Friday, December 08, 2006

HAIL TO THE DECK Part- I



There was a time when the only music you ever heard was Shashi Kapoor songs on Chitrahar, owing to the fact that this girl was too tiny to switch the TV off and too dumb to know that Assam was not really a global entertainment village. But that was way back in the late 80s and one was still oblivious to fate’s sadistic designs. Imagine waking up to the screeching of Akashwani dilli every single day of one’s beloved summer vacation but brother and I had left mom with no choice as the snooze button had finally hit Indian shores. The tiny red radio which was also a clock and a pen stand, was some sort of a family heirloom and served my mother with delightfully cheesy radio jingles and mother dairy milk ads interspersed with depressing Manna De songs till the swanky and phenomenally overpriced CD system arrived, which by the way had to be called a Deck, or my brother would have beaten me deaf so as to ensure I was left incapable of listening to the Deck.

I was the lucky kid who had a technology savvy elder brother, eventhough technology was still considered to be some sort of a dish in room service menus of Paanch Sitara hotels and owning a CD system was an open invitation to Income-Tax sleuths. I remember learning all about LCDs, CDs and karaoke when everyone else was still buying Baba Sehgal Cassette tapes for 25 bucks. I was obviously not allowed to touch this four-storeyed black beauty or even dare to bring a Backstreet Boy or Aqua cassette near the devil’s soul. I won’t lie; I would just listen to my classy collection of one Aqua and one Backstreet Boys tape in the sad little Walkman and rewind the damn cassettes with a pen in order to save on battery power. I was only 11 and only had 11 bucks under the mattress so could not afford Duracell. Luckily, Aqua and BSB were musical trash and soon enough I voluntarily exposed myself to the eclectic sounds emanating from the Deck.

Thus, began my longest and most cherished affair with… well… music…just like everyone else’s, but….err…ok…I exaggerate and I will turn this post into a fairy tale, if I so desire as this is my blog and it is called ANKINOTION for crying out loud.

I had already been in love with Ace of Base and Bon Jovi, much before those wretched boy bands came around, and I remember running to Rhythm Corner in South-Ex to buy English cassettes ordered by my brother while my parents shopped around for stuff I didn’t care about. I remember asking for Macarena, much before it became a freaky plague and the fellow decided to fool the foolish little girl by selling her the first ever NOW compilation. So, I ended up embracing Seal, Annie Lennox, Snap Attack (wonder what happened to those guys, Rame was simply brilliant) and Take That, which by the way was the only boy band with a slight semblance of talent. Audio CDs were still a distant dream, a territory controlled jealously by my brother, though sometimes I was allowed to operate the remote control while the expensive CDs played and I welcomed the world of Queen, Billy Idol, Roxette, Prince, MLTR, who were big back then and lots and lot of quality stuff on Times FM with open arms, unclogged nostrils, non-sebaceous ears, awe-stricken eyes and a blank-slate for a brain.

I have to pause for a bit here and talk about Times FM; it was the best Radio station… everrrrrrrrrrr!!! Yes my dears, 102.60 Megahertz were the first and last “cool” frequency modulated waves to hit our receivers. Since its demise in the late 90s, though it still exists in the form of government owned AIR FM, I refuse to tune into a single radio station in Delhi and I don’t think I am losing out on anything, given the pathetic array of channels available… RED…Mirchi…excuse me... I ordered music, not gobhi masala.
Perhaps, I owe my present insomnia afflicted state to the years of staying up for shows like Wicked Hour and Live Wire, tucked cosily in my white quilt, pretending to be buried in snow while I waited for the latter show to end with Celine Dion singing less and crying more about her dead lover or Michael Bolton craving to touch some undisclosed location of a female body or that remix about the poor guy still wondering why Alice was moving out and we were wondering who the beep was Alice. Eventhough I hated that song, I still had to hear the whole show, including the mother dairy and ECE bulb commercials, solely for Roshan Abbas and his charming ramblings. It’s really sad that he has ended up hosting crappy shows on Television, but I will always love him for seducing me into enjoying unadulterated good music and some sleepless Sunday nights.

Soon my cash strapped brother discovered the joys of music piracy which was still in its infancy. The precious recordings off Times FM on those expensive Sony and TDK blank tapes, since the cheap T-series variety had been rejected by my brother’s strict quality-control measures, were no longer good enough and the compact discs were still reserved for extra-special artistes. But Western Recording labels’ corporate monopoly could not deter him, hence an obscure shop in Chandni Chowk was discovered, where Audio CDs were sold at wholesale prices and yeah…Palika Bazar was still limited to cheap clothes and video game cartridges. Wow, 300 bucks for Western labels and cheaper pirated compilations probably headed for Mumbai, it was a gold mine! Stupid me, remembers picking up that stinking Channel [V] compilation, ok fine, I liked cotton-eye-joe and Scatman…kill me.

Years passed by, CDs became too scratched to play without skipping while the Deck’s beauty was also marred by some unaccounted-for scratches and also suffered an attack by an adventurous lizard but the cassette collection was huge enough to beat the Nuclear pile-up of Cold War years, thanks to the million pirated-recording shops that had sprung up in every nook and corner. They made mixed tapes from the originals for a mere 2 bucks per song. My brother had discovered heaven and my parents were relieved that the hellish trips to Chandni Chowk were history now.

By now, satellite television had cast its spell on Indian audiences and the Generation-X, Y, Z, A, B… whichever it was had been successfully enslaved to the Hindi music dominated MTV and its brothers. On the other hand, my brother had left for engineering college and I was a brand new teenager with a joint-partnership of the Deck. Yeah baby, equalizers, bass, treble, surround speakers and the radioactive pile of sinfully good music was all mine. I secretely loved the long tiresome exercise which involved the division of cassettes under the shadow of life-threatening fights and then duplication of the disputed cassettes would be carried out followed by another fight over who gets to keep the original as the cheap T-Series tapes were now being used for this purpose. Needless to add, I always lost and consoled myself by fantasizing about Robbie Williams and the temporary absence of experiments performed by my brother and the Deck’s loyal speakers on my mom’s delicate cutlery nestled in different corners of the living room. They shook and trembled in response to the powerful sound waves as did the front door with the banging of annoyed neighbours while I received advanced lessons on tweeters, super-tweeters, sub-woofers, watts-PMPO and the appropriate positioning of various speakers in a given setting.

Oh God, this is turning into a long dissertation and I haven’t even wrapped up the 90s!!! Ok this one will be divided into parts as well… Sigh!

Anyhow, the first half of my painful teenage years were spent discovering the hidden joys of classic, pop, punk, hard rock and puberty … hey… not in a perverted way…damn you filthy minds. Bryan Adams and Richard Marx were replaced by GnR, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, INXS, The Scorpions, George Michael, Don McLean, Simon & Garfunkel and Oh! Sweet Lord of everyone else’s religion, U2.

I was a young girl, so trust me, U2 was God and REM was still considered inferior to Bono’s mythical powers. Considering the first ever U2 song I ever heard was that disgusting track called Staring at the Sun, it’s surprising that I actually gave them a second chance. This was also the time when Rock was old enough for Alternative to kick in and Alanis Morisette arrived with her Jagged Little Pill who will always remain the refreshingly addictive talent of the 90s, Ok maybe not…Grunge Rockers take that title. However, it’s a pity she lost her edge after that though she continues to shine sporadically but I just hate the way everyone sings Ironic nowdays. It was a song I owned a decade ago and commercialisation including Avril Lavigne simply ruined it for me.

I also remember enjoying the occasional sprinkling of Old School Rap, Soul, Reggae and RnB, who knew the earlier talents of Lauryn Hill, Faith Evans, Whitney Houston and Notorious B.I.G would give birth to Snoop Dogg, Nelly, Cassie and their trashy homies. But still, there was a time when RnB was a real art form and Black music was considered elitist. I even remember suffering from a brief ghazal phase, again thanks to my dearest brother, who had decided to graduate to Country, Jazz, Blues and ghazals… I have observed this behavioural pattern in several people of his generation, and I know he will be so pissed reading this, as we have had unending, pointless, winding and often hilarious arguments over, why he and I have a so-called generation gap. He still insists a five year difference in age does not mean I am not eligible for membership to his country-club. Atleast the fights over Roxette (of all things) and AR Rahman movie tracks were over. I remember being terribly disappointed when I was in love with the song Chandralekha and my brother made me listen to some Michael Jackson track to point out the obvious similarities, damn…even Rahman took inspiration…that too from Jackson!

So while I gave up on Rahman’s music and he too gave up on creative independence and moved over to mainstream Bollywood music, my brother gave up on the irrational notions of his crazy little sister, who still believes that the best gift anyone ever gave her or will give her during the remaining course of an inconsequential life, was the gift of that collection of two hundred odd audio cassettes which is still lying in our basement, probably rotten by moisture but complete with colourful jackets, priceless cover art, hand-written lists of songs and artistes and cracked plastic covers with my brother's signature car designs sketched on them … who by the way is the most brilliant professional car designer today… Ok… he will definitely kill me now!