Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Almost Heaven

Say what you want about them, but Americans really like America. And not just in the zealous, ‘this-is-my-motherland-and-I-will-lay-down-somebody’s-life-for-it’ kind of way. Nor am I talking about the patriotic hypermush that causes films like Independence Day and their subsequent triumphs at the Oscars. What I find really cool is the less lofty, more everyday kind of affection that finds its way into songs and on to t-shirts.

Patriotism is about believing your country is better than others. Painting a stars-and-stripes motif on the bonnet of your car is just love. And the reason said motif looks so cool is that over the years it’s got a lot of love and design input and it’s a part of contemporary culture.

There’s an obvious lesson in this for India – we put our national symbols on a pedestal and worship them, instead of turning them into cool stuff and dancing with them. (Take a bow, Tantra t-shirts).

But this piece isn’t about that.

This is about music. There are so many songs about so many bits of America. There’s West Virginia that country roads take John Denver home to; there’s Alabama that means sweet home to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock; 52nd Street in Manhattan that Billy Joel named a song and an album after; a bridge on 59th Street that became the subject of an S&G song. And then there are the road songs like Truckin’ that can take you all the way from Dallas to Buffalo; and yes, there’s Hotel California too. And all this is stuff I could easily sing for you if you put a wee dram of Scotland into me.

Chicago is a band. So is Kansas. And Boston. There are songs about the Missouri and the Mississippi and the Rocky mountains. Dozens of them. Memphis, Arkansaw, Tallahassee, Muskogee – do these mystical lands really exist? Music has romanticized the American map so wonderfully and evocatively, that I have emotional bonds with many of these places without ever having visited the United States.

It’s not marketing (in the sense that marketing is a deliberate, pre-meditated act). It’s not like these are examples of places being honoured for their contributions to music (like St. Louis blues or New Orleans jazz). These are just examples of songs made more vivid by the inclusion of real places. And places made more wonderful by being celebrated in songs.

It’s beautiful, it’s cool, it’s art. It takes something from the world and then gives it back enriched.

Instead of cloning crappy reality shows, this is what we should emulate from American entertainment. Just think about it: a country so vast and diverse and nuanced as ours; it’s just crying out for songs. Of course we have the national anthem, which is probably our best celebration of the Indian map; but that’s not really mainstream. Popular music has very few examples like ‘Kabhi Linking Road, kabhi Warden Road, kabhi Cadell Road…’ from Patthar Ke Phool, but Mumbai is myopic and Bollywood can’t see much further than Khandala (Aati kya?). Which leaves the rest of India: a huge, virgin, fertile and royalty-free muse waiting to be versified.

‘Aara hile, Chhapra hile, Baliya hile la…’ and then what? What will rock our world after that? Why not a love ballad about a beautiful Gurgaon Ki Gori, or a travel song celebrating the awesome Grand Trunk Road? Or a heavy metal anthem called Ran-Tham-Bhor, or a light little something named Howrah Sunrise?

Don’t laugh just because you haven’t heard them yet. India is full of places worth making a song and dance about.


  1. ...hats off!!...good food for thought...and very interesting!! Two thumbs up!!

  2. Thank you. Happy you found it interesting.

  3. very interesting... and funny


  4. it's definitely an interesting point of view.

    some points which i want to mention ...

    there are numerous songs written in bengali on Kolkata, Darjeeling; on the rivers and the mountains here. probably, these songs are not as mainstream as bollywood. but they exist and there is a steady audience for these.

    few examples that i can tell right now ...

    "Gariyahatar morh"
    (Kabir Suman on Kolkata)

    "Coffee House er adda"
    (an old classic. Manna Dey. the romance of College Street Coffe House)

    "Tungsonada Ghum periye ... Amar soishaber Darjeeling ta"
    (Anjan Dutta on nostalgic Darjeeling)

    "Kolkata, O Kolkata"

    "Torsha nodir tire, Mansai nodir tire"
    (a folk song on the rivers)

    there could be questions. in the end these are in a particular language for a particular set of people. they may not capture the idea of India. but that is the truth about our country. i do not know much about other languages. but definitely i can remember, in Kannada there are songs on various locations and rivers of Karnataka (songs of Swarathma).

    Even some examples from popular music ...

    Rabbi Shergil's songs on Delhi.
    That old song "ye hai Mumbai meri jaan"
    Mohit Chauhan's "Maine Meriye". the romance of of Shimla, Kasauli ...
    Indian Ocean's "Ma Rewa"

    i think they are many.

  5. That's an impressive knowledge base of music you're talking from. And while I haven't heard many of the songs you mention, I definitely agree with your inclusion of "Maine meriye". There's something so evocative about it that you just want to visit Chamba. Lovely song, with a lot of love in it.

  6. excellento...........today i will be humming as i drive_ trying to add lyrics to the streets i move on..........