The Internet Personified: A playlist of my musical history
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I’ve been wanting to write this newsletter for ages. I wanted to tell you about music, especially music that appeals to me, that clicks off something inside my brain and just takes over my body like those zombie ants. But I kept thinking of music snobs, god, I’ve met so many music snobs over the years, the ones who listen to bands you’ve literally never heard of, the ones who you try to tell excitedly about something new you like and their lips curl upwards with annoying superiority, so you might as well be a Taylor Swift fan in their eyes. (And another thing: it is okay to like Taylor Swift. Her album 1989 is actually good, in a song-memoir-y sort of way. The people being snobby about Tay are the people who only remember her love songs from the early noughties. Times have changed! We’ve all moved on!) (But only 1989, in my opinion. In later albums she just goes on this revenge fantasy schtick about how everyone is out to get her, which is a little like Chetan Bhagat saying the same thing. I mean, come on, in which world are Chetan Bhagat and Taylor Swift the underdogs?) (My friends who read this and also love music: not you! You are delightful.)
Anyway! Music snobs! The most terrifying sort of snobs for me. I want to analyse this a second. I myself am a book snob, I judge people by what they read (I never do the Condescending Smile thing because I am usually mild-mannered in public, no matter how much I rage when I have a keyboard at my disposal.) I don’t care so much about film snobs or art snobs. But music snobs get to me. I guess this is because everyone—literally everyone—wants to be good at music. I mean, I know, I can write, and writing is great, the best of all the art forms etc, but how much cooler would it be if I could sing in a band or play the cello, looking transformed, or entertain everyone at a party with just my voice? (No one wants to hear the plots of your last three books.) Obviously we can’t all be musicians, and that is the best part about music. Not everyone is giving it a game old go, so you can deftly avoid people at parties who tell you all about their self-published self-help/meditation/parenting memoir. (You see? I am appalling.) But I want to be good at music, or at least, having an ear to identify good music from bad, I want to be like, “Oh yes, that is a terrific album and shows signs of influences from blah di blah.” I want to be good at it, in a class topper sort of way, have my excellent taste validated, my keen ear complimented, my sharp opinions actually requested. Instead, I have spent far too many years just bloody reading, and not cultivating any other interests, so now here I am, age 38, with nothing to show for it except teetering piles of books, which every bookish person has and no one thinks you’re special or asks you to DJ at their party.
In short: when it comes to music, I want to be an expert instantly, overnight and this same deeply competitive, need-to-be-validated feeling does not happen anywhere else. I am happy to let others be all into cinema or theatre or paintings or dance. You do you! But bring out people who know music, and I will lurk, troll-like, by the bookshelves, drawing comfort from the printed word like a security blanket while all the while my eyes are fixed on those easy and relaxed souls, their eyes half-closed to a beat, their heads moving to the rhythm, their jukeboxes of brains easily classifying what we’re listening to and tossing up more recommendations like a real life Spotify playlist. (Sigh.)
This is a loooooong newsletter, so read at leisure.
When I was young, of course, all the cool people had good taste in music. It went without saying that when someone was identified originally by some invisible committee as a Good Taste in Music person, you never questioned it. If you didn’t like something they liked, the problem was you, not them. I’d like to take a moment to thank these random arbiters of taste all through my life.
It began with school—doesn’t everything begin with school? There were a few boys in our large group who pretended to play the guitar on their tennis racquets, who grew their hair as long as they dared. (Of course, my first crush was on one of them.) They liked rock and roll and slowly it filtered from them to the musical girls amongst us and from them to the rest of us. At this age, I was listening almost exclusively to Whigfield and UB40.
[Song 1: Saturday Night by Whigfield: Imagine three or four preteen girls clustered around a mirror. It might even be Saturday night. We are going for a boy-girl party, thrown by the aforementioned crush, except by this time I no longer had a crush on him so it was okay that he kissed my friend that night. (What sort of anti-sanskaari childhood did I lead? This one.) By this time, I was almost giddy in the company of girls—not in a romantic way, although who knows?—I loved being around girls, being surrounded by them, being one in a group of many like a shoal of fish. Even though later, I would be exposed to how mean girls, especially young teenagers can be, at that point, looking in the mirror, delighted, surprised to find myself looking young when I imagined a twenty year old face looking back at me, at that point, I was completely happy.]
[Song 2: Can’t Help Falling In Love (With You) by UB40: A weird choice for a young girl to love, eh? A really strange reggae band, featuring exclusively white boys? A cover of an Elvis Presley song? I can’t explain it, this song just made me so happy that one boy I was “dating” (not really, I just walked around and around Khan Market with him) made himself a t-shirt with puff paint (1992 or 3, computers still a science, not something every four year old knew how to operate) with that song on the back. The boy was very strange, far too old for me, and I “broke up” with him swiftly when I realised I was in over my head and I literally did not want to touch him in any way but the song endured.]
Anyway, the Cool Boys, they brought Bon Jovi into my life with his rock anthems and Def Leppard, and for a while I scribbled Jon Bon Jovi all over the back of my notebooks, but really I wanted to go home and listen to the new sensation that was taking over music, a band I knew in my heart of hearts was not cool but they had this one singer with a ‘90s haircut, blonde hair middle parted, the ends falling so easily in his eyes, and his face was so wistful, I knew he was waiting for me, for me, I could even identify his voice amongst the others. This was my first celebrity crush, I was surprised by how real it felt, like I genuinely had feelings for this imaginary person, and the person was Nick Carter.
[Song 3: Quit Playing Games With My Heart by the Backstreet Boys: Somewhere in my brain there are parts where my maths teacher tried to make me figure out equations and trignometry and all that and there was just no space left because I had already memorised all of Backstreet Boy’s ouvre, so they have a lot to answer for.]
If I stay in my childhood and teen years we’ll be here all day, so I’m just going to skip blithely over Alanis Morissette and Celine Dion and ‘90s hip hop merging into Britney bitch and just keep hurtling through time till I get to the year 2001, the end of my first year of college, once again I am surrounded by women, but this time it’s women I can trust, which I don’t know then, but I’m beginning to feel that happy relaxed feeling of letting go, of being part of a group and belonging in a strange octopus-tentacle kind of way. And we were on the bus going to Dharamshala as part of a class trip, and this one girl was being annoying, and this other girl, a friend of ours, was making hand gestures indicating that she’d like to hook her fingers into the annoying girl’s nostrils and throw her far away and we found this hysterical because we were young and humour then was being cruel to someone else, and we had all been on both sides of it, and we were listening to something random, and then the Annoying Girl said, “Have you heard Kandisa?” and put it on.
[Song 4: Kandisa by Indian Ocean: You have never seen such a set of people resistant to songs we didn’t immediately recognise as my friends and I on this trip, At first we all were like, “Turn it off, turn it off” but it was late, we were tired and didn’t have the energy to argue so Kandisa won the day, even though we didn’t like it and then suddenly it was all over this trip—the first time a lot of us got stoned—and it started to make sense and it started to be beautiful and a song we wanted instead of resisting and two years later, Indian Ocean sang at our college and we were the loudest, singing along.]
Bombay. 2007/2008. I am in like with a man who is most unsuitable in many ways, not least because his affection is supposedly promised elsewhere, but he’s casual about it so so am I. He is hot and cold, sweet and cruel. I think about him constantly when I’m not with him, but it’s not so often that I’m not with him. We go out almost every night, in a pack. I yearn for him but I also yearn for the days when he didn’t have so much power over me. I’m still too young to realise that power is not grabbed, it is given away. I have been handing out the keys to my soul to almost every fool who comes along.
[Song 5: Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai by Susheela Raman: I’m not that big on Hindi music, I’m trying to change it, but because I struggle with the language a little the lyrics don’t resonate with me. But Susheela Raman sings the Hindi words with a Tamizh accent that makes it very accessible to me. For the first time, Hindi words spoke to my soul, I could sing along to the entire thing. And then she goes, her voice deep with longing, “Chahe tum aaye na aaye, hum karange intezaar.” And yes, it was me. It was all me.]
And now I’m listening to whole albums instead of playlists. I’m making up for years of just listening to that one song someone brought into my life on repeat, so I Googled best albums of all time and so on, and I put stuff on and listened to it with an open mind. I realise I like Velvet Underground and Beyonce’s Lemonade and Billie Eilish and also the Beatles Revolver album. I don’t like jangling metal-like chords. I like some electronic music but only the stuff that samples vocals. I like all jazz. I like Bach better than other composers. I don’t like punk. I adore Lizzo, but do I like her for her attitude or her music? Ditto Florence + The Machine.
To end with, here’s a song that I’m obsessed with these days. We’ve come a long way but yearny songs still yearn.
[Song 6: Betty by Degiheugi: I can barely understand what this guy’s saying, but this song makes me feel seductive and also soothed.]
I’ll be at JLF this year! Doing two panels, on day 1, ie the 23rd, one named after my column Mythology for the Millennial, which will be very exciting and on day 2, I’m moderating a session on children’s books which is also very exciting. Come say hi if you’re around.
Speaking of Mythology for the Millennial, I have a new column up! This edition is all about Kali Yuga which all evidence points towards us living through currently. Gah.
Links, links, links:
It’s 2020 and you’re in the future.
An infographic of all the tourist scams around the world.
A great piece on how the casteism rampant in Indian food is merrily ignored when talking about it in the West. (Hat tip: Ameya!)
I really want to take a cargo ship when I travel abroad next.
An oldie but a goodie: Hilary Mantel on Kate Middleton and how the British royal family are like caged pandas.
Have a great week!
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you?Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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