This is a post that touches on music, technology, people’s movements, loss of memories, and memories of loss. Readers are requested to forgive me for attempting to straddle all of these in one post, there is no way I can help it today.
“Remembering things about a person is an expression of compassion and concern. Forgetfulness shows a lack of compassion, a lack of responsibility.” These words by Daisaku Ikeda started my day as I settled in with my tea to watch the live telecast of the 54th Grammy Awards. I was looking forward to the show for the Beach Boys reunion and the Paul McCartney performance. However, the run up to the show saw the death of Whitney Houston and the awards ceremony was a proof of how the show can go on without compromising on compassion and concern. With presenters and and performers alike making it a point to honor those who are not among us today at a show that is precisely planned and televised live, it is a living testimony to what the arts and technology can do together.
The weekend had me reflecting on how the new technology and social media can actually create a brave new world. The internet with all its shortcomings continues to be one of the few spaces where the new generation can go to find the memories of their predecessors. One of the more painful drives in Hyderabad is the one on Tank Bund where one is faced with the defaced pedestals and missing statues of Telugu luminaries whose presence angered some people. Counting the defaced pedestal that are still standing made me realize yesterday that I was not aware of the life and times of many of these people. Thanks to the internet, I was able to look up who they were and what they did. What the internet failed to give me was any rationale behind this act of vandalism, though it did show me that I was not alone in my grief and that the largest expression of opinion about this was that of sorrow and disgust. This digitization and virtualization of our collective past is rapidly becoming the norm, with museums, galleries, libraries and book stores giving way to virtual storehouses of memories and information. I realize this as I see the second hand books and magazines Sunday market at Abids shrink a little more every time I visit.
This comes with its plus and minus. The new generation of internet users, though often accused of being fickle and short of attention, is capable of processing far more information at a much faster pace than any earlier generation. They are quick to receive and honor new ideas and 1expressions, and equally quick to reject them. The evolution of the social media space to where it allows convergence of all media across a wide range of platforms and devices has only added to this movement.
People can come together using the new medium to not only share their creative expression but also to express their opinions about their own welfare. In many ways, people are today able to impact public policy by using the power of the internet to mobilize, crystallize and publish the will of the people. Censorship and restriction on the freedom of expression or access to information by governments and corporations have proved futile. The Arab Spring and the recent global uprisings against failed capitalistic institutions and principles are evidence of this power. Many people are quick to point out that these “people’s movements” are naive, misguided, and either fizzle out or get hijacked on to somebody else’s agenda. It is perhaps prudent to keep in mind that these are the early days of this movement. There are few precedents and the failures of these movements are but lessons that will strengthen the future of the free internet.
Today’s television event of the year, at least for music lovers, is streaming live not only on the official websites, but on Youtube itself, long perceived as a threat to traditional television and the commercial audiovisual industry. The internet today is emerging as the future of all media. The Grammy’s three hour delayed telecast to the West Coast continues this year in spite of having lost all its relevance in the age of the internet. To adapt the words of the legendary Gill Scott-Heron who too was remembered at the awards show, the revolution is not being televised, it is live.
Enough of this socio-economic stuff. Let me get back to the music.
Since this post was written in the backdrop of the Grammy telecast (or is it the other way around?), I need to share my big takeaways from the ceremony. The Maroon Five and Foster the People tribute to The Beach Boys was the perfect introduction to the iconic band performing together for the first time in god knows how many years, even if for just one song. And that was followed by Sir Paul, Eagle Joe Walsh and Diana Krall singing My Valentine from his new album Kisses on the Bottom. Glen Campbell! was as much fun as the superb all-star tribute that brought him on. Tweets paused for a while as Jennifer Hudson sang Whitney’s all time classic I will Always Love You with the intensity that had people tweeting that she was channeling Whitney’s spirit. I had always wanted to know about the music that Nicki Minaj made, and her strange act at the award ceremony gave me some idea. Though it was roundly dismissed by viewers the world over, the pyrotechnics, the speaking in tongues, the levitation, and the rather meaningless religious symbolism made me realize that we live in a world that holds the cultural vacuum of sensationalism (Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj) and genuine artistic expression (Adele and even Taylor Swift) in one impartial embrace.
For me personally, the highlight of the show was the McCartney recreation of the closing tracks from perhaps the best Beatles album Abbey Road. The guitar climax with Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh, and Bruce Springsteen joining in to trade licks was a treat. At a time when new music is challenged to match the greatness of the past, this year’s performances showcased the best of the new generation standing very ably shoulder to shoulder with the giants of yesteryears. A heartening sight indeed.
If you have not already seen these two posts of mine, you may want to check out
1. Band on The Run - Paul McCartney and the Wings - 25 years later
2. My tribute to a legend. Whitney Houston