Books, Music

Reading At the End of the World: Daisy Jones & The Six

Midway through reading Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s oral history of a fictional rock and roll band from the 70s, I feel this desperate urge to pause and listen to the Fleetwood Mac album Rumors. It was not a normal, hey-I-need-to-check-this-out feeling, it was somewhat akin to craving for a drink on a hot summer day, when you lick your lips and want that first swig of a cold beer to fill that ferocious vacuum in your head and belly all at the same time.

If you read the book, and get to the portion where the band’s seminal album ‘Aurora’ is being made, you may understand why. Of course, you also need to know something about Rumors, in order to make sense of the relationships unraveling on the page and how this very real album, to me, seemed like the only piece of musical history that could provide the musical resonance the book needed. I listened to the first few songs from Rumors, skipped to ‘Songbird’, a track that lacerates and heals my heart every time I have played it in the last twenty-odd years, and then carried on reading.

It is incredible how great the format of the book works for the subject. It is completely immersive, and visual in a way that most books try to be, but do not succeed. The picture that emerges from the juxtaposition of multiple people talking about the same sequence of events, with viewpoints switching in near-real time, makes it feel like I am reading a transcript of a documentary video. Reid captures the distinct voices of the characters in an incredible manner — no one is peripheral, and while the bulk of the focus is on the talented duo of Daisy Jones and Brian Dunne, it is the reactions of characters like Eddie and Camille that garnishes the story, shows you the debris the main characters leave behind, and enriches our experience. The experience, just so you know, is not just that of music, or love, or drug-fueled tours, it’s about the way the writer manages to capture the zeitgeist of the seventies, and a female perspective to rock and roll that I have not seen outside of Patti Smith’s autobiographies. The way the characters of Daisy, Karen, Simone, and Camilla are so different, and do not exist as cliches or tropes of the genre, is astonishing to say the least.

My favorite moment in the book comes when the author (not Jenkins Reid, but the fictional author of this fictional band) breaks character, with a short note explaining why, and the pages that come after not only signal the beginning of the end, but also gives you an idea of where things are about to go. Like turning the viewfinder of a lens that brings a blurry image into focus. It ends with a letter from a mother, and then all the lyrics of the songs in Aurora, one after the other, in the order of appearance in the album.

It is not surprising to learn that Amazon Studios is working on a TV adaptation of the book, and I have no doubt the production team has a tough time ahead of them. And it’s not just the music, it’s about adapting the iconography the book flaunts — be it Daisy’s drug-fueled vulnerability, or the way her voice changes on the fifth take of ‘Impossible Girl’, or the visual description of the album cover shoot of Aurora. It will be hard to match up to what’s in our heads when we read the book, and I am not holding my breath.

But what got me grinning like an idiot was reading the acknowledgements by the author (Jenkins Reid this time), and finding this dedication to her husband:

To Alex: It was hard to know where to acknowledge you because you have your hand in every aspect of this story. You came up with the idea with me, taught me about music theory, listened to Rumours with me, fought about Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie with me, gave up a job to be home more, became the primary parent, and read the book approximately nine million times. And most of all, you make it easy to write about devotion. When I write about love, I write about you. We’re ten years into this party and I’m still mad for you.

Turns out the entire framework of the book is based on the Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks dynamic!

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Music, Today I Learned

Sakhi Maro/Tu Mera Dil

I listen to a lot of music. This is known.

A byproduct of that is that for long periods of time, certain artistes take on more, or very little, prominence in my playlists, a function of recent release schedules, my soundscape mood (there are times when nu-retro reigns supreme on my headphones, for example, or ambient anime piano), and pure serendipity.

The third factor, that of serendipity is what leads to goosebumps, when a song that I haven’t heard in a long while suddenly emerges front and center. Today was one such day, when a tune from Susheela Raman’s Love Trap, an album that defined 2004-05 for me, materialized in my head, and of course, I had to play the album from beginning to end. I was going about my morning with a smile and a skip, as song after song came on, releasing dopamine hits and unlocking half-buried aural memories. Suddenly, it was ‘Sakhi Maro’ on the speakers. If you know the song, you know it melts you like butter on a warm slice of bread. But today, out of all the times I have heard ‘Sakhi Maro’, I realized that the opening bars of the song reminded me of something else. Another song.

But what did it remind me of? I paused the song for a bit and thought about what exactly brought about that stray memory? It was definitely not Susheela’s voice or the tune itself. When I played it again from the beginning, it hit me. The gentle, melodic strumming that is the bedrock of the track reminded me of a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan track from one of his collaborations with Michael Brook. There being two of those albums – Musst Musst and Night Song. A bit of quiet contemplation brought me to the exact track. It was the opening track to Night Song, called ‘My Heart, My Life’, with the exact same strumming that was part-guitar, part-harp.

Now I had always thought most sounds on the Brook albums were the Infinite Guitar, the musician’s own modification of the electric guitar. As it turned out, the sound on both the songs was a West African instrument called the Kora. It has 21 strings and has features of a lute and a harp. And once you hear a kora and realize how versatile it is, it’s hard to ever miss it. Tom Diakite plays the instrument on ‘Sakhi Maro’, Kaouding Cissoko from Senegal plays it on ‘My Heart, My Life’. On both the tracks, these guys steal the bulk of the thunder.

Here’s a minute long video that shows how the same instrument produces different kinds of sounds, demoed by musician Toumane Diabate.

And here’s an hour-long concert that’s a cello-kora duet featuring Ballake Sissoko and cellist Vincent Segal.

On an aside, the MTV Unplugged version of ‘Sakhi Maro’ has Sam Mills playing the guitar on the track, which added to my confusion. The track also features renowned percussionist and singer Kutle Khan on vocals and the khartal, making it arguably better than Susheela’s original interpretation.

I cannot but be awed by the things that I still do not know, and by the secrets these familiar friends from decades ago still manage to unravel.

(Also, this is the second time in a year that I have gone back to Susheela Raman on the blog. That must count for something!)

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Music

you open the door to another door to another door

The title of this post is a reference to my first new album of 2020. Which came to me in a dream, believe it or not.

So this is what happened. I was lying on the bed reading (the third book of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy, called Solea, after the Miles Davis album), with Spotify playing over my headphones. At some point, I drifted off, floating along with the music in that happy blissful state of lucid dreams and semi-awareness. When you know that you are asleep but you haven’t quite lost control yet.

I found myself hovering back into reality, coaxed out by this beautiful voice singing, and through the haze of my not-quite-nap. The song meshed with the random visuals in my head, in the best way possible. “Caroline Polachek”, I read on the phone. The song was called “Door”, and committing that to memory, half-worrying that maybe I was still dreaming all this, I fell back to sleep.

I played the song later that evening, in the car. The chorus was like hot chocolate and pine-wood smoke, smooth, sophisticated, but very tender. But hold on, the voice sounded familiar. I have heard her before. I stop the car on the side of the road and google the artiste’s name.

Yup, Caroline Polachek was the singer on the Brooklyn band Chairlift, whose album Moth was one of my favorites of 2015-2016. It also so happened that despite buying tickets to their show at the Observatory, and driving 45 miles one Sunday evening to see them, I couldn’t. Because the show was cancelled. I got my money back, but the tinge of regret remained with me. More so because they disbanded a year later, in 2017, after playing a final show in Brooklyn.

And now, four years later, Ms Polachek has released a solo album, called Pang. It released in October, and for whatever reason, I had no idea of its existence until two weeks ago. Of course, in that time span, I have heard the album an umpteen number of times. I love every minute of it, from the haunted opening of ‘The Gate’ flowing into the title track ‘Pang’, to the closing notes of the tender ‘Parachutes’. Even though I could recognize her voice on the album, the mood, and the production were both very different from that on the Chairlift albums. For one, this was clearly an album about love and heartbreak and all of the feelings. It’s an album where slide-guitar licks morph into dance patterns, otherworldly beats and rhythms coalesce into splashes of intensity and adrenaline, and through all of these, Caroline’s voice weaves and wends through various moods and tonalities, gentle whispers to full-throated vocal riffs that advertise absolute control. And possibly a fair degree of auto-tune, but the electronic effects are tweaked to just the perfect degree of alien and human.

This is one of those rare album that feels like each track is better than the previous one. No wonder, then, that the first single, and accompanying video, was ‘Door’, which is the penultimate track of 15 songs, and runs a radio-unfriendly 5 minutes and 23 seconds. But it goes places. believe me, both visually and in sound and mood. The opening guitar riff, and the way the beat builds up slowly into that chorus is sublime. The alien vocal echoes on the word “door”. The guitar bridge. And that final humming that closes the track. Holy shit.

My personal favorite in the album, at the moment, is ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’. Many reasons, including the upbeat 80s vibe, the catchy vocal riff that begins the track, the “woo” when she sings the chorus, that sharp intake of breath just before she sings “I get a little lonely”. And of course that semi-awkward, all-Caroline dance routine in the video, so reminiscent of ‘Ch-ching’ from the Moth album. The chorus, when I first heard it, sounded like “Show me the banana”, and I ran to check what it actually said. “Show me the love, nanana”. Pooh. I prefer “show me the banana”.

I could listen to it all day, except ‘Door’ starts playing just after, and then once the album finishes with the downtempo ‘Parachute’, I have to go back to track one again.

‘Ocean of Tears’ comes closest to the Chairlift sound. You could play the opening to me and I would have identified the song as one of theirs. Of course it’s fantastic, the bass throbs and then the rock guitars playing over the chorus.

Caroline plays at the Fonda Theater on February 1, and even though tickets are sold out, something tells me I will show up there, somehow.

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Concerts, Music

2020 Goals (a small one)

So I was doing a bit of the ol’ interweb-crawling before heading to bed, and I came across a piece of news that got blood rushing to my head. An Instagram account attributed to the band Rage Against The Machine has put up a single image.

(I screenshotted the image so that it does not suddenly disappear off the face of the internet if the band decides they’re too cool for Instagram)

Yes. The Rage Against the Machine, whose last live appearance was in 2011, at a festival called LA Rising. That year I was in Los Angeles, sans car, barely skimming the surface of what the city had to offer. So of course I missed it, and the band never performed together again.

RATM has been on my top 5 Acts to Watch Live, and it looks like next year is when I make it out to Coachella again, after 5 years of staying away from the festival. Or maybe it may make more sense to just head out to New Mexico or Arizona to see the band, considering Coachella logistics.

Also, I cringe at the thought of being an RATM fan 20 years ago, with little context to their music, other than them being this angry-sounding band with catchy guitar riffs that were great to head-bang to. “The Machine” in their name, in my head, correlated to the System, and of course, we all hated the system, which was all teachers and dumb rules and everything that reeked of adulthood. So it felt good to sing along with “Fuck you I won’t do what to tell me”. It did not help that I heard their music for the first time on the Matrix OST, which obfuscated their political messages even more. In a time when I was still trying to define what “cool” was, and whether I was part of that club or not, Rage Against The Machine’s music presented the right kind of credentials.

It was much, much later that a better knowledge of US politics, history, and culture helped me understand the “Rage” in their name. The band’s lyrics are, in case you didn’t know already, at odds with US domestic and foreign policy, and are a direct critique of corporations, cultural imperialism, and systemic oppression of marginalized groups in America. Once upon a time, I wondered at why exactly the band spoke of convicted murderers and revolutionary Mexican organizations, and wondered if they were taking performance art too far by insisting on shooting a video in front of the New York Stock Exchange, or hanging upside down flags from their speakers during a live TV show. I had misgivings about the violent protests their music seemed to incite, and sort of understood why they were the only band in the infamous Clear Channel memorandum to have all songs banned from radio channels in the aftermath of 9/11.

But you live and learn. Twenty years later, I know America a little differently than I did back when I just graduated college. I am a lot more aware, both from a cultural and sociopolitical standpoint, about what makes this country tick, and the undercurrents of wrongness that pervade American society. The truths to power that the band spits out through their music feel like a necessary part of the American discourse. “Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses” now hold more import than the chorus of ‘Killing in the Name’. And the song that plays at the end of The Matrix, the one that introduced me to the band, has these lines:

Networks at work, keepin' people calm
Ya know they murdered X and tried to blame it on Islam
He turned the power to the have-nots
And then came the shot

As it turns out, I am not alone in loving the band without understanding them. Republican ex-House speaker Paul Ryan was apparently an RATM fan, and Tom Morello wrote a scathing Rolling Stone opinion piece calling him “the embodiment of the machine”.

These, by the way, are the list of books in the album notes of Evil Empire, their second album.

  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  • Capital, Volume I by Karl Marx
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  • The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
  • Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara
  • Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
  • Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
  • The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
  • Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  • Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
  • Live from Death Row by Mumia Abu-Jamal
  • Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
  • Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism by Alexander Berkman
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Rules for Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky
  • Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson by George Jackson
  • Walden and Resistance to Civil Government by Henry David Thoreau
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Another Country by James Baldwin

I am still working my way through this list, and I do not claim to be an expert. But I shut up, and listen, and read, and read a little more, and every day the world comes a little more into focus.

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Music

Music-Mania May 2019 Edition

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart has a soundtrack to be proud of. Music hand-picked by Olivia and Dan The Automator, featuring the likes of Alanis Morrissette, Sofi Tukker, LCD Soundsystem, and Perfume Genius. But the one track that blew my mind was a song by Fata Boom, called ‘Double Rum Cola’. You see, it features a sample from a very, very familiar song from this 90s Indian boy’s childhood.

The song plays in an insane slow-mo last-day-of-high-school sequence, which is perfect.

You gotta go watch Booksmart. It’s phenomenal, and not just because of the music.


I heard a song while having dinner in an Indian restaurant in Toronto. It’s surprising I paid attention to it because I was in wonderful company and the conversation was sublime. But the melody felt…familiar. It’s an infuriating feeling to not recognize a song immediately, and I knew that later, it would come back to haunt me. So I switched on Soundhound, and the track that showed up was something I had never heard before. It was called ‘I Wanna Know’, by NOTD, featuring Bea Miller on vocals. Decent 6-out-of-10 summer dance track, but I could not understand why it felt so familiar.

It was only later, after I had hummed the main verse a few times, that I realized I had heard it after all. Well, not the original, but the version that appears on Ark Patrol’s ‘Entropy’.

I came across the music of Ark Patrol by pure happenstance earlier this year, when he released his first full-length album. It’s one of the best downtempo/chill LPs I have heard in 2019, and has been on repeat for the better part of the last quarter. The way he samples Bea Miller’s vocals for ‘Entropy’ is magical; the voice lowers an octave, the refrain becomes a plaintive wail, the beats and drone slither hypnotically. Electronic music at its finest.


The sheer joy of Michel Gondry’s video for the Chemical Brothers song ‘Gotta Keep On’ keeps on making me high. (hyuk!) But Gondry being Gondry, I love the turn the visuals take towards the middle. Just the subtle tweaking of reality that modern-day CGI brings to the director’s toolbox. MG, most known for directing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, was the director of choice for some of Bjork’s greatest songs.

Bonus: Michel Gondry’s video for Metronomy’s ‘Love Letters’ (2014)

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