Saturday, December 31, 2005

What's In That Juice Again?

This morning, while walking through the dairy/juice section of the supermarket, I noticed the label on a bottle of Tropicana's Sweet Grapefruit juice. It read: "made with not from concentrate juice".

Read that again.

Mr. Orwell, your neighbors are complaining about your spinning motion.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy Endings

No, no, it's not the kind of a post you think it is.

I am talking about my last-working-day-of-the-year ritual: cleaning up my desk.

I've been guiltily eyeing a pile of papers that has occupied a corner of my desk for a year now. I have no idea why or even how that pile formed there. Must be a result of those massive geological forces they keep talking about. Resting on that pile are two boxes of thumb-tacks, I don't know why I bought them. There's also 3 CDs with no labels, a pen holder with two unsharpened pencils, adhesive labels, business cards of people who do not even set the clapper of the bell into oscillation and a piece of paper with a phone number and no name. Now all I need is a corpse and I've got a pretty decent crime scene here. (Say it really fast like Bogart and it does sound like a line from a B-noir film.)

Motivational blogger Steve Pavlina has a few tips on creating a productive workspace.

Here's to a great start to 2006.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"Looking For What I Knew"

Metallica's "Master of Puppets" still sounds frightfully, delightfully heavy. It's 20 years old. But I must have played it after 200 years and that fat thrash riff that follows the quiet intro to "Battery" gave me a most severe adrenalin rush. I was in such a state of rage that I knew I simply had to reach for another Godiva truffle to calm me down. And I did.

Led Zeppelin's "III" has always occupied, in my mind, a (slightly) higher place than I, II, IV and everything else they ever recorded. It's the sound of a band cooling down. It's the sound of a band sitting under a tree and writing music for you and me and the fishes and the flowers. It's the sound of a band firmly connected to their roots.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Will the Newspapers Stop Snooping On Me?

The headline on Drudge Report this morning: "11-year old may have face transplant" (link goes to People's Daily.)

Now guess what was I watching last night? Georges Franju's classic "Eyes Without A Face", a creepy horror-thriller about face transplants*.

Really, get off my back. Or must I invest in an extra large sheet of tinfoil?

*My gross-out threshold is pretty high. But that one scene - I won't describe more for the sake of those who haven't seen this film - made me really glad I am not in the medical profession.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Constraints To Set You Free

Arun at Cre8iveIgnition writes passionately about creativity. There's lots of other art goodies on his blog too. But this post is the one I want to talk about.

Arun's point is this: Rules are necessary for creation. Without rules, you can get lost and even frozen for ideas.

I would never have believed the above statement had I not played - no, inflicted - live music on some listeners.

Ever got together with a bunch of friends and started an impromptu jam on a chord sequence? You know how it goes. "We'll play a few bars of A minor, do two bars in G, then 2 bars in F and then do a turnaround to A minor". It's bloody awful, both for the musicians and their unfortunate listeners (unless their ears and minds are sufficiently lubricated with alcohol.) After about 10 minutes, the fearless musical exploration turns into a vulgar display of guitar effects pedals and amp wattage. It happened to me every time.

See, without the predictable verse/chorus/verse and the dependable 4/4 beat, the listener gets bored and restless. The musical idea needs to exist in a recognizable form and shape. Listeners respond to the form. The form or the structure is the artist's best friend. And when the artist violates the form in unexpected ways, his or her work becomes really exciting.

A fine example of such a violation is the Beatles' "A Day in the Life". The first verse leads us safely to the second verse - no surprises there - but the second verse changes the form completely with the line "Having read the book/I'd love to turn you on" line (not just musically, but also lyrically - those were considered "naughty" words in 1966.) The bizzare bridge that follows the second verse takes us into another world with a sharply different tempo and mood. What the hell is going on? Well, you stick around for the comb-dragging, hat-grabbing, stair-climbing character to tell you his experiences through the which point, the familar verse-form comes in again to tell you about more inspired lunacies. Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. Yeah.

Now, Lennon-McCartney need the verse-chorus-verse form to create this bit of dizzying psychedelia. On the other hand, the deliberately designed psychedelia of Revolution # 9 often fails because of a lack of a recognizable structure. (It does have a structure, just not a well-known structure.)

Imagine a musician's plight if he were handed 7 notes and asked to make rain? Won't do. What he or she needs is the familiar structure of the Malhar group of raags. (And the audience needs umbrellas.)

Similarly, a film genre is a structure which is used by great writers and directors to explore new stories and worlds. Like Fred Zinneman's "High Noon". A standard western structure (Good marshall takes on some bad guys) is used to explore highly political and personal themes (honor, integrity) with almost unbearable suspense of a murder-thriller.

But structure and genre often get a bad rap. "I hate westerns" and "I hate chick-flicks*", are two commonly heard statements (uttered usually by women and men respectively.) What they usually mean is they hate westerns and chick-flicks that do not tell a fresh, compelling story. Why is Kurosawa's "Stray Dog", set in the "old cop/rookie cop" genre a great film but not the dozens of cop movies that have used (and will continue to use) the exact same set-up? (Well, see the film and you will know why.)

(*Is David Lean's "Brief Encounter" a weepie chick-flick? Of course not. It's a great film. But the basic structure of the film is a classic weepie, all right.)

Rules, constraints, form, structure - call it what you will - are necessary for creativity. Only when we have a destination can we take those fun side-trips. Or else we are stuck listening to ambitious but pointless guitar jams for 2 hours.

P.S.: Here are the famous "Vows of Chastity" taken by the so-called Dogme 95 film-makers. Again, rules and constraints that force the artist into exploring new and often unsafe creative options.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Morning, Sights & Sounds

I woke up hoping for snow. It is much too warm this Christmas. Still, I looked through the blinds to see if there was any white at all. Not a chance. Even the snow on the ground had melted. But there was a thick, white-grey fog on rooftops, treetops and over the field behind the house. So what if we didn't get a white Christmas in 2005, the fog is pretty impressive.

I discovered the film "A Christmas Story" a few years ago. I suppose Comedy Central was running it as a counter-response to this standard. Since then, this film has become my holiday staple. It's wistful, quirky, funny and not sugary at all. Perfect film for a Christmas morning.

UPenn's radio station WXPN has been playing non-stop in the living room since last evening. Wine tastes so much better with music like Nat King Cole Trio's "All I want for Christmas (is my two front teeth)", pianist George Winston playing a stunning version of Doors' "Crystal Ship", Flaming Lips, Neil Young doing "Imagine" and a spoken-word bebop Christmas song.

If I had to pick a favorite Christmas song, it would be John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)". War is over, if you want it. Those are very hopeful words.

Any festive occasion can be elevated by playing Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World". I wish the WXPN DJ would find his copy of Satchmo reading "'Twas the Night Before Christmas".

The local Barnes & Noble is running a terrific book-gifting drive for disadvantaged children. You pick up these little name-tag-like cards that contain a kid's name, age (and gender). The idea is to buy a book suitable for that child and gift it. Barnes & Noble then delivers the book to the children. What can be greater than a 3 year-old or a 5 year-old receiving a book? Like Jack Black's character says in "School of Rock", a great rock concert can change the world. Well, a great book can blow a little child's mind and change the world.

Jeff Buckley's singing "Hallelujah". The song always makes me want to stop and listen to the lyrics again. There must be a secret chord.

And so we reach the last 6 days of 2005. So fast? Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My Goal Is To Avoid Saying "Zeitgeist"

Everyone's heard about 43 Things. They have their yearly Top 100 goals' list (which, thanks to Google, is no longer a list, but a Zeitgeist. Ugh.)

The Top 10 on the list are: Procrastination, weight loss, write a book, fall in love (it's a goal now?), be happy, drink more water (wow, yeah, like, I know...this is America, after all), take more pictures, get married, get a tattoo and finally, read more books.

Yeah, we get the idea. Who doesn't want to be thinner, richer, happier, well-hydrated and covered in ink?

But check out Goal #87.

772 people want to fulfill #87. These 772 people - they don't care if they are overweight, single, lonely, illiterate, unpublished, unhappy or if their digital cameras lie unused between New Year's Eve and July 4th. All they want is Goal #87.

Now that's zeitgeist. Oops.

P.S.: And #17 is a classic :)

"Liar! Liar! Black Liar!"

During the opening robbery/shoot-out sequence in Peckinpah's masterpiece, "The Wild Bunch", comes a truly bizarre bit of dialogue.

The scene shows us two grizzled, raggedy hired guns arguing over who really shot the man lying on the ground. Both men claim to have shot him. There is prize money involved, naturally. Dirty world and all that. Suddenly, the two break into this conversation:

Man 1: Liar! Liar! Black liar!
Man 2: Don't talk like that to me
Man 1: I'm sorry...

Now why would a brutal shoot-out feature such an exchange? The 35-minute documentary on the DVD explains it. It was a tongue-in-cheek joke planted there by the writers, just to make these 2 men seem, well, a little gay and by that they certainly didn't mean happy.

Yes, even a great, bloody film like "The Wild Bunch" can have such silly, goofy moments. As can be expected, Filmsite has an in-depth analysis of the film.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The 10 Most Dangerous Guitars In The World

Take a look at these 10 beauties (link goes to a Fender UK site) and tell me you wouldn't stab yourself with a plectrum or strangle yourself with a Phosphor-bronze E string for a chance to hold them in your arms.

For those click-challenged among us, the Top 10 are: Clapton's Brownie and Blackie, Jimi's Woodstock Strat, Dave Gilmour's 001 Strat, Buddy Holly's (last) Strat, George's Rocky, SRV's Number One, Rory Gallagher's Strat, Hank Marvin's Flamingo Pink Strat and finally, a Strat owned by Jimi and Zappa (holy moly, some pedigree!)


Monday, December 19, 2005

Sasura, Kya Phillum Industry Hai!

I don't quite understand why this is news in 2005 (link to BBC). But it is.

Remember the early-80s quasi-Bhojpuri blockbuster"Nadiya Ke Paar"? Well, I do. I lived in those neck of the woods back then. People were lining up, some for the 4th or the 5th time, outside that little tin-shed of a movie-hall. Let me tell you, this film was more important to the sugarcane-chewing citizen than "Citizen Kane" to a bunch of film-schoolers.

The success of "Nadiya Ke Paar" should have been an obvious sign of a serious paucity of regionally-relevant entertainment, but it was almost completely ignored by the film industry. It is understandable. If you didn't live in the heartland, you just wouldn't know or care about the fuss over this film.

Theoretically, two hundred million viewers represent 20% of Bollywood's potential market. That's a Kong-sized market. (And if you've worked in the IT industry long enough, I know you are doing the "200 million times 2 dollars a seat" calculation. Shameless old farts.) But it is a market that the present p.o.s. producers in Bombay CANNOT entertain well enough.

Well, supply, say hello to demand.

Is That A Standard?

A "jazz standard" is a composition that is held in continuing esteem and is commonly used as the basis of jazz arrangements and improvisations.
A simple, succinct and satisfying defintion, I'd say. Here's a terrific exploration of the rich and delightful world of Jazz Standards. I discovered this wonderful site via this page.

(And for the Lazy Jazz Geek in you, this is the list of the Standards.)

P.S.: Any other music geeks miss the good old All Music Guide?

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Something Else"

"my dream is something else", "this is *just* something I do...", "i am a realistic person", "I work because I need the means to do that something else..."

Just why are so many people torn between the *this* and *something else*? Are they waiting for some kind of permission from the Universe?

"I Was Misinformed"

Rick: I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Insp. Renault: But we’re in the middle of the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Some good Noir fun here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


*Laughing My Ass Off While Driving To Work

So Zappa's "Absolutely Free" (link goes to Ground And Sky, an avant/prog/experimental music review site) is playing in the car. I know there will be tons of shoot-coffee-out-of-my-nose moments. It is, after all, a Frank Zappa album. "Absolutely Free" does not disappoint at that level.

After the mind-bending hilarity of classics like "Call any vegetable" and songs about prunes, comes a song called "America Drinks". For those who haven't heard it, the song kicks off with Zappa's voice counting "One! Two! Buckle My Shoe!". I don't know why, but it cracks me every time. The mental picture of a serious, avant-rock musician using a nursery rhyme for the count is pretty funny. Think I will just keep the intro to this song on a never-ending loop till Friday.

Listening to Zappa reminds me of hanging out with a really smart and really disgusting kid in middle school. You know, the one who knew all the really filthy, funny jokes involving the unholy trinity of booger, shit and farts. Of course, Zappa's music is *so* much more than just jokes and novelty songs...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wong Kar-Wai Times Two

What can be better than watching a Wong Kar-Wai film? Watching two of them in one weekend. "Chungking Express" and "Happy Together**". (link to Senses of Cinema.) And the icing on the cake: Clouzot's "Wages of Fear" sitting in the DVD player. (link to Wiki)

** The Ghost of Frank Zappa must be watching me. I pick up "Happy Together", which features a Zappa song, and Mothers of Invention's "Absolutely Free" at the same time. Weirrrrd, man.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Hat, A Tie And No Pants On

No, that's not how I went to last night's party. That's Homer Simpson, making a reference to Yogi Bear (link goes to NYT has a good story on the "bear who was there at the start of it".

(The Simpsons' episode the article refers to is "The Day The Violence Died", and the complete quote is: "Animation is built on plagiarism. If it weren't for someone plagiarizing The Honeymooners, we wouldn't have The Flintstones. If someone hadn't ripped off Sergeant Bilko, there'd be no Top Cat. Huckleberry Hound, Chief Wiggum, Yogi Bear? Andy Griffith, Edward G Robinson, Art Carney.")

Isn't all art built on plagiarism? Homer's character is wholly original and yet it is a composite of so many TV dads who came before him. Aren't all sitcoms essentially a re-working of "I Love Lucy"?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Pope Says a Virtuous Life Is Not 'Boring'"

...and he flashed a mischievous grin as he whispered:

and by "virtuous" I mean "the life led by groupies backstage and in hotel rooms during Led Zeppelin's second US tour"
Read all about it here. (link to, via Drudge.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Well We All Shine On

The above picture (circa 1968, White Album) was practically etched into the first wallet I ever owned and stayed there through 4 years of electrical engineering lectures, numerous films, concerts, drinking sessions and trips. It even kept me company a couple of years after college. I found it in an old issue of SPAN magazine. (Remember Span?) The picture was my good-luck charm. Considering that I survived those teenage years and college, I think it worked very well ;)

Wish I could be at Strawberry Fields tomorrow for the 25th anniversary of his death. There's something very cool about that place. I once saw a father reprimand his kids because they were not showing "proper" respect to the famous mosaic on the ground! How many places in America do you see such reverence?

What I also love about the place is how connected I feel to everyone who stops there to remember the man. There are tourists from all over the world (and - ahem - New Jersey) and we all know how deeply the other person feels about John Lennon. I am not the first person to say this, but Strawberry Fields does resemble the Brotherhood of Man.

Thanks once again for the music and for showing us the possibilities, John.

Aristotle's "Poetics"

If there is anything worth knowing, Artistole (link to wikipedia) has already figured it out and written about it. His book, "Poetics", is only one such example. I randomly opened a page in this fine little book this morning and came across the following lines: is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen....The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose...The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen.

Poetics rawks. (link to downloadable version on

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Thelma and Marty

A long but insightful interview (link goes to an AOL member-page) with the always-articulate Thelma Schoonmaker, editor on so many of Scorsese's films. (link goes to's site; an audio interview with Terry Gross.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Wish All Critics Were This Honest

Along with the "did you find this review useful", Amazon should now incorporate a "Did you find this review entertaining" option. How else to tag the following user-review?

i made a bet with someone who didn't believe me that the pet shop boys did a cover of "where the streets have no name." i won, of course, and now the guy owes me a beer. i give this album five stars for the free beer it won me.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bihar, On The Screen

Uma, of Indianwriting, has an excellent post on Prakash Jha, whose new film "Apaharan" is now out in theaters (including here, in New Jersey.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

I Love Nosferatu

While watching the credits roll at the end of F.W. Murnau's creepy-as-a-rat Nosferatu, I saw a name that rang a bell: Director of Cinematography - Karl Freund.

The name was not just familiar, but VERY familiar. No, I didn't remember his name from his work on Fritz Lang's Metropolis. I remembered it from some other film.

So I had to google for his name.

Ah. So that's why his name seemed so familiar. And what a resume! He worked on Nosferatu, Metropolis and this classic too?

Clue: The title of the post will give you the answer :)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dear Mr Prime Minister...

Neha's post on e-Governance (are we still allowed to prefix words with "e"?) has got me thinking. Chin-scratching, pen-chewing, horizon-staring kind of thinking.

Now, local government officials that deal with practical, real-life issues (as in: highways are jammed, water tastes funny, post office must be kept open past midnight etc etc) are obviously good candidates for blogging. They deal with very tangible problems. But what about central or federal government officials, who deal with larger issues? Should they be encouraged to blog as well?

Consider a sample blog entry from a Finance Minister's blog:

June 18, 2005: The Prime Minister wants us to seriously consider joining the WTO. My head hurts from having to educate him about the pitfalls. Also, my kitten keeps clawing my assistant's legs.

One can imagine the comments on such a blog:

June 19: "Anonymous" says: Dude, wtf is wto?
June 19: "MeanMrMustard" says: heh heh, your pussy got claws?

Or take this entry from a Defense Minister's blog ("Boys With Toys")

August 6:

Current Mood: Aggressive
Listening to: Napalm Death

I don't know what to dooooo :( He says launch the attack from the west. His under-secretary also says west. I keep telling them (and I can't reveal names here, LOLZZZ!!) west is not the best. South-east is better. I hate when he acts all bossy. I mean, who does he think he is? Wait, he's the PM!! :)) Wish I could drink my gin and tonic and chill...just like we did in college!!!! Now where's the nuke-launch button I ordered last week from Amazon?


August 6: HwyToHell Says: Recently came across your blog! Loved it. Do visit our accupressure site and tell us what you think!

August 6: GanguliHaiHai Says: When did India last win a match in the south-east?

See what I mean?