Friday, September 16, 2011

A CLOSED LETTER TO RAHUL DRAVID

Hello, Rahul.

You know, I'd love to start off by saying that I had many memories of you, proceed to analyse your cricketing technique and proclaim you as the greatest cricketer that India has ever produced and all that countless paeans you're no doubt receiving now - but I can't. I really can't.

You see, I missed much of India's glorious decade because I didn't have access to television for most part. So I really cannot stake claim to watching your brilliance in Adelaide, Rawalpindi, South Africa or the West Indies.

Big deal, you say. Everyone follows sport on the internet today. Why, even Tendulkar's double century was savoured over Cricinfo commentary by most of the nation. So was Sehwag's brutal assault on Sri Lanka at the Brabourne. Or most of the IPL, for that matter.

No, no. Saying that I've become a fan of you by following your exploits through Cricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary would be an insult to you. Mind you, it's alright if we do it for other cricketers, and there would be absolutely no disrespect meant. Michael Hussey's incredible 6-6-4-6 against Pakistan to win the T20 WC semifinal was thrilling as read through text. I devoured Kevin O'Brien's outstanding assault on England in the F50 (er) WC group stages through Twitter updates since I was in a train. I visualised the shots. I could picture Hussey smashing the crap out of Pakistan. Or Sehwag mutilating Murali. I didn't need visual aid for that, oh no.

But to say I've become a fan of Rahul Sharad Dravid by following text updates on some cricket website would be like going up to Wolfgang Mozart with a piece of parchment and a quill and saying, "Big fan, mate. I've heard all your symphonies in 96 kbps MP3". I remember earlier this year, I did catch an innings of yours. In South Africa. Noone else in the room could understand what I was doing, watching Test cricket (they were all the kool kyds who watch ManUtdRokzzz and F1, you see). With every defence shot, I'd ooh and aah. THIS was what I was missing out on. This was pure cricket.

And it was all so very unfair, Rahul. Which kid wants to do that? When I play the official IPL Android app, I want to smash every ball for 6. I'm not very well-acquainted with the gully cricket scene in Delhi, but I'm supposing not too many people want to 'construct' an innings in the 5 overs they're allowed before they have to run back home to finish the 10th chapter of Bhargava's 5th standard primer for IIT aspirants (Geometry).

One memory, Rahul - that I do have, was on a day on which I had what you might say, selective fever. When you and VVS ended Day 3, I knew something was up. I ensured I drank plenty of iced water that evening so I could give myself some semblance of a cold the next morning to skip school.

Yes, there were the glorious shots from VVS. It's my favourite Test innings of all time, but that's not what I remember. What I do remember is you getting to your century. You had that look on your face. Pointing to the press box, and I'm sure it was only your dignity that stopped you from giving the esteemed occupants a middle finger (or it could have been your gloves). I saw that look. Woah, I saw that look. That was the same look that I wanted to give my detractors. When my teacher back in Bahrain unfairly embarrassed me in a parent-teacher meeting in 1999, I swore I'd get back at him. I topped the fucking class and came third in the country (granted, it was a country that had the population of the entire of Chakala, but still). I so wanted to go back to him and say, "Take that!". That was the look you had, man. Whadafighter.

Criticism towards you has been as effective as a record label asking Dream Theater to adopt a more radio-friendly style.


I'm not a real fan, Rahul - I'm a mere piggybacker. It's fashionable to call yourself a Rahul Dravid fan. While 'junta' acquiesce to their baner instincts by luving the IPL, the educated, The Hindu-reading populace prefer to quote the numbers '180, 233, 270, 148' as if they were a holy chant. How many of them would actually sit through a RSD innings? I know I wouldn't. I'm just a piggybacker, like I said.

The purpose of writing this closed letter, Rahul, is to say - thank you for surviving despite people like me. Indian cricket The game of cricket has been richer for it.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

MY TOP 20 YARDBIRDS SONGS

The Yardbirds, as many biographies over the internet have said, are known to the casual rock fan for starting the careers of three of rock's most important British guitarists - Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Beck, in particular, experimented with fuzz, feedback and distortion more than anyone else. As was said in the first episode of The Seven Ages of Rock : "The Yardbirds showed how ... The electric guitar could be sexy." That, and vocalist Keith Relf's fantastic delivery. Too bad he electrocuted himself while playing guitar at his home at a young age.

But apart from this, the Yardbirds also were pivotal in bringing blues-based rock to the forefront, and were a major influence on a hell lot of bands, not just because of the guitaring pyrotechnics. Jimi Hendrix, then relatively unknown and playing in the underground black circuits in America, idolized both Beck and Clapton (the former - due to his work in the Yardbirds).

As a band, they started out with a lot of covers of blues standards, had a few songs that were songwritten by others, and surprisingly, had only one album with fully original material. They kept swinging between genres - and - unlike the Beatles, who did it with directional finesse - seemed confused most of the time. Clapton left after their early blues-covers-days since he didn't want to move away from the blues roots. Some of their albums - Roger the Engineer, in particular - are a weird mashup of psychedelia and blues-pop.

The Yardbirds of course, are arguably more important for disbanding in 1968 - which forced Jimmy Page, the only surviving member - to put together Led Zeppelin, and we don't need to go too much there now. The Yardbirds of course, reunited much, much later - in 1992 with surviving members Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty. In 2003, 35 years after their last album, the new-look Yardbirds released Birdland - a collection of new songs and old material. Scandalous as this might sound to purists, I consider this the best of their albums. It has the best sound of all, it sounds structured, the new songs are very well written and not just filler. There are a host of guest guitarists on the album - Slash, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Brian May and a cameo from Jeff Beck himself.

The Yardbirds have some of the most hummable tunes from the 60s. Here's my list of top 20 songs you should check out. Ironically, for a band most associated with blues rock, it's their deviations from the genre I like the best. Videos, as always, are provided.

20. Farewell: A cute like piano-based song to start things off. Gotta love the backing vox here. At just 1:30, one of the shortest songs you'll ever hear.

19. The Train Kept A Rollin': The classic blues cover that everyone and their guitarist would cover. The Yardbirds made it popular, though, culminating in a spectacular performance featuring Metallica, Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood, Joe Perry, Jimmy Page, and Jason Newsted & Flea on bass. And that train sound right at the beginning - that's Jeff Beck. Eddie van Halen, eat your heart out!

18. Shapes Of Things: The band considered this as one of their finest moments. It's apparently about the Vietnam War. The solo section, albeit short, looks quite progressive for its time.

17. Boom Boom: Nothing much to explain here, just a nice fun song. Featuring Clapton on lead.

16. Still I'm Sad: Probably the most experimentation this so-called blues-rock band has ever done. With their Gregorian chants that reek of 'In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle'. As serious as this song is, I can't help but picture animated animals on screen.

15. Good morning little schoolgirl: Let's get back to some good ol' blues. One thing the Yardbirds had in their early songs was a lot of harmonica. And Keith Relf shows us. Also a neat little Clapton solo.

14. Goodnight Sweet Josephine: One of the two songs where the Yardbirds sound like they're right out of Pink Floyd's first album (the other being Little Soldier Boy - it's almost like Syd Barrett himself sang that song!). This one is so irresistibly upbeat and happy.

13. White Summer: Wait, didn't I hear that opening note on some Led Zeppelin acoustic song? Of course you did. This is a solo acoustic performance by Page, and it's easy to extrapolate this song to Black Mountain Side and Bron-Yr-Aur. In fact, he frequently played an electric-guitar combination of White Summer and the former at Zeppelin shows (like this). I'm not sure if Viram Jasani, who played tabla on BMS, plays it for this song as well.

12. A Certain Girl: Another one from the early days. I've never seen so many parentheses in a song's lyrics.

11. Evil Hearted You: Another one of those 'dark' songs. Composed by 10cc's Graham Gouldman, who also provided some of their other big hits (#1 and 3 on this list, to be exact)

10. My Blind Life: Like I said, I think Birdland is a fantastic album, and I have three songs from it in my top 10. The sound, while still rooted in Yardbirdism, is quite different. New vocalist John Idan does an admirable job taking off from where Relf left off. Jeff Beck plays guest guitar on the studio version of this track.

09. Paff Bumm: An absolutely silly song ("Paff Bumm - that's the sound of love" - hyuk!). But the rhythm is so upbeat and sticky-in-head that you can't help but smile and sing along.

08. Mister You're A Better Man Than I: This song was written by Mike Hugg (Manfred Mann's drummer), and is given quite a searing performance by Keith Relf, and has one of the best verse-to-chorus changes in their catalog.

07. Over, Under, Sideways, Down: Ah, the song that everyone knows. That riff is either revolutionary or annoying, depending on your point of view. In the Birdland version, Slash plays guitar on this song, which is about the decadence of the 60s and generally having a good time.

06. Crying Out For Love: One from Birdland, again. A much more mature, well-produced song, you'll notice. Gypie Mayo, the guitarist, comes up with two very, very neat solos here.

Ooh, top 5 now.

05. Dream Within a Dream: Musically, the best of the new material off Birdland. With a superb riff, lovely vox, and a solo that beck would have been proud of, this song is ultimate proof that bands CAN bring out new material 35 years after disbanding. The riff will be stuck in your head faster than you can say Inception.

04. Smokestack Lightning: First song, first ever live performance. "Let's have a big hand for The Yardbirds, please... And Smokestack Lightning". There are many versions, but I like this version (The Early Recordings, Londong '63) the best. At 6:51, it's immensely satisfying, showcases Clapton's early guitar and Relf's harmonica prowesses. This is of course, a cover of the classic song by Howlin' Wolf.

03. For Your Love: Described by AllMusic as quasi-progressive (well, that tempo change at 01:30 is quite interesting). Written by Gouldman and modified by then bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, the song features a dominating harspichord and quite 'pleading' vocals by Relf that just seem to work. Great track. Oh, and here's Led Zeppelin ruining (or improving, depending again on your point of view) the song.

02. Happenings Ten Years Ago: Described as the first psychedelic song. Also, the only song on which Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck play together. Strangely weird. The video linked - well, I don't know what to make of it. It features Jeff Beck flipping out over a malfunctioning amp and destroying his guitar. But it's clearly not this song they're playing (either that or Relf had laryngitis and didn't know it).

01. Heart Full Of Soul: What a song! Incredibly addictive. Lots of versions available on YouTube. But the best version I have heard of this song is not by them, but Rush, who had this stunning version on their EP, Feedback. And it's a sheer joy to watch this live version of theirs, with the crowd singing along. This was also composed by Gouldman, and there was initially a Sitar version (which was rightfully rejected by Beck because it didn't sound too right). Apparently, this song is supposed to be Eastern sounding (er, really?) and is said to have influenced a Messr. Harrison into using a Sitar on a song we all know and love.

There we go. They definitely left their mark, the 'birds, and I think are extremely underrated. I mean, they were a band that had Beck, Clapton and Page! Admittedly, they weren't at the heights of their powers during their Yardbirds stints, but it's obvious their days in the band were vital to help them polish their technique. Like Arbit on Twitter said: (They) made very little music, but part of a great rock genealogy.

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