two and half hours of splendid cinematography and grandeur, more in the Bhansali-esque mode. What’s gotten into you, Ali? After Jab We Met, we really thought we saw a great maestro in you. You need to buck up to make us forget this unimpressive fare, and yes, young Kapoor’s brave performance, notwithstanding.

Written By Shantheri Mallaya.

Do you agree with Shantheri that Imtiaz Ali has failed this time? Is Ranbir the only shining star in the film? Or do you agree with our other reviewer who liked Rockstar? Let us know in the comments.

Rockstar: A Review

I turned to rock music only recently; and I am still discovering the magic of Zeppelin, Morrison and the Woodstock generation; and of course, School Of Rock has been a major anchor in my tryst with rock ‘n roll. So, when I first heard of Rockstar, I confess, I was curious to know what a mainstream Bollywood movie’s take on the genre would be like. I also found it appealing for another reason: A R Rahman’s soundtrack and score. I had high hopes. And I did not wish to be disappointed. I wasn’t.

Before I go any further, let me tell you one thing: Rockstar is not going to do well at the box-office. It is going to be slammed by puritans and public; the former because they would not consider this worthy of the genre, and the latter because they are too used to a conventional Hindi movie. Rockstar is none. It’s doesn’t pay homage to the genre, but to the philosophy; as Jack Black put it: “sticking it out to the man!”

And that’s why Rockstar is a damn good movie. There are other reasons as well, which I shall discuss further on.

One of them is Ranbir Kapoor. In plain words, the movie would’ve been impossible without him (and Ali and Rahman, of course). Janardan Jankar’s character is simplistic: he has been learning the guitar since he was a child; his wall is adorned with posters of Morrison, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the likes — as opposed to Bollywood biggies. And he is desperate to find inspiration. His transformation into Jordan — the rebellious music icon/bad-boy is a combination of cinematic progress, as well as a growth captured by narrative. Yes, many would sense a disjuncture in this; and Imtiaz Ali could’ve employed more conventional techniques. But that would severely impede the beauty of the film and of the character.

Obviously, though very loosely, Janardan’s story is inspired by Jim Morrison — he even is in awe of his idol showing the middle-finger to the public — but Ranbir’s performance does not go into manic depravity. His journey is reflective and painful; creative and self-destructive. Not because he’s a rebel without a cause; it’s because, talent can afford arrogance.

Rockstar, also, is a commentary on society and the media who hail him a ‘kalakaar’ and then a criminal. Icons in the past have been dissected by the media before: Michael Jackson, Keith Allen, and Morrison himself are a few examples. Celebrities are expected to have decorum, even if they lack talent. Jordan refuses to make this compromise.

He’s not the hero, clearly. Anti-hero? Maybe. But most of all, he is that iconic music figure India has never been able to produce. There has been talent in the country, but the film industries have absorbed them and rendered them only as background artistes or as musical geniuses from the margins of high art.

Ustad Jameel Khan (Shammi Kapoor, magical performance truly!) is representative of that old school. Jordan is the new school. There is no discord between the two, because above all, they respect their art. There has never been a Jim Morrison, or Bob Dylan in India. Rockstar laments that fact. And it also celebrates it, had it been so.

Nargis Fakhri, Imtiaz Ali’s newest newbie, evokes mixed feelings. Her screen presence is brilliant. But it’s when she opens her mouth that you get an awkward feeling that casting could’ve been much better. However, she does manage to fit in the film as a whole — janglee jawani and “gandh machana”, truly innovative! She displays Heer’s vulnerable side well, but the subsequent scenes feel strangely out of place and leave one to wonder that the 2 hour 40 minute run time could’ve been managed better. But these are only the minor glitches in an otherwise cohesive movie.

The supporting cast is what gives the movie a whole new dimension; because Jordan would not have been the man he is had it not been for these people – from the canteen owner cum manager (Kumud Mishra, subtle yet powerful) to Dhingra (Piyush Mishra, thoroughly convincing!) the dodgy record label manager. Their performances complement Ranbir’s intensity, rage and introspection to the letter T — another evident example of a well-written script. The supporting cast at Fakhri’s end, however, appear as elite snobs, who think themselves, and possibly their theatre backgrounds, to be higher than Bollywood standards. A minor, 20 second let down, that’s all.

Technically, the movie aces the score board. Ali does justice to the stark, snow-covered yet beautiful Kashmir (I wonder if this is actually a reference to the Led Zeppelin number).

Prague was an unconventional choice (I mean, who gets married and settles in Czech Republic of all places), but it pays off nevertheless. And it also brings about a cultural intercourse of sorts, in terms of both the music as well as the aesthetics. Hawaa Hawaa and Aur Ho capture this fusion beautifully. Sadda Haq is an amazing number, and it does justice to this ‘philosophy’ I keep harping about. Jo Bhi Main is another beautifully rendered track. The montages across India add an element of credibility to the movie, supported by production design of the highest degree.

And last, but in no way the least, this brings us to the music. Perhaps, Imtiaz Ali’s decision to approach A R Rahman for the score of Rockstar is the best one in his career. Pritam would’ve, to put it mildly, screwed the movie.

I admit this is not Rahman’s finest composition; there have been better ones, Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6 being some of them. But Rockstar’s score and its script are knit closely and intimately; the music emanates from the movie. The track listing could’ve been better had Rahman taken the liberty to add more singers. But his choice to stick to Mohit Chauhan as Jordan’s voice makes the movie credible. And while doing so, Chauhan explores his versatility as an artiste, and Jordan’s intensity as a performer.

People might say that Rahman’s getting predictable. But his compositions are not standalones to be made into ringtones and caller tunes; they serve a purpose in the movie. Although the movie is loosely inspired by Jim Morrison, Jordan is his own man. And his music in his own. Here, I would like to make a special mention of the lyrics by Irshad Kamil; now this guy is no Javed Akhtar or Gulzar. But he understands the meaning of rock, the philosophy of it, in other words. Rock isn’t about head-banging music; it’s a revolution in the way of thought. And Rockstar does so, staying true to the rock tradition. It rebels against convention, against hypocrisy and one-dimensional thought. It’s creative, it’s introspective, and it’s poignant. Above all things, it’s meaningful.

Final verdict. Rockstar is not a flawless movie. Then again, which movie is? It has its flaws, and some of them are rather evident. It juxtaposes two ideas and philosophies, contrasts very different world views; it is rebellious, arrogant even. It is certainly not meant to appease anyone. If anything else, its purpose is to get you to think. It challenges our perceptions, dogmas, and ideas of morality, aesthetics, good-bad or whatever. It’s a ballad, not a story. It isn’t finite or watertight, or impeded by conventions. It is an intelligent movie, at the end of the day. And an insanely brilliant one, that too.

It’s not going to do well at the box office, critics will slam it, and so will a large part of the public — because they don’t make movies like Rockstar very often. And that’s precisely why you should give it a watch.

Written by Proshant Chakraborty.

What did you feel about this new Imtiaz Ali offering? Has Rockstar captured your minds and hearts? Or do you agree with our other reviewer who felt the film didn’t make the mark? Let us know in the comments.

For The Delhi Debacle, I Blame Metallica

It’s once again the war of cities. When an international band comes to play, it usually lands itself in the so-called rock cities of India; Bangalore and Mumbai. Why is Delhi left behind and poked fun at? I’m not too sure. But I can come up with one reason.

There is a plethora of Indian Rock bands who have originated from Delhi. Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Hundred OctaneThem ClonesMenwhopause, in the order of their evolution, are only a few from Delhi who have made rock music feel more at home (read Delhi). While Bombay, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata can boast of their classical music legacies, no one can deny the fact that Delhi University is a religious place for the origin and worship of several bands which made it big in the international circuit.

And only people who have been to performances of such bands can probably tell you the crowd culture that exists in Delhi. You will still find fans in black t-shirts exhibiting their love for Zeppelin, Metallica, Marley, The Doors. You will also find them stoned, drunk and mostly peaceful, lying on the damp grass listening to their favourite bands, singing along, making love and getting more drunk and more stoned.

Why question a city of its Metallica fan following? The joke is getting old and boring. What happened in Delhi can happen anywhere. It’s the organisers’ fault and the crisis that followed is so much smoke and mirrors. I’m not a Metallica fan but I’m definitely a music fan from Delhi. Brought up in this city, I take it personally when poking fun at Delhi for its taste in music goes overboard and becomes a case of gallows humor.

Remember, every city has a character. Delhi has its own. Despite being infamous for being the rape capital and hooligans, eve-teasers, rich-sods-who-showoff, bad accents and whatnots, it’s time that you gave the city its due. Apart from having the best managed infrastructure, brilliant roads and architecture, the city is a haven for the shopping brigade (read women). And yes, the people are warm despite being overtly dressed, the bling-bling eye-torturing fashion, they will still smile and ready-to-help, as against the hostility that I’ve experienced in other major cities.

So get over it, Chennaites, Bombaites, Bangaloreans or West Bongolis. There are rock fans from Delhi who have a better playlist which they might be listening to, than all of you combined together. And I am not provoking anyone in particular, I’m just asking you, you and YOU, to get over the city-bias and look beyond it.

There might be other reasons to it. For once: I blame Metallica for not respecting their fans who travelled from far-off cities to watch them play ONCE. And the organisers who must and will soon get their due. The fans will react anywhere; be it Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore or the rest of the world.

Written by Shubhra Rishi.

A Very Small Tribute To Rock

While most of you, at this point of time, would be outside with your family, friends, relatives and the long list of my-this and my-that, I am in my room, with Led Zeppelin turned on full blast, thinking of rambling again; you know, bitching about life, people and in general. But why should I be so negative? Upholding my reputation as a cynic doesn’t really count; that I am and the world knows so. There is a limit to Narcissism beyond which it’s just plain gloating. Besides, I’d hate to ruin your moods. Hence, I think I will dedicate this post to what I personally like about Diwali. For a difference.

Since Led Zep is on full blast, let’s talk of that. There’s a fine line of difference between head-banging rock and rock which can very well substitute ecstasy—the narcotic, I mean. Led Zeppelin falls in the latter. Like most aspects of modern life, the markets are flooded with American stuff, most of which is made in China, Cambodia and Laos. In the music scene, however, the Chinese haven’t infiltrated the markets; well, apart from pirated CDs, that is. And one thing which is constant in this state of things is the quality of British products. I mean, look at it this way, British cars are way classier than their American counterparts; the Jaguar, the Aston Martin, the Rolls Royce…need I name any more? And the same goes with the rock music scene. I have very little knowledge of the history of rock-and-roll, and whatever I know is designed to impress people who know nothing of it.

[Ed’s Note: With respect to your quote about everything British being classier than their American counterparts, here’s a quote by Oasis‘ Noel Gallagher in a recent interview: “Take a great American art form, like the blues or rock’n’roll or jazz, put a British spin on it, and everyone goes, ‘Oh yeah, that’s fucking amazing.'”]

So, Led Zeppelin. I was introduced to the band very recently, though I had Stairway to Heaven on my mp3 for quite a bit of time. Well, there’s nothing I can say of it, because words don’t make sense when you’re trying to praise something, unless you’re making things up.

Throughout history, at least in the history of music, there have been individuals, or groups of individuals (commonly known as bands) who come to the scene and change it forever. They leave their legacy behind in the form of records and solos and quite often, controversies. Led Zeppelin, as far as my knowledge goes, did all of the above except the last. So far, I haven’t heard of Jimmy Page or Robert Plant ever doing time, be it for involuntary manslaughter or bouts of alcohol-induced insanity; yes, they might have used cannabis, marijuana, and the likes. But heck, it was the seventies! If you were not a junkie, you were not a creative individual. That was the norm. Sadly, today due to stringent law-enforcement the present generation of composers and musicians visit the jail quite often due to possession. No wonder the music sucks these days. [Mental note: next post, why they should legalise marijuana for musicians].

Back to Led Zeppelin, as I was saying, this was a group of people who got together, and in their Brit accents, decided to change the rock-and-roll music scene forever. The trend was already set by The Beatles earlier in the 60s [with hairstyles which later inspired the character Mr. Spock in Star Trek]. Two of Led Zeppelin’s frontrunners, albeit with very different hairstyles, Page—with his godly guitar skills and that charming smile—and Plant, with vocals that can be described as the auditory equivalent of dope, gave a more heavy-handed nature to rock (hence the name, ‘heavy rock’) which set it apart from The Beatles, and combined it with the Indian influence—the rage of the age, and voila, we saw what the annals of history would call the progenitors of rock-and-roll.

That, of course, wasn’t all that Britain had to offer. The 80s saw Queen, which I would describe as the Generation 1.7 of rock-and-roll. And there was also AC/DC (who I think were Aussies; but since Australia is a former British colony and drives on the left-side of the road, they can, to all intents and purposes, be categorised as “British”, probably much to the annoyance of Jeremy Clarkson). And of course, there’s the Rolling Stones, who — I assume took their name from a Bob Dylan song —represent Brit rock at its very best (they even met the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, you know; not Freddie Mercury and his mates). I am not going into other rock bands like Guns n’ Roses, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd, U2 and so forth; not because I don’t like them (though I have heard very little of them) but because the Mothership tracklist is still playing, and I am not in the mood to switch.

There are tracks, or songs, as many would call them, which are brilliant because of the creativity they reflect, because of the painstaking efforts on the part of the musicians who put heart and soul in creating their music. And then there are tracks which become iconic because of the magical state of mind they’re able to transport the listeners to. If you try and analyse exactly why they’re so, you wouldn’t end up with a satisfying answer, because there really isn’t one. You have to listen to it, feel it. And let the music do the rest… transport you to Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, in Plant’s words.

And, heaven knows, I need a Shangri-La amidst this highly irritating cacophony of fire crackers and popular Bollywood songs. So, the volume’s on full, and like I said, I let the music do the rest.

Written by Proshant Chakraborty.

Red Hot Chili Peppers: I’m With You (Music Review)

When Red Hot Chili Peppers announced that their new album would be called I’m With You, I was taken aback. Such nomenclature from a band which has albums named Mother’s Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication was least expected. The Chilis were already coming back after a huge setback with ace guitarist (and integral component) John Frusciante leaving to pursue a solo career. The new guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer by name, had played with the Chilis before and Beck, Gnarls Barkley and PJ Harvey as well; yet that did not make me any less apprehensive.

After listening to the album, their first in half a decade, my fears have been assuaged. It’s a return to form for the Chilis (that is IF they were out of form). Their last album Stadium Arcadium was a double set of 28 tracks. This time around it’s just 14 tracks but each of them gems.

Red Hot Chili Peppers are one band who have constantly experimented with newer styles and their music now, although bearing their trademark style, is very different from their early pure funk days.  Stylistically this is closer to the underrated By The Way but in I’m With You, the Chilis try metal, psychedelic rock, rap, Latin, hip-hop, jazz, funk and most dominant of all, disco. Yes, disco.

And if you’re looking for another Frusciante in Klinghoffer (you shouldn’t be, anyway), you’ll perhaps be disappointed. But let go of all those expectations and you’ll understand what a surreal guitarist Klinghoffer is. He belongs to a different school of guitar than Frusciante, and it fits well into the new Chili Peppers. This is what helps bring Flea to the forefront for the first time since his pre-Mother’s Milk days. Also, Chad Smith, who has played with supergroup Chickenfoot, has gained a lot, helping the Chilis in the long run.

I once read in a review that the only non-hip-hop reason anyone would want to buy a sub-woofer is to listen to Flea. This album ascertains that statement. Album opener Monarchy Of Roses, Factory Of Faith, the first single The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie and many others have Flea’s vivacious and addictive bass acting as the rhythm upon which Anthony Kiedis has written his songs.

Coming to Kiedis’ songwriting, nothing much has changed. Though he does stay away from California this time, at least with respect to mentioning it. Bass-heavy (once again) Ethiopia starts off with “E I O I E I A”. But there are sensible ones too. Brendan’s Death Song is probably one of the best songs they’ve written. An ode to late Chilis friend Brendan Mullen, who supported them during their initial days, with lyrics that go “Like I said you know I’m almost dead / you know I’m almost gone / And when the drummer drums / he’s gonna play my song / to carry me along”, it is a poignant effort from the Chili Peppers.

The varied instruments used on this album add to its rich nature. There’s cowbell on The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie, handclaps on Look Around, trumpet on Did I Let You Know, a number to which you would want to do the salsa, and piano on tracks like the sugary-sweet Happiness Loves Company and hip-hop fuelled Even You, Brutus?

Yet, it is the bass that invigorates this album. Chad Smith too works wonders here, mind you; his drumming has never been better. But it is Flea who has taken over the pedestal from Frusciante. His bass is on another level altogether (try the bass solo in Goodbye Hooray). He has energised Kiedis too. You wonder whether it is Flea playing to Kiedis on Look Around (Just a lot of words on an old brick wall / rob a lot of banks got a pedigree scrawl) or the other way around. These two have been there since the band’s inception and it comes across that they understand each other in and out.

Which brings us to Josh Klinghoffer. He prefers not to play the heavy riffs which Frusciante has made us used to. Many felt that The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie had a severely watered down riff. But if you listen to this album with headsets on, then you will realise that Klinghoffer has many other tricks up his sleeve. He’s the one who doesn’t lead but accentuates whatever the rest have come up with. His layered guitar makes for beautiful melodies. And he is not averse to playing second fiddle to the rest. But we haven’t spoken about the secret instrument that his voice is. Providing backing vocals on most of the tracks on the album, his high-pitched, almost feminine voice brings an elegant charm to Kiedis’ rough and fast vocals.

The final track on the album Dance, Dance, Dance is another disco beat song. Kiedis hypnotises everyone to get in on the act and “Dance, dance, dance, dance / All night long, yes all night long.” It’s a lot of fun that these guys have been having and it’s apparent. They’ve invited us to the party. Are you with them?

Written by Runcil Rebello.