New Blog !!

May 16, 2009

I just want to put in a plug for a new blog that I’ve started and that I will be contributing to, together with other friends. Check out:

Peepul Tree

The blog was created with the intent to deal with issues of culture, politics, energy and environment, art and philosophy.  Hope to see you there !

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Indie: The new Mainstream?

January 7, 2009

Jonathan Mahler in an article on Andrew Bird for the New York Times, sums up the whole indie music vs. mainstream music distinction (with the changing music industry as a backdrop) quite well:

Bird’s trajectory, his gradual climb to success, is unusual for a business in which careers tend to be made on the back of a big break. But his increasing popularity may also say something broader about the shifting dynamics of the industry. The rock-music business has long been dominated by major labels following a simple formula: They saw what bands were selling and looked for others that sounded just like them. And because these same labels held what often seemed like exclusive access to the key retailers and influential radio stations, it was difficult for independent record companies and more inventive, esoteric artists to find traction in the general public. But with the precipitous drop in record sales, the major labels have lost much of their leverage, and with it, their ability to determine what records will become popular. “Andrew is worried that if he goes too mainstream, he’s going to offend his hard-core fans,” says Steve Martin, one of Bird’s publicists. “I told him that mainstream no longer exists.”

The above reinforces three (related) points. First and foremost, the term “indie” refers to the label/record-company and not necessarily to the type of music. Therefore, and secondly, I scout for indie music not because of some urge to be non-conformist (as a friend alleged), but simply because its my best bet for finding something different and discovering new sounds and new artists. These days, bands/artists that release their music with lesser-known labels seem more likely to make music which is unusual, interesting and different….but not necessarily so! And finally, the matter of “Indie becomes the new mainstream”:  For the audiences this is welcome. It means that a few record companies don’t, in principle, determine what kind of music the public is going to be hammered by.  For the artist, it means there is no short-cut to stardom, and the road ahead will be, to paraphrase Bird, trying to win one person at a time. It also means an even playing field for record labels and artists.

Btw, Andrew Bird is certainly one of my favourite musicians, not the least for using words like “formaldehyde” (in Fake Palindromes). For a chemist, that is just …. well, music to the ears ! 🙂 This statement by Mahler about Bird’s lyric writing is also, I feel, accurate:

He is more interested in how the words in his lyrics sound, in the mood they create and sense they relate, than in their literal meaning.

Can’t wait for “Noble Beast” !!

The following was first written as a comment on this blog. A particular piece dealt with an interview of Mahatma Gandhi’s grand-daughter, Ms. Usha Gokani. Ms. Gokani happened to be dining at the Trident/Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, a scene of the terror attacks, on 26 November 2008. Ms. Gokani managed to escape unhurt. She had the following to say in an interview with an Indian daily:

The fact that I chose to dine at the India Jones restaurant at the Oberoi Hotel that fateful night of 26/11, and the manner in which I escaped death by a whisker, reinforces my belief that there is a driving force that governs the entire universe. While the staff at Oberoi’s ushered us into safety through the service entrance, I kept praying to Santoshi ma. It is her grace that I could make it out alive that night.

My comments (slightly modified) appeared as follows:

Your post reminds me of two anecdotes:

The first deals with George Orwell. In 1937, while fighting for the Republicans against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell was shot in the neck and nearly died. The episode is described vividly in “Wounded by a Fascist Sniper” and also in Homage to Catalonia. Later friends would often tell him how “lucky” he was to have stayed alive. Orwell wrote that he found this a a rather curious definition of good luck. Rightly so, it would have been far nicer to not have been shot in the first place !!

The whole Santoshi ma (SM) rubbish is just the same! Either Ms. Gokani hasn’t been paying ALL her dues to SM, or SM has just been a bit sloppy at work lately. Either way, its clear that the expectations for good luck are pathetically low! (alas! only to the benefit of SM)

It also seems from the whole episode that in this case the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. In 1934, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that the Bihar earthquake of that year was providential retribution for India’s failure to eradicate untouchability. This ridiculous remark led to a spirited rebuttal from Rabindranath Tagore (well chronicled in the book, “Mahatma and the Poet”; a review can be found here), who argued that an earthquake was caused only by physical forces. Gandhi, however, remained unconvinced. As great as the Mahatma truly was, in this matter he was certainly out of his mind ! (Surely, by his own logic, Britain deserved a few earthquakes of her own!)

To attribute a divine provenance to overwhelmingly good fortune (or tragedy) remains an enduring symbol of our credulity and stupidity; even the greatest seemed to have erred on this count.

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April 2, 2008