I-Pod Post

What it takes to woo some students
The changing face of the American University. A great example of selling the Dream the American way?

Meeting God

Meeting God

I met God last Saturday, but delayed this post 'cause I was waiting for the pictures. I waited for the pictures, because like Alice I wonder,
'What good is a blog if it does not have any pictures in it'

In any case, I had waited longer for this particular moment. To hear him is one thing, to see him in person is quite another. God was unshaven, in blue, and wearing white sneakers. GOD -as in Eric Clapton.

Opening Act: Robert Randolph and the Family Band
Getting God's darshan is not always easy and at every 'Concert of a Lifetime', I have to always endure the first hour with some irritating, unworthy opening act. Robert Randolph and the Family Band were a huge surpise. I had never heard of the band before, though the reviews said that they would be quite good. They were quite wrong. They were phenomenal and a revelation to me. This was also the first time, that I heard a pedal-steel-guitar 'live'. That thing can wail, scream and screech like no other guitar. The band was dressed in what could be called,'contemporary attire of Black Americans' , ie. a baseball cap (backwards of course!),baggy shorts and basketball vests. It looked that someone had just transplanted them from some Cleveland street-game onto the stage.
Everytime black musicians start a music-style, after berating it at first, the 'whites' come along and then make it very own, forcing them to invent something new. Yesterday it was Elvis, today it's Eminem.
What made the Robert Randolph sound so unique was that it was firmly rooted in the blues but had additional layers of rock riffs, hip-hop beats and even some alternative-rock sounds colouring their music. Robert Randolph and the Family Band combine all that they probably grew up with, all their traditions of jazz, blues, rock and roll, soul, funk and hip-hop to come up with something that is fresh and unique. As if their music was not good enough, they had quite a few stunts up their sleeve. They played with so much energy,feeling and intensity that the crowd was on its feet after the first 15 minutes. During one piece, Robert kicked the chair he sat and started to kick his legs about and began to dance, while still making the pedal-steel-guitar wail and weep. Then for the penultimate song, the band decide to have fun and started swapping instruments to show their virtuosity. The drummer, Marcus Randolph who kicks big-time ass on the skins knew his chops on the pedal steer guitar too!
I have yet to see a concert where the opening act in its 4 piece set gets 2 standing ovations and a request for an encore. This band is going to make some great music and are really worth a separate concert to themselves. They won't remain opening acts for long.

The Clapton Set
If that was not excitement enough, the Clapton band walks in and then God himself, bathed in blue light walks onto the stage. Clad in blue jeans and white sneakers reaches out for his Fender Stratocaster and almost immediately starts playing, before the idea has even sunk in that you are seeing Clapton in person. He followed the opening song with the blues classic 'Hoochie Coochie Man', which was not his best rendition, but the guitaring was great. He is old, his voice is not what it was but hell he is still the best axe-man in town! After the first two songs, he took a chair and his acoustic guitar and said, " I shall now play a couple of songs from Me and Mr. Johnson." That and a few quickly muttered 'thank-you's would be all that we would hear. EC likes the guitar to talk. Thanks to the big screen and a sympathetic cameraman, most of the time the camera was focused on his fingers. The back-up band is great. . Doyle Bramhall, the second guitarist is pretty handy with the slide. If there was a show stealer in the band, then it had to be Billy Preston on the keyboards. What was he trying? To look like Ray Charles with those goggles? He played one of the most amazing solos, with a method to his madness. The drummer was not too impressive.

As noblesse oblige, any famous act has to play their most famous songs. The second half of the show were all Clapton standards. From 'Have you Really Loved a Woman' her burst into 'Badge'. For the past few weeks I had been listening to the 4 CD box Set of the 'Layla Sessions' where all sorts of jams and cuts that never made it were present. Today even after almost 30 years, he choose to play the song very much like on the original CD. For an artist as prolific as Clapton( he has issued an album almost every other year) there are just so many songs that you can play in one night. Which to choose? Yet, I wish he had played more. He never played one song from the Unplugged album, if you don't count Layla and not much of his Cream stuff other than the Badge. Wish he had done, the other Cream tracks. Wondered why he never did the raunchy and energetic 'Crossroad'. The most excruciating moment was when he played Badge. When everything seems to be going fine in the song, Mr. Clapton stops playing before music's most famous bridges. For a whole 10 seconds nothing, the crowd is now up on its feet, ' wondering is he going to play it?' or ' change it?' and then loud and clear he hear the Harrison-Clapton bridge, as it is. Great everytime you hear it.
He came on again to play 'Sunshine of your Love' as an encore, this time with Robert Randolph and company. It was a riot. The crowd waited and waited, but the great Clapton came out no more. Randolph bowed to Clapton, he hugged him and then Randolph placed his baseball cap on Eric's head.

End Note
Clapton said that 2002 was his farewell tour, but he came back again to tour this year. Its certain that Clapton is just wrapping the threads of a career as one of the most extraordinary guitarists of our time. Clapton has come a long way from his first burst into fame, whilst still a teenager and his apotheosis in the late 60s on subway stations. The cocaine-induced glory of the Cream years, to then dealing with his addiction problems and also coming to terms with personal loss. Clapton has given music a lot, but if you think about it music has given him escape throughout his life. It's not just Layla and Assorted Love songs that he has poured his troubles into to find relief. It's is most songs in some way or the other. Over the last few years he seems to be paying back his debt to music, his idols and also coming to terms with his own life. Reptile was tribute to his family, the Pilgrim album, an allusion to his life and a Father he never had. A few years ago, he teamed up with the legendary B.B. King for the great Riding with the King album. This time to Robert Johnson in Me and Mr.Johnson. With Robert Johnson, Slowhand has paid off all his debts and made his tributes and has come a full circle from the time he heard The King of Delta Blue Singers to the present. He is now back where he started from. I don't expect him or anyone to redo the Eric Clapton journey again. There might not be any exciting new work from him other than rehashed box sets or more years on the tour. Lucky to be here on what might be his last tour, still hope there he might churn out one more.

For complete set list and more pictures

Movie Reviews

Movie Reviews
I should be seeing the movies atleast, for all the fines I paid. Saw quite a few movies in the past two weeks. Apologies for possible spoilers.

My Shtick
In my experience, I always find that the vaunted and deemed 'classic', old movies are major disappointments. Either, the effects or the ideas that the movie then introduced have been mimicked so much, that when you see the movie,(eg: Citizen Kane), it fails to register, or you just expect too much (eg: Psycho). The special effects, baring really rare cases, are not a patch on even the worst flicks of today.
After the numerous disappointments, I have now begun to hold a position opposite, to what I call the Unecessary Reverence Handicap
which is - Despite what you really feeling that a classic sucked, you deceive yourself to believing that is was excellent and praise heaped on it is justified. Why? Because imdb.com,the experts and everybody else says so.
My new Scant Reverence Attitude is not much of a help to have an unbiased view either.

Hiroshima Mon Amour(French,1950s)
Hiroshima Mon Amour from the New Age of French cinema of the 1950s was really good. At end, I wondered why I liked the movie so much, despite the insipid principal actors. Clearly this a movie that revolves strongly around an excellent story by Marguerite Duras and really clever and artful direction by Alain Resnais. The present, and the past are both intermingled, as are the present and past lovers of the French woman in Tokyo. She comes to Tokyo to come to terms with a personal tragedy, hoping that Hiroshima would help alleviate the pain. The actors are not very expressive but the dialogues are memorable. Throughout the movie you seem to be thinking their thoughts, trying to read between the lines. What makes the movie a compelling watch is how Alain Resnais slowly draws the curtains and slowly reveals the story. He makes us reflect on what tragedy holds more significance for and individual- the private or the public?

The Best Years of Our Life(1940s)
It's not hard to see why this movie swept the Oscars a few years after the war ended. It is one of few movies that deals with the problems of the veterans and not just the war. Three serviceman, an Army sergeant, a Bombardier Captain and a Naval Midshipman, return from their tours of duty. All of them return to different social circumstances and learn to cope with problems of marriage, disability and settling down to a normal civilian life. Also present is the composer, Hoagy Carmichael in a cameo role as the bar-owner, Butch. It effectively shows the tension between the civilians who want to 'get-on' with life, now that the war is over and veterans who feel that they need to be given special treatment for their wartime sacrifices. Without being overly sympathetic it shows how they all come to terms with the changed life.
Excellent performances by Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews and the lovely Teresa Wright.

An Affair to Remember(1950s)
At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, this is nothing but a classic chick flick. Cary Grant, a playboy and the fantastic red-head Deborah Kerr meet on ocean liner and fall hopelessly in love despite being attached to significant others. They agree to meet and marry in six months if they still feel the same about each other. The first half was really good with the comic scenes and the sizzling chemistry of what is a hopeless romance. The second half and the story after that was quite a drag with the movie just wandering. Yet to see a girl make such a senseless decision as Kerr. I thought only blondes were dumb. The movies throws in songs by children for no rhyme or reason. The last scene is quite good, in a losing effort to save a movie that falls apart after the half.

After the disappointment of the previous movie, I sought solace in Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, hoping that the neurotic, psychotic self-deprecating Allen would not fail to disappoint. I really did not know what to expect of this particular movie, which made it an all the more fun movie to watch. Woody Allen the actor does not talk much except for the interview scenes. The idea of making 'mockumentary' on a fictional Jazz Age figure Leonard Zelig is pure genius. All Zelig wants to do is ' ..blend in', which he does to the extreme of transforming himself to kind of people he is with. Zelig is the Human Chameleon. If it were not for Allen or Farrow in the main roles, anyone would believe this as a Discovery or the History Channel documentary without blinking an eye. Not seeing Allen in his element is more than made up for by the general whackiness of the theme the development of Zelig's fictional career. The serious narration are a trip and appearances by luminaries such as Susan Sontag, Saul Bellow and Dr. Bruno Bettelheim in colour between the shots make it an all the more believable nonsense. Gordon Willis, the cinematographer stomped on the film in the shower to give it the aged look. An outstanding job by Willis to create the shaky, scratchy, out-of-focus B/W shots.
These special effects placing Allen in scenes with Lou Gehrig, Al Capone Hitler and prominent members of the Jazz Age are 15 years ahead of Bob Zemeckis' Forrest Gump scenes.

Coffee and Cigarettes(2002)
This was black comedy in black and white. It has about 14 unrelated fictitious short stories/scenes, all taking place around coffee and cigarettes with a star list of actors. The opening scene with Benini was the worst of the lot, but it prepares you for the crazy stories that follow later. Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan provide the longest and most hilarious story of long-lost cousins. Steve Buscemi plays an Elvis Conspiracy theorist and Bill Murray a caffeine addict. Iggy Pop and Tom Waits try their hand at one upmanship. Cate Blanchett is fantastic in playing herself and her cousin who is clearly jealous about Cate's celebrity status.
By the end you are clutching your gut but also thinking about the fake social graces we adopt, out litte delusions (thinking coffee is champagne), attempts at buying love, friendships and failed efforts at making good impressions. Hilarious!

Killer Radio Waves II
I hope this is not some pattern, this Friday the killler radio waves struck again. This time to announce the death of Bill Randle, the Cleveland disc jockey who first introduced Elvis Presley to the nation and the world on TV in 1954.
Things to investigate/check before jumping to conclusions about the deadly Friday Killer Radio Waves
1. Does NPR make death announcements only on Fridays?
2. Do I listen to death announcements of celebrities on other days?
3. Will someone be struck by the Killer Radio Waves this Friday?

Hilarious- The Cheney-Edwards Debate

This was hilarious to read. Check it out.
The New York Times > Week in Review > Sneak Preview! The Cheney-Edwards Debate

Eight Books or Then and Now or You owe..
(A nostalgic look at books, libraries and ..)

It happened again. I now have fines at the Cleveland Public Library. Being an avid reader, over the years I have become a member of various libraries. All libraries whWhich has now when I think of it a hobby of its own. I somehow feel an itch when there is some library that I can but have not yet become a member. The thought being, that a different library has quite a different selection of books, which are hard to find in the libraries that I am already a member of.

Pune circa 1988
The United Services Library or the Poona Club library was where I hung out most evenings. My only grouse against the libary as kid whilst growing up, was that they had a limit of 8 books. I was like Kipling's elephant child full of 'satiable curtiosities' and here we had the librarian saying,
'You already have 7 books on issue, so now you can take only one book'
'One book?', I would say looking wistfully at my 'treasure trove' of the eight books, painstakingly unearthed and which were now piled upon his desk.
Then I would look at the librarian with the best 'lost-puppy' eyes I could manage. There would be a few moments of silence, as the librarian would look at register, then at me and then at the pile of books.
'Okay, take two more books and make sure you return the others by tomorrow.'
My heart would leap joy yet I never felt like hugging the librarian. He was the 'enemy'. This would pose the dilemma - which ones out of the eight would make the cut? One of the librarians was a really strict chap, who would not say much. Once in a while could be cajoled but to make his point about The Rule, he would write in big, bold letters in red ink on the top of the register. '8 BOOKS only'. Librarians have that power. That evening, I knew would be a familiar family fight over who was hogging the the quota. Then an agreement would be reached. My father would return his unread books so that his son's would not grow up deprived and also not create such a racket. That was all later, after I went home. There were more urgent things to do.
After the choices were made, naturally I had to return the other books back to the shelves. The children's section then, and even now, was never arranged. The books were all over the shelves. Now you can imagine, why I would not want to part with these treasures accumulated after about an hour of searching. What does a desperate man do in such circumstances? I hid them. This being a regular occurence, I had devised this foolproof method of hiding books. What I did was to take about 6-7 books out of the shelf and place one of 'my' books with it side flat against the back of the shelf. Then replace those 6-7 books as they are usually stacked. Now my book was hidden behind. Its quite a good trick. I would come back the next day and retrieve the books after having returned the other books. It was almost foolproof, cause I discovered that the books on the lower shelves were being 'lost'. It seems that the pesky brats about half my 4'2" then, would often rip the lower shelves, thus exposing my 'booty' to other predators.
As I got older and was able to cycle further out I became a member of more libraries. This helped me circumvent these artificial restrictions that were blocking my growth as an individual. Hah!

Ann Arbor, MI circa 2002
'You mean.. there is no limit on the number of books!!'
'Yes', said the librarian.
I promptly went downstairs and got nine books, for the obvious symbolic reasons. Of course, now I no longer had the time to plough through the books, as before. When I had when I was 4'2". That's the damn problem with life. When you need something the most either you can't afford it, are disallowed it or you are under-age. Later when you can afford it, are allowed it and are of the right age you don't have the time or worse, none of the former inclination.
Now I borrowed more and read less. Also the University of Michigan has a 6 month loan period for certain books. I read them eventually, slowly but surely. Perhaps 8 books are took much to read. A week has only seven days right? But some habits die hard. As if, the 14 libraries of the U of M, including the Inter-library loan system(ILL) were not enough I become member of the Ann Arbor Public Library (AADL). It's a hobby remember? But it's an expensive one as I have realised but not learning my lesson.

Despite changes in borrowing privileges, one thing has not changed - having to pay fines. Over all these years and after borrowing hundreds of books, we as a family (admission of collective guilt is always easier) lost only 4-5 books, but we paid a lot of fines. Even with the quota of 8 books then. Something inherently pathological, that me and my family were always late in returning books. Often after paying hefty fines, at the end of every year, we would all be on the mend. Then like drug addicts we would slowly be sucked back into our old habits. Some book would be read, left in some shelf or mixed with our own numerous books and would resurface after months. Mostly the effort of my mother to arrange our rooms. At Michigan, inspite of having the facility to renew online, even call and renew books, I have still have fines (let's be polite and not mention the amount).

I bike back to the Cleveland Public library to return some of the books after getting their missive with 'You have 3 books and 1 CD overdue. You owe $__ in fines'. In less than 8 weeks, I have managed to defray the costs of another library by paying fines.
I am at the counter trying to do some damage control and return the late materials 10 minutes before closing time.
'I have some fines that I would like to pay', I tell the librarian as she peeks through her bifocals.
'Okay let me see..what we have here.'
I wait there, as she checks the record. I know that once money had changed hands, my slate at this library atleast will be wiped clean. I firmly decide that I won't let this happen again.
'Okay, you're all set', she says.
'I took it all off. You owe nothing', so saying she smiles.
'Mmm..Thanks..Thanks a lot', I mumble shocked by this angel in bifocals wondering how I did not notice her halo before.
I walk back as if I just received a pardon from the death sentence. Of course, I won't let this won't happen again, ever.

Killer Radio Waves - Brando

The Killer Radio Waves
It's about 10 minutes past 5 and I have ducked out of work little early taking advantage of the long weekend. I eject the CD and then tune into NPR to get the usual dose of the news. Then I hear,

' .. you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.'
'It wasn't him, Charley, it was you. ....'

'Hell!', I say to myself. What's up with Brando now? Is he dead? He died? Shit!'
My question gets answered after this famous dialogue from On The Waterfront ends.

'....You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley.'

Then the voice of Rob Siegel takes over, 'Marlon Brando was 80...'
'So he did die today.', I think to myself.
Then almost immediately I am corrected, '...He died yesterday and being the private man that he was ...'
Whenever I turn on the radio to tune to NPR and I hear a really old song or a voice. Its the Killer Radio Waves. It's usually bad news. Nostalgia always seems to turn to algia if its on the radio. A few weeks ago,it was Ray Charles and somehow its always on a Friday. Some Black Friday!
You hear their best work but also have to hear about their earthly failings. Today they talk about how fat he later became, his three, but too numerous marriages and other amorous affairs that almost ruined him. His tragic last decade. They talk about his whimsical prices after the Godfather so that he could raise money for the definitive Native American film.
Luckily its radio and not TV and hence you can imagine whatever picture you wish to see. I always see this Brando from 'A Streetcar Named Desire' which so far is the most astounding piece of acting I have ever seen. The sheer intensity of the man. Every other actor who played Stanley Kowalski hence has played it in his shadow. He also defined the Mafia don when he played Don Vito, but then it was an old Brando, a Brando with a brace in his mouth, a rasping Brando. A Brando well past this one in the picture. For me the Brando who died today was this the man in the picture. A brooding, muscular beast of a man with the furrowed brow. Asking you the question - "Whaddya got?". One of the greatest.
Then the radio turns to other more mundane things. Hear about more deaths in Iraq..AIDS deaths in South Africa.. Is it the killer radio waves again?