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Driven by hooks

Bibek Bhattacharya     July 10, 2009

If you thought that music can be best enjoyed in your living room, think again. In fact, why don’t you let your music take you for a drive?

Many years ago, I was accompanying my family on a long drive. So, we’d hired a driver for one of those old Ambassador cars, which had a (for the time) state-of-theart audio player. There was some sedate Rabindra sangeet playing, and although it was great music, it wasn’t really my idea of zippy driving music. After being a good boy for about a couple of hours, I quietly switched it off and slipped in a cassette of The Beatles’ White Album. Suddenly, the loud, driving, opening guitar barrage of Helter Skelter exploded out of the speakers. The poor driver, who was almost snoozing while maintaining a steady 60, started violently and lost control of the car. The Ambassador first lurched to the right, then lurched to the left. 
There were surprised howls from the back seat while Paul McCartney’s maniacally happy voice screamed, “When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide”. Sweet chaos! I toned down the volume, but The Beatles soundtracked the rest of the drive.

There’s something special about driving long distances, dreaming like I’m Jack Kerouac, following the straight (or winding) road to the end of the line. Of course, music becomes important. Here are some great tracks to drive to, top down or up.

I'll Fly Away(traditional): Look for the Alison Krauss version on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. An old country/gospel hymn about an oppressed spirit dreaming of flying away to a better world, it’s a beautiful tune that moves along at a brisk pace on the back of some beautiful guitar and banjo playing. Ideal for crossing the great plains on a hot, sunny afternoon. 

Brand New Cadillac—The Clash: Very few people did driving rock ’n’ roll better than these guys, and here they outdo themselves with some of the most focussed rock ’n’ roll you’re going to hear anywhere. Hear Joe Strummer shout “I ain’t coming back” and you’ll want to zip straight ahead without pause.

Drive My Car—The Beatles: Well, this song from the Fab’s masterpiece Rubber Soulis begging to be included. There are many analogies you can make between a drive and a song, but the most important one would be groove. Really, if you’re driving through the night, hugging the white line, lock into the rhythm and bop to this song.

Autobahn—Kraftwerk: The song started off life as a massive 22-minute paean to the joys of the open road. Pruned to a little over three minutes for radio, it became a trans-Atlantic hit. And it’s not hard to see why. The electronic music and the fabled motorik beat gives you the feeling of zooming through the countryside on a massive four-lane highway with the wind in your face.

Christmas Lights—Purse Snatchers: This lilting, melancholic tune flows like an aimless drive through empty city streets at night. This Indie band beautifully captures the lassitude at the end of a long hard day when all you want to do is cruise silently like a ghost and let the day just wash over you.

Song and dance men
Two great new films tackle the lives of two very different rock stars, in decidedly different ways.
“Asong is a stick that walks by itself”, says the poet Arthur Rimbaud. Only it isn’t actually Rimbaud speaking, but one of the different aspects of Bob Dylan in a brilliant new movie about the legend— I’m Not There. “Me, I’m not a poet,” Rimbaud/Dylan goes on to say. “I’m a trapeze artist.” Sounds confusing? But that is what Dylan has always been—infuriatingly obtuse, thrillingly unpredictable and very confusing indeed. Fans have always wondered whether he’s one man or many, so it’s not surprising that I’m Not Therebrings Dylan to life through no less than six different actors and characters, each portraying Dylan at different stages of his career. 
It’s a difficult movie, even if you’ve read all the Dylan bios and devoured all the records. However, the movie works on several levels.

 The most immediate one is visual, mixing up every known trick—in part a homage to 40 years of groundbreaking rock documentaries—like cinema verite, standard interview formats, French New Wave influenced jump-cuts and bursts of pure surrealism. While the sumptuous visuals seduce the viewer, the narrative becomes engrossing in its own right, devoid of Dylan demagoguery. His songs guide the story, either as soundtrack or as performed by the six actors playing Dylan. Indeed, the film works so well precisely because of the quality of the actors. While Cate Blanchett steals the show in her brilliant performance as Jude—a witty, androgynous iconoclast who polarises fans by shifting from folk music to pop—stellar performances from Christian Bale as early-’60s protest singer Jack Rollins and Heath Ledger as a troubled mid-’70s film star Robbie take the film to a different level. In the end, director Todd Haynes succeeds in portraying Dylan as an Everyman who exists not as much as a real person as a symbol or a totemic figure.

Cult late ’70s English band Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis, who is the subject of Anton Corbijn’s gritty drama Control, occupied the uncomfortable position of a star who never really wanted to be one. Brooding and intense, actor Sam Riley plays the troubled Curtis with a straight bat as a young man obsessed with melancholia.

Blessed with great talent and cursed with epilepsy, Curtis was narcissistic to the point that he couldn’t stand himself. His stage persona, as a nervous, twitching neurotic with a hypnotic baritone was close to his actual personality, dreaming in shadows and shying away from the arclights. The band’s sudden success coincided with the onset of Curtis’s epilepsy, which would take hold of him at inopportune moments, like when he was performing. Viewed through this prism, Corbijn visualises Curtis as a young man struggling to control his affliction, his stardom and his art, all of which leads to the moving dénouement of the story when Curtis commits suicide at age 23 on the eve of the band’s tour of the US. Unlike most other biopics, Controlis sympathetic to other characters, too, from Curtis’s teenage wife to his bandmates who loved him but could never figure him out. What emerges is a riveting, humane film about an ordinary man and his milieu.

Released in the same year, both these films mark a massive jump in quality from the standard hero-worshipping biopics of yore, like the depressing The Doors.
The DVDs of I’m Not There (Rs 399) and Control (Rs 499) are available at online vendors like Excel Home Videos.
www. excelhomevideos.com


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