Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kill to Get Crimson

A week after I heard about the man’s new album, it was playing in my CD player and it has been there ever since, replacing the mesmerizing Canon in D major by Pachelbel. I’m referring to Mark Knopfler’s 5th solo album which is called ‘Kill to Get Crimson’. Just when I thought I’m ready and willing to write about it, I found this beautiful review from Rolling Stone and I had second thoughts. The magazine's review deserved a space here and so, I’m presenting it to you. It’s written by Anthony DeCurtis.

Along with occassional soundtracks and All the Roadrunning, his winning 2006 collaboration with Emmylou Harris, Kill to Get Crimson is Mark Knopfler's fifth solo album, and it's a gem. Since the 1995 breakup of Dire Straits, Knopfler has dedicated himself to making music that blends the deep resonance of traditional folk with the off-kilter edginess he brought to his former group's most trenchant songs. Knopfler is best at deftly drawn character studies -- the failed actor in "The Fizzy and the Still," the aging painter in "Let It All Go" whose passion for color gives the album its title. A recovering guitar god, Knopfler plays superbly -- check out his haunting solo on "The Scaffolder's Wife" -- but always with instinctive restraint. He's an ensemble player, nestling in among the likes of accordionist Ian Lowthian and fiddler John McCusker to summon sonic images that subtly reinforce the moods of his songs. Kill to Get Crimson, then, is at once egoless and supremely accomplished a testament to the rare talent that enables a master to say something simply and beautifully, and leave it exactly at that.

I just couldn’t help adding my bit.

The album begins with a very happy and sing-along, ‘True Love will Never Fade’ and ends with the melodious and melancholic ‘In the Sky’. I wonder why Mr DeCurtis missed out on appreciating Chris White’s haunting saxophone shadowing Mr Knopfler’s, almost wailing voice in this final track.

Thats how the album cover looks like. Its a 1958 painting by John Bratby called 'Four Lambrettas and Three Portraits of Janet Churchman'.

ps: I came up with this post despite being tagged to write something apologies, Phish! It will happen one of these days.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back to Fiction

As mentioned in the last page of the ‘The Emerald Diaries’, I’m back to reading fiction and it’s a great feeling. Despite the busy schedules of materialistic pursuits of life, I have managed to read works by three different writers in the last month and a half. All the three works gave me varying degrees of pleasure and I felt like sharing them with you.

‘No Exit and other Plays’ – Jean Paul Sartre
Having read and getting influenced by almost all the works by this master, this was the first time I was in presence of the man as a playwright. One page down the first play and once again I was marveling at the brilliance of this great thinker’s mind.

All philosophers try to address the basics of life and that’s what the 4 plays in this collection try to do. The first one, ‘No Exit’ is writer’s interpretation of hell and deals with issues like guilt, morality and suffering. Though I’d love to talk about it at length but that will work as a spoiler and so,I shall refrain from the temptation.

The other plays are about subjects like existence and need for God, differing political philosophies (with a focus on Communism) and racism. All of them expressed with the genius of Mr. Sartre’s style.

‘Reef’ – Romesh Gunasekara
I came upon this author of Sri Lankan origin, for academic purposes. His collection of short stories called ‘Monkfish Moon’ had impressed me with their simplicity of plots, eye for the detail and the easy narrative style and so I picked up this one during my recent trip to the island country.

Frankly, I had expected more from 'Reef' than what I got out of it. At a macro level it’s a tale of a country mired in political turmoil. It’s narrated from the viewpoint of an adolescent cook serving at a house with some amount of old money and one middle aged bachelor.

Once again, the simple and detailed narrative style is interesting but gets staid after a while. It was good when the writer was dealing with the short story format. One expects more substance out of a novel. But, I enjoyed the familiar sprinkling of the geographical context in the novel…a context, which has become much lovable after my recent trip to the place.

Please don’t go by my views, as the book got short listed the famous Booker awards. Pick it up and decide for yourself.

‘Disgrace’ – John Maxwell Coetzee
This one got a Booker and was one of the reasons why this South African author got the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature. Having read a collection of his essays, ‘Stranger Shores’, I knew that I was going to get immersed in some good writing and content. And this work of fiction did not disappoint me at all. Right from the first sentence onwards, the unique description in present tense gripped me completely. In spite of being a slow reader I finished the book in 3 days time. Allow me to give you it's backdrop briefly.

A Cape Town literature professor, Coetzee's central character believes that ''for a man of his age, 52, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.'' That's the novel's first sentence, and it tells us that David Lurie hasn't solved the problem at all. This is simply the status quo whose rupture produces a story. The commas are placed beautifully in the way that they parse out his situation, bracketing off ''to his mind'' in order to suggest the limits of his solution, his regular Thursday afternoons with Soraya of Discreet Escorts.

You should surely pick up this one to know why Mr Coetzee got a well-deserved Nobel.

But, can somebody explain why Al Gore of ‘The Inconvenient Truth’ got a Nobel for Peace…beats me!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Good Journey

After writing my tribute to Lennon on his birthday, I realized that another entity must've completed one year of its existence. A quick check revealed that its well past the birthday. This blog, which gets its name from a Dylan track breathed life on September 22nd, 2006 with this post.

Its been a good journey so far, and the writer appreciates the attention that the blog keeps getting now and then. Many thanks!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Seashell Eyes, Windy Smile

It’s John Winston Ono Lennon’s birthday today. Had he been alive he would have been 67 years old and perhaps writing many more beautiful songs. One man’s lunacy resulted in a highly premature end to the music and poetry of one of the greatest artistes of all time.

In my opinion, Lennon recorded some of his best music during his solo career starting with the phenomenal album, 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' (1970). But for the occasion, I’m going to talk about a song which he wrote and sang on the landmark double disc album by The Beatles, referred to as The White Album (1968). The song is called 'Julia'.

No other Beatle sings or plays on the recording and this is the only time that Lennon played and sang unaccompanied on a Beatles track. It was written for his mother Julia (who also died in an accident) and his wife, Yoko Ono (Yoko in Japanese means ‘child of the sea’…you will see the significance of this when you read the lyrics below)). He also drew inspiration from Kahlil Gibran’s poem ‘Sand and Foam’ for this brilliantlly soft track painting a totally surreal imagery. Travis picking (a style of picking of the guitar strings) and his dreamy, lullaby sort of voice goes on to complete the picture.

The usage, ‘Seashell eyes, Windy smile’ is one of the finest I’ve come across in popular music.

Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you, Julia

Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia
Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering,
In the sun
Julia, Julia, morning moon, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

When I cannot sing my heart
I can only speak my mind, Julia

Julia, sleeping sand, silent cloud, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

Hum hum hum...calls me
So I sing a song of love for Julia, Julia, Julia

Dave Grohl, ex-Nirvana drummer and singer/guitarist of the Foo Fighters, once said that his life would be complete if he could write a song like "Julia." For me, just listening to the song is enough.

So, at midnight I did a small celebration by playing ‘Julia’, before dozing off to golden slumbers and wanting to dream of sleeping sand and silent clouds.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Emerald Isle Diaries - 10

While Burma continues to remain in unfortunate and shameful circumstances, I move on to the last page of the Diaries. It’s been 10 days since I flew out of the small, green island to reach the crazy and somehow lovable city of Bombay but every now and then I keep flying back to the Emerald Isle.

I arrived here with many DVDs, new clothes, tea-tins, a coffee-table book on Sri Lanka, a beautiful ‘Thank-you plaque’ of the shape of the island and a strange numbness of leaving behind a world which had almost become home...a good home. In fact, I had the chance of making this world a proper home but I denied it for reasons known to me and perhaps to the unhappiness of my friends at the Isle. The numbness stayed with me till the familiar quarters of my home and meeting the people I missed cured it.

Numbness aside, I have returned a happier man from the Isle. The visit to the country was perhaps like a visit to a counsellor. I talked about myself to new people without any inhibition because they showed genuine interest in knowing me. When they asked, ‘Did you sleep well last night?’ you knew from their expression and the tone of voice that they are really interested in knowing about my comfort levels. And, I had just met them. Today, they have become good friends and will always remain so.

I also saw myself going back to reading fiction despite not being in that ‘Holiday State of Mind’…I was in Sri Lanka on work. Perhaps it’s got to do with the ‘Peaceful State of Mind’, which the country gave me. I finished reading ‘No Exit and Other Plays’ by one of my favorites, Sartre. I hadn’t read any of his plays before and I enjoyed them completely.

I may have to go back to the Isle in a while but till then, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I shall keep going there every now and then between the sips of Ceylon Tea sieved through Chaga’s thoughtful gift.

The photograph above is of the good friends I made at The Emerald Isle. From left to right: Farhan, Thiyagi and Chaga.