Monday, October 11, 2004

Where Eminem meets the Pet Shop Boys

In her weekly column for Business Standard, Nilanjana Roy wrote recently about the extraordinary response of the normally reticent Arun Kolatkar to the question: "Who are your favourite poets and writers?"

"There are a lot of poets and writers I have liked. You want me to give you a list? Whitman, Mardhekar, Manmohan, Eliot, Pound, Auden, Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas, Kafka, Baudelaire, Heine, Catullus, Villon, Jynaneshwar, Namdev, Janabai, Eknath, Tukaram, Wang Wei, Tu Fu, Han Shan, Ramjoshi, Honaji, Mandelstam, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Babel, Apollinaire, Breton, Brecht, Neruda, Ginsberg, Barth, Duras, Joseph Heller,. Gunter Grass, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Nabokov, Namdeo Dhasal, Patthe Bapurav, Rabelais, Apuleius, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Robert Shakley, Harlan Ellison, Balchandra Nemade, Durrenmatt, Aarp, Cummings, Lewis Carroll, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Godse Bhatji, Morgenstern, Chakradhar, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Balwantbuva, Kierkegaard, Lenny Bruce, Bahinabai Chaudhari, Kabir, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Howling Wolf, Jon Lee Hooker, Leiber and Stoller, Larry Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Andre Vajda, Kurosawa, Eisenstein, Truffaut, Woody Guthrie, Laurel and Hardy."

Nilanjana says: "I look at those names now, and I think, okay, that’s a poem right there. It speaks for all of us, for our hybrid heritage, our right to claim everything that comes from our "roots", everything that comes from "elsewhere" and to put the two together in one defiant, all-inclusive category."

Why does all this suddenly come to my mind? Well, because driving to work today I was listening to a Pet Shop Boys album and I suddenly realised that one lyric had made a not-so-subtle reference to Eminem and his famed homophobia. Contemplating that both PSB and Eminem rank high among my musical pleasures, I was struck by how disparate these two artistes are in every imaginable way.

One is a gay Brit duo whose synthesizer-based pop songs have, for nearly 20 years, made gentle, perceptive observations on love (ostensibly homosexual love but in truth applying to either sexual orientation), life, popular culture and the nature of celebrity -- all of this neatly masked by lyrics that often seem embarrassingly cheesy but which are evocative and moving if you open yourself to them. The other a cussing, vulgar American hip-hopster whose genius with words and rhythm mixes uneasily with his misogyny, minority-bashing and general offensiveness. As Friends‘ Chandler would say, "Could they be more different?"

What the heck, I love them both. Occupying opposite ends of the musical/ideological spectrum, they’ve lifted my spirits at crucial times with their words and their music. And I think this is a tribute to the capacity of the human spirit for all-inclusiveness.

Pet Shop Boys and Eminem is probably a lowbrow example by comparison; this applies equally to other fields, of course. I wish more people would open themselves up to different types of experiences instead of, for instance, summarily excluding entire genres of books/films from their purview ("I don’t read science-fiction novels!" "I don’t watch Hollywood’s mainstream trash!" "I don’t watch Denmark’s Dogme trash!") I’m not saying one should be completely indiscriminating but it’s sad that so many people don’t trust themselves to filter something good from whatever they read/see/listen to, instead of just shutting their eyes to it.

I was faced with a choice at a difficult age
Would I write a book, or should I take to the stage?
But in the back of my head I heard distant feet
Che Guevara and De'bussy to a disco beat

("Left to My Own Devices" -- Pet Shop Boys)

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