Saturday, August 09, 2008

The ballad of Billy the kid

The Oracle has spoken on the last of the big time spenders. As is his wont, he is absolutely thorough and masterful. Nothing, in fact, needs to be added to, or taken away from that tribute. But since he has kindly linked me in this post, I felt obliged to put forth my two bits on when and how I started to worship the same idol.

I was not a big fan of the man when in college. In fact, I never quite understood his music at that point in time. In college, we were listening to Wham, MJ, John Denver, Eagles, a little bit of Pink Floyd and Dire Straits and all sorts of wrong kind of sound, an ignominy called Modern Talking included. Coupled with the fact that lyric books were not easily available in the 80's, that we would only listen to medium wave radio and some dubious quality tapes on mediocre equipment, made the soul of his lyrics to be largely lost on me. I remember having listened to and vaguely liked Piano Man, and having read somewhere that Manna De's Bengali hit on Coffee House was loosely inspired in theme by it.

Then came 1989 and Storm Front. Even though mtv was not here yet, the crazy video of we didn't start the fire was getting beamed on DD and immediately caught our attention. The power and pace of that dynamic ode to fifty years of Americana and other world events was hard not to get swayed by. It is learnt that he had fired all of his existing band members save the trusted drummer, revamped his team and worked with a new producer to create that new sound. And new it was. It turned everything else on its head.

But the moment of truth for me came on the 1994 Grammy Awards night. River of Dreams had been nominated in more than one categories. And in the runup to the awards the song played over and over. I had never listened to anything like that before. I had hoped it would win song of the year. With due respects to The Boss and sir John, lesser numbers own that year. On the night of awards, the man performed his song. I have been frantically looking for that video on utube and other places, but it's since been removed due to third party copyright issues. (It should be mentioned here that earlier the same night Frank Sinatra was cut short during his acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement award.) Billy might have known he was not going to win it that night. He looked dour. At the breath reprise ending the third stanza, where he builds up a crescendo :

I don't know why I go walking at night
But now I'm tired and I don't want to walk anymore
I hope it doesn't take the rest of my life
Until I find what it is that I've been looking for....

He always takes a longish pause at this point, straightening his neck, taking a sip of coffee and all. On that Grammy night, he just seemed to stop on his tracks. A full fifty seconds maybe. Then he said, nay, made an announcement :

Valuable time is passing by. valuable advertising time is passing us by.

He took a sip from his mug, and resumed his song all on a sudden. At that very instant, he made a true believer out of this casual fan.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

You have freed me traveler, now go free yourself.

To reach the castle of the Zade emperor, you must take the north road. And cross the border between Heaven and Earth. Then you'll have to pass through the gate of no-gate. (Which means you either have to be a Zen master or you must be carrying something very special.) On to the Five Elements Mountains, land of the Immortals. Where, once every 500 years, the Jade Emperor hosts the Peach Banquet. It is here that the Heavenly Ministers gather to celebrate the longevity and drink the elixir of immortality.

Don't know about you people, but me, I'm a sucker for such crypto-Confucian nonsense. Over the weekend, I'd been watching The Forbidden Kingdom. As usual, late to the party. But having a whale of a time.

It is said in enlightened circles that even the greatest Zen masters and Taoist immortals could not actually defy the laws of gravity until a genius named Yuen Woo-Ping came along and introduced them to the invisible wire trick. You see, the no shadow kick, the Buddha palm technique and the one finger death touch were all very fine maneuvers to have in your repertoire, but when push came to shove, they just couldn't make you fly. Only when they learned how to give a fuck for physics, did they become the stuff of Academy awards. To borrow an expression from the movie, their ch'i became like fire. And I became a true fan ever since.

I hear the biggest action flicks of today question the very demarcation of right and wrong. They delve deep into the mind of the evil and try to find out what drives him. Logistics not permitting, I have not yet watched the greatest superhero/action movie ever made, so you can call it a case of sour grapes, but I still doubt if I'll be equal to the task. Given a choice, I'd pick the simple Amrish Puri type villains over the uber-complex Joker any day. In this regard, the Chinese hardly ever disappoint. Their villainous warlords are straightforward and true to imagination. Take a regular despot like Mao Zedong. Throw in the flowing tresses and some high kicks. Add a goatee for effect, and you're pretty much done.

A good villain is a good start. However, he alone is often not enough for a good evening's entertainment. You need to have a silent monk doubling as the crazy monkey, a drunken immortal who mouths the most confounding Zen philosophy, but as it turned out, was not really immortal to begin with, and an orphaned kid prodigy mysteriously named the Southern Sparrow, who for some unknown reason shifts back and forth between the first and the third person while alluding to herself. A witch who performs most of her sorcery with the aid of a mile-long whip, or, in the absence of it, her silver white wig, which can magically grow to, like, a length of fifty yards instantly at the moment such need may arise. That is to say nothing of the misfit hero who has little to do except looking lost and acting dumb. Only then you can look forward to time well spent.

What else? Oh there's plenty. Gems like this when Jackie Chan (Lu Yan) gets the wrong side of an arrow and is looking at slim chance of survival without his elixir.

Jason : He needs wine. It's his elixir.
Medicine man : We will send a walking monk.
Lu (From the bed) : Don't you have a running monk?

Or during the famous fight scene between Chan and Jet Li ( the monk):

Lu Yan : [the Silent Monk does a Praying Mantis stance] Praying Mantis! Very good... for catching bugs! But not Tiger!
[does a Tiger Stance]

Paisa wasool. Plus I also learned the Mandarin for "Cheers". Which is, Tamb'ei!
I recommend. But then, I'm shallow. You watch at your own risk.

In other news, we'd been at work studiously perfecting the Moj'ito. Wonderful drink for warm monsoon evenings. A little birdie tells me that Castro had once remarked, " Moj'ito ergo sum".