LUCKNOW, MON AMOUR

Being in love with one’s city and having the privilege to be its active resident is a fact of life that never ceases to be joyous.

As writers, getting the betokened opportunity to represent our eternal affinities to our place of birth and residence take on a humbling hue when the venue is one’s own educational home.

Such a beautiful moment came my way on Wednesday, 18th January, 2023, when my host university department, Department of English and Modern European Languages, University of Lucknow, invited me as an honourable alumni to recite my poem LUCKNOW – AN ODE TO THE CITY, in keeping with the city being its theme for a pre-Convocation programme.

Reuniting with beloved teachers and meeting new, beaming faces who represent the bright future of the department resonated on a personal level, as always. Receiving praises from contemporary students and holding a room full of intellectually astute individuals invested for those two minutes of recitation made a big difference. The other performances from students and teachers were the launchpads that naturally boosted my confidence.

Thank you for the memories and to the beginnings of a robust, creatively prodigious 2023 for all.

*****

THE KING’S UNCHAINED MELODY, A CLASSIC RESURRECTED AND A SONGBIRD’S PRIME.

UNCHAINED MELODY by ELVIS PRESLEY.




The final shot of Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS has a seamless transition between Austin Butler as the King performing his triumphant take on Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody and the actual footage of Mr. Presley from 1977, in what is historically his final bow before his mortal coil snapped.

The physical toll that life on the road had taken on him, the exhaustion, the way he could barely hold his breath as his body had invariably changed in his forties are sobering reminders of our impermanence as merely human beings. But as he hits his notes, plays the piano and delivers a masterclass in terms of emoting every bit of the melancholy and simultaneous hope this classic song enshrines, we know why his name, his identity is etched till the end of time.

UNCHAINED MELODY, like his transcendental cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER, is reclaimed as his gold standard. As a companion piece, listen to Kacey Musgraves’ serenely effective take on one of the King’s definitive classics CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU, another melancholic, hopeful and subdued romantic journey that graces the Elvis OST circa 2022.

https://youtu.be/dkihGsS-PZQ

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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST- A 30TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION.

ABC’s latest tribute broadcast of a classic work of art that has stood the test of time is something that befits this season of cheer.

I mean, who hasn’t been charmed by this tale, by its ubiquitous title track, by the triumph of true love in any form over figures of beauty alone?




With Rita Moreno as the auspicious host, this special is pure delight for everyone. Just listen to the rendition of Beauty and the Beast by renaissance queen Shania Twain, with original musical mastermind Alan Menken on piano and her haunting vocals will sweep you away in the sheer innocence and purity of her storytelling.

Consonant with her take is the duet by H.E.R. and Josh Groban who lend their voices to the beloved tune, as the titular characters.

Of course, these are just a few bits of what the original special achieved overall as it originally aired in its entirety back in the USA. But it’s wonderful that the interweb can have some of the most joyous parts reach us in other parts of the world. I am so grateful for that.



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STAY WITH ME by SAM SMITH Circa 2022.



STAY WITH ME is a piano-backed classic that is etched in our minds, with Sam Smith’s signature blend of falsettos and plangent phrasing propelling his journey into our hearts.



Close to a decade after that song, his breakout debut album IN THE LONELY HOUR( boasting of other two standouts in I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE and LAY ME DOWN), Grammys and an Oscar to his name, STAY WITH ME has amassed a truly symbolic value. As Smith performed it at The White House in the event of President Joe Biden signing the Marriage Equality Act, further strengthening the idea of love without frontiers of gender binaries or racial constructs, our hearts were awash with the song’s enduring emotional connect, tracing our memories back to that very first moment in 2014 when we made it our own.

It’s still like that first moment. A declaration of liberty and equality deserves a statement of vulnerable sincerity such as this one.

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MY HEART WILL GO ON(LIVE) by CELINE DION.

Ms. Dion has only recently shared her health struggles with the world and graciously opted for more hope even as debilitating physical pain consumes her.

We have to give her the time and healing she so judiciously needs. We must then uphold the courage in her artistry that has always found ways to mould that phenomenal voice to reach our souls.






This live performance of the titanic classic MY HEART WILL GO ON from 1998 is her personal testimony, her gift to the world where she shares her heartfulness and gratitude for a song that will continue to endure for the longest time, forever and always preserved in the hallowed vaults of modern history.

We wish you health and may all our blessings work like panacea, just like your voice has for decades, for all of us across the globe.

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HERO(LIVE) by MARIAH CAREY





Ms. Carey will forever be embedded in my heart with this song above all. The veritable songbird’s vocal register and enunciation completely goes in sync with the inspirational core of HERO, an emotional tribute to the resilience within us that is more than just a construct, more than a phase or a superficial homily.

I remember each word, each musical cue, the use of piano, the classic tune and the way she soars in the last half especially. The live iteration of HERO cements its legacy as a favourite. It’s always humbling to hear it and sing along with each line, the outpouring of sincere emotion articulated by Ms. Carey giving it a lifetime worth of musical heft.

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HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU by PINK ( LIVE AT THE AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS, 2022)






Pink never leaves anything to chance when it comes to her consistency as an excellent performer. We know she possesses one of the best, most individualistic voices of our generation but it’s in the manner in which she makes each song her own that allows her the rare feat of being a great interpreter.

All of those qualities are in supple, resonant evidence in her tribute to the late, great Olivia Newton John at the AMAS, 2022.

Hopelessly Devoted to You is her signature tune from the all-time blockbuster GREASE and Pink brings it grace, sensitivity and a far-reaching visibility so that those who want to discover Ms. Olivia’s corpus will be compelled to do so.

That’s the magic of music that always stays relevant.



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LIVE GLORY OF LIVING MUSICAL LEGENDS & AN ICON’S NEW LABOUR OF LOVE.

DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE’S A TUNNEL UNDER OCEAN BOULEVARD? by LANA DEL REY.

The ever-consummate artist brings her favoured piano notes, world-conquering melody to us through this latest song.

Sometimes, an artist is so consistent and her motif so characteristic of purity of the soul that we run out of words to describe each song-cycle she gives identity to. Lana is one such artist, making minimalism and the elemental quality of her voice her enduring traits. DID YOU KNOW……. further gives us proof about her living legend status, unraveling with the potential and bonds that lie underneath our mounds of layers as we navigate life in its constant churns. The tunnel is not just ‘tunnel vision’ per se but a more lucid exploration of the manner in which we can be nurtured so that we don’t have to wait for ‘my turn’ and be utterly singular in our pursuits of artistic truth, in a world sold to the devils of avarice and easy fame.


It’s beautiful, bountiful in its universality of lyrics. What is heartening to me is that she continues to make music that reaches for the constancy of melody and purity, proving all cynics wrong who feel that success can only come now by some sort of ideological compromise.

She is the poster-child of that oft-maligned and misunderstood word- AUTHENTICITY. This song is a new lodestar. Our lodestar before a new year comes into view.




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LOVESONG & PICTURES OF YOU by THE CURE.

My love for THE CURE’s discography remains strong and steadfast. The ease of the guitars, the unpretentious simplicity of the vocals, touched by no technical adornments, and an instant appeal for the listener’s ears mark their trademark sound on PICTURES OF YOU and LOVESONG ( the latter has been covered by Adele on her landmark 21)

Listen to them with the  complementary benefit of the band’s excellent live performances of LOVESONG, BOYS DON’T CRY and JUST LIKE HEAVEN at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where it was inducted. You’ll come to cement the members’ legendary status by how effortlessly they rule the crowd, by just singing and being a committed musical unit. Vocalist Robert Smith makes it au natural.





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BRANDI CARLILE’S EVER-TRIUMPHANT PERFORMATIVE APTITUDE.


Brandi Carlile has remade herself as a bonafide musical powerhouse, who like Lana Del Rey, Adele, Maren Morris and few select names, delivers with her powers of songcraft, always stirring lyrics and authenticity of being.

They say, a good heart and commitment to one’s vocation doesn’t ever go unrewarded. Ms. Carlile has all those profound qualities that make her an artist before a star get amply highlighted on her recent live arc on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, often hailed as the holy grail to test one’s abilities in front of audiences. YOU AND ME ON THE ROCK featuring the soothing harmonies by LUCIUS and her classic THE STORY ruled our hearts, giving these singles more deserving ascent in popular culture.

For more live perfection from her and the band, watch her completely own every note on RIGHT ON TIME at Grammys 2022 or her SNL set with that latest cut and the roaring and flawless BROKEN HORSES ( the latter has scored nods in the Rock Category at the Grammys, 2023 while her album IN THESE SILENT DAYS and its corpus is spread out over Americana, Pop, Album berths).



Here’s to her thriving with her judiciously nurtured gifts.



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JONI MITCHELL’S HISTORIC RETURN TO THE WORLD STAGE WITH LIVE RENDITIONS OF CLASSICS.

With a little help from friends, one can challenge mortal coils, the hard shell of artistic hiatus and heal physical limitations.

This is at the very heart of 2022’s greatest pop-culture miracle, in my estimation. Yes, it’s that moment where one of the greats, Joni Mitchell, took her stage at Newport Folk Festival after nearly fifty years and sang her eternal classics BOTH SIDES NOW, BIG YELLOW TAXI while also harnessing the guitar to give fans of multiple generations memories to cherish and preserve.

Buoyed by her good friend Brandi Carlile, Marcus Mumford and others, this is the return of the native to her original domicile- the world stage which makes her a lodestar for the ages.


For another instance of camaraderie and reminiscence, watch her Apple Music interview with none other than Sir Elton John.



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MASHA’S THEME from ANNA KARENINA.

Tanishtha Chatterjee’s performative excellence is spread out over her national and international repertoire.

Her vocal skills on the Bengali lullaby MASHA’S THEME from ANNA KARENINA is another integral part of her legacy. As I belong to a Bengali heritage myself, the mother’s love for her child captured in this minute and a half capsule is heartwarming.



THANK YOU, MODPO

*****

I am awed by the certificate of appreciation that was awarded to me by MODPO, a ten-week, beautifully curated course from the University of Pennsylvania that celebrated Modern American Poetry. Hence the abbreviation of MODPO.

I am very happy to earn this certificate owing to my sustained commitment through each week, in the discussion forums where each participant deduced, discussed and shared ideas about the poems, through peer reviews in appreciation of others’ output and in the form of detailed essays on the assigned poems. Each part gave me the thrill of nurturing my own craft and reading masterworks from established names in the canon, many of whom I had known before but experienced first-hand for the very first time.

Most importantly, this course helped me to live up to my credo of ‘being a student of life’ and I’m looking forward to rejoining the literary bandwagon from January, 2023 again, for an extension of this course.

Thank you MODPO for ensuring my mind was adequately occupied with all things poetic. I’m forever grateful to the whole team, especially Al Sir.



MUSIC TO GUIDE US AS THE DECEMBER CHILL SETS IN

JUST LIKE HEAVEN by THE CURE.

Good musicians always tend to grow on you. For someone like me who loves to revisit the classic template left behind by artists as they continue to contribute to the cultural canon, it’s a point of discerning the very best.

A LETTER TO ELISE began that journey with The Cure’s discography. Adding BOYS DON’T CRY and DISINTEGRATION to that list amplified my love for the sound and texture of music that’s definitively theirs.

Now JUST LIKE HEAVEN has deepened that bond with a style that’s full of admiration for the subject of one’s attention, a style that’s wonderfully youthful and celebratory of the swings in emotions that accompany our life-choices.




To further amplify the fact that there’s a reason why these classic acts endure, look no further than the latest live performance of this hit at the NME AWARDS, 2022. Robert Smith and company are in fine fettle here.

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CAROLYN’S FINGERS & PEARLY DEWDROPS’ DROPS by COCTEAU TWINS.

The use of synths in terms of a continuum of sonic sensibilities along with Elisabeth Fraser’s lucid vocal turns has cemented Cocteau Twins as permanent fixtures in my playlist.

The benchmarks of illegible but enduring, pure vocal performances on HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS, CHERRY-COLOURED FUNK and PANDORA(FOR CINDY) gave this listener a key to unlock states of euphoria and joy that they occasion.





I’m glad then to be in thrall of the operatic style of singing employed most commendably on CAROLYN’S FINGERS and the gospel-tinged turn on PEARLY DEWDROPS’ DROPS. The enigmatic titles, the air of building an individualistic myth around these phrasings and textures are perfect for afficianados. We can imagine words in place of the free-flowing streams here or we can be immersed without a second thought in the bird-like feats of musical transference by Ms. Fraser.

I highly recommend this group to every discerning audiophile because it taps something elemental, pure in the very arena of art. That’s precious to me, mostly because the members are wonderful conjurers of aesthetics & sounds.

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DEAR PRUDENCE by SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES.




Going further into the gifts of a classic group’s output, we have a Beatles cover by Siouxsie and the Banshees here.

DEAR PRUDENCE is originally gentle as a breeze and primarily acoustic, a most intimate number to be savoured with a delicate ear attuned to its melodic cadences.

In this other iteration, the rhythmic use of the guitars, drums and  general ’80s sound evokes a stark, resigned aura in the form of Siouxsie Sioux’s vocals. There is no overreaching, no unnecessary flourish and that way the simplicity of the original tune remains intact. It’s a good addition to the group’s songcraft after HALLOWEEN and SPELLBOUND.

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SAY YOU, SAY ME by LIONEL RICHIE.





I had listened to Lionel Richie’s SAY YOU, SAY ME many times before and felt it was another overrated ’80s song that was a little too conventional in structure and composition. Richie’s voice was nevertheless his own instrument evincing gentle, practical charm.

Now having returned to it in recent days many times over, I find it quite an impressive melody, written with heart and sensitivity. That sudden change in tone in the second half is abrupt and largely forgettable but the use of piano evokes the smooth as butter ethos of HELLO, PENNY LOVER and ENDLESS LOVE, gems from Mr. Richie’s oeuvre.

The piano, synths and echo of the vocals get more affecting so give this one a chance. It will definitely grow on you. It was also recently performed at the American Music Awards where the legendary singer was feted with a Lifetime Achievement honour. Reason enough to dive into his discography all over again. Reason enough to be sure that a classic treasure trove hardly goes out of rotation.

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TRACES OF YOU by ANOUSHKA SHANKAR.


Anoushka Shankar is another illustrious talent who makes me proud of being an Indian, by dint of her legacy and the singular manner in which she has enhanced the beauty of the sitar in the contemporary world.

Her module of fusing the classical purity of this always soul-stirring instrument with worthy collaborators on vocals is a gift, as with Alev Lenz on Bright Eyes, Shilpa Rao on Those Words, Udhero Na with Arooj Aftab and Traces of You with sister Norah Jones.

Traces of You has been a favourite for so many years that discovering other instrumental pieces from the epnoymously titled album is a soothing experience. MONSOON, INDIAN SUMMER and IN JYOTI’S NAME are highlights. They are showcases for her being a conscientious practitioner of the sitar and the way this instrument always creates a pleasant ambience in any given form.

MONSOON especially will evoke her father, Pandit Ravi Shankar’s Pather Panchali theme.


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JAGGED LITTLE PILL & OTHER ALANIS MORISSETTE GEMS.



If anyone has forgotten what an album as iconic as JAGGED LITTLE PILL(1995) can do to an avid listener then just go back to it again and again. And Again. IRONIC, YOU OUGHTA KNOW, YOU LEARN, HAND IN MY POCKET and MARY JANE have been staples on my playlist since the last five years and counting. They hit one in the same way as the first time, with their impeccable production, lyrics, spunk and overall compositional coherence, taking rock guitars, exemplary use of bass and even the warmth of balladry as on the excellent, piano-backed, ever-poignant MARY JANE.



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Apart from that consistently beloved album, UNINVITED, THANK YOU, two songs inspired by her trip to India, fill us up with their transcendental value in terms of the instrumentation used in the former and the joyous note of gratitude in multitudes that flow like nectar in the latter. UNINVITED is just spiritually uplifting, as much now as it was on the first listen back in 2016.

Which makes the power and compassion of the rock guitar-fuelled GUARDIAN more endearing in totality.


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The carousel reaches her recent success with the release of songs like eternal favourite ABLAZE, the vulnerable SMILING and the bittersweet ode to camaraderie written in the pandemic era in I MISS THE BAND.

These are songs I’ve listened to over and over again and truth be told, their restorative agency is one for the ages. Alanis is a guardian and a champion of meaningful quests. We love her for her collective discography.



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SONG TO THE SIREN by THIS MORTAL COIL.




Another instance of Cocteau Twins’ Elisabeth Fraser rising to the occasion with her voice arrives with SONG TO THE SIREN.

This time around, the words are clear and the somber mood, stately and majestically serene, is how one conjures a vision of nature in its unspoilt beauty. The tone is melancholic here but equally focused on the evolution that comes with time.

SONG TO THE SIREN is an ode, a dirge and a soul-stirrer, ghostly and yet life-affirming, befitting the invocation of the muse as per its title.




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The Scream & Me – Borderless

https://borderlessjournal.com/2022/11/14/the-scream-me/

I am so happy to have my essay on THE SCREAM grace BORDERLESS JOURNAL. It is a piece that has allowed me to vent out, seek personal therapy through the written word and exorcise few demons of my life.

Read it and share your thoughts.

MY POEMS HAVE GRACED LOTHLORIEN JOURNAL’S NIGHTHAWKS EDITION

Sometimes, I feel that the muses truly honour my hard work and sheer affinity for art. On that front, I am very happy to share that LOTHLORIEN POETRY JOURNAL, a constant supporter of my works, has been kind enough to publish my two poems BEJEWELLED and PARADISE, in a latest anthology book inspired by Edward Hopper’s iconic painting NIGHTHAWKS.




That’s more than anything I could hope for and the occasion is particularly special as NIGHTHAWKS is legitimately an artwork I have appreciated for many years. So to have my poems within an anthology that celebrates its creative primacy along with the ensemble of poems that have already graced the journal in previous months is very special indeed.

Remember, BEJEWELLED and PARADISE had found a place in LOTHLORIEN in August, 2022. So to be selected for this special edition is a gift. I am deeply indebted to the ever-considerate, prolific editor and friend, Strider Marcus Jones Sir, for his vision and capacious literary heart.




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You can also support all poets featured there and the journal in general by buying it on Lulu.com. That will be the most generous acknowledgement of an effort of this nature.

BEAUTIFUL MELODIES, A LEGEND’S LEGACY & A SUBLIME GEM.

INTO DUST by MAZZY STAR



Only two songs can mean the world to a listener when the aural quality is as hauntingly beautiful as Mazzy Star’s.

FADE INTO YOU was the definitive number from its catalogue whose ‘live’ properties, especially an acoustic core crucial to the melody, added to its slow-burn appeal.

INTO DUST again manages to build upon that subconscious styling of starkness and interiority with deft skill.  ‘Into’ as a preposition gains a renewed heft here as on FADE INTO YOU. Hope Sandoval’s vocals are in perfect accompaniment with the instrumentation; one of the crucial reasons why this group’s songcraft sinks into our deepest emotional planes.

Whether for a ghost story or a personal ode to the soul, these songs together find serenity that is hard to contest. To a listener, they are both beautiful and long-lasting.





Also featuring in THE HANDMAID’S TALE Season 3, it is a melody I recognised and have now adapted in my playlist as being essential.

    ***

BEAUTIFUL C. 2022 by CHRISTINA AGUILERA

This one is for keeps, a song so universally recognisable that passing it down over two decades makes it somewhat of an heirloom for music/pop culture afficianados.

Now this 2022 update in video form captures the stilted warp in which our youth’s obsession with social media has ensured a permanent toxic spill that leaves no one unscathed, even those who don’t subscribe to viral norms or passing fads. It’s like passive smoking.

Integrate the frigid nature of the selfie generation here with the original, Jonas Akerlund directed iconic visual’s instant emotional toll.  The commonality that remains is that of a society where even the youngest is prey to pathologies of the day,  undue expectations that throw us off the curve sooner than we imagine. 





Aguilera’s delivery is the masterstroke that continues to haunt and unite us, a soulful wallop that speaks truth to power and celebrates the various magnitudes of acknowledging vulnerability sans shame.

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I DRINK WINE by ADELE

Adele’s 30 boasts of many contemplative standards,  beginning with EASY ON ME, the intense and unforgettable TO BE LOVED and then progressing with piano notes, retro-era musicality and always honest lyrics on HOLD ON, STRANGERS BY NATURE, MY LITTLE LOVE, a paean to her son, and LOVE IS A GAME. One can note the predominance of ‘love’ as a noun and active agent in her sonic and personal journey, intertwined with that rarefied mastery we find in her, Lana Del Rey and Brandi Carlile.




I DRINK WINE skipped my proper notice when I listened to and then revisited the album over late last year and beyond. That’s why such a beautiful video iteration helps it gain the traction it deserves as another genuine standout. This is Adele full of composure and hard-won poise, singing the verses in moments of repose and contentment, skipping over the supposed facile tone of the titular lyric with a layer by layer progression of her current state.

It’s lovely and just as dignified in its non-abrasive confessions as the rest of her gracious portfolio.

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THIS IS WHY by PARAMORE






PARAMORE means joy to this listener and countless others across the globe. So this return to form for the band after 2017’s boisterous and topical HARD TIMES besides frontwoman Hayley Williams’ own triumphs with two solo efforts, notably PETALS FOR ARMOUR,  is a cause for taking stock of its content.

THIS IS WHY is all about the members relaying the yin and yang of life’s usually unpredictable narratives with a fervour, an infectious bounce we identify with. Spunk is in the livewire they lasso in their favour.

I thoroughly enjoy listening to it.

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LORETTA LYNN’S TIMELESS LEGACY

Another full and formidable life has passed on to the other side.

All I can do is thank my lucky stars that I discovered her music within her lifetime, from the earliest touchstones as COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, THE PILL( a relevant call for bodily autonomy especially hitting home in a post Roe v/s Wade world) and self-referencing HEY, LORETTA to her latter day albums FULL CIRCLE and STILL WOMAN ENOUGH, the latter two of which were gifts of her legacy that I have absorbed  over the last seven and a half years now, cumulatively. In between were the two singles WOULDN’T IT BE GREAT?, AIN’T NO TIME TO GO to join the charming repertoire.



She is gone but has left us with an imprint that has timeless merits to warrant for multiple generations, some in the remembrance of her prime, some for the sake of nostalgia and some others for how she will endure as a beacon of musical purity and freedom of expression against conservative or dated mores.

Thank you Ma’am. We owe you our collective debts of joy and feeling.

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SULTANS OF SWING(LIVE) by DIRE STRAITS




Finally, a live performance of a Dire Straits classic you and I swear by. So here it is, once again for all discerning listeners of hues old and new.

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