Thursday, September 30, 2004

I just saw a fair bit of the US presidential debate, and I thought Kerry came across very well. However, since I am compelled to "get both sides" of the story, I chanced upon a blog that is pro-Bush, and saw some of what they had to say. Unfortunately, it makes me realize that the world is so complicated. Why? Because although I have my own views on matters such as the war, the other side also seems to offer their view coherently. Which then, is in the right? It is times like this that I feel quite small, because I am unable to comprehend matters deep enough to form a clear argument to support my case. So, for instance, I cannot give clear reasons why I believe Bush should not get re-elected, but I feel like I should.

Indecisive is the word that comes to mind, and that has been thrown a lot at Kerry, and I also think it is an appropriate description of me. I suppose another problem is that one cannot really tell where the spin stops - after all, a blatantly pro-Bus site is bound to have bias, but where does prejudice and opinion stop to give way to fact and reason? I don't think I have the ability to deduce such things, unfortunately.

Of course, with some matters, even one such as I can tell it's clearly prejudice. Some of the posters on this particular site see it fit to hurl ad-hominens in their typically smug manner, while turning a blind eye to the problems that Bush has (after all, he is human, no?). At the same time, behind some of their acidic quips lies some element of fact and truth, which makes things even harder.

Does the war boil down at some level to the question of whether the ends justify the means? I suppose even such a weighty question in an over-simplification of such a complex issue.

After saying all that, if we abstract away the seriousness of the matter, it is funny what different view points two people can have, and how two people can see something in a completely different light. For instance, this site remarks that Bush's comment about him being a pretty calm guy "sums it up, and people can see that", and that he did the debate very nicley. I, however, saw the whole thing in a totally different way, indeed I saw Kerry as being the calm one, and thought him to clearly be the victor! Put it down to me being misinformed, I suppose.

So, I guess part of what I'm getting at here is that the outcome is shaped greatly by your own biases and prejudices. This is exemplified by the startling thought that just occured to me - I cannot think of anything that Bush could say that would make me change my stance. Maybe it shows conviction, but where does conviction in your beliefs turn into flat out dismissal of your opponent's ideas? I can (and have) accept some of the things he says, but not the whole package as it were, no, I can't see myself doing that. Is that the way it should be?

I believe everyone makes mistakes, but unfortunately I don't think a lot of politicians want to admit that. I think it would be a lot better if they did, but I suppose that is rather quixotic of me.

Incidentally, my greatest weapons are self-disarming (thanks to Those Barren Leaves for introducing the idea to a very impressionable, younger me!) and the passive-aggressive.
Apparently, I share a birthday with Tom Waits! That makes me feel less guilty about buying three of his albums on a single day (Heartattack And Vine, Closing Time and Bone Machine), based solely on critics' opinions. After all, us December people have to look out for each other, no? Anyhow, I'd like to think that this reflects something about my personality, and perhaps that one day I shall become as fluid a Beat-poet as Waits, but I think I'm just deluding myself.

I think my latest addiction shall become the machinima site The Strangerhood, which has a pretty interesting concept behind it. Basically, they use The Sims 2 as an engine to make small episodes, like of a TV show. Right now they only have an intro movie up, but it is quite funny seeing how they've used the game to make a typical introduction, with theme song and all.

The very idea of machinima is interesting, which I suppose accounts for most of the novelty. I can't comment too much on the actual quality of the stuff that will be produced, but I hope it manages to utilize the potential of this very quirky medium.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

This is one of those ugly days where I have obviously gotten up too early. But once I'm up and about, like I am now, I find it near impossible to convince myself to go back to sleep. Instead, I am doomed to stagger around in a zombie-like half-dead state, always feeling tired on the inside. Sigh, I must confess that I do not care much for this feeling. It also means that I am not in a fit state to do anything mentally demanding (I suppose it says a lot about my blog that I can still post here though, eh?), which means I am left to waste time till my body somehow suppresses my sleepiness completely.

I saw House Of Sand And Fog yesterday, and I quite liked it. I can't say I'm head over heels or anything, but I liked how the story contrasted the life of the two protagonists, showing how people can fundamentally be the same, yet, at the same time, be different (if that makes no sense, don't worry). It's ultimately a sad movie, though; after all, it is founded on the clash of the dreams of two very different people, of whom neither is willing to make a compromise.

There was an interesting review on Amazon (if memory serves) that talked about how the house for Jennifer Connelly's character was a house that represented dreams of the past, but for Ben Kingsley's character it represented dreams of the future. At the same time, I think that Connelly's character wants to avoid the future she has obviously played out in her head, with her life spiralling out of control, and Kingsley's character wants to forget the past that has caused him so much trouble.

Also, I am curious as to whether there were allusions to Jesus in the scene where Connelly sleeps in the car, and the camera moves to her feet, which is obstructed by the door lock - maybe it's just me, but it looks as if it's a nail that's stuck in her foot. Of course, a few minutes later, Connelly does get a nail stuck in her foot, which to me brought up images of Jesus. Of course, such an allusion makes no sense! So maybe it was just a bit of foreshadowing, and I just have an over-active imagination.

I wish I could be as optimistic about Ghost In The Shell, which I saw the day before. This is of course of the more famous anime movies to come out in the last few years, and nearly every review praises it to the sky as being an amazing sci-fi story, blending technology with philosophy, and so on. I, however, found it quite lacking - perhaps I just had too high expectations?

For starters, I was quite unimpressed with the fact that the protagonist seemed to have this peculiar condition that made her remove her clothes whenever she turned invisible. Maybe if it were done just once I would have put it down to them trying to be artistic or something, but it happens at least four or five times, and I ended up thinking they were just performing fan-service, and it was not in good taste.

The overall impression that I got towards the end was that the movie tried to bring up these philosophical questions, but it actually ends up treating them very superficially - there is no real substance to any of them. There is clearly the question of "What does it mean to be human?" being asked, but this is just left to bubble under the surface, and never really receives any treatment. Unlike, say, Bladerunner, which has a similar flavour to this movie.

And what's worse is that I found there to be very little character development, not that I can blame them, considering the film is just under an hour and a half in length. Two crucial elements to me, but not present in any satifsactory sense. I realize that perhaps I should judge these as quite different beasts, with a completely different set of criteria than what one would traditionally use, but I don't think I can overcome my biases just yet.
I saw a "Classic Albums" making-of special on Dark Side Of The Moon earlier this morning. And now, after a trip to the dentist, I am comfortably numb. Hmm.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

When I saw yesterday that the Doom 3 demo was out, and that it was available at my friendly Australian mirror, AusGamers, I was naturally intrigued and so 5 minutes later, thanks to the whopping 400+ KB/s download, I managed to whet my appetite with a taste of this long awaited game.

The verdict? I think it is very well done, and it almost brings a tear to my eye to think how far games have progressed over the years. When I think back to playing the King's Quest series some 8 years, what a change, eh? Once all hell breaks loose in the game, the atmosphere is quite scary (then again, I am easily scared). Yes, maybe it's a bit cliched at times, but hey, those cliches really get me. Like when you enter a room and all the lights suddenly go out, and you're forced to put down your gun and instead take out your flashlight to see...and then you hear a noise coming from somewhere around you (usually behind you)! I usually lose it at this point and then take out my gun and start running, and if I see anything I begin wildly firing and screaming "DIE!" (well, not quite, but you get the picture).

Admittedly, the plot and atmosphere does feel like it was influenced by Half-Life. When you start off, everything's normal, but then all too soon things begin to go horribly, horribly wrong. But what's wrong with being influenced by one of the greatest FPS of our time, hmm? Gosh I loved Half-Life. Maybe I will install it once again and have a spin.

Unfortunately, the demo is not enough to judge whether the full game is worth it or not. For starters, I think it's ~20 hours of gameplay, which is not enough for today's greedy gamer (like me). Also, I am not sure whether the whole "there's something in the dark, but I can't see it!" feel wears thin after a while. But ya know what, I think this game is good for the industry. The way you can interact with computers seamlessly is neato, as is the PDA with video logs and emails. Of course, the pretty graphics are also a bad thing in some sense, because they may promote the idea that graphics = gold, which is quite an unhealthy attitude. Give me Ultima 7's isometric graphics and rich gameplay anyday!

Unfortunately for Doom 3, I think I shall purchase Half-Life 2 instead, just because I have a feeling it will have more depth. I could be wrong though (as always)!

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Ooh haven't felt like this in a while - completely burnt out, with no energy whatsoever. The cause of this ailment? An assignment that is due in the middle of the break. Yes, you read it here first, they're actually making us do assignments during our holidays! When will the madness end? Thankfully, I've completed 80% of it today, meaning that there is a good chance that from tomorrow I can finally start to enjoy my break the only way I know how - by doing nothing. I've mentioned this before, and people think it strange that doing nothing would be fun, but it is. Well, it is not quite nothing, sure, but it's lots of little things that I never find the time to do during the semester. But now I shall claim what is rightfully mine!

"So you want to be a rock and roll star", the Byrds smirkingly asked me. Yessir! Maybe it's just because I'm braindead, but I want to be on stage belting out tune after tune. Can you imagine being up there and singing the greatest songs ever? Or, for that matter, any song that has that certain feel to it. Am I going crazy, gentle reader?!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

A couple of years ago, as I spent my first summer in my current house, I was fairly interested in spotting all sorts of interesting birds that would pop in from time to time. Keep in mind that in India, the only bird one is likely to see is the common crow! (Well, not quite, but Sydney certainly does offer a greater variety of backyard bird) It was quite lovely to see magpies, cockatoos, lorikeets (the neighbourhood bullies, these ones - everyone who visits remarks how lovely they look, and they do look lovely, but they don't see how they intimidate other birds!), and the occasional galah bird and king parrot. There are other rare birds (the koel, for instance), but these birds were the standard fare.

Then, one day, there was a new kid in town. And how he made his presence felt! With a mighty call that sent chills down my spine the first time I heard it. I am not sure why exactly it did, it's one of those things that I can't explain, but hearing the call for the first time was something else. The other birds were obviously panicking, because they were all flying around and busily calling their other friends, probably for protection! The little miners, for instance, repeatedly chirp whenever a predator is around.

The problem with this mysterious stranger was that I never got a chance to really look at him. I caught a glimpse of him one day, but he was quite high up in the tree, and he had no intention of flying closer to the ground so that I may have a better look. I was intrigued, though, as to what this bird was - my first thoughts were a hawk of some kind, because its call was positively frightening, and the other birds didn't seem to like its company. Alas, I was unable to find out more - my father, equally interested in birds at this time, even got a book from the public library that had pictures of various Australian birds, and we searched it to find anything remotely like our friend, but to no avail. I toyed with the idea of taking a photo of the bird and submitting it to some bird watching society website in hopes of getting an answer, but this was easier said than done, for the bird flew so high that it was impossible to get a clear shot of it.

This morning, I heard a lot of commition again as magpies and miners were flying around and obviously under duress. I wondered whether my friend had returned, and once again thought about how I might identify him.

Would you believe it, as I sat down to read the paper this evening, there was an item in the Column 8 section from a birdwatcher who noted that the "channel billed cuckoo" had returned, much to the chagrin of the local birds.

I was excited, because I had a feeling that this was it. And it was!! After two years, I had figured out the identity of this stranger! Here's a picture of the thing (courtesy of this site):

Ooh, scary, no? The fact that it's a cuckoo is a bit worrying, because it obviously lays its eggs in other birds' nests, meaning that the other baby birds get "evicted" according to some sites, whatever that means. One can sort of feel for them, because it's the only way they know how to survive, but still, I hope it's not at the expense of the other baby birds. Baby magpies are the cutest things! (Can't find a good picture on the net, perhaps I will take one soon)

It's interesting that the cuckoos have this genetic disposition to act the way they do, namely lay their eggs in other birds' nests. They don't observe their parents doing it (because they're not around when the baby is hatched, tsk tsk), so there must be something in the genetic composition. Fascinating stuff! It really strikes me as amazing how an action can be a result of your genes. I wonder if, as humans, we have an inbuilt propensity towards certain actions. Probably those silly notions of love and marriage, eh?

I wonder, could you raise a cuckoo so that it went against its "natural path"? A cruel experiement assuredly, but just hypothetically, would such a thing be possible? And another thing, how did this come about in the first place, the idea of laying your egg for someone else to hatch and raise, hmm? Naturally through evolution, but still, what were the ingredients that allowed for this to happen?

Things like this make me realize that the world is truly amazing.

 Posted by Hello

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I don't normally post entire song lyrics*, but today I'll make an exception. Here's a lyric that is dedicated to a certain Miss Zhu, courtesy of my good friend, the rock star and poet extraordinaire Lou Reed.

I'll be your mirror,
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home
When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please, put down your hands
Because I see you
I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty that you are
But if you don't let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid
When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
Because I see you
I'll be your mirror

Oh how I wish I could write like that! I do apologize Miss Zhu if this seems rather impersonal, but I truly don't think I can put it better than how Reed has done it here.

* What is it that makes me not prone to posting entire lyrics? I think it's because too many other bloggers do it, and so I sort of feel like I should refrain from the norm (as you can tell, my blog has always been boldly pushing the envelope, and has tried its hardest to take blogging onto a new level). It's a bit weird how I try so hard to be distinguish myself sometimes.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

I'm often quite bored on train rides. But it is one of the occasions where I am surrounded by a lot of unfamiliar people, and it gets me thinking about strange things. Sometimes I wonder about the lives of each of the people on the train, and how amazing life must be that there are stories far more rich and varied like mine held in each of their lives. And more than that, so many thoughts, feelings, memories..when one realizes this, the feeling is something else! Sometimes, I muse about what it must be like to be one of them. As in, not me. I think about how they have a life just like me, and wonder what sorts of things will happen to them later that day. And I also think about the little things - are they feeling cold right now? Do they enjoy a warm cup of tea on a cold afternoon? What are their favourite movies and books? It's always the little things that are the most interesting.

Sometimes, I also think about one of my obsessions, namely music. I think about what the odds are that anyone on train has heard (of) Trout Mask Replica (I haven't heard it, but I sure have heard of it), or Cats Under The Stars, and so on and so forth. I have no idea what compells me to do this - probably boredom.
How does the world work? When studying physics, one reaches a point when the textbooks confess that physics cannot explain why everything is so, but rather how everything is the way it is. Where, for instance, does the fact that positive and negative charges attract come from? God? Is this stored somewhere? Gah, the universe can't be one giant computer, with all its data being stored somewhere, can it?

What's also amazing is that we have so many concurrent lives that somehow seem to maintain consistent with each other. It's a fair bet that I will wake up tomorrow with the same face I have today, and that everything I remember from yesterday will still be remembered by whoever else was there to experience it. I have to wonder how things came to be this way.

A teacher once told me that all he wanted was to ask God why he made things the way they did (if memory serves, we were talking about the constant pi, and about how you had to go to the 3rd dimension to appreciate it). Ah, now that's a cause worth living for..

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Artist: Neil Young
Album: On The Beach (1974)
Rating: 16/20
Best Song: Revolution Blues, or Walk On

Neil Young's On The Beach was only released on CD very recently, as late as 2004 I believe. It was the second in Young's infamous "Doom trilogy" - sandwiched in between the as-yet unreleased (on CD) Time Fades Away and his critically acclaimed Tonight's The Night. It is hard to figure out just why Young took so long to release this album on CD. Apparently, he hates CDs, so some speculate that he is waiting for the next best format to come along. Others say that he wants to shut out this dark period of his life, where he was wasted physically and emotionally, and struggled to deal with the death of his friends. Then, of course, there's the possibility that Young looks back with disdain at these efforts; he's publicly stated that Time Fades Away is his worst album. I can't say anything about that, but I do know that this here is one of Young's most perplexing albums, yet it is ultimately up there with anything else he put out.

It is remarkable to think about the fact that these melancholy albums came out just after Harvest got really popular; Young would go to concerts, and while the fans eagerly awaited "Heart Of Gold", he'd give them these numbers, about junkies and being wasted and revolutionaries killing of celebrities. It makes me wonder whether such a thing is possible in this day and age - will we ever see such a lack of interest by a major artist over the public opinion of his work? If not, what has changed in all these years?

The album starts off with the upbeat rocker "Walk On", with some fantastic guitar work. It does, however, paint a rather different picture to the rest of the album, and therefore runs the risk of being dismissed as lightweight. But darn it, it has so much charm - the chorus is wonderfully executed, with the "Some get stoned / Some get strange / Sooner or later it all gets real" line always getting stuck in my head after I listen to it. The song was apparently a reply to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama", where they bluntly state

Well, I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow

This was of course because of Young's "Southern Man" on After The Goldrush. Of course, I am curious as to whether the song is directed at his music colleagues in general - the chorus in particular seems to be warning these people that they cannot escape reality, be it by becoming a drugged-up mess or by just going plain crazy. In fact, this sort of ties in with the last song, but more on that later.

"See The Sky About To Rain" is simply wonderful, and that's all I have to say about it. Not enough? Well, the image itself is one of the best Neil ever picked out of that wonderful little head of his - I can just imagine him sitting on top of the hill, quietly waiting for the storm to come. Yes, this song is like the calm before the storm - the soft instrumentation and vocal delivery perfectly contrast the rather sad lyrics. In particular, I love this part:

Some are bound for happiness,
Some are bound to glory,
Some are bound to live with less,
Who can tell your story?

Ahh, bravo my friend, bravo. I think that before I die, I want to be able to speak this line out somewhere. As a matter of fact, it is rather cloudy right now - I suppose the spirits are favouring me today.

Next is one of the starkest songs in Young's catalogue, "Revolution Blues". Sung through the eyes of a member of the Mason cult, this paints a vivid picture and leaves you wondering how much of the narrator is this persona Young has created, and how much is Young himself. Young viciously plows through the lyrics as the song maintains a fierce tempo. You can just feel the chaos and confusion lying under the surface! Heck, the song ends with the ominous lines

I got the revolution blues,
I see bloody fountains,
And ten million dune buggies
Comin' down the mountains.
Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon
Is full of famous stars,
But I hate them worse than lepers,
And I'll kill them
In their cars.

Wow, this ain't your typical rock song!! I can just imagine the crowd's reaction to this song - stunned disbelief. Is this the man who softly crooned "Reach out, reac out / Let me fill your cup / With the promise of a man"? What a transformation.

The next two numbers aren't my favourites (ever notice how I like lumping so-so tracks together in these "reviews"?), but have something going for them. The banjo-backed "For The Turnstiles" used to be one of my least favourite songs ever, but it sort of grows on you I guess. In fact, the chorus is downright catchy, albeit in a strange Neil Young sort of way. "Although your confidence may be shattered / It doesn't matter"? I can't figure out what that means, but Young's delivery is something else. And "Vampire Blues" is a short but somewhat uninteresting number. It is about these large oil companies who "suck blood from the earth". But it doesn't feature anything to keep me particularly interested, apart from the amusing "Good times are coming / But they sure are coming slow".

The title track, "On The Beach", is a stellar number. Soft and slooow is the way to go, it would seem. In many ways, it captures the mood of the album - tired, depressed but ultimately from the heart (it just so happens that his heart happens to be in a bad place). It features perhaps my favourite line from the whole album:

Though my problems are meaningless,
That don't make them go away

So if you thought Young was wallowing in self-pity and too concerned with whining, there you go. The perfect response! It features a subtle guitar line that, funnily enough, reminds me of "Presence Of The Lord" - but it definitely feels "right" in this song, adding to the atmosphere Young's wailings create.

"Motion Pictures" is the only number that I can never remember too much about when it's done. At least "Vampire Blues" has that string that sounds like it's broken cropping up during the guitar sections, but this one I can only remember Young's gentle delivery, and that's about it. On the final track, "Ambulance Blues", we get a 9 minute epic with some pretty surreal lyrics. Young admits "It's hard to say the meaning of this song", but follows with the reverberating

It's easy to get buried in the past
When you try to make a good thing last

Backed by a harmonica and a fiddle (of all instruments!), this seems to be trying to capture the magic of the "old folky days", and for the most part, it works. The first couple of times, it sounds a bit repetitive, but it will definitely grow on you. The fiddle in particular is what creates the unique atmosphere - it conjures up some wonderful images, and it ain't everyday that an instrument conjures up images. There is another allusion to his colleagues here, with the lines

And I still can hear him say:
"You're all just pissin' in the wind"
You don't know it, but you are

Interesting - is Young telling his fellow rock stars that they are fighting a losing battle, and for all their efforts they are just "pissin' in the wind" (quite blunt, no?). Perhaps not, but the uncertainty makes it all the more interesting.

I can't say that this is my favourite Young album. That would probably still be Rust Never Sleeps. Nor can I say that it is my favourite depressed man's album. That would probably be Tonight's The Night (although I haven't heard it in a while..). But this is great stuff, and definitely should have been released on CD a looong time ago. I'd say it's next in line behind Rust Never Sleeps and Tonight's The Night, if only because of "See The Sky" and "On The Beach", two classics in his catalogue. This may not be the easiest of listens, but it does reveal a lot about a very rough period of Young's life - "All my pictures are falling", as it were. Some of Young's greatest lyrics and imagery, and while the guitar playing is mostly understated, there are a couple of notable exceptions (like "Walk On"! Did I mention how fantastic the guitar is on that song?). I'd recommend people to listen to it on a cloudy day, or at night in the rain, because that has to be the best way to hear the album (unfortunately, I can't say that I've listened to it this way).

Posted by Hello

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Although I sometimes joke about my multiple personalities and "the voices in my head", it dawned on me that this is more prevalent in people than one may initially believe. I think there are many masks that we wear in our private and public lives, and it's interesting trying to figure out where exactly the mask stops and the face begins - at what point do you really know someone else? Can one ever be sure that the person you are talking to is that person?

I often wear the mask of the fool, for reasons that are still unknown to me. I recently remarked it was a defense mechanism, and that seems the most logical (if ultimiately unsatisfying) hypothesis. At times when people are put off by this, I immediately am struck by how I wish I hadn't chosen to wear that mask, and how I should have instead acted "as I am" - no facades, just me. This is the point that the real me kicks in, and tends to take over - desperately trying to make up for whatever damage the mask caused.

Granted, this is somewhat frivolous, but what strikes me as more apparent is how people can seem to be perfectly normal and happy to other people, but on the inside can feel all sorts of strange emotions, from the depressed to the dark and brooding. What is it that forces us to wear a weak smile rather than express what we think about? Reminds me of a Beatles lyric:

Although I laugh and I act like a clown,
Beneath this mask, I am wearing a frown

Indeed! I myself have been just like that on a number of occasions. But sitting here and thinking about it now, I wonder whether it is better to keep the small things that make up feel a paler shade of white on the inside to ourselves, rather than dampen the spirits of others? My initial reaction is that such a thing is simple-minded, but who knows?

I don't think there can be a world without facades, or rather, such a world may not be that fun to live in. If everyone always spoke what was on their mind and acted in their normal way, it could be a much bleaker world than the one we currently live in ("Is it possible for it to get any bleaker?", I hear you ask). But still, less of it might be a good thing once in a while - otherwise, illusion and reality merge to form the twisted blur we always see in front of us..!

I do hope you'll excuse the heavy use of the word "mask", but I couldn't come up with any other colourful metaphors or similes, it's far too late for that sort of thing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

There's an interesting little page here that determines the readability of any website, giving you some interesting stats on sentence beginnings and word usages. I'm glad to report that my blog is suitable for a grade 9 student. There appear to be two other bloggers who have (marginally) higher scores than I do (higher means more complicated, less readable), which means that I have a lot to work on! For starters, I ought to post more poems so that I can really alienate my imaginary audience.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Artist: Jerry Garcia Band
Album: Cats Under The Stars (1978)
Best Song: Rubin And Cherise (the first song seems to be the best in all the albums I've heard lately, I wonder why that is!?)

Jerry Garcia's Cats Under The Stars is the album that he apparently liked best:

Cats Under the Stars is one of those records I worked really hard on. I was really proud of—considering the limited situation we were working in at the time, I was real proud of the way it came out. The production values. It's a nice-sounding record.

A few years ago, when the only artists I knew were Dylan and the Dead, I came across this curious little album and got it off Amazon. Back then, I was even more naive than I am now, I think. I wouldn't say that I thought of Dylan & the Dead as my Gods, but considering they were the only artists I listened to, well, it's obvious that I thought of them highly! For this particular album, I remember listening to the 30-second sample clips off CD Universe and keeping a note of which songs sounded good. My metric at the time was to see how many songs sounded good based on the 30 second clip - for this album, I believe it was somewhere around 5 or 6 out of 8 tracks, which is pretty good. I suppose I haven't really changed in this regard, because I still listen to sample clips before buying an album (otherwise there tend to be unhappy results - such as what I fear has happened with Heartattack And Vine, one of the few albums I bought merely based on a review alone!).

Anyway, at the time, I remember being slightly disappointed with the album, because there was nothing grand and sweeping about the album as a whole. There were two good songs on it, "Rubin And Cherise" and the title track, but other than that, there was nothing that really leapt out. A little disappointed, I was content to have the album humbly sitting on my CD rack, although it was probably sad that I didn't reach out for it.

However, a while ago a came across a lovely review of the album that got my attention. I found the review to be written so beautifully, and, more importantly, it opened my eyes to the message behind the album that flew over my head - 'twas, funnily enough, the title of Dylan's first music video - don't look back.

I reflected a bit and when it sunk in, it was a wonderful feeling. As though it validated my belief that there was something more to Garcia and Hunter than how they're generally portrayed (as wallowing in psychedelia, nothing more). The first song, "Rubin And Cherise", mirrors the story of Orpheus in Greek legend, who travelled to hell to get back his wife. He convinced Hades to release her, but it was on the condition that he did not look back to see her as they walked back to the mortal world. Unfortunately, he did look back, and his wife was lost forever. A tragic tale, much like this song. It ends with the aphorism:

The truth of love
An unsung song must tell
The course of love must follow blind
Without a look behind

and the last one, "Gomorrah", a retelling of the Biblical story where the wife of Lot is turned into a pillar of salt ends with the warning

Blew the city off the map
Left nothing there but fire
The wife of Lot got turned to salt
Because she looked behind her

There's the link! Don't look back! Always focus on the present, with no regrets! I can't believe I missed that - I suppose it's easy to miss it, actually, since the message isn't so clear in other songs, but once you realize the connection, the album seems to take on a different tune.

Poor Garcia had an interview where there was the question "Do you think it (Cats Under The Stars) would be worth re-releasing as a CD?", to which he matter-of-factly replied "If anybody wanted it". That really breaks my heart, hearing him talk about how happy he was, and how he thinks it's his best effort, only to have no public response whatsoever. Well, I have your album Jerry, and I love it!

By the by, one may wonder why Lou Reed alternates between nasty and nice. Apparently, the poor fellow underwent electro-shock therapy at his parents' behest, because they believed that there was something wrong with him. Maybe that explains why he became so "evil", especially in his criticism of everyone?

Update: In fact, thinking about "Ruibin And Cherise" again makes me realize how lucky I am to have come across such a song, because with the current direction that my musical tastes are travelling, there is no way I would come across any album remotely like this. I fear I have become a bit of a musical snob, or at least I am starting to take the word of some online reviewers too seriously. It's important to look at why albums like this perhaps don't score as well as other more well known ones; I mean, there may be nothing groundbreaking or truly original on here, but gosh darn it I like it; and I'll be darned if I've heard more than a handful of songs as moving as "Ruibin And Cherise". I may well never come across hidden gems like this, but I'm grateful (oops, pun unintended!) that early on in my musical development, there was something like this that came into my radar. My love of this song in particular probably has a fair bit to do with nostalgia and all that, but it really is one of those "best songs you've never heard" kind of things.

Now, in turn I'm starting to remember how enamoured I was with Robert Hunter a while ago, and feel like waxing lyrical about his talents, but I think I'll save that for another day.

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Saturday, September 11, 2004

Since I revel in the pointless, yesterday I was scouring to find whether The Velvet Underground (or Lou Reed, to be more precise) were the first to introduce dark and complex lyrics to rock. The precise motivation for this is unclear, as it is with so many things I do. For starters, I have nothing better to do; but also, I had read a bit on the net of people trying to be level-headed about VU, and mentioning that there were other acts that introduced the element of serious lyrics to rock before they did.

Note that I only really looked for the origins of some of their songs, in an attempt to see whether they were the first group with serious lyrics. They are renowned for many other things too, such as the birth of punk, goth, new wave, and any other category you'd like to chuck in, but these are not in question here, partly because I wasn't particularly interested in this aspect, but also because it's much harder to determine whether someone influenced other people.

What I've come up with so far is this. Their first album was released in 1967, perhaps the greatest year for albums ever (Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, Are You Experienced?, Magical Mystery Tour, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Surrealistic Pillow, Days Of Future Passed...). To which one might initially think "Well, that's that then - Jim Morrison exploded onto the scene at the same time with "The End". Top that". But a little more research revealed that the album was in fact recorded in 1966, but it was only released in '67 due to delays. Ah, but The Doors were performing "The End" in 1966 too - although at what time specifically is unclear. Ok, so there may be an edge over Morrsion, but still, there is enough uncertainty to tilt the scales in Morrison's favour.

Then it got interesting, because apparently Morrison himself was in the crowd for one of the Velvet's shows in '66! Yep, it seems he was a film student at the UCLA, and he was there to hear the Velvets perform their most provocative numbers (Venus In Furs, Heroin). So did the Velvets influence the Lizard King?! Unclear, but it would seem so.

Ah, but the timeline stretches further into the past. It seems that it was as early as 1965 that the Velvets were playing Heroin, including their famous performance at a high-school auditorium. So how old is this song already!?

Well, older still, possibly, because apparently the Velvets formed in late '64!! That places them ahead of most competition, and leads me to conclude that maybe they were the first to think about introducing the darker side of life to the world.

It's important to keep in mind, however, that none of this really matters. Well, that's not entirely true, but it probably doesn't matter as much as I've made it out to be. 'Twas just me filling up time, I suppose. I don't believe that it automatically affirms all the great things people have said about the Velvets, but rather it merely hints (important! I say hints, not shows, because I can't really establish the validity of some of my sources) that they were revolutionary in a lyrical aspect.

So, the outcome is that I now think that it was VU, and not Morrison, who introduced a darker shade of rock. However, Morrison certainly introduced it to the general public, because the Doors' debut was a huge success. Then of course there's the question of whether stuff like "Break On Through" is in some sense 'better' dark rock to the Velvet's stuff. Which one is more important is another matter entirely, of course, and falls into the lovely realm of subjectivity vs. objectivity.

At the same time, I don't know that Reed introduced serious lyrics to rock. Darker, yes, but serious, no. That would still have to be Dylan. In '64, he recorded "My Back Pages" and "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll", which I think are beautiful examples of serious lyrics ("My Back Pages" in particular is pure poetry). And was it not in '63 that he recorded "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"? Of course, some people argue that Reed introduced serious lyrics to rock, as opposed to folk, which is sort of where Dylan's loyalties lied at the time. Still, with Another Side Of Bob Dylan he closes with "It Ain't Me Babe", which some interpret as being his statement that he was not the messiah who would save folk music, because his interests lied elsewhere. Who knows?

Ah, nothing like a long, pointless post to start the day!

Friday, September 10, 2004

Artist: The Velvet Underground
Album: The Velvet Underground (1969)
Rating: 16.5/20
Best Song: Candy Says

The Velvet Underground's self-titled third album saw John Cale leaving the group after various creative tensions began to rise between him and Lou Reed. Cale was the one who was most keen on exploring the group's avant-garde side, and his absence means we are left with a largely different piece of work to the previous two VU albums - gone are the noisy experimental tracks like "Sister Ray" and "European Son" (well, not quite, there is one such number here, but more on that later), and instead are a collection of largely normal songs. Imagine that! As a result, listeners tend to be divided about this album. Some consider it a lightweight effort that is listenable but ultimately nowhere near as satisfying as the previous two, since it breaks no new ground. Others consider it to be an excellent showcase of the group's ability, without the general bizarreness that might otherwise turn listeners off. Me, I fall into the second camp.

The opening track is the gorgeous "Candy Says", which, much like how "Sunday Morning" did for The Velvet Underground & Nico, creates a wonderfully mellow mood that one wouldn't expect from the band. Doug Yule takes the lead vocals on this track, and does a fine job, softly reciting this number in a near lullaby fashion. In particular, this bit always gets me:

I'm gonna watch the blue birds fly,
Over my shoulder.
I'm gonna watch them pass me by,
Maybe when I'm older.
What do you think I'd see?
If I could walk away from me

Ah, the lyrics look so tame when they're written down, but in song, they take on a new life..the subject for another post, that. Sure, Yule's a little hesitant to hit that high note on the "walk away from meeee" part, but that's ok. It's still a wonderful song!

Next are two numbers that I am not particularly fond of. "What Goes On" is decent enough, a straightforward rocker with a catchy chorus, but I feel it runs overly long. I ain't complaining, I'm never tempted to skip the song, but I treat it as something of a throwaway. Next, we have "Some Kinda Love", a song that makes you raise your eyebrows and remark to yourself "Ok, now this is the Lou Reed that I know!". While it establishes a nice lazy groove, the song itself is, uh, a different matter altogether lyrically. Reed can't help but give out a chuckle as he delivers one of the not so ambiguous lines in this strangely out of place song!

But don't despair! The next track "Pale Blue Eyes" is easily one of the best numbers on here, with very interesting lyrics. Reed wrote this about a woman he was seeing (who actually had Hazel-coloured eyes), and it is remarkably personal. The soft acoustic guitar along with an unusually soft vocal delivery from Reed creates an especially distinct atmosphere. You'll either find the lyrics overly simplistic and banal, or you'll love them to death (it apparently voted as one of the greatest love ballads ever written!), much like how opinion is divided over the album, it would
seem. It depends on how stuff like

Thought of you as my mountain top,
Thought of you as my peak.
Thought of you as everything,
I've had but couldn't keep.

goes down with you. Trite or terrific? Ye be the judge.

The surprising remark at the end that the person the narrator is singing about is married just goes to show, however, that this ain't your conventional love song!

Now things realy start to get interesting. It's a song called "Jesus". And all it is is but four lines repeated three times. Again, it seems like nothing when written down, but hearing it sung, oh my!! If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was almost a religious hymn, and that it was dead serious! No satire or mean-spirit hear, it's an honest plea to "help me find my proper place" that's delivered beautifully.

For this reason, I must crown Lou Reed as most interesting lyricist I've heard (in the last year, to play it safe). Who else could have "Jesus" and "Some Kinda Love" under his name, and on the same album, hmm? Amazing.

The next number is the energetic "Beginning To See The Light", with contrasting carefree and pensive moods in the lyrics, shifting from the delightfully wicked "There are problems in these times / But, woo! None of them are mine!" to the (only slightly) serious "Here we go again / Playing the fool again". An interesting dichotomy, but darn it, more than that, the song is just so darn catchy and exudes a wonderful spirit (much like "Hangin' Round" on Transfomer).

Although "I'm Set Free" starts off promising enough, it somehow ends up feeling like it's wasted potential - although it's no stinker, one feels it could have been more. Or perhaps that's just the insanity talking, hmm? It's soon followed by "That's The Story Of My Life", another four-line song, but pleasant enough, clocking in at 1:56. Maybe a little throwaway, in the sense that we already have a four-line number which, I think, blows this away in all regards.

But hark! If you thought you were out of the woods, then think again! You might be lulled into believing that everything's hunky-dory, and that for once you've parted with your money to get a normal VU album, but then "The Murder Mystery" comes along and you might be tempted to start cursing the Velvets for tainting their one shot at normality and what have you. But wait! Don't be so quick to dismiss! This song is one of the more interesting experiments recorded by the band, where there are two vocals, one in the left speaker and another in the right, moulding together to form a unique experience. Trouble is, of course, that it runs at a wee bit under 9 minutes, which can make it very frustrating listening. After all, it is impossible to make out the lyrics by yourself, and what you get is effectively a bunch of gibberish. However, I've found that by having the lyrics in front of me, and trying to focus on alternating narrations, you can enjoy the song at some level. Enough to warrant 9 minutes? Well..that's a different matter! It does feature a lovely piano backed ending that makes you want to sing along (if it weren't for the fact that you have murders galore, as the title suggests).

Some would argue the track was placed only for the Velvets to feel like they were still avant-garde - like it was their way of saying "Hey, we're still mysterious and enigmatic!". I don't know their motivation for putting the song on the album (Reed apparently said it was to have fun with words), but it doesn't leave me feeling like it's a complete waste of time. Sure, it may have failed in quite a few regards, but it's infinitely more listenable than "Sister Ray" or "European Son" in my view, and that's saying something, right!?

And now we reach the finale. Perhaps the best album closer I've heard in a while, "After Hours". Sung by the drummer Maureen Tucker, the song is simple musically, with only an acoustic guitar to give Tucker company, but if Plastic Ono Band taught us anything, it's that you don't need to have a lot to say a lot. It features some wonderfull wistful lyrics that really strike a chord with me:

If you close the door, the night could last forever,
Leave the wineglass out and drink a toast to never.
Oh, someday I know someone will look into my eyes
And say hello -- you're my very special one --
But if you close the door, I'd never have to see the day again.

Oh my God, I swear I will cry to this song someday. "You're my very special one"...I can't explain what I find so amazing about this. Once again, the power of expression fails me. That's the amount of power this simple little gem weilds over me. Is it the softest ode to death ever? Who knows, but it's something unbelievably special, that's for sure. And, in many ways, the perfect end to this album. I know I wouldn't have it any other way.

There you have it, a remarkable album by a remarkable group. Sure, maybe it's no VU & Nico, but it would be silly to compare the two, because they're too different. The former was my introduction to the group, and I'd imagine it's the album that most people associate with the group. This one then is sort of unjustly forgotten, because it has simply breathtaking moments. Now, I don't mean to assert that it is in the league of perfect albums (if there is such a thing), but it's up there among the list of simply great albums - tracks 1, 5 and 10 take you into a different world, and really connect with something deep inside. Heck, I'm done analyzing why this is fabulous, if I haven't sold it to you by now, I may as well give up now! In short, one heck of an album.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Deja vu - my mood now is vaguely similar to that of this post, but with a difference. Rather than feeling melancholic and wistful, I feel invigorated, as though I have a goal, a purpose. The catalyst would be a seemingly insignificant conversation with someone who, in some ways, is a gentle reminder of my past. In summary, I suppose that though I have often remarked how flawed I am, I've rarely gone about trying to do anything about it. I think something has snapped inside - enough self-pity, darnit! I do believe it's time for action.

There is a book called Arise, Arjuna by David Frawley that I haven't read. But the title has stayed in my mind ever since I laid my eyes on it (the title is of course drawn from the Gita). The image it conjures up is beautiful beyond words - in some ways, it is what I am telling myself now. A calling to some innate, fundamental part of my being, urging it to rise and show itself. Ahhh...the simple pleasures!

I can't say that I'm entirely convinced this feeling will stay on; maybe it's another fleeting moment of euphoria that will be drowned, given my seeming propensity for pessmism. But this is what this blog is for, no? To capture feelings, thoughts, and, perhaps rather presumptuously, states of mind?

If the past week was my Tender Prey, let this one be my The Good Son! (Once again, kudos to the reader that figures out just what I am going on about here)
Heavens to Murgatroid! George Starostin's rock reviews site is down for good! Well, for the moment anyway. Mr. Starostin doesn't seem to be too happy with the effect that the site's popularity is having. I can understand that, but unfortunately, 'twas popular for a reason! Namely that it had lots of detailed reviews that were mostly objective (though we clearly do have substantially different tastes and criteria for judging music). It was always so interesting reading his reviews, and looking at artists that I might never have otherwise heard of. I think he was also partly the inspiration for me getting the idea of reviewing albums here (even though from memory I've only ever reviewed two albums, and one of the reviews was a para long). I hope the site comes back up soon, although odds are it will be a year at least before that's the case.

It's time to hunt for a new haven, but I wouldn't know where to begin! Thank God for the Google cache, or else I would be well and truly doomed.

Monday, September 06, 2004

I feel strangely obliged to post today, as though the fact that I've gone and spruced up the design somehow demands that I post something meaningful and coherent when I have the time. And right now I certainly have the time, but I'm not sure whether I have anything to say. I think I tend to build up a sense of occasion too much, that I have created in my mind this image that the blog is a living creature, waiting hungrily for new posts. Actually, that's far more bizarre, even for my tastes, but it's somewhere along those lines.

Memory burns are a mixed blessing. There are things that I would never want to forget my whole life, but there are things that make me wisht that I could just snap my fingers and make it all go away. Still, I doubt I would ever give up the good just to get rid of the bad, 'twould contradict my life philosophy in some sense. In particular, I am drawn to one particular memory that is forever etched in my brain; there are others, mind you, far more personal, the likes of which I would never mention to another soul, but today I want to talk about this particular one. Although, I suppose mentioning that there are these other secret memories only serves to pique your interest, eh? Ah, what a cruel game I play with you, gentle reader!

There was a time when I believed I was somehow better than most other people in some ways. I say "some ways" because I've always been the shattered image of failure and manic nervousness that I am now - but there was a time when I had a certain air of confidence, and one thing led to another, and this confidence turned into a sort of private arrogance. It wasn't the sort of thing that I would express outwardly, no, this was just between me and my mind (has anything changed, really?). Funnily enough, I am now thinking of Gollum (from The Lord Of The Rings, where else?). In a sense I suppose I've always had two sides - the good and the evil, and back then there was quite an amusing (in retrospect, of course) struggle between the two.

This post just so happens to be a draft that I am finally publishing a fair bit after I originally wrote it. It's so beautiful how ideas and moments are sometimes inseparable - whatever feelings I had when originally composing this are lost on me. Not that this was the sort of post that's about feelings, for those ones usually make some semblance of an attempt to distill the vague thoughts into words. But it's the nomads like this that end up getting lost - lost, never to be found again..

Friday, September 03, 2004

India has selected a young wicket keeper, Dinesh Karthik, to play for the cricket team. Normally this would not be particularly interesting, but this time it's different.

I know him!!!

I can't quite remember how, but I do remember Dinesh - after straining my memory, I've concluded that either we went to the same cricket camp or we were at the same primary school. Ugh, I can't tell though, it's so hard trying to remember..! I do remember however coming one Saturday morning to the cricket stadium, where he asked what I was there for, and when I replied that I had come for a match, he busily told his team mates that The One had arrived. Heh it wasn't as dramatic, but for some reason he did think highly of me at the time - which to me suggests that I must have been at the same school as him, because back there I was a demi-god for a year or two, simply because I played well in a single game.

I do remember, however, that he dismissed me that match - or is memory playing tricks on me again?

I've never had anything like this happen to me. It's simply amazing, I still don't believe it. And, as always, it takes me back to a very different world than the one I currently live in. Excuse me while I drift away into a sea of nostalgia and fond memories...
Recently, I posted a link to Pitchfork media's top albums of the '70s list. Now they're gone and made one for the '80s too: you can read all about it here. Can't say that I've heard half the stuff on there, but hey, it's interesting nonetheless. Plus, Rain Dogs is in the top 10, so it can't be all that bad, right?
"Love is a flower
Best left unpicked
By the hand of mortal man"
He said to me
One autumn evening
By the pillar of fire and ice.
With a heart that keeps on beating,
He shows of lovers cheating,
Of death most foul and dark,
Thus falls the chirping lark -
Then, a silence falls upon the hill
A spirit weeps a sea of tears
And we watch in agony
Until the mad hatter
Makes us forget
While days become years
Till one day we see again
The pictures on our walls
That decorate these halls
Most hallowed
And before we are allowed
To think too deep
We must depart
To the final sleep.

Normally, I hate poems like this, but this one's different, because it's by me. I don't know whether this is autobiographical or not, probably not, but must I analyze everything? I wonder which poets I have ripped off this time (oh how I wish I were just joking!).

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Ah, I realize now that I'm still just a lost little boy at heart. Whaddaya know, I think sometime soon I'll turn into one of those (pseudo) dark and mysterious people who worship Jim Morrison..! But can you blame me? Let's see you listen to "LA Woman", especially the "Mister Mojo Rising" part, and tell me it isn't one of the best moments in rock ever! It sends chiiiills down my spine.

I am aware of the fact that, for some time now, this blog has featured a total absence of a margin. 'Twill be fixed when I can be bothered to actually revisit the wonderful world of CSS and padding and margins. Sigh, boring times ahead.

"Hands up, who wants to die?"

-- "Sonny's Burning", Nick Cave

Though I haven't heard the album, it seems to me like Nick Cave/The Birthday Party's album Mutiny/Bad Seed seems like it has what must rank as surely one of the greatest album openers ever. Another contender might be Patti Smith's Horses, with the opening line "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" (I haven't heard either of these albums, just so you know). I had a feeling that Cave was talented, and this only seems to confirm my hunch.

I think I ought to find inspiration from the Gita, although I am sure most of it would fly over my head.