(Before you read this post, could you please PLEASE listen to this 4 min track? Just to avoid narrative bias for the question I’ll be posing right at the end.)
Developing an appreciation for a new musical genre is usually serendipidous, isn’t it? Friends might say “try this, try that..” but if the timing is not right, it ain’t gonna happen. When I was bingeing on classic rock -> alternative rock (and everything in between), I didn’t care two hoots with the ‘Jazz a try’ suggestion. Jazz, for me, was that sappy crappy Kenny G thingummy we were hearing in elevators & airports.
Chicago introduced me to Blues and how! Is there a better way than names like Big Daddy Kinsey and Junior Wells playing at cozy venues like Blues Etc, Elbo Road and Blue Chicago?
Jazz became an ‘interest’ (that I had to master) after this Bombay girl with perfect eyes and the exquisite nose casually let on that she was interested in Jazz. As luck would have it, Larry Dunn was my boss at that time. Larry knew about my eclectic musical interests and generously loaned his selection of ~20 Jazz CDs that were his daily commute staple (rural Indiana <—> Chicago). Not your typical Jazz 101 collection — it included Miles and Coltrane of course but also lesser known amazing gems from Pharaoh Sanders, Herbie Hancock, Eric Dolphy, Alice Coltrane, and Yusuf Lateef. After this initiation, there was no looking back and the dives into the jazz ocean just got deeper.
Larry and I stayed in touch after my move to the Bay Area and I’m so glad! A timely email regarding a Tribute to Billy Higgins series at Yoshi’s ensured that I managed to catch a few special concerts. The McCoy Tyner and Charles Lloyd performances were remarkable for sure but my indelible memory from that week was Higgins himself - emoting “joy” from every fibre of his being. During the tantalizing interludes before his sticks would actually make contact with the drums, one could palpably feel the sheer delight he was feeling. This is noteworthy because Jazz musicians (barring vocalists) prefer to let their music do all the ‘talking’ while maintaining an air of placidity.
And that’s the brief story of how I got hooked on jazz.
Raja Bhoja and the saga of the mysterious mound
Bhoja was a 11th century Indian king who ruled a swath of territory in Central India (now within the state of Madhya Pradesh). In Amar Chitra Katha lore, he was considered a virtuous ruler second only to the illustrious King Vikramaditya. During one of Bhoja’s hunting campaigns, after a particularly tiring spell the troops come across a lush sugarcane field guarded by a farmer perched on a mound. The farmer very generously invites the king & his soldiers to quench their thirst with the sugarcane.
A little while later, the farmer turns querulous and admonishes the king and his troops with “how could you rob a poor farmer like me?” (by this time he had descended from the mound). After the chastened troops started riding away, the farmer (having re-ascended the mound) changes his tune yet again with “Oh king! why are you all leaving so quickly? Aren’t you enjoying my hospitality?” The puzzled but wise king figures the answer was buried under the mound. Excavation yields an ornate and majestic throne which turns out to be the legendary King Vikramaditya’s throne. Reflect for a moment on the oodles of virtuousness that were part and parcel of the centuries old throne - so powerful that they radiated up and turned a small plot farmer into the most generous person on the planet.
Vikramaditya’s throne on MG Road
It was a rare Saturday morning in September. I had missed my long run and was feeling bummed. On a Plan B impulse, I decided to go for a long drive. Somewhere on MG Road, Myth from Beach House’s 4th album (Bloom) played. Fortyfive minutes later, after playing the track on loop, I knew I had found a piece of Vikramaditya’s throne.
How do I describe that rarefied feeling? It felt as though I had been transported to a satisfied and content place, a place where I had everything and my mind wasn’t craving anything else (not even coffee). This was accompanied by a feeling of immense gratitude that overwhelmed me. My normal modus operandi with beggars at road intersections is to dole out biscuit packets or small bills. That day I was dispensing the large bills! I nearly emptied my wallet that morning.
I reached home and read up on the band - formed in Baltimore, Maryland by Victoria Legrand (vocalist and keyboardist) and Alex Scally (guitarist, keyboardist and backup vocalist). Genre of music - dream pop! From a 1991 NYT article this is how that genre is described
This year, the most popular phenomenon in British alternative rock is a wave of hazy neo-psychedelic guitar groups. Some critics call them “shoe gazers” because of their on-stage bashfulness. Perhaps the more appropriate term is “dream pop,” which evokes these groups’ blurry, blissful sound and out-of-this-world aura.
I just HAD to learn why this track had so enchanted me. The lyrics were clearly part of the puzzle but there was so much more. After listening to many other Beach House albums and reading extensively on the musical duo, I finally hit pay dirt with the album’s Pitchfork review:
Filmmakers call the part of the day right before the sun goes down “the magic hour.” It’s that brief moment when the waning daylight causes everything to take on a holy, hazy glow. It took Terrence Malick about a year to shoot his 1978 movie Days of Heaven because he insisted on filming only during this time of day, but the results perfectly capture and distend that dizzy, overripe feeling of right before something very good ends. Bloom does that, too. “What comes after this momentary bliss?” Legrand wonders on “Myth”. It’s a question Beach House don’t seem interested in answering any time soon. Because that’s become their signature magic trick: stopping time right before the sun disappears over the horizon, tricking you into believing a feeling can last forever.
So that’s how Myth made me feel that day in September. The magic still persists although a bit attenuated.
If you’ve listened to the track, do post a comment on how you felt.. even if it was “Meh!” :)