Monday 31 March 2008

Today is Joseph Haydn's birthday. If he had lived, he would have been 276 years old. So fast, so numb, curse you Father Time!

I've been working my way through listening to all of his symphonies lately, not just the famed London symphonies from the climax of his career, or the various odds and ends of Esterhaz jobwork that are set apart by having nicknames attached to them in popular parlance, but every single one of the 104 (possibly more) symphonies he wrote. I'm still mulling over the first 15 symphonies, in fact.

They are all elegant, lively and pleasant pieces of music - there's never a dull moment here, and with the commencement of his appointment by the Esterhazys it's fun to see him spreading his wings as it were, and exploring the possibilities of different instruments, possibly inspired by the aim of giving various virtuosi in the Esterhazy service their spotlight moments. However, the 3rd Symphony is the first one that, to my ears, bears the stamp of a growing confidence, with its jaunty opening fast movement and the simple, almost folksy but utterly captivating slow movement.

Poor Haydn's skull had a complex post-mortal history, thanks to the nefarious schemes of phrenologists. It's a remarkable story. Perhaps it could be used to make a musical version of the classic British horror flick, The Skull ?

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Softies* aren't much good at marriage, or at relationships and letting go.

Indian blokes have a hard-earned reputation for interpersonal ineptitude and troglodytish attitudes to gender roles. The sub-species of Indian softies, condemned to a life of cut-and-pasting code rightfully or wrongfully copied from somewhere of the other, intersperse with occasional bouts of toadying to white corporate chieftains and cosseted by a society that measures marriagability in terms of money earned and opportunities for a foreign stint, have plumbed proud new nadirs of chauvinism and all-round interpersonal uselessness. In light of all this, and with due compassion to the much-abused, both physically and mentally (when they're not being summarily murdered) women of this nation, I propose a solution to ensure the personal well-being, satisfaction and genetic destiny of the softy without further inconveniencing women, their families, or society at large.

First of all, mandatory castration needs to be imposed as an entry procedure into the softie profession. Nip their balls off, and the little bastards are less likely to embark on testosterone-fuelled lives of passive-aggressive rage and disorder. Sperm samples can be taken beforehand, and offered to deserving parties in European countries with declining birth rates, thereby satisfying the wildest aspirations of every middle-class Indian to somehow become phoren, or at least watch their offspring do so.

Next, having cut off the marriage problem at its root (ouch, and ouch again), something needs to be done to cater to the extensive culinary, sanitary and sartorial needs of the softie in the absence of the indentured service usually provided by a spouse. Given that persons of a Marathi disposition are currently being edged out of their livelihood in their own home state by Northerners, as R. Thackeray repeatedly assures us, and that even a softie who has been nipped in the bud is no great company for any sane female, and that vast numbers of disposessed Marathi males need a vocation, all we need to do is indenture them to softies as male servants, after the requisite training. Once every Bertie Wooster softie has his private Jeeves, it may even be possible to salvage society as a whole from the quagmire it has sunk into. These male servants will cook, clean, iron, sew, bathe, massage, medicate, and when necessary, euthanise their charges. Mothers of softies may also breathe a sigh of relief and sink into a long-deferred stupor when this plan is implemented.

Of course, the buggers are still liable to have some residual pervy needs, I'm informed. This also a problem easily solved, by providing each softie with a blow-up doll. This will provide them with a healthy, safe outlet for excess vigour and give their lungs good exercise.

Detailed plans can be provided to interested governmental bodies by applying with the blogger.

*An unintendedly derogatory term for software engineers occasionally used by the Bangalore Slimes,and appropriated by me in all malice.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

It seems impossible for me to sit through Ludovico Einaudi's Divenire without my attention not just wandering but actively militating against listening to any more of this whispy airiness when there is far more sustaining fare stored elsewhere on my mp3 player.

This stuff can sound okay live though.

Tuesday 18 March 2008

How strange. My synopsis is 747 words longer than it should be. This is the first time I've written something to word count, and spilled so far over the limit.

The good thing is, the novel now has a shape in actual words sitting somewhere outside of my fragile head, and whatver can be projected by reading the 60-odd pages I've already written. I might have to rewrite some of what I already have to properly set things up for later on, but there's enough serviceable material to make up the two sample chapters.

Also while the second narrative thread fits nicely into the ending, it looks as if it is the weakest of the three at present. Hrmmm.

I have a working title. I will not reveal it yet.

Lastly, even if this contest doesn't work out I'm more confident than ever that sometime later this year I will have something that if thrown around at publishers will eventually stick.


Monday 17 March 2008

Once, a school boy on my way to the bus stop in the morning, I saw a snake in the process of eating a frog. It was only halfway through, and the frog's hindquarters jutted out of the snake's mouth, its legs still twitching. Another frog, as yet unconsumed, hopped away in terror.

I was filled with more terror and disgust by the fleeing frog than the snake and its prey. All this background explains why in Death Of A Naturalist I finally found a Seamus Heaney poem I could respond to on anything more than a distant, intellectual level.

Saturday 15 March 2008

You see that hand there, in the picture above, slapping a guitar? That's Sam 'Lightnin' Hopkins' left hand, arguably one of the most formidably steady grooving rhythmic weapons to ever attack the blues, whether strumming an insistent one-two beat, picking a silvery flutter of lead guitar licks or even slapping the box of the guitar in percussive rapture. Hopkins' style hardly changed at all in a career that spanned 6 decades. You could accuse him of basically recycling the same riffs and licks with different lyrics - but you could say that about a lot of blues artists. Maybe this is my techno, but I love tripping on the iterative consistency and subtle variation of a great blues artists' body of work - and Hopkins certainly fits the bill.

Today would have been Hopkins' 96th birthday. A good time to remember him, because his music still sounds just about as alive and kicking as anything can be.

One of my favourite Lightnin' Hopkins songs is Coffee For Mama, a song about a couple squabbling over the husband's failure to get coffee for mama, constantly distracted as he is by god knows what disreputable diversions. This version is from Hopkins' classic 1960 album, Mojo Hand. Give it a listen and if you like, go find, maybe even buy, some more Hopkins music. Cheers.

Today's also the birthday of Ry Cooder, still very much alive. He's the guy who backed up Richards-and-whoever's rock n' roll guitar assault in the Rolling Stones with rootsy slide guitar and mandolin, only for a while, but on two of the Stones' most enduring albums. He's also dipped into disparate musical traditions, with the Cuban musicians on Buena Vista Social Club, and with Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. His latest album, My Name Is Buddy, recreates the politics and the music of depression-era USA, through the eyes of a blue-collar cat and his friends, including a mouse and a frog. A sort of pro-proletarian Disney concept as Woody Guthrie would have done it, if you can imagine such a thing. Here's the title track off this album. If you like it, the CD's out in stores, you know - that's where I got my copy.

This also the day on which Howard Phillips Lovecraft died, in 1937, after a short (he was only 47), largely lonely life, enlivened socially by an extensive correspendence with like-minded acquaintances, spent mostly in the company of aged relatives, apart from a short stint living in New York, during which he met several of his pen pals, and even entered into a short-lived marriage. He was always beset with financial troubles, living a life of genteel poverty and discrete starvation, interested only the stars, the past, and the weird. He loved cats and ice cream, had an almost pathological dislike of seafood and once wrote about himself:

'I should describe mine own nature as tripartite, my interests consisting of three parallel and dissociated groups – (a) Love of the strange and the fantastic. (b) Love of the abstract truth and of scientific logick. (c) Love of the ancient and the permanent. Sundry combinations of these strains will probably account for all my odd tastes and eccentricities.'

But what best speak for him are his weird, resonant tales of horrific fiction, wildly influential and still a high-water mark for the horror genre. You can read some of them here. If you want to read more, there are lots of great compilations out there with introductions by people like Joyce Carol Oates (insightful intro and a great selection too), Neil Gaiman (high-rent fanboy gush, someone else selected the stories in the collection) and ST Joshi (authoritative and scholarly introduction and selection, copious notes).

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Note to the press: Where's your fucking sense of proportion, never mind your moral compass?

A meaningless sporting defeat in a game no one the country has cared for in two decades, at an event that is compromised by its choice of venue in any case, warrants front page lamentation as the shame of a nation, when crap like this and this goes on.

Way to pick the one thing we needed to be ashamed of as a nation yesterday. Well spotted, eagle eyes.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

This bit from Lord Jim made me vomit a bit in my mouth:

Of Dain Waris, his own people said with pride that he knew how to fight like a white man. This

was true; he had that sort of courage--the courage in the open, I may say--but he had also a European mind.

You meet them sometimes like that, and are surprised to discover unexpectedly a familiar turn of thought, an

unobscured vision, a tenacity of purpose, a touch of altruism.

This doesn't help:

Such beings open to the Western eye, so often concerned with mere surfaces, the

hidden possibilities of races and lands over which hangs the mystery of unrecorded ages.

It took the whites forever to learn that the rest of us are human in the exact same way as them, didn't it? And I'm not convinced most of them really believe it, still. On the other hand, here's the sort of behaviour their unobscured vision, tenacity of purpose, altruism and courage in the open fosters. Not that we darkies are any different or better. And that's the point, isn't it? We're all fucked-up animals. In a vacant universe, on a cooling planet. The people who say it's only belief that makes us any beter are quite right, only the great question then is: belief in what?

Graham Greene's answer of course is a despair that is exalted by being an unforgivable sin in the particular religious system he embraces. Tricky bugger, huh?

Anyway. Thus and so. Freakish amounts of quiet, unassuming racism in Conrad. But one can detect traces of the same in Greene. All those bystanding natives in their own countries. All the terrible burden of a non-frosty climate on the white organism. And yet such moving novels. It really makes you wonder.

Monday 10 March 2008

Here's an excellent article on Carson McCullers, whose books you should read sometime.

Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell (1974) is a rather good final installment in Hammer's Frankenstein series. There are one or two things that seem to be out of continuity with previous Hammer Frankenfilms, but how much can Initpick when I've decided to dedicate so much of my free time to watching these old Hammer howlers? A rather unwell-looking Cushing still puts in a fine performance as the eponymous monster-maker, showing him as both stangely sympathetic in his scientific monomania and ultimately more monstrous than any of his misbegotten creations. Sane or twisted, good or bad, Cushing continues to be the man you'd want by your side in case of monster attack, combatting his monster with the lithe energy and unhesitating resoluteness he was so good as portraying.

The Asphyx (1973) had some good ideas and creepy moments, but never really played out to expectations. Indifferent acting, a mediocre script and several plot absurdities mar the potential of what could have been a very effective little chiller. Just think about it: a spirit that absorbs the souls of the dying being captured, first figuratively on photographic film, and then literally in a kind of cage of light, a key to immortality found, a series of tragedies that turn that discovery into a poisoned chalice - it could have been quite something. Instead, whoever plotted the movie and wrote the script dithers about creating absurd set-ups for plot twists that could have been achieved much more rationally, writes reams of kack-fisted dialogue and generally smothers the story kernel in far too much unidfferentiated pfaf. Still, if there's a remake it'll probably make the original seem like the classic it could have been.

Friday 7 March 2008

John Duffin’s Barrow cityscapes are bleak, garish-skied and strangely disquieting.

As if painted in the wake of some antiseptic holocaust, when one can now have a quiet, content life in the old, familiar and now quite empty city.

Sometimes the setting seems like a trap waiting to close on a lone human figure.

I wonder how much of this is intended. Maybe none of it. There’s a (perhaps not deliberate) lack of effect in these paintings that encourages me to conjure up all sorts of sinister meanings.

Thursday 6 March 2008

V.S. Naipaul's A House For Mr Biswas is a sprawling, rich tapestry, a portrait of an era and a land through the life of a single man. It is grotesque, realistic, fierce and, occasionally, tender. The Dickensian comparison, offered by a then still fawning Theroux on the jacket of my copy, is richly deserved, but there's a lack of the Dickensian compassion in Naipaul's willingness to emphasise the grotesque.

I'm now reading The Power And The Glory, and am more firmly convinced of Greene's basic nihilism. It's the nihilism that only someone who has believed, or has wanted to, can feel - not the pragmatic reductionism of the true skeptic, but the haunted intimation of cosmic emptiness felt by one who longs for the verities of faith.

Working through my project to become preternaturally well-read this year, insead of merely dauntingly literate, I find that the one thing that unifies the 'great novelists' of the modern era is their thematic clarity. One doesn't need to resort to exegesis to perceive, absorb and mull over the themes in the novels of Conrad, Austen, Huxley, Greene, Hemmingway, Amis, Lessing, or for that matter my old buddy and yours, Phil Dick. I don't mean that their themes are simple, rather that they state them so well that it is simple to understand what these themes are, at least on a basic level, variable mileages of course being applicable in each individual reader's case.

On the other hand, there are novelists I like who seem to run counter to this observation - Banville and Winterson are two examples that spring to mind. Or it it just their greater engagement with the beautiful, or unusual, use of language or structure as a value in itself that tempts me to concentrate on surface polish and miss out on deep content?

Also, David Mitchell continues to be my favourite contemporary contender for all-time greatness.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Monday 3 March 2008

I bought an LP player on Saturday.

Arvind, a colleague, took me to the Muslim Colony off Tannery Road, down narrow, crowded roads that reminded me of Hyderabad 20, 25 years ago - past the Ambedkar statue, past the water tank, past stalls selling all kinds of atrocious junk, rusted wrenches, empty cologne bottles and more, sudden medical shop colorful with drug labels, very small television showroom with salesman explaining warranty details to trio in burqa, down narrow lanes to a junk shop on a lazy street, run by one Adaam, middle aged, toothbrush-mustached, in vest and lungi, owner of two sheds full of more empty perfume bottles, beer bottles, old, woebegone fans, lamps, cameras, projectors, stereos of all kinds, from CD players and 8-tracks to LP players - some Mothership-like and ornate with built-in radio, tape deck, videocassette slot, some minimal & compact, with once-clear plastic lids, and somewhere halfway on this spectrum, what is now my own player, early 80s Philips with tape deck and 2-speed turntable (45 and 33).
I also picked up 5 LPS to add to the ancestral hoard: two Peter, Paul & Mary albums, one with beat-talkin' liner notes by Bob Dylan, a Neil Diamond collection, because it was there and I imagined his earlier stuff was okayish, Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express, and the prize of the haul, Diamonds & Rust by Joan Baez. Worth it for the liner notes alone.

The things our grandparents and parents discarded as junk - these are things some of us are scouring the junkyards for and buying back with our dearly won sheckels. I once saw a beat-up old Viewmaster in one of these shops, but need to find a place to buy picture discs for it before I shell out. Send a postcard if you have a clue.

And finally, to conclude this public service blogouncement:

Moral of the story: Don't throw away what you have, esp. if you plan to procreate.

Postscript to moral: If you don't plan to procreate (and you shouldn't - enough brats being born as it is) - adopt.

Meta-moral: Waste not want not.