Thursday, May 21, 2015

ABOUT MY FAVOURITE GUITAR SOLO

Two days back, I was having a pretty crappy day - an outcome that usually involves close interaction with armpits of fellow victims of the Mumbai local trains, and partially, idiotic meetings.

I knew I needed the ultimate remedy. It needed to be used with caution. Like Getafix would have us believe, overuse might render it useless.

I reached for my most excellent Hifiman HE500 headphones, and plugged on the track I knew would set everything right.

And it did.

==

Never has a piece of music moved me as much as that underrated genius, Alex Lifeson's solo on La Villa Strangiato. Along with Neil Peart on drums and Geddy Lee on bass/keyboards, he created 2:33 of sheer joy and beauty.

To say that Rush is just a band is like saying Nutella is just a spread. They are quite simply, the most efficient band ever - to think that so much sonic magnificence can come out of just three individuals is mind-blowing, and something process engineers the world over should study, before an MBA comes along and creates some stupid 6-sigma presentation.

But I don't want to beat about the bush too much - alas, being a strategy guy in advertising, that's my natural disposition - but here, I just want to talk about this solo.

The song itself is an instrumental, spanning eleven 'movements' over 9 minutes. It's the fourth part of this, A Lerxst in Wonderland, whatever that means, that I'd like to draw your attention to.

Here's the track:



If you're listening to this for the first time, then listen to the whole thing, from the beginning. Trust me, the solo sounds way better that way. In a way, it's like Sachin and Ganguly ripping into the hapless English bowling at Headingley in 2002, but only after Dravid has laid the foundation with an epic 148. Something like that. But anyway.

Read as you listen.

At 3:16, you can FEEL the shift in tone.
By 3:35, something has settled, but there's tension. You notice the world's greatest drummer, Neil Peart, manically hi-hatting away.
And then begins those guitar moans. Those incredibly sexy guitar moans. Oh, shut up, Jimmy Page, you don't hold a candle to this man.
At 4:02, Geddy Lee's bass note fills the air. You can sense it, something is gonna give. Like a tense father-son altercation after an opprobrious word was used by mistake.
The few seconds after that, Lifeson's guitar is almost reassuring. By 4:14, it's turned from tension to beautiful melody. It's just been a few seconds.
Slowly, the pace picks up. At 4:27, it's like a plane getting ready to take off. You know, that moment, it's just teasing you, gliding along the tarmac, as you clutch your seat, waiting for that gut-wrenching zoom to happen?

And then, my favourite moment.
As Lifeson slowly builds up the pace, there's a bit of subtle genius by Rush. Notice Geddy Lee's bass. Before the 'paragraph', if I may call it that, is over, he changes his bassnotes at 4:39 to become more aggressive. Hear it again. Now, suppose he'd waited till the next 'paragraph' began at 4:44, it would have seemed like the whole band just shifted together, it was a deliberate 'taking to the next level'. But since Geddy's already gone into next gear before Alex, you don't know what's hit you. Suddenly, before you know it, the pace has changed from slow and easy to third gear.

Some quick pyrotechnics later (4:48, hear that?), we are clearly going up, up and away - and that happens, at 4:56, as he launches into an astonishing array of notes that never dips in melody despite the speed. As the minute counter crosses 5, you realise that you're hearing something very, very special.

One final run, one final finger-blurring series of notes, before ending in an orgasm - that beautiful, beautiful muted guitar riff at 5:14, which carries on till the end of the 'movement', 5:49.

Phew. I mean, phew. Speechless. As always. Eyes, finally open again.

Rush don't allow you to relax, of course, the next movement throws you right back into action. Your fingers are itching to press rewind, but that's almost disrespectful. You wait till the song is over, and then play again. From the beginning of course.

==

Most guitar solos are just that - solos of guitar. The other musicians are just support acts.
Not LVS. The solo is as much Peart's and Lee's as it is Lifeson. The tension and atmosphere that their incredible drumming and basswork creates is as instrumental (hehe) to this song as Lifeson's fantastic guitar playing.

To fully appreciate what Peart and Lee bring to the table, it's worth listening to the track sans the guitar. Pay attention to Peart's oh so subtle changes. That's the genius of the man.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em5fO_jb2JA

And see if you can keep time. It's maddening.

==

I've heard every version of LVS that exists on YouTube, including most of the covers. From the classic one (1979, Pinkpop) below, where he's probably played his fastest ever. And that's when you realise, the bugger was 25 when he played this. Twenty fucking five.

 

And of course, there's the 'old' Alex...


No matter which 'other' version I hear, it's imperfect. He's trying too hard, or adds something needless, goes too fast (like the solo outro in the above video), goes too slow, makes it too short... The original studio version remains, in my eyes (ears?) the perfect-est way to do this solo. I'm sure many hardcore Rush fans will agree.

==

I just realise I've written a fairly sizeable post about one guitar solo. But that's how much this means to me. If a piece of music is powerful enough to undo the damage a Borivili Fast train can do to you, it must mean something.

Thank you, Aleksandar Živojinović aka Alex Lifeson, for this.

Friday, April 10, 2015

WHEN DID FLIPKART BECOME THE BAD GUY?

I remember a more innocent time. 

When Twitter was filled with early adopters and quality conversation than brand contests and Bhakt trolls. 

A time when Facebook was more an alternative from Orkut than a marketing monolith. A time when a phone over 5 inches was simply called a landline. 

It was a time when we loved Flipkart. 
It was also a time when very few people knew of Flipkart. It was a time when they sold only books, too. 

Supporting the spirited underdog is hardly a novel concept. It's a narrative that has, since time immemorial, fed literature, popular culture and sport. From David vs Goliath to New Zealand vs Australia, there's a sense of romance in seeing the one against whom odds are stacked beating the big bad bully. 

But it doesn't take long for that underdog, once successful, to metamorph into that bully, even if only perceptually. Human beings are fickle that way, that's the way they're wired. Metallica were once the darlings of the underground who wanted them to be famous. And like the lyric in their own song, King Nothing, goes, "Be careful what you wish". With the popularity of their albums, they increasingly tended towards the Goliath end of the metal scale. They made a video for 'One' - and this was unpardonable in the underground metal community. This was seen as a sign of selling out. Popularity, it would seem, was fine as long as it was within limits.

Back to Flipkart. They were our beloved book etailer (how cool was just saying that word, back in 2008?). They stocked the most obscure of things, that Landmark and Crossword (who, no doubt, had to stock popular titles and diversify to meet rapidly increasing overheads) didn't. Books, more than anything else, was the true love of the English-speaking intelligentsia, and Flipkart soon became their darling. It was their (sorry, our) little secret. It felt cool. Delays in delivery were forgiven. They were cool, too. Witty replies on Twitter. 

Remember this?




















Honestly, it was with mixed feelings that I saw their diversification. They did it very naturally and organically. We cheered them along the way as they got funding. Much deserved! Now more people can know of their awesomeness. They had some truly innovative products like Flyte, the online music store. This was the peak of my personal love for them.

With more funding came acquisitions. Suddenly our little underdog was no longer one. When they became an online megastore, we were still with mixed feelings. Sure, they created the most adorable ad campaign in India since Vodafone's Pug, but not too many people from 2008 could have pictured Flipkart one day selling refrigerators. 


Their replies got less and less startuppy and more corporate. The complaints grew, an inevitable thing to happen to a service company trying to achieve scale. Consumers were more demanding. And the financial tabloids feasted on gossip. Negative news. Foreign funding. Listing in Singapore. Tax avoidance. 
News of multi-crore salaries. Mahesh Murthy's epic description of them as "VC-funded ecom charities". 















Competition didn't help. Two years back, we'd have laughed if we were told Amazon could dent Flipkart's hegemony. The number of voices who, almost regretfully, said, "Dude... It's actually cheaper on Amazon / Snapdeal... Getting it from there.", almost like if they were cheating on a spouse, increased. The Indian consumer was as promiscuous as a Frenchman in a brothel (I think it was Andy Zaltzman who said that. The latter - he is not an expert on Indian purchase behaviour as far as I know).

Another thing that didn't help was a totally useless loyalty program called Flipkart First, but I'll rant about that later.

Here we are. 2015. Flipkart has all the signs of a corporate Goliath. Money. Ads. Customer complaints. Lots of hatred around the mobile app being pushed to your face (ugh). These were Flipkart's 'One' moments - to recall what happened to Metallica.

But it was alright. Deep down, we somewhere still like(d) Flipkart. It is, after all, a homegrown example. 'Sachin and Binny!' automatically came to mind when we thought of new-age Indian entrepreneurs. They were our star duo, our answer to Sergei and Larry. Kids from the IIMs, who used to prefer HUL and McKinsey, now go there. They are the beacon of Indian Startupnagar.

How did that love turn to like, which is such an untenable position in this day and age?

Today morning, I saw a campaign on Reddit, in response to an absurd comment made by the Flipkart CEO. The campaign was to get as many people to rate the Flipkart app as 1-star on Google Play.

It felt like a natural conclusion of all the Net Neutrality debates that were happening over the last few weeks. But I'm not going to talk about that - it's another debate.

But it led me thinking.
Rewinding to that simpler time.

Where IPL had just started. Where I had a Nokia E63.
Where Flipkart was universally loved.

Fans of 'professional wrestling' will know that the storylines are written in such a way that a 'face' becomes a 'heel' or vice-versa to maintain interest and drama. This ain't no wrestling match.

Which led me to wonder:
When did that lovable Flipkart of 2008 become the heel?

I miss ya, Good Guy Flipkart.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A REALLY EASY WAY TO DE-CLUTTER YOUR DESKTOP

As much as my mom might roll her eyes at hearing this, I'm not too much of a fan of clutter. Especially on my gadgets.

I've spent hours organizing my music collection (using a fantastic tool called Tag&Rename) and I kinda get a kick out of photo organizing.

When I got my first computer, I quickly saw the merit of the 'Quick Launch' toolbar, a handy place to keep all the rubbish at bay. It was our cheap version of the cool icon-bar on Apple computer. However, as Windows got more evolved (I use that term cautiously), the Quick Launch bar went away and caused me immense distress. Until I discovered a workaround. It's pretty simple.

Step One: Right click the Taskbar, and deselect 'Lock The Taskbar'. Then drag it to increase its height.



Step Two: Create a folder - call it Toolbar (or anything else you fancy, really). Keep it anywhere. You won't be accessing it much.





















Step Three: Right click the toolbar. Go to Toolbars -> New Toolbar. Navigate to select the 'Toolbar' folder you've just created. Voila! Your 'toolbar' is created there, and now you can drag and drop shortcuts and create your own Quick Launch. 

Right click and deselect 'Show text' and 'Show title'.





















Step Four: Drag and drop shortcuts of apps you commonly use onto this little toolbar.



And there you have it! All the commonly used programs are right down there. Making it easy for you to access them. If there are certain files that you access regularly as well (For eg: I have an Expenses file and a cycling log whose Excels are linked down there so I don't have to navigate every time I need to make an entry).

Oh, and a couple more things:

1. I hate having icons on the desktop. A clean desktop is more therapeutic than you think. It also forces you to keep new downloads / documents in folders they should be in rather than the most convenient location. It's easy to hide icons from the desktop. See?




















2. If your computer is slow to start, it could be because there are lots of rubbish apps (Adobe Acrobat updater, anyone?) that feel compelled to start when the computer starts. Thankfully, you can disable all of them. Go to your start bar, and type in 'msconfig.exe'. Then go to 'Startup' and uncheck whatever you don't want at startup. Some tools might be useful, of course, like your antivirus, but in general, you can safely uncheck most of these.

















There we go. Hope this helps :D

Friday, August 08, 2014

DEAR 20 YEAR OLD ME

Ok, you young idiot.


















Yes you.

Firstly - the good news. You'll still have hair when you turn 30. But not by much. Also, you're married to an awesome woman. I don't want to spill the beans about that here (why take away from the joy of discovery?). All I will say is - keep an active interest in audio products, especially ones that play lossless files. Also, yes - you'll end up in MICA and advertising, like you wanted. Living the dream of wearing shorts to office and making PPTs at 11 PM.

However, life is not all hunky-dory. There are going to be some ups and some very downing downs, but I can't tell you about them, because, heck, you love Back To The Future as much as I do, and you know what happens when you go mucking around with the space-time continuum too much.

However, here's some advice for you. Keep these things in mind, won't you?

Invest.
I know. Most boring start ever. But seriously, this will make more difference to your life than the Darcy-Weishbach Equation ever will. You'll start earning soonish. Just plonk away a teeny amount like 1000 a month into an RD or something. Do some compound interest calculations and (to use 2014 lingo), what happens next will astonish you.

No, really, you idiot. Stop hogging at Thrissur AFC and get a good mutual fund instead.

Travel.
You stay in freakin' Kerala. Most people around the world would do anything to be where you are (no, not in the hostel exactly - but you get my point). Tons of your batchmates go on bike rides. Join them. That way, you won't be spending your 30th birthday wondering how to pack all that you want to do in 5 days of an upcoming Kerala trip. Just... Go. Discover. Do. Click. Soak it in.

Write and draw.
You used to draw some decent comics when you were in school. You stopped while at college. Don't. Keep drawing. Soon, the internet will allow you to publish stuff online. Write. Write a lot. Regularly. That way, some of the stuff you do publicly online later will be less embarrassing. And trust me - there's a lot of rubbish out there with your name on it.

Listen to a lot of music.
You're stuck in a rut of listening to the same 30 songs over and over again. Explore new genres. Rock, metal, prog, classic, world, Mallu film... There's so much to listen to, and when you're 30, you'll feel like you wasted your 20s not listening to at least 1 TB by now. (Haha, you don't know what a TB is... How cute. Wiki it. Oh wait.)

Make music. Even if it's bad.
Soon, you'll be in a place which has talented musicians, a recording studio, a captive audience and tons of free time. Take advantage of all of that. Play stuff. Record. You'll never get that opportunity again. Going to MICA and not making music is like going to Barbeque Nation and eating paneer. Just publish something to call your own.

Value free time.
Treasure every free minute. And dammit, do something. You while away way too much time. Get off your arse. Exercise. Lose that flab. Go for a walk. Explore the cities you've stayed in but know jack about. Do anything. Just don't laze around. You gotta look back at each day and say, "Yeah, I did something awesome today."

Do this and you'll be fine. I wonder if my 40-year-old self would be kind enough to send me a letter, now...

Cheerio!
Your just-turned-30 self.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

WHAT IF?

The room was abuzz with activity. Journalists uncomfortably shifted in their chairs, murmuring among themselves. Rivals from various TV channels forgot their contractual obligation to confidentiality, and freely discussed things that had been going through the grapevine. For, if what was being rumoured was indeed true, it would change the landscape of India’s favourite sport for ever.

The murmur suddenly reached a crescendo, and then fell to absolute silence. He’d come. Lalit Kumar Modi. Some say the most powerful person in the ICC, the one who really calls all the shots.

Modi took his seat, and quietly surveyed an army of journalists and cricket enthusiasts in front of him. He spotted a few legends of the game as well, some not from India. He knew very well the implications of what he was about to say – it would draw flak from the pundits, shock among the masses and panic amongst advertisers. He knew it all. But ‘Lalz’ was a brave man. Despite a voice frequency which could make a tuning fork move on its own, he knew how to get into dangerous and controversial things. And pull them off. After all, he was the kingpin in his school Tazo mafia. A quick thought of him exchanging a worthless Cheeto Tazo for a prized international Lay’s one from a ‘gelf’ Mallu sucker flickered through his mind. He smiled briefly and then let out a puff of air. It was time.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming”, he delivered. “Our great sport, started by our British and Australian ancestors in the 1870s, has come a long way. From Grace to Bradman to Sobers to Lillee to Richards to Tendulkar to Murali. It’s been a journey. But change has been constant, my friends. And we must endeavour to move with the times.”

The crowd took in a small gasp. They knew what was coming.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honour, privilege and deep responsibility to unveil before you, The World Test Cricket Championship.”

The crowd stared. They knew precisely this was what would happen, yet they couldn’t believe this was happening. The journalists took it all down, not wanting to miss a moment. This would shape the future of cricket as they knew it.

“The top eight T20 teams in the world will now battle it out over a period of ten years to decide to World Test champion. But, I sense unrest among a lot of you, and would like to assure you that this will have no impact on the current T20 or ODI schedules. The yearly World Cup of each will continue to happen, we will continue to have the IPL, but we must embrace this new format, which is making waves around the world. This IS the future of cricket.”

There were questions galore, but no one knew where to start. Lalit saw this all and continued to smile. Perhaps now he could continue, he had prepared a long speech for all eventualities.
“See, over 130 years ago, when England and Australia played that first T20 match, when Charles Bannerman scored the now legendary 57 not out off 33 balls, little did we know how cricket would evolve. Many things have come and gone since. The scoops and reverse sweeps have made way for cover drives and square cuts. Those of you who watch grainy images of Don Bradman’s epic 166*, the highest T20 score to date, will attest to that fact. The rebellious Kerry Packer, in a bid to increase the amount of advertiser revenue possible, staged ‘longer’ matches, which he called One Day cricket. And to the horror of many people, he started using white uniforms regularly to distinguish his so-called one-day league! But today, it is accepted practice to wear whites and no one really raises a fuss.”

“Last year, after a complaint by some of the counties in Papua New Guinea complained they were not getting enough matches, the PNGCB came across a novel idea – a three-day match of 50 overs per day... With two innings. Many of you remember that, I remember there being much criticism in the press... Your press... About the same. How the world’s top T20 country could do something that could kill the game! But the floodgates opened! People loved this new method. Cricketers loved it too! They said it didn’t have the frenetic pace of T20, and could focus on constructing an innings.”

“RUBBISH!”, screamed a legendary Malaysian T20 cricketer from the crowd, part of the 1977 World Cup winning squad. “Constructing an innings? What nonsense! It’s all this new generation and their lazy attitude! In our days, we’d just get out there in our coloured outfits and smash the bloody ball around! The worst kids would be given the ball, to teach ‘em a frikkin’ lesson. Why, we used to thwap sixes the height of the Petronas in those days...”

Modi sighed. He expected backlash. “I agree to your point, sir. But this is not 1977 anymore. Things have changed. There are more youngsters interested in building their technique and defence. And what’s more, bowlers are starting to feel marginalized, and have got better. Infact...”, and he knew this statement was going to bring the house down, “I have made it mandatory for each team to select bowlers on merit.”

The din took five minutes to subside. “Defence?!” screamed a pundit. “What new-fangled rot!” and left the room in disgust.

A journalist, known for his statistical bent of mind, took the audience mic. “Sir, this is very brave. But... Everything’s going to change. What will a good innings be now? A batsman has virtually unlimited time to score runs. Will we be seeing scores of 200s and 300s made by a single batsman?”

“It could very well happen. The idea is to give a batsman time to construct an innings and the bowler, being a vital part of the game, will aim to outfox the batsman proactively rather than hoping for an error. We’re hoping that someone will be able to better Shane Warne’s 2/4.”

Some of the audience couldn’t fathom it. A bowler taking more than 2 wickets in a game! Things would never be the same! What would happen to the IPL, the institutional tournament which was into its 23rd year? How would players be able to handle the heat and conditions for 5 straight days, for over 80 overs per day? All this fitness nonsense was going to ruin the game, many felt.

Modi smiled, realising his work was done. “On a parting note, friends. I’d just like to tell you not be afraid of change. Yes, this may seem too much and too daring. But it could have easily been the other way round. Imagine if we had started out with Test cricket instead, and slowly changed to T20 over the years. Imagine if Bradman were a Test cricketer – imagine the number of runs he would have scored! Imagine if bowlers were given competent wickets to bowl on all this while, they might actually have had a role to play. Why, some of them might have picked up all ten wickets in an innings!”

At this last point, the audience burst into laughter. Modi’s legendary wit had worked again. And at once, they knew it was alright. Change was inevitable. Yes, many could picture parody articles on cricket websites for the next few days (“Modi proposes timeless Test matches”, one satirist was already thinking up). There would be flak.

But that was how cricket had to evolve if it were to keep up with the other sports of the world. T20 cricket was for too long snubbed by Americans as being ‘mentally bland’, compared to the intellectual requirement of golf or 3-day baseball. Perhaps Test cricket was that lease of life that was required to save cricket.


In a corner in his room in Bangalore, a young cricketer who’d never been able to break into the India T20 team smiled. Rahul Dravid knew his time had come.

==

This piece was originally published on Yahoo! Cricket.