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09/22/2003: "pink india"

Matthew of TWANBOC is like the cool high school history teacher who makes every lesson come alive: his recent series on Indian music (complete with scans of far-out mindbending cover art) is terrific and I enjoyed it despite a lifetime of being at odds with Indian classical music (when it's all the parents listen to, it can get on your nerves, believe!) Still, that music courses through my veins; I think I was born with it in my blood or something -- I was taught to play harmonium as a kid, and my dad is a tabla player. Now that I'm no longer a snarling rebellious teenager I can appreciate it better than I did then. I took a course in Indian music composition when I was an undergrad and did pretty terribly at it -- I did well in Western music composition classes though. Indian music is based on an extraordinarily complex set of rules: Indian vs. Western music theory is for me kind of like the difference between studying Sanskrit and French, I'd say. One is thoroughly thorny and arcane and vastly complex and the other is a bit complicated and annoying but easier to process cuz it's grounded in an alphabetic framework you're used to already.

Decades of American pop culture passed my parents by since they moved to the United States from India in the 1960s. Indian pop culture, too -- my conservative parents tended to eschew the new 'loose morals' Bollywood films in favor of the ancient black and white ones where the lovers were still only allowed to hold hands and skip through forests and things. Even the big names of my father's generation, like Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan, rang no bells. Growing up with them was like living on different planets in the same house. I recall I would note with jealousy friends of mine who had parents who could carry on a conversation with them about anything American besides politics. I was even more envious of friends who had parents who would talk to them about music.

It wasnít that my parents didnít want to talk about music; they just didnít know -- or want to know -- anything about popular music. My father loved music, as long as it was Indian and classical. My mother loved music, as long as it was Indian and deeply religious in nature. She'd put in some poorly recorded tape of some repetitive chant and close her eyes and just sit there for hours. Come to think of it though, that's no different with me and a lot of the droney electronic music I listen to (I listened to Coil's 'Time Machines' 3 times today for some reason), 'cept for the definite religious element of my mom's fave trancey dirges -- lots of this Indian classical stuff was deeply spiritual, based on becoming closer to something bigger than just yourself. Rave music's element of becoming one with something greater, etc all echoed in India thousands of years prior.

The funny thing I realize now is that my life at age 16 was soundtracked by musical revolutions that came of age when my parents did. During those awkward teenage years of purple hair, loud guitars, and misunderstanding, I was listening to the words of musicians that were, in many cases, older than my parents were. When I was seven years old I bought the Beatles on cassette, my first cassette purchase, and my absolute favorite song was 'Sexy Sadie', which I listened to whenever my parents weren't around to chide me. I didn't know what 'sexy' meant at age seven; I just thought that piano bit at the beginning was so beautiful.

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hydrocodone said @ 09/17/2004 11:56 PM EST

Hi geeta: i do run into problems when trying to explain the music I listen to with my parents but in my case its actually trying to explain that 'noise is music' too ;-)

I never took music courses but to my ears I've always found indian classical to be far simpler and easier to listen to than things like stockhausen (though I enjoy both).

'Sexy sadie' is also one of my fave beatles tracks and definetely the best track on the White album.

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