Monday, February 28, 2011

Small, common Walter

I grew up in a time when the CD hadn’t been invented yet. We listened to music by playing cassettes on portable little 2-in-1s with tinny little speakers. And because of the finite nature of pocket money, a lot of the tapes weren’t even ‘original’; they were recorded off a friend who had the original album and a double-deck cassette player. With tinny little speakers.

And so I remember myself hunched over this battered old Grundig, proudly listening to Deep Purple as they sang

“Small common Walter
The fire engine guy”

Don’t laugh. That’s what I heard, and there was no Internet to tell me any better either. You could look up the words and the names of the songs only if you bought the album and read the inlay card. You could go for years believing that Dylan loved insects:

“The ants are my friends, It’s blowin’ in the wind.
The ants are jus’ blowin’ in the wind.”

The CD, when it came along, didn’t help much either. The 2-in-1 simply became a 3-in-1 and added Rs 2000 to its cost price. Same tinny little speakers. The songs continued to mystify and send imaginations spiralling wildward. What did Nirvana mean by the line “Here we are now, in containers” in Smells Like Teen Spirit? Did they mean coffins? Was this a comment on the partitioning of society?

Then there was Bryan Adams. Shocking. “Got my first real sex dream…” In a song called Summer of 69! The mind boggled at the permissiveness of western music.

And what was going on with all these hidden references one kept hearing about? I’d already cut up and spliced a cassette tape to play ‘Hotel California’ backwards so I could listen to the allegedly hidden satanic messages. Same with ‘Stairway To Heaven’. And ELO, don’t even ask.

Thing was, on those tinny little speakers you could hear just about whatever you imagined. Each song was open to interpretation. Your mind supplied what your ears didn’t catch. And often the lyrics in your head were much more interesting than what the songwriter wrote.

I heard this movie promo on television where Aamir Khan tells Rani Mukherji "Sun" (listen) and she says "Suna", then he responds with "Haathi ka andaa la". Wow! What imagery! Enough of this chaand-sitaare nonsense – if you truly love me, bring to me the egg of an elephant! Now that’s a love quest. Double wow. And then came the dampener. When I heard the complete song, I discovered that Aamir was actually just inviting Rani for a sordid little weekend in Khandala. No haathi ka anda at all! How boring.

The reason I’m writing all this is that earlier today I wrote an ad for high quality headphones. You put them on and all becomes crystal clear. No more elephant eggs and no more airborne ants; but it does save you from a lot of potential embarrassment. Imagine you’re at a party at a friend’s house, several beers down. The Beatles are singing Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and at the line that goes "the girl with kaleidoscope eyes", you join in loudly singing

“The girl with colitis goes by”

I’ve sung worse. So have you. Get a pair of Sennheisers.


  1. Hi, please try leaving a comment here if you like the piece. The blog looks dishearteningly deserted.

  2. This one is a laugh a second, and embarassingly true. Enjoyed every bit of it :)

    You can give David Sedaris a run for his money!!

  3. Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi me aaye to baap ban jaye... rocking stuff, Sidey!

  4. brilliantly true and hilarious too. Well written. my issue is english is still my handicap so don;t know if the head phones will help!!!!

  5. leaving a comment so will leave one on mine :)

    on a serious note though , I did use the ati kya khandala line today , n salvged my reputation by using your version ;)

  6. Am glad you all liked this. Please do keep dropping by, the blog is much enriched by your comments.


  7. I used to struggle with the lyrics of wish you were here (running, swimming, fishing what?) and nothing compares to you...

    but the one i clearly remember is "last night i bumped in to some pedro" and "your spanish lover's eyes" in la isla bonita....

    I used to steal my brother's atrociously expensive lyrics book so that i could memorise lyrics of the more popular songs

    loved it!

  8. Love the Small Common Walter piece... it took me back in time. What a wonderful time that was... and how the world has changed !

  9. Thanks Anupriya and especially Testing for having such an interesting name... :)

  10. Do you know I realised the lyrics are not " I had my first real sex dream" only now when I went for the B. Adams show.

    Now you know why I want to by anonymous :)

  11. Sidey, I smiled as mush today as I did when I read it the first time!

  12. I used to write down the lyrics of my favourite songs based on my interpretation of what I though the singer was singing. But a gift of cassettes with the original jackets containing the lyrics made me realize that my efforts were misleading and futile. And that was that!

  13. Thanks, Shady. Nice to know you're reading the metal blog too.
    Vetri, do you realise your version of the lyrics might well be a potential gold mine now at Comedy Central?

  14. Sir this was a laugh riot, “Got my first real sex dream…”, very funny. And i could have imagined how the "Haathi ka andaa la" love quest would have been a damper, when heard correctly. But a really hilarious concept for an ad.

  15. Thanks, Sujoy. How are things with you?

  16. Sir, not being very productive, keeping Delhi University in mind. I've been reading quite a lot, but alas, books which aren't in the course. Otherwise all great. Sir hope things are fine at your end?

  17. Hi Sidey,
    Good one, did bring back some memories of my own as i come from the same era too! BTW, i own a sennheiser now and must say it is music to the ears.

  18. Hey, this is the first time I read your blog...absolutely hilarious post!Loved it.I am compulsive about singing the right lyrics and remember the Vividh Bharti days, when I will stick my ear in radio to able to understand it better...! Can so identify with this:-)