Monday, May 31, 2010

Drugstore Truck Driving Man

I heard Woodstock on LP yesterday, after a very long time. And Drugstore Truck Driving Man has never sounded so relevant to the times.

Originally written by Roger McGuinn and Graham Parsons, and performed by the Byrds, but i like Joan Baez's lyrics more -- she makes slight, but key changes. Here are those lyrics:

He's a drugstore truck drivin' man
He's the head of the Ku Klux Klan
When summer comes rolling around
We'll be lucky to get out of town

He's been like a father to me
He's like the only DJ you can hear after three
And i'm an all-night singer in a country band
And if he don't like me, he don't understand

He's got him a house on the hill
And he can play country music till you've had your fill
He's a lawman's friend, he's an all-night DJ
Sure don't think much like the records he plays

He don't like resistance, I know
He said it last night on a big TV show
He's got him a medal he won in the war
Weighs five hundred pounds and it sleeps by the door

He's a drugstore truck drivin' man
He's the head of the Ku Klux Klan
When summer comes rolling around
We'll be lucky to get out of town

As i was listening to it last night, it struck me that the parallels are quite astonishing:

1. Think of the KKK reference as not specific to a particular ideo-geographical configuration, but as an organization or point of view that goes after a non-mainstream/ marginalized people for whatever reason.

2. Think of the 'music' in the lyrics of the song as ideas, of democracy, equality, the rhetoric of the brotherhood of man.

3. The house on the hill. Isn't the hill called Raisina? This could also be read as a general reference to established power.

4. 'Sure don't think much like the music he plays'. Self explanatory, i am thinking.

5. 'He don't like resistance i know/ He said it last night on a big TV show'. well, ha.

6. The medal in the war is a reference to past glory. Just take away the redneck hick aura, and put in the harvard education, and it all falls into place.

I am ending this post with very very dry laughter.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ascent to Geekdom

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Main Entry: geek
Pronunciation: \gēk\
Function: noun
Etymology: probably from English dial. geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German

Defined as below:

1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3: an enthusiast or expert

The definitions are telling. It starts out in the realm of carnival, and shock, and ends on a quite positive note. The enthusiast or expert entry was qualified with a ‘especially in computers and other technical fields’; but i took that out, because the word is commonly used in a wider sense than the restriction Merriam-Webster is placing on it.

I’ve always liked geeks, possibly because I’m quite clearly one myself. But i’m certainly not an example of the most evolved, or advanced form. I see myself located at roughly the halfway point on the ‘Not Geek to Uber-Geek’ spectrum, but have the pleasure of knowing people who are almost at the three-forth point, or beyond.

A geek, in my book, is an interesting person, because he or she has Interests.

Everybody has interests, you say, and possibly you are right. But the difference between geek and not-geek lies not as much in the fact of the interest, as in the kind, degree and intensity of that interest, and the distance the person is willing to go for it. That is why it is an Interest, and not a mere interest.

Generally, this interest is not something that is likely to bring concrete rewards, particularly in the short term. A geek will occasionally go professional with his or her geekery, and this may bring rewards; but the behaviour itself is relatively pure, particularly when it begins. The obsessive collecting of books, or music, or any other kind of information -- that constitutes the pattern of geek behaviour is a stand-alone pursuit, as it were. It has to be, because one of its defining features is that there are very few others in the geek’s usual environment who are, to an equal degree, interested in the same aspects of the same things.

Keats talks about ‘negative capability’, something he sees as ‘being capable of eliminating one's own personality, in order imaginatively to enter into that of another person, or, in extreme cases, an animal or an object'. I’m not really addressing the transmigratory aspects of this idea, but the relative elimination of the self in order to immerse entirely in another thing, act or behaviour seems to a quality common to geekery. It may manifest in hours spent over musical notations, camera manuals, baking arcana internet sites, or books of any kind, but those are only individual variations. The ability to immerse in something that is not for direct profit is the big commonality.

Thats why i said geeks have Interests.

Geeks rarely have small talk. They’re also not good at hiding their lack of small-talk skills, so the more courageous among them will almost always go directly to real conversation. This, in many cases, will be in the area in which he or she is most comfortable. To me, this is the best part.

So you have someone who has spent a lot of time and energy learning about, say, how the sound on LPs is reproduced and pressed, or why you can’t take certain kinds of shots with certain lenses, or the problematics of Chinese typesetting. They have culled out this information, located different points of views, assimilated all of this, and then formulated their own understanding of the question; including its concomitant issues, modifiers and opinions. And all of this they are happy to tell you, in detail, while answering any questions you may have. What could be a more fortunate outcome?

I guess it depends on your point of view:)

I have mostly met already-formed geeks, or lower-grade geeks, who, while i have known them, have become higher-grade geeks. Very few times in my life have i had the pleasure of watching someone geekify right before my eyes.

In this particular case, its the mountains. The Himalaya, to be specific. It started with a visit to a relatively popular hill town, progressed through volumes of books and documentaries, Google Earth, binoculars, and now stands at huge detailed trekking maps from the Survey of India, a compass to direction-read those maps, and other topographical maps from 1955 downloaded from the online resources of an international library.

And so, to mark my pleasure at watching this process, I write this blog.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Parameter of Responsibility

Lately, i've been in various kinds of dialogue about Green Hunt. Its a terrible, difficult thing, and seems to have brought out particular aspects of people's ideas about the world: how it is, how it should be, and how it got that way.

Some of these conversations have been acrimonious and painful, others informative and enlightening. A surprising number have been all four.

Over the course of these conversations, I have been repeatedly forced to examine my own position, and probe the reasons why i hold the points of view i do. In the process, my own perspective has become clearer and more coherent, at least to me.

Of course there are numberless complexities in this situation. Of course there are motivations, and politics, and profit, and greed, and just way too many threats and weapons. Of course. What do you expect, when you try to pull a 60 year young nation into the gloss of the new world by the scruff of its neck?

And so, i'm glossing over the argument modifers on the multiple sides, not because i'm not aware of them (oh believe me, i am. Some of these conversations have been quite, well, ego bruising:), but because it would be impossible to do justice to their multiplicity and varied understandings in a single blogpost.

What i have been trying to formulate is a sort of macro understanding, something that explains to myself what i see going on, and what i feel about it. Here it is.

There are two houses, neighbours. Things were ok for a while, but then (i'm not going into reasons), one side got a gun, and set it up on the window facing the other house. Whereupon the other side got a gun and did the same thing. Now the first house got alarmed, and got two more guns, so the second house responded likewise.

Now they both bristle with guns (who is to count which one has more) all of which are pointed at each other. There are skirmishes and some people get hurt, but the guns in the two houses continue to point at one another.

So, two houses. You're seeing sort of identical houses, right? Two side-by-side houses in a city, or a small town, or a village. But the difference in this story is that the houses are not identical. One is a mansion, with access to vast resources. There's more rooms for people, more food, more money, more weapons.

The other is the house you were first seeing in your head, an ordinary house. Less of everything.

Now i'm not asking what would be sensible, or who should see the light- if only to protect themselves.

I'm asking whose responsibility is it to lay down the first gun.

Monday, May 3, 2010


A friend came to see me last night

I was in a room heavy with old wood and carvings and glass fronted bookcases —
the sort of room i haven’t seen in a long time

There was so much rich furniture that i felt i had no place to put it all

I moved the desk to be at right angles to the cupboard, one of the bookcases to beside the massive, carved-rosewood bed

And fretted if it all sat right

He walked into the room like he’d been there many times before. He said he’d heard i was sick

And lay down, comfortably stretched out on the bed whose carvings i had caressed with wonder.

So i got on the bed too, less intimidated by the richness, and sat to talk

he was displeased with me, that was clear. I was a bad correspondent, i was always lost in my own head, he got my news from somewhere else

‘Not that i mind’, he said ‘news from you is always so strange that i have to figure out what you’re actually saying, and that takes time i don’t have’

‘If you have so much inside that you can’t pay attention to real things, why don’t you write’, he said, in sorrow as much as anger,

‘then i’ll be able to read it later and know what you think’

I said nothing, aware he was a dream, afraid to commit myself to being revealed

We ate oranges, cut into sections by an unknown hand in an unfamiliar kitchen, while the late afternoon rays of the sun gleamed dull on the old red floor

All the doors were ajar, the windows flung wide

The glass fronted bookcases reflecting the carvings and shadows in the room, hiding more than showing the actual contours

His time with me ran out and he got off the bed

‘I have to go’, he said ‘write.’
Without specifying if i should write to him in particular or to the world in general

I finished the rest of the fruit on the plate, lingering orange-ness on my tongue

Stroked the carvings on the bed, paying special attention to those parts that were hidden from the light

And the dream was over