2013 Stories : Jailhouse Project – Rediscovering Music

Something momentous has been happening in my life in the last two months, and try as I might, I have not been able to put it down in words yet. Not that I haven’t tried – I have two long, unfinished posts, a result of a fortnight of dissatisfied key jangling. I have been thinking much about the import, and how to convey the same in words instead of just writing about it, and that has been the culprit. I also know with experience, that it is essential that I put this down, now, while in the middle of it for it to be of any legibility and free of finery. These are the stories of my life, this is the ‘what did i do‘ parts of my life that I would like reading about.

And yet, as I mentioned, time and again, it wasn’t coming about. I have not been able to convey the wonder, excitement and buzz of the moment.

Then yesterday, while on chat with a friend, it just bubbled out in a couple of lines. (P is me)

P: The last month and a half, I have been on another one of my ‘jail house’ projects. It started with discovering the delta blues and then having gotten absolutely obsessed with the 60s music.
S: What’s a jailhouse project
P: A jailhouse project is something I have defined myself*. Something that I like to get obsessive about over a period of time, presuming time and money are not a concern. As in, a question that I ask myself, if time (available time as well as the time/era/culture I live in) or available money was not a concern, what would I listen to..What would I read … What would I do.. and so on.
S: Getting obsessed is very prudent. Probably the only way to make life palatable
P: Well, it is a lifeline for me at times
S: I get it
P: Jump starting life
Lest you think I am kidding about being obsessive, I have downloaded 120 GBs of ONLY music in the last two months
Have heard about 180 new albums I had never heard before. Actively listened.
S: Whoa. That’s kinda awesome
P: Yes. It is a complete restart button. Before this, I had spent about two months not hearing any music.

S: Do you force yourself to? Or is it easy?

P: It scares me too. I don’t think I have discovered any new music in the last 5 years. I never force myself for anything. I cannot. Doesn’t work that way. I just guide the obsession. Feed it.

*I don’t remember ever consciously thinking of the term “Jailhouse project”, it was there in my head when I needed to describe this. After much deliberation, I have filtered it down to two influences.

1. One of my favorite movies of all time, Old Boy has an enforced fifteen year incarceration where the protagonist goes from getting totally unhinged to having to focus his madness into a goal.

Sanity to madness to sanity

madness to insanity

Disciplined madness

Disciplined madness

Oh-dae Su goes through a series of ‘jailhouse’ projects before getting out. Left many subconscious scars on my psyche.

2. Another influence, perhaps far more telling was the short story The Bet by Anton Chekhov (you can read it here or hear it here) which I read in school. It involves enforced (voluntarily enforced!) incarceration, yet again for 15 years.

Stages of self-realization in Anton Chekhov's short story 'The Bet'

Stages of self-realization in Anton Chekhov’s short story ‘The Bet’

This comes to me because even during last year’s 10 books in a month flow (important because it was something I had done first time in my life), I had been excitedly enumerating to my sister the list of books in my unbridled enthusiasm, when she stopped me and mentioned that I sound like that character in The Bet. I had, of course, immediately re-read the story and internally agreed with her assessment.

I have heard an incredible amount of music in this time, and all this while I have been struggling to communicate in my pithy words the wonder I feel through this time… this burst of shocking treasures all at once makes me brim up at times.

I want to stop people on their tracks and ask them to hear songs.

Let me try that again.

I am very resistant to picking up new music. All the music culture that I have experienced has been through word-of-mouth and not through word-of-ear. There were no records in my house when I grew up, not any fascinating music around me. I had to read about an album, and pray to find it, and then buy it without ever having heard it. This has been an ingrained process for so long, that now I am not able to pick up any new music until I hear personal stories attached with it. You can say ‘This is the greatest rock and roll album ever’, but what works much better is a simple, if inadequate ‘I cannot begin to put into words what this album means to me’.

Discovering Treasure

Discovering Treasure

I had spent one and a half months earlier this year without any music. A pair of dog chewed earphones, a general restlessness and a manic reading habit had laid rest to the half an hour to an hour spent passively listening to something loud, comfortable and racy on the earphones. I remember being not too perturbed. I mention this to point out that I have phases of music dependence. All of the music I listen to is through ear-phones, the usual time of listening is when I am doing something else, usually when I am out of the house. One’s active listening time is a depleting quantity, and concentration scarce. Discovering new music, being at peace enough to go through a whole album instead of wanting instant gratification with that one single, is not conducive to such limiting conditions. Especially without a personal story anchor to the music. I have firmly grown into the cliche that you only repeat listen to the music through life that you heard while growing up.

Since the month and a half of having seen the Scorsese produced documentary The Blues (specifically the segment The Soul of A Man by Wim Wenders), I have downloaded a whole LOT of music – exquisite hi quality music – and have even gone through about 60% of it. I had the fortune to accidentally discover Amazon’s listmania in the midst of this frantic musical rebirth which further stoked the fire to demonic levels. Listmania has a lot of lists – music albums are our feature of interest here, personal lists made by fans passing on their musical memories to the world at large. I discovered an amazing amount of music by just browsing through the lists. People had commented about commercially available albums, which you could just click through to, where there was a further wealth of reviews and personal stories. People have poured their hearts out and it is a pleasure to discover music this way. Something like a “I had this record in 1967 and played it till it wore off. Could never find this again until now. Bless you.” makes the record sound so much better.

There are a few things I have learnt in the process:

  1. There is an emotional sanctity to ‘the album’. I knew about this earlier, though hadn’t felt it so vividly. My middle class instincts insisted on a preference for a Greatest Hits CD/Cassette whenever I found about a new musician. Sadly, I brought that instinct over with me into the online world, where there is an extra-ordinary amount of music available, uploaded & kept seeded by genuine souls who WANT people to listen to this music, to genuinely spread this joy. In the way it was released. Through the various versions. Moreover, there is no way one can appreciate a concert record unless one hears it through as one unit. I have made an effort to hear whole albums instead of seeking out specific ‘hits’.
  2. The reviews on Amazon helped in the creation of this emotional connections (though borrowed) with the albums, of the time it was released, and a sense of the moment in time in a way.
  3. During this period, I have tried to re-calibrate a self preference for the Shuffle setting as a lesser used option, not the default.
  4. There is an amazing amount of old music that has been remastered and now sounds very, very different than the scratchy sounds of your childhoods. It is an important point, so it is worth repeating. The Bob Dylan song you heard in your childhood sounds very different than the cleaned up, remastered mono versions of his songs. Most of it is online.
  5. I gravitate naturally towards the 60s. All the rhetoric being said and done, having started with the delta Mississippi Blues, I got into Muddy Waters and through him into all the Blues Rock there is. The 60s is my soul home. Not said as a rhetoric anymore, but as a result of this jailhouse experiment.
  6. I have an 8 GB music player. So a lot of music goes in and goes out on a regular basis. I have frequently broken promises to myself about never taking a particular album out of the player. It feels very cathartic. The screenshot below is just one day’s example.
A look into my music player - 9th July 2013 Screenshot

A look into my music player Teeming with the 60s sounds(9th July 2013 Screenshot)

I shall be writing a lot more about this experience – it is ongoing, for one – and two, I have two unfinished drafts in here – one about The Blues, and one about a list of ten albums across the wide experience I want to share.

For now, I am closing this as a moment-in-time document.

Concert Poster - At the Fillimore

Concert Poster – At the Fillimore

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