CLIFFS OF DOVER

My ekphrastic poem titled CLIFFS OF DOVER has been selected and published by Visual Verse. I’m really happy that the wonderful original artwork gave me the chance to explore my imaginative prowess and create.

So I hope you like it.

For those on Twitter, you can read it there too.

****

WINTER VOYAGERS

WINTER VOYAGERS was a poem that I published on my poetry collection WHISTLING CHIMES as part of my initial sojourn on the acclaimed writing community Wattpad, way back in 2015. It was among my first batch of poems and rest assured, there has been no looking back for me, thanks to the support of discerning and always consistent readers.

So it is a wonderful feeling to have it grace THE EKPHRASTIC REVIEW, based on a painting that depicts a winter setting. I’m thankful to the publication for rekindling the spark of one of my earliest writings.

So read it and share your thoughts.

***



SEASON’S GREETINGS, PROFOUND CONFESSIONALS AND LIVE GEMS.

CHRISTMAS BOUNTY FROM NORAH JONES



In my humble opinion, there are some artists who can never go or should I say do wrong. That’s the mark of their artistic integrity. I count Norah Jones as one of those artists. From the riches occasioned by her album cycle of PICK ME UP OFF THE FLOOR last year to her gift of live performances and now her latest bouquet in the form of I DREAM OF CHRISTMAS, she is prolific and consistent.

Whether she’s performing the wonderful title track I DREAM OF CHRISTMAS in an official video form or from the top floor of Empire State Building or giving us the peppy rendition of RUN RUDOLPH RUN, she’s an effortless vocalist. I particularly love the harmonies employed in both tracks which enhance the communal feeling of tis’ season.

For other purposes of upliftment, watch her inspirational video, relaying the bond of amity between a young girl and a yeti in an enchanting children’s book form, for what I reckon to be a new Christmas classic in CHRISTMAS CALLING( JOLLY JONES). I shed a tear at the end of this animated gem. It’s marvelous how emotions conveyed through anthropomorphic forms, in animated colours and execution, always tug at our heartstrings.

Today it’s Christmas Day and as I rang it in with my family, her songbook became our soundtrack as we reveled in her magic touch and sheer simplicity in the evening. That is a gift indeed.

***

30 by ADELE



This album was such a hotly anticipated entity. I wouldn’t say I love atleast six songs from it. But the other six are so heartwarming and relatable that one will be cruel to look the other way as such raw, honest to earth beauty reaches our ears and in turn affects our minds, hearts and souls. EASY ON ME is the leader of the pack, of course.

But TO BE LOVED is a veritable powerhouse, so earth- shatteringly provocative with its direct engagement with our emotional state that Adele’s notes hit us hard as they take their upper ascent towards a stage of confronting truths about oneself. That point of confession and accountability is further stripped from any trace of sugercoating on MY LITTLE LOVE, a reclamation of her personal narrative as a mother first and foremost. The use of her conversations with her son, her nakedly emotional espousal of experiencing the lows of loneliness make it intense and yet never morose. She is brave to design a song that takes words to be a literal form of therapy. I love it because she confesses to still learning the ropes of adulthood. HOLD ON carries forward her trajectory of learning and relearning from her past and current state with dignity and grace to spare while LOVE IS A GAME is on a faster tempo, reminiscent of Motown R&B hits of yore, compelling and easily identifiable in terms of its urgent concerns, a sense of reeling from the person one is now.

A classic, brooding quality pervades on STRANGERS BY NATURE then and engulfs one by Adele’s use of her bassy vocal tones. It’s actually the first track to the album and begins it on a gorgeously contemplative, understated note. There’s a discursive nature to each song and with it a tryst with healing and recovery. The other tracks may be forgettable and never up to the mark but these six make up the heart and soul of 30, the album.

**



ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (COVER) by EVANESCENCE

Only Amy Lee is capable of giving us this slice of heaven with a Beatles cover so serene and inspiring in its sheer beauty. Once again, her loyal companion is the piano that keeps her tuned to her own distinctive individuality.

NOTHING COMPARES TO YOU (LIVE) by TONI CORNELL

Chris Cornell is gone from earthly realm but his legacy continues to be nurtured by his daughter Toni. This live performance of NOTHING COMPARES TO YOU, a song already made immortal by Sinead O’Connor, proves that music runs in her veins. It’s a humbling testament of carrying forward our genes with dignity and pride.

NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT (COVER) by ERIC CLAPTON

The Guitar God makes this Bessie Smith classic on the practical realities of life and especially fame his own. His beloved instrument and smooth vocals per usual take it to a level only he can create with his live output. This is a perfect tribute.



RIVER ( FIRST EVER OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO) by JONI MITCHELL



To have this inverted Christmas classic by Joni Mitchell receive a visual treatment for the first time ever is a gift in itself. Needless to say, I love the visuals especially how it literally interprets the central lyrics of the song so beautifully. Hushed, unobtrusive as the vocals are, we have all visualised an image of Ms. Joni skating on a river of her own making, a metaphor of freedom and idyllic creativity. This video gives it all to us.

The ‘they’re cutting down trees’ lyric, particularly, still haunts me owing to its emphasis on an impaired environmental consciousness.

BOTH SIDES NOW( LIVE) by BRITTANY HOWARD



It also is a blessed coincidence that another great vocalist of our era honours Mitchell’s Kennedy Center distinction with this song of songs, a lyrical journey that conflates childhood innocence with the reality of adult awakening, a sense of mortal awakening more so. With Herbie Hancock on the piano, it’s a tribute of the highest order, bringing this writer to a full circle moment as I had discovered BOTH SIDES NOW few years ago vis a vis Sara Bareilles’ live rendition at the Oscars, in its IN MEMORIAM section.

***
BITE ME( ACOUSTIC VERSION) by AVRIL LAVIGNE



Avril is in peak form on a track that fits hand in glove with her best of yore and this acoustic version showcases her crystal clear vocals and inimitable attitude with equal aplomb.

***

HEART OF A CHILD by ERIC CLAPTON



How lucky I am to receive Mr. Clapton’s genius in double doses. This time around, it’s his latest track and I have to say, the man can never go wrong. Period.

***

OFFICIAL SOUNDTRACKS



I close off this essay by imploring you all to discover two of this year’s best soundtracks in the form of SPENCER and THE POWER OF THE DOG. Both come from the hands of Radiohead member and musical savant Jonny Greenwood.

From the former, look out for the title theme and THE PEARLS most importantly while from the latter, DETUNED MECHANICAL PIANO, REQUIEM FOR PHIL and 25 YEARS, its running theme music, are priceless. They embody not only the two cinematic works’ aura but build inner worlds with intricate care to details when paired with the visual treatment.


Last but not the least is the soundtrack to THE PIANO by Michael Nyman. The standout being THE HEART ASKS PLEASURE FIRST that uses the titular instrument to uncover a whole sensual world like none other. But A BED OF FERNS, THE SACRIFICE and TO THE EDGE OF THE EARTH are equally memorable.

PIANO NOTES, FIERY SPIRITS AND LIFE PORTRAITS.

THE PIANO(1993)

Inspiration can be striking and is often found in intertextual strains of thought. As much as I have appreciated Jane Campion’s output on TOP OF THE LAKE and this year’s seminal THE POWER OF THE DOG, THE PIANO had been out of my reach so far. Blame the fact that it’s not available on any streaming service. I certainly didn’t want then to sift through a select few clips because that’s not how I approach viewing any particular work or writing about it based on a passing glance.


It was Maggie Gyllenhaal’s words while discussing her latest directorial feature THE LOST DAUGHTER as part of a FILM INDEPENDENT panel that stoked the fire in me to watch THE PIANO finally. She referenced its haunting final scene and since I had read about it earlier not too long ago, that atleast emboldened me to find it on YouTube. Lo and behold! it was there in a respectable visual definition and sound. Which is to further emphasise how everything we watch and read leads us to discovering benchmarks as this one.



THE PIANO is immersive to me because of Holly Hunter’s rich inner world that unravels sans a single word spoken by her. Her body language and expressive face, though mired in limited social interactions and a marriage of convenience, is something that will make any cinephile plunge deeper and deeper into what goes through her mind. In her, the lingua franca of repression and a simultaneous sturdiness of being find equal representation. It is also richly indicative of a single person’s individual agency. So even though there are gender norms afoot in her world, she exercises a freedom and control over her desires as much as her affinity to the piano. The piano, thus, is her lifeline, her only connect to who she essentially is. Her gift of playing the blessed instrument is her source of unmitigated agency which she refuses to part with at any cost. It symbolises her and is a metaphor for the power of music that guides us through thick and thin. In Jane Campion’s direction, all these factors are given a dense complexity along with a fluidity of expression on the screen.

It is also a work that understands Ada’s journey to the new world, i.e. to her marital home in New Zealand from her native Scotland, is one rife with further subjugation for her. It’s a compelling parallel to the way the native Maoris are shown here, assimilated by dint of an exotic idea of who they are and colonized by the white man’s desire for their land and resources. Both refuse to be tamed and revel in the way of life they choose to lead.

Anna Paquin and Hunter together paint a beautiful mother- daughter bond where the interactions show us the true, non-judgmental nature of this universal relationship. Besides the fact that Ada refuses to speak out of her own choice since the past many years, we get a tantalising sense of the circumstances that led her to do so. A kind of backstory gets created in our minds which will be unique to each person imagining it. I have to say that THE PIANO devoted its narrative to flesh out, in minimalistic strokes, the dynamic between Ada and Baines ( Harvey Keitel) which at face value is one of an unhealthy sensual transaction, a point of one-upmanship on the part of the man in the relationship. But even here, Ada’s consent and refusal to be a mere chattel and the man’s own moral compass imbue it with an unpredictable gravitas. Equally important is Sam Neill’s contribution as her husband who blows hot, blows cold and is perhaps as repressed as Ada which, in turn, fuels his rage to the point of cruelty in the end portions. He relents to the reality of this non-existent relationship between ‘man and wife’ and lets her go. Each strand is seen through Ada’s agency, through her nimble, animated actions and conveyance of her own desires in this unusual passion play.

To me, each relationship here and the level of passion invested is an extension of the sensual charms of playing the piano for her. Every touch, every sensation that she responds to springs forth from that knowledge of her own affinity to its notes. That delicate touch, which she receives when in the arms of passion, means everything to her. Those are the moments where she is free to be herself. That final image of her and her beloved piano on the surface of the sea is hence haunting, signifying the choice to live in a mortal world with unfair paybacks but where she can be one with her instrument of self-expression.




THE PIANO is a deep dive into the very core of individuality, with a winsome score by Michael Nyman. The thematic score titled THE HEART ASKS PLEASURE FIRST is a symbol of everything this work stands for in terms of its sensuality and focus.

***

THE INNER EYE(1972)

It feels good to write about this Satyajit Ray directed documentary short on the great artist Binode Mukherjee since it is one title that I wanted to watch for the longest time. Thanks to FILMS DIVISION channel that uploaded it few weeks ago, I got lucky. Told in twenty minutes and narrated by Mr. Ray himself, THE INNER EYE honours the man, the artist, the figure of individuality and perseverance who didn’t let his lack of vision hamper an intrinsic gift for creation.

A treasure trove of his sketches, frescoes and lifelong involvement with Shantiniketan paints the place as a sanctuary for artistic integrity and one of its beacons as a teacher and disciple. I love the straightforward visual and narrative style accorded to this humble practitioner of his craft.

I implore you all to watch it.




SHIV KUMAR BATALVI- POET OF PUNJAB(1979)

The visual power of this 11 minute short on Punjab’s very own creative son captures the imagery, recreated here and funneled by his poetic gravitas, along with the pathos and poignancy of a short lifetime.

They just don’t make a presentation like this anymore. So watch it and be haunted by the words, the legacy of a figure whose output was instrumental in reaching the current generation too vis a vis AAJ DIN CHADEYA and IK KUDI.



***

SEBERG(2019)





Every minute of Benedict Andrews’ directorial tribute in feature length form to the fiery spirit of actor/activist Jean Seberg had me in rapt attention. A lot of the credit here goes to the exceptional merit in Kristen Stewart’s understated, naturalistic manner of bringing her concerns to the screen in a committed whole. The opening shot shows her in her Joan of Arc avatar on film, with the burning logs around her( a real life turn which gave her actual physical scars) acting as a metaphor for her own life-script being governed by scrutiny, censorship and slander. Her trajectory is, in a way, one on the same challenging wavelength as the figure she portrayed. It’s also a parallel that she worked and lived in France for almost her whole life, the same provenance to which the cultural exemplar of courage that is Joan of Arc belonged.

SEBERG looks at her life post her meteoric rise as the lead in Godard’s BREATHLESS and her return to America, to Hollywood and the steely determination with which she continued to extend her activism( inculcated since her early teens) to the cause of Black Panthers. The personal inextricably becomes political. The cultural churning of racial unraveling of the late 1960s gradually brings her to the chokehold of the F.B.I. and its invasive measures aimed at tracking her every move.

It’s here that her resilience and realization come at odds with the psychological unraveling spearheaded by this state of surveillance. To the powers that be, she is a disruptor. A destroyer of established convention pertaining to race. Or maybe to them, she is just an actress biting off more than she can chew. SEBERG absolutely riveted me when the interlocking strands of this fear-mongering and siege on her privacy lead to slander, reprimand and a slithering sense of danger.

Andrews is able to design some compelling scenes here. Such as when she confronts the man who is tracking her on the phone, with her steely resolve intact or her address to the media after she unfortunately loses her two day old daughter whose very parentage was called into question in the first place. Most importantly, her distrust of those around adding to the mental toll of being under censure. Those silent frames where she is in her bathroom moments before a suicide attempt are particularly attuned to how she is feeling, with the essence of her alienation raw and bare. Or the final scene.

I have to, however, laud the other cast members for their commitment to their parts. Whether it’s Vince Vaughn and Jack O’ Connell revealing two different sides to working in the FBI or Zazie Beetz and Margaret Qualley as women attempting to grasp the personal along with the political. Anthony Mackie is a highlight too as Hakim Jamal, the Black Panther frontrunner. All of them get their individual concerns essayed in scenes that fluently capture their conflicted emotional states.




So watch SEBERG because it is very relevant in our day and age where the threat of our personal life being pried upon by state stakeholders is an open secret while surveillance has become an ominous fact of life in both its elusive and omnipresent permutations. History informs us that FBI’S unjust practices were nipped by dint of activism but the long-lasting impact on Seberg and several like her couldn’t be deducted from the larger picture. This film is a corrective not only to the forgotten ambassadors of truth and freedom of expression but acts as a rejoinder to the invasive policies of governments worldwide especially when dissent has become a term to be played with loosely adjunct with personal whims. I highly recommend SEBERG for all discerning cinephiles.

***

THE HAND OF GOD(2021)

I loved the robust communal and familial ethos at the centre of an almost perfect first half, to this autobiographical feature from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino. Where laughs and snide remarks, cuss words and erotic impulses course through the seaside sprawl of Naples, Italy. Where two long-time partners and devoted parents( Teresa Saponangelo and Toni Servillo) whistle to each other as a mark of longevity of this bond. Where an elderly lady cusses gloriously, much to everyone’s amusement and a sister permanently remains in the bathroom, only to make an appearance in the end, at a rather poignant juncture for the protagonist. The latter conceit is humorous for the most part as is the presence of an aunt’s older paramour who communicates with a vocal device. These are flourishes of absurdity that are offset by another aunt’s( Luisa Ranieri) mental unraveling as she becomes an object of desire but crumbles from within. So the universal idiosyncrasy of having an extended family with all its reserves of good and bad, absurd and poignant elements, is instantly identifiable.





THE HAND OF GOD, in general, has an episodic style. A kernel of truth is in abundance as regards the teenage protagonist Fabietto( Filippo Scotti) especially when he tells his father he has no friends. Or when his almost perfect family comes undone as his father’s indiscretions come to the surface. The second half reels with the aftermath of an unforeseen event that claims two pivotal figures in his life. The long and winding road to coming of age, setting priorities and re-evaluating life from the prism of the present and incoming future sets the ball rolling. Cue his plans for the future offset by his brother’s( Marlon Joubert) resignation to fate or his memorable meeting with a temperamental man who goads him to look at his hometown differently and seek creative inspiration from his immediate surroundings. His recessive emotional state is a product of his circumstances. He is animated only when visuals arrest his imagination. So his dreams of pursuing filmmaking, a nebulous idea at best in his current station, spurs him to leave for Rome and contemplate on the journey ahead while taking every experience with him in his repository.

Barring one disturbing and unnecessary scene relaying an encounter with an elderly baroness, which I feel completely ruins the innocence and coherence of this screenplay, THE HAND OF GOD revels in love, relationships, some stirring visuals and a poignancy mined from everyday life. It is also a tribute to Sorrentino’s love for soccer and its abiding superstar Diego Maradona who became one of Naples’ resident prodigal sons.

****

MY MORAL INGRESS- A POEM.

The poem created by me is based on a haunting and powerful image by Han van Meegeren.




My moral ingress
began with His hands on my forehead.
A loveless young woman,
in the custody of a natural passion,
fleeing from the one ordained as my keeper
to the one with the invisible halo.

Forbidden-
the lashes and stones in my name.
Reassuring-
the voice of the one who walks
among mortals.
Now,
Fates don’t intervene
and the reasoned audience with our
Messiah in flesh
keeps me safe.

   **

Let me say
this odyssey of comeuppance
should be my own birthright
and other kith and kin of my sex
must administer me clemency,
common sense
and fair judgement.

Drawing lines,
a woman’s morality,
even letting the slip of a word
with another man
without her conjugal chaperone in attendance,
is like some divine judgement,
jarring,
spineless.
The judgement from other men
turning Madonna into a fallen harlot.

So
in the name of the one who walks
amongst us,
The messianic one,
draw me to the lot
of my kindred’s breasts
and let them decide my course
when your congregation leaves town
and the lashes and stones return,
to exile me.

**

ACT 1, SCENE 1 HAS BEEN PUBLISHED BY VISUAL VERSE.

Just like the wonderful amalgamation of imagery and words makes THE EKPHRASTIC REVIEW an ideal platform for creative writers like me, VISUAL VERSE adds more credibility to the pictorial urgency of the written output.

So I am very happy that my poem ACT 1, SCENE 1 has been published by VISUAL VERSE and accompanied or become adjunct with a haunting image. It is so rife with subtexts, contexts and possibilities. It’s, after all, about giving flight to one’s imagination.

So I urge you to behold the image/ painting/ artwork and read my interpretation of it. Share your thoughts about both.

***

*****

WE ARE ONE WITH THE ELEMENTS: MAATI MAANAS(MIND OF CLAY),1985.

In India, every year around the month of October and a little before that period, Durga idols gain a renewed primacy. Only this time, they are not just looked at as polished surfaces, gleaming finished pieces decked up in finery and embroidered saris for marking the annual ten-day ocassion of Durga Puja. Lying around in nondescript studios, they are seen as sculptures made of clay and mud, with each part of the bare anatomy given shape by master craftsmen and women. It is an experience to behold because the grandiosity of the Mother Goddess is likened in those moments to physical human attributes, bringing her closer to the images we identify with. The divine hence conflates with the everyday.

That spiritual intertwining is at the core of how I react to the idea of clay and mud as envisioned in Mani Kaul’s brilliant documentary MAATI MAANAS(MIND OF CLAY), 1985. Mud is the raw material, the element that shapes our perception. It bestows on the artistic temperament, especially, a karmic tone.

***


Being privy to the non-fiction form of cinematic interpretation, exposed to milestones by the likes of Kumar Shahani and Mr. Kaul this year as I’ve written about them with each successive viewing, this one was as absorbing an experience as any other.

Karma is God. God is Karma. In a national and larger global consciousness shaped by idol worship where we imbue created images with holy powers of manifestation and treat them as symbols of cultural ethos, the focus here is on the  artistans who make them with their own bare hands. Painstakingly giving them shape, texture, filigree and in a way a character of their own. Maati Maanas actually integrates the art of pottery and sculpture together to make it a collective act, an iconography, a visual representation.

If we can make it more specific then it’s nothing short of a visual anthropology, even an archive of the form and its profusion through select locations. Be it animal figures, Buddha busts, the ubiquity of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization and its riches of sculptures and pottery, the underlying idea is on the act of creation as the ultimate life-giving force, as a paradigm through the reflexivity of time. Mud and clay have a direct relationship then not only with the various layers of creation but its sanctity, preservation and sustainability down to the present age. They are neither solely ethnic or regional. They are our personal artifacts. Belongings. Aesthetic inheritances.

In Mr. Kaul’s usual elegant, non-diegetic language that draws from patient observation, we receive a treasure trove, a miniature encyclopedia on handicrafts and their significance in our larger understanding. True to his sensual style, there is a primacy of hands. They are purveyors of all human actions and endeavours, from spinning the raw, wet pottery to moulding them, painting every detailed aspect to handing them out for sale. I loved how his observational, commonplace lucidity is structured in such a way that it treats these extraordinarily content and generational clans of people as true artisans because our cultural currency otherwise has a habit of eschewing their humble craftsmanship in service of glamour in other mainstream forms. What they make, to me, is a part of our cultural and socio-economic mainstream, unfortunately relegated to often being hailed as ‘collectors’ items’, a sure-footed, elitist way to bracket the arts. MAANI MANAS rights that wrong by showing us the raw, unadorned joy of the process, in terms of the physical labour but also in the joy of the people who commit to it. It’s in the body language, the stance and the undivided attention to the pursuit. Calling this a spiritual aesthetic or work ethic wouldn’t be amiss.

To this writer, the spinning of the potter’s wheel, the act of creation put on display is akin to a spinning of the cosmos, the karmic tones of it all sustaining the order of the universe. Without the arts, there will be a total void comprising of capital and bullish tempers. With them at the centrestage, there will be order. Karma will be the very idea of God without other overt associations.

***


I also appreciate the presence of the underrated Anita Kanwar, a consummate acting professional, who acts as narrator, binding thread and observer all rolled into one. She contemplates on the myths, legends and folklores that arise out of this intriguing premise- living proof of a legacy as old and sentient as the living world itself. She also visits museums to look at pivotal artpieces. The poses and fluid movements are all rooted in the everyday act of observation.

I will, however, not forget her one particular conversation with an artisan, a young woman who relays innocently her vision of God. She makes idols for a living but has transcended the conventions of her occupation with an innate belief in its spiritual ethos.  Just like this documentary breaks with the factual dryness of the form to lend it dignity.  This further allows MAATI MAANAS to revel in the beauty of the crafts. I loved how in one shot, a museum exhibit of perhaps an ancient Indus Valley site is made to look as if the camera is capturing the actual location. After a few seconds do we realize that it is ensconced in a glass case. The distance or intimacy of the camera and lighting gives us that impression. Similarly, in the range of artworks captured, the anthropomorphic, the divine and the grotesque all find ample space, giving us a picture of fluid representation.

***

Mud is the element that can be made anew and render itself pure though we scoff if we are caked with it. In hindsight, we all remember how mud and clay are the foundations for all children whether it’s through playtime or making clay toys, letting the gift of imagination soar. I mean I grew up toying with and even creating clay art .

Mud is the essence of life. The Earth abounds with its ubiquity.

The calligraphy of life begins with it. Dust to dust, as we say.

A true meaning of Romanticism, reliant on the interrelation of nature and imagination is to be found here in MAATI MANAS. It is to be found in the cinematography by Venu, editing by Reena Mohan and Lalita Krishna, score by Mangesh Desai and especially in the prominent flute instrumental by T.R. Mahalingam. Mani Kaul’s excellent output thus makes it essential for all cinephiles. In our current era where the disruptive process of sensationalism and half-researched subjects have brought the artistic era down by notches, this one proves why there is a premium to the word CLASSIC.



***

THE MASQUE FOR HALLOWEEN

Based on this undated painting from Scotland by an anonymous artist, I designed a poem around the interesting imagery, just in time for the season of Halloween.

I hope you like the tone and style of this piece.

***

THE MASQUE FOR HALLOWEEN

The masque for Halloween
rings in a crucible for stereotypes,
the madness and the uncoordinated dance
just as splendid for the occassion
as the prosthetic noses
and pointed hats.


An inner voice still quivers with the words,
‘But is this cause for celebration,
all ‘ye noblewomen?’
seeing your own kindred
deformed in stature and looks,
made disgusting and ugly,
BIBHATSA
out on the cold stage,
twitching their lashes and body language,
with the natural lighting from candles and oil lamps quite the dampener already.
Like catching Salem in its heyday,
before the rebels were pronounced as witches.


The masks, the crypts and the holding up of bronzed skulls,
like Hamlet in his deadpan disposition,
does the aura no great novelty either.

Just then,
the young lady at the center of the performance
starts levitating
and secrets tumble out of her mouth
along with a sea of blood
and everybody calls her possessed,
affected by her afflictions
of make-believe
and vulnerable enough to give in
to the bold spectacle of misery
expected out of this nightly ritual.

And then the onlookers start dropping out of their seats,
passing out into some other world
and a banshee wail unites the others
until wave upon wave rises,
shadows of apparitions exiting from the window
and the room collapses in mid-dream.

The writer of this horror story
then wakes up with a start,
catches a breath
and decides to abandon the misogyny of the genre for another day.
Or to never return to the distortion of fantasy leveled at the subconscious.


Note: BIBHATSA refers to the disgusting and fearsome humour in Indian aesthetics.


****

HAIL THE LIVING LEGENDS AND SONGS FOR EVERY HUMAN EMOTION.

This essay pretty much follows the title as most of the songs talked about here are from artists who have stood the test of time while the youngest among them have already made their marks in the present and for future reference points.

So this is an eclectic, truly satisfying medley of form and content comprising the annals of musical affinities, for all discerning listeners.

***
The caravan of 2021 is heading towards an explosion of excellence with the return of Adele as her latest single EASY ON ME precedes her upcoming fourth studio album tentatively titled 30, in keeping with her previous track record.  Let’s just say that it is an instantly hummable, relatable piano ballad where her momentous vocals take centrestage. The chorus, though, puts a premium on acknowledging her youth and allowing her the space to evolve with the years.



Kacey Musgraves, with the perfect album cycle of 2018’s Golden Hour to support her, is back with her latest record titled STAR-CROSSED. The title track begins with a swoon, a release, a moment of introspection that very beautifully restores sense to a weary mind after a relationship takes toll and disintegrates. The Spanish guitars evoke its mood of contentment and serenity with expertise. In fact, I like how the spare instrumentation and pithy storytelling let it flow with the emotions.  It’s the perfect song to express finding one’s space in life after a rough patch, with dignity to spare.

Following closely is GRACIAS A LA VIDA, a song rendered in Spanish, that honours her roots in the borderstate of Texas. Its air of serenity benefits from the acoustic guitar and the changing tones in Kacey’s Zen-like vocal delivery. Proving once again that language is never a barrier to understanding the true essence of music, this is a welcome addition to the playlist of someone who constantly reinvents her oeuvre and gains momentum for the same ethic. I love both numbers owing to the cumulative effect of these factors.




Lana Del Rey follows suit with music videos for two beautiful singles off her new album BLUE BANISTERS ( I will be listening to the whole album in coming days), the first one being for ARCADIA- a second visual treatment- and the other for the title track. They are what they are: melodies that are buoyed by spare instrumentation and vivid lyrics. Enough said for now because you need to listen to them for a befitting aural experience.  I also love how they employ personal details so eloquently without being on the nose.



Brandi Carlile, whose latest album IN THESE SILENT DAYS continues to be explored by me, has given us YOU AND ME ON THE ROCK where the yin and yang dynamics of a steady relationship of years is at the center. To me, it’s one of the most positive songs of recent times and is beautifully written, feats that Carlile and her team reiterate each time with tact, simplicity and good graces. This song has all those qualities in droves. Plus, the added incentive of being guided by her favourite instrument-  the guitar.




Among the latest releases, I have to be particularly grateful to Joni Mitchell for sharing with us a live 1970 duet with James Taylor titled YOU CAN CLOSE YOUR EYES, from her storied vault. It is in the form of a simple, spare melody that celebrates the fervour of music, lasting for two and a half minutes of bliss and harmonies that are unforgettable. I can’t stop humming the chorus since the last many days.





Last but definitely not the least are two new songs from the iconic group ABBA. You know 2021 has been adorned with silver linings when our all-time favourites get together after four decades to release I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU and DON’T SHUT ME DOWN off their upcoming November record VOYAGE.



All I have to say is that the trademark magic of uncomplicated lyrics, crystal clear vocals and harmonies make the two songs worthwhile, maintaining the classic sound that has reached generations. It makes me so happy to have them by our side.



Now to round it off, Eric Clapton’s latest tryst with live performances of some of the greatest hits off his catalogue in THE LADY IN THE BALCONY: LOCKDOWN SESSIONS is here. With two new takes on GOLDEN RING and BLACK MAGIC WOMAN respectively, he has us enraptured. Watch them to know why.




***

HALL OF FAME

In today’s count of artistry in the hall of fame of well-established bands, I implore you to explore the curated content on official YouTube channels of QUEEN, PINK FLOYD and THE DOORS. They are filled with rare footage, live performances, stills and what’s more, they are regularly updated with new and exciting content to ensure the timeless legacy of these groups are sustained week after week.

I am in awe of QUEEN: THE GREATEST, a Friday feature where the band’s legacy is broken down in short form, interspersed with visuals and commentary. The 32nd episode was aired two days ago and all this is in recognition of 50 years of its eminence on the global stage. Trust me, for fans, each instalment is a treat and will make way for bottomless enjoyment. It is, most importantly, all about the distinctive contribution of each band member that made the collective imagery and style remarkable.




**



Pink Floyd’s official channel further fills me with anticipation as the epic vision it is revered for is often found in live footage, some of which I have shared and written about here in the past, and in the short films that were integral to their concerts decades ago. To me, a young man in his 20s, it’s a veritable treasure trove indeed because I get to experience the visuals from close quarters. That sensual awakening to their craft is a triumph for me as an avid listener.

SIGNS OF LIFE is my favoured one. The sights of a boat serenely being rowed on a placid water body and the crystalline shape of water drops along with the musical accompaniment are memorably etched while DOGS OF WAR ,with the presence of a host of German Shepherds with red, glowing eyes and wartime imagery, is impactful too.


**



THE DOORS is also on this list mainly because of the way legendary band member Robby Kreiger has been instrumental, in recent weeks, in connecting with current footage involving the band’s iconic imprints in popular culture and talking about his latest book SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE among others. Plus, the audio commentary on songs like L.A. WOMAN and a priceless clip of John Densmore on drums, playing RIDERS ON THE STORM.

So it’s a treat for longtime fans like you and me.



***

I also honour a few other classic songs that I had the privilege of adding to my playlist off a Spotify alternative 1990s assortment. Out of the overall expanse, I went with my instinct and explored thirteen songs I felt I had to listen to. Also because I had not heard any number from these lauded artists/ bands so far in my life except one by Radiohead and of course two by the iconic Jeff Buckley. I am happy to say, my instincts paid off and I have been going back to this diverse array of music again and again. So I share them with you, in hopes that you will hear them too if you haven’t already.

***



CHERRY COLOURED FUNK by Cocteau Twins is seeped in synthscapes and alluring vocals; the overall texture is bound to arrest attention.


THE DRUGS DON’T WORK by THE VERVE is one of the most poignant songs I have heard in a long time. The urgency of the melody and lyrics coupled with the delivery make it a heart-wrenching affair, one that is rooted in personal crises and addiction but wrestles with the long road to recovery and redemption beautifully.


A LETTER TO ELISE by THE CURE has a rolling rhythm via its contagious drum beat and guitars, with the youthful vocals perfectly making it accessible.



Further, we follow the list with two absolute standouts by RADIOHEAD, with Thom Yorke juggling the dead weight of a weary soul, in the poignant and effectively charged vocals of  NO SURPRISES, almost as if he’s numbed by the heartless ways of the world while CREEP, a song I have come to get accustomed to, is indictment of a society that labels individuals to shun and ostracize them. It’s inarguably one of modern rock’s very best, setting a template for dissecting alienation with characteristic openness.


NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS figure prominently here, thanks to the spare, piano led confessional INTO MY ARMS where scepticism and a genuine devotion to love’s many- hued pursuits get beautifully integrated while WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW issues a tale of betrayal and intrigue on a similar level of subtlety, giving Kylie Minogue a profound guest turn on the vocals.


Jeff Buckley, a shining star dimmed too soon, gave the world a transcendental take on Leonard Cohen’s already iconic HALLELUJAH. That song and GRACE become part of this list though I had heard them before, the latter with more attention this time around, to be honest.

Have an ear tuned to the undulating tones of Grace, a task Buckley handles with exquisite grace as the guitar, too, formidably changes gears.




***


TRUE LOVE WILL FIND YOU IN THE END is a one and a half minute lullaby of sorts from the underrated DANIEL JOHNSTON, an artist whose song SOME THINGS LAST A LONG TIME was brought to my notice by a cover from Lana Del Rey and a documentary based on his life, released five years ago. Listen to this one. It makes you long for more recognition for an extraordinarily innocent and creatively prolific life lost too soon.


The end of the journey includes the effervescent MALIBU and the thought provoking DOLL PARTS by Courtney Love fronted band HOLE. The latter song, covered a short while ago by Miley Cyrus on Howard Stern’s radio show, is a cutting commentary on the cult of image especially detrimental to females in our cultural heritage. Its pause and play effect with drums and moody guitars amply evoke the grunge era that she and her partner Kurt Cobain forefronted at their peaks.

But individually, it’s a great song, with her play with the word ‘ache’ deploying exhaustion, terror and retributive tempers, given the pressure points and stakes involved in the game of keeping up appearances.



Finally to end this essay, I cite Bjork’s IT’S OH SO QUIET. What an exciting riot of moods, genres and vocal modulations abound here, mixing jazz with an evolving artistic palette. I love it.



****