Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Evesdropping (music memories)

The bathroom has a ventilator high above where, if we're not vigilant, pigeons will roost and begin their endless, gulping noise. 

That bathroom, from my childhood had a window instead of a ventilator. Luckily, because one time we forgot our keys and they sent me in through one of those bathroom windows.

My bathroom was upstairs. (I realised only in a late adulthood what luxury it denoted to say 'my bathroom'). I was an unusual child in that I spent a lot of hours there, making alchemical concoctions that I would innocently offer to robbers who would, of course, drink it and die or at least be in great pain.

I must have been ten when the younger brother - much younger - of a colleague of my father's visited his family who lived a few doors down from us. All the older girls called dibs on his time and I was old enough to be jealous but too young to expect to make the same claims on his time. 

One evening, returning home, I saw him making a long, reluctant goodbye to a girl who was my neighbour and whom I disliked for the way she made sly fun of me. I hurried upstairs to my bathroom, which was strategically above where they were standing. Luckily, the window was open. I was careful not to turn the lights on and I tiptoed to stand where no streetlight would fall on me if they were distracted enough to look up instead of at each other.

I can't remember anything I heard, if I heard anything at all. Their voices were a murmur and I think I grew hot with rage, though no doubt this is an invented memory of an emotion. Most likely I tried to fidget noiselessly and held my breath a lot and strained to hear anything at all. I didn't dare actually peep.

What annoyed me most was the bad taste this young man was displaying. Just a few days earlier, he had made me feel very grown up by discussing music with me. He asked me what I listened to and I, conscious of my parents' fledgling collection of records* that included the respectable but too obvious Beatles (I was, at this point, on the verge on my lifelong Beatlemania), the Savages (I think? The album art was red and black. ETA: No, I'm obviously wrong but what in heavens name was that album?!), Jim Reeves (which I knew not to acknowledge, so there was hope for me) and many carnatic LPs, said I listened to carnatic music. 

The young man, I was sure, was mocking me when he gravely replied that his music tastes weren't quite so advanced and I suddenly remembered something I needed to do.

A few days ago my son, who was in Delhi briefly on his way elsewhere, was at an old friend's place. He called to say he was having a great time and they were listening to Jim Reeves. I was horrified. Jim Reeves?! Yes, he said. He sounded somewhat taken aback. And George Baker, he added. Don't know him, I replied promptly. Una Paloma Blanca? he asked.


Where on earth are you finding this music, I asked. Apparently my friend has a new record player and her mother has dug out all these ancient LPs - I really should call them vinyl now, shouldn't I? - and hence all the Jim Reeveses and George Bakers. 

Now that I think of it, most of my parents' peers and friends had odd collections, dependent, I suppose, on what was popular and saleable. This meant Harry Belafonte, Jim Reeves and stuff like that, to support the other stuff that people also bought. If I remember good records, it was in the houses of those who travelled abroad often, and/or whose children had specific and sophisticated taste in music. Most of the rest of us who owned a record player bought what we could get and thus was our music taste formed.

Of course, this narrative can't account for the sudden and thrilling popularity of Osibisa in my town but that must be another story, one that needs to rely more on research and less on a faulty memory.
*For an awesome radiogram that my father had made and which looked mostly like this.


km said...

Have you read those 33-1/3 series of books by famous people writing about their favorite albums? We should write on our parents record collection and how it eventually shaped us. But music as a protective shield :) I could have written several books on it by the time I turned 17. I miss that posturing.

Be thankful your son's enjoying Gentleman Jim. He's a bona fide great. Besides, that rabbit-hole will eventually lead him to Willie, Johnny, Waylon, Dylan....

And what was with the Osibisa Craze of 1978? I remember kids playing their rendition of that bhajan and the hipster that I was already at that tender age, I dismissed it as gimmicky. I should give it a listen.

Space Bar said...

Km: No! Link to? I remembered suddenly it was a Ventures record yay! Wouldn't have been able to sleep otherwise. Did they ever cover (You give me) Fever? Clear memory of that song also.

??! said...

"This meant Harry Belafonte, Jim Reeves and stuff like that."

Don't tell me I was the only one whose parents were into Perry Como and Demis Roussos. (Hai, meri cred)

Space Bar said...

??!: Hello! Fancy seeing you venturing into blog territory again! Good to see you back if only because of Perry Como (yes) and Demis Roussos (no) altho...what about Nana Mouskouri?