“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”
Why would anyone stubbornly stick to a classic rock addenda for a band in India? Why would you insist on a primarily Beatles, Stones, and Doors set list as you struggle to find appreciative audiences? Why cling to rock and roll in New Delhi when we hear “not interested” from nine venues before the tenth “will give us a shot?” Continually swimming against a Sufi tide, and all we need to do, is add a couple of pop songs to our line up to make us “Western Music Palatable.”
India is awash in a sea of Bollywood, Thrash Metal, Sufi, Jazz and 80’s top forty. This is what’s popular. So why rock? Why even try? Can we ever stand out? This is the burning question facing many Rock and Roll and Blues Bands in India. Damn good bands. Bands that are just treading water, gig to gig, venue to venue, show to show. So why do we stay true…..
Well, for me it’s like this…. the back beat in rock and roll drives me mad, touches a part of me NO other musical genre can. I get goose bumps every time I hear Janis Joplin singing Summertime, I automatically close my eyes and tilt my head back from the very first note of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit….and I rarely reopen them until I’ve fed my head. Don’t misjudge, I listen to many types of music. I love blues, I seriously like the crooners, The Rat Pack and such, reggae, punk, classical, early rap, calypso and even a splatter of country now and again. But Rock and Roll and Classic Rock…that’s the real dope for me. There are many types of rock, so don’t get confused, not metal, alternative, glam, grunge, pop, indie, new wave or any kind of rock fusion…ROCK AND ROLL!
Flashes of my early childhood, my brother’s Jimi Hendrix Bold as Love album lying on our shared bedroom floor. My sister’s arms around me, protecting me from the witch on the cover of Black Sabbath’s debut album while we listened to The Wizard. My dad turning up the car radio slightly every time The Beatles came on. Me mum cleaning the house while imitating Jim Morrison singing Touch Me….my MUM..THE DOORS! My first guitar, at eight or nine years of age, fingers aching as I tried to master All My Loving. Trying to feed some deep inner need to sound like, play like, to BE The Beatles. These memories tear me up….with a smile of course. They are part of my fabric, part of my internal rolodex of moments that shaped me.
I am sorrowful for the people who don’t get it, people who simply flip on the radio and bop along to whatever recent top forty hit happens to be on. I understand; we are all different; not everyone can be moved by a piece of music, but those people who don’t hear it, who don’t feel it…..they make me sad. I AM not one of those people. I FEEL the beauty in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody , I FEEL the pain in Johns voice as he sings In My Life, I FEEL the desperation in Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer, I FEEL the love in Bob Marley’s One Love….how can you miss it? I’m not disrespecting popular music…it’s just, I can’t take it seriously. It feels contrite and hollow, like it has no soul. Rock songs, Blues songs…they have heartbeats.
I suppose the question I am trying to answer is, how do you explain your passion, your loyalty to rock and roll to those types of people? How do I explain it to club owners who say, “Can you do a couple of Hindi songs?” How do I explain it to friends who say, “Throw in a One Direction song?” My quick and simple explanations of “that’s not what we do” or “it’s not really our thing” are met with indifference or a shrug and flippant comments like “if you want to be popular, you’ll do it!” or “that’s what sells you know.” But that’s not how I can reach people. I can’t reach people in Hindi, or by playing Metallica…it’s not that I don’t appreciate the artistry, but it’s not MY artistry; and if I don’t believe it, I can’t sing it; and if I can’t sing it, I can’t sell it; and if it isn’t being sold, people aren’t buying it…..and this makes for a very bad gig. You can’t play rock and roll to be famous; if you do that, you’re a monkey. You can’t play rock and roll to get rich; if you’re trying that, you’re a monkey. You play rock and roll because NOT to play rock and roll is suicide. It’s a heartbeat, a feeling in the pit of your stomach that you need to share. The best gigs are the ones when you reach the people at the back table, the ones not really paying attention. If they start to groove, even something as simple as tap their foot, mission accomplished. Spread the love dude. It’s okay to sleep tonight.
So I guess at the end of the day, I just don’t want to be dishonest. I don’t want to lie to the people who come to watch me perform. That means more to me than changing our scene for the gig fee. Rock and Roll in India, ya, we chose a tough road. But I’ll tell you something, every time I step to the mic and scream “Good Evening! We are on a mission from God! A mission to deliver the divine message of Rock and Roll to INDIA!” and my lead guitarist hits the first notes of The Rolling Stones Satisfaction, the drums and bass fall in, I take a deep breath, and just before I sing that first lyric, I smile, because I know we made the right choice…..I can just feel it.