There was a time when Jethro Tull was a highly respected band. They had a distinctive folksy-bluesy sound, they were generally well-loved, and their frontman Ian Anderson had created a delightful image for himself – that of a one-legged minstrel expertly playing the flute.

But by and by, Anderson turned more progressive, and, after their first two prog-rock albums – Aqualung and Thick as a Brick – ever more self-indulgent, and the band (with only two core members left – Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre) descended into bad synth-laden heavy metal. They also, along the way, lost their popularity and acclaim, and, like many prog-rock bands, collected around themselves a dedicated and rabid bunch of fanatics, thus preventing them from realising how bad they had become.

But in the last few years, Ian Anderson seems to have come to his senses, and (like some other dinosaurs I could mention) realised the importance of creating songs rather than ruminations set to soundtracks.

His last few albums – be they Tull or solo albums – have had melodies rather empty flute-blowing, and music rather than mindless heavy-metal guitar. And the best of this lot is his latest solo album – the 2003 release Rupi’s Dance.

Rupi’s Dance is an album by Ian Anderson containing simple songs about simple things, but it manages not to be simplistic. The songs are on subjects ranging from watching animals – in zoos or elsewhere – to simply watching life going by. The topics of the songs can be guessed from their titles – ‘A Raft of Penguins’, ‘Old Black Cat’, ‘Lost in Crowds’, and so on. Ian never goes off the point, and the point is never laboured. Rupi’s Dance is, like the best Tull albums, charming, slightly sad, with Ian’s love for humankind tinged with his trademark derision for all of us.

But Rupi’s Dance is an old man’s album, and Ian seems to have tired of hating other people. The lyrics (available here, with commentary) seem appreciative and surprisingly gentle, and rather than ridiculing people, he is mocking people’s traits and characteristics, and never too harshly. The music is similar in style, if not in quality, to old classics like ‘Living in the Past’ and ‘Life Is a Long Song’, and is notable for the absence of the heavy and irritating tone of Barre Guitar (I think Barre’s a truly underrated guitarist, but I hate the guitar tone he picked up in the 80s). Even the lesser songs are a pleasant listen.

In fact, Rupi’s Dance is Ian at his most seductive and welcoming since 1978’s Heavy Horses, and at his most tender and personal since perhaps 1969’s Stand Up. And it actually manages to fare well (albeit not exceedingly so) in comparison with these two classics.

Anyone who likes early Tull, or simply folksy music in general, should get this album. It’s not a work of genius, it’s not even consistently good, but it is a pleasant surprise nonetheless.
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 12:19 PM
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Today was Raksha Bandhan day, and it struck me that this ritual, supposed to be performed in the morning, is, more and more (at least by people around my age), being performed in the evening, the reason being that people have jobs. It’s rather depressing how many people have jobs these days.

I have no more than a passing interest in this festival, and, in our house, the ritual generally concludes with me passing on to my sister whatever my mother has bought for her as a gift. I have made a promise to my sister that when I start earning, I will buy her something personal and substantial, but she knows that day will be as far in the future as I can manage.

There is this concept around here of a rakhi-sister/brother (meaning, basically, spiritual sibling), which is that you tie a rakhi to someone not related to you, and this allows you two to conduct a platonic friendship. I figure this tradition came about as a matter of convenience back when ‘a man and a woman can’t be just friends’ was accepted wisdom.

We had a tradition of rakhis in our school, too, and one of my oldest friends became my rakhi-sister at the age of seven. And I remember that our primary school had this wonderfully gender-neutral tradition where you tied a rakhi to your bench-partner regardless of which sex either of you belonged to. It strikes me as pretty sensible (and generally fun), and it’s a bit sad that patriarchal ideas of gender prevent it from continuing.

Some of my female readers might remember tying rakhis to guys who made unwelcome advances towards them. This acted as a prevention measure, because “Dude, you don’t fall for your ‘sister’”. I would have thought this particular tradition would fall out of eminence once we got out of school, but, from what I hear, it is still prevalent in colleges. This week, I got about twelve forwards (all of them from guys) saying that, on this day, one should keep an eye out for any woman approaching you with any kind of thread in her hand, and prepare to run in the other direction. Male engineering students of my acquaintance seem to think this is funny, but I suppose that tells us more about them than about the joke.
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 12:03 PM
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[Note: This is not exactly a review – I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and it made me think more about what it was lacking than about what it had. So I have written about what I felt should have been there, but wasn’t. So this is more of a manifesto than a review. That makes it better, doesn’t it?

Caveat:
1) This is off the top of my head – not particularly well-thought-out.
2) This does not apply to every pirate movie in the future.
3) This is all my opinion. If you disagree, that’s quite alright.]

I liked the first Pirates movie. If I remember right, Johnny Depp was pretty much the only thing worth watching, but there was a lot of Depp there, and it was fun. The ending left a bad taste in the mouth, due to the romanticising of pirates. I did change my opinion about it later, because it seems fairly harmless, all in all.

Pirates 2 was a whole another deal. For one, it reversed the ending of the first movie, and gave us grimmer and more realistic consequences to Will and Elizabeth’s actions. All in all, this movie was a lot more like a true pirate movie should be – grimy, gruesome, bloodthirsty (with reservations), and filled with bastards from end to end. I still think the movies are too clean-cut – all pirates apart from the villains are basically ‘good’ pirates, and while I can understand some being shown as such (good outlaws à la Robin Hood), real pirates were nowhere as nice. And there was not a single true piracy incident in either movie. But I have to say that Disney’s pirates were actually less Disneyfied than most other pirates we see today, which was good (and surprising).

You can get the plot of the movie anywhere on the net, so I won’t recount it. It is exceedingly hokey, and I like it for that very reason. The scriptwriters couldn’t really get a story on, so they (a) relied on the special effects, and (b) filled the script with lots of F&#k Yeah moments. And I’m fine with that. I actually prefer that to a plot, because it makes it easier to put my brain on hold. The first movie had a bit of a plot, and the result was that we got 5 minutes of excitement after every 15 minutes of downtime, which was not good.

There is this implied love triangle between Jack Sparrow (Depp), Elizabeth (Knightley) and Will (Bloom), which might or might not exist. It’s not particularly interesting, and my recommended resolution for this is that Will and Jack should get together (they would make a nice couple, wouldn’t they?) and Elizabeth should make it as a pirate. This would definitely be a lot more fun than any other combination, and my idea is supported not only by the first two movies, but also by pirate and sailor culture (at least as seen through the pop culture lens using which these movies have been made).

When I first heard about this movie, I was somewhat irritated by the seemingly illiterate references to pirate culture (‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and ‘Davy Jones’, mainly), but I was pleasantly surprised by the tongue-in-cheek twist given to these terms, and that was when I began to think about the pirate movie/story I would really love to see.

Firstly, it should be lots of words beginning with ‘gr’ – grimy, gruesome, grim, gritty, grubby, greasy. Current pirate-related pop culture (consisting mainly of Monkey Island and Pirates) isn’t all of these. Monkey Island is, in fact, too clean, cutesy and nice, which is pretty much the only thing I don’t like about it. There should be something of a return of pirate culture to its roots: amorality, ugliness, and death – lots of it. The only way it would still manage to work would be to conduct it through a filter of post-modern black comedy that discomforts as much as it entertains. If you’re going to show someone murder and make them enjoy it, then you might as well make them feel guilty about it.

It does not particularly need to be accurate. Pirate culture is not important enough today to have to get it right. It has been present in pop culture in snippets rather than in chunks, as the Wild West has. When someone twists the Wild West around to have fun, the audience knows it. This is not so with pirate culture. So when you get it wrong, you inflame geeks, and make the rest of the audience think you’re right. So the writer/film-maker has the opportunity to create an entire new version of pirate culture that would still conform to the spirit of the original. One can take a post-modern look at it and still be able to create something that is resonant and interesting – you need to stick to spiritual truth, not to facts.

The lack of morality surrounding the pirate culture is particularly interesting. When I read people like Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis (the former much more than the latter) portraying murderers and killers as more-or-less entirely sympathetic characters, I feel uncomfortable, mainly because I feel there must be quite a few readers who genuinely identify with them. This is very clear in Ennis’s ‘masterpieces’ – Preacher and Hitman. Tommy ‘Hitman’ Monaghan kills people for money, but he’s supposed to be a good guy because he only kills bad people. And the heroes of Preacher are mass-murderers, but they are unequivocally ‘good people’. What I am getting at here is that the pirate story could make this equation a lot more interesting, because you could play on the characters as being entirely morally ambiguous (and therefore unpredictable and interesting) rather than ‘basically good’, as done in the Pirates movies.

This is all I have for now, and I’m posting this to keep things in line. I might append to it as I think things out.
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 9:43 AM
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