Sometimes, its important to forget about the semiotics and greater meaning of things and sit down and pull the Pensieve out. Its important to be back in the humid, hot, carpeted ‘drawing room’ of my father’s house, where a jet black, frighteningly expensive Sony tape deck is pounding away. And as I watch myself lying down, arms and legs flung out on the carpet, sweat pouring out from everywhere onto the unprotesting carpet, I am suddenly looking up at the ceiling, and at the same time, looking into a lonesome phone-booth in a corner of a run-down bar in suburban New Jersey. And just as acutely as I can feel the oppressive heat, aggravated by my frenzied jumping; so can I feel the hot tears I am trying to push back, as I talk into the phone to my wife about promises broken and years lost.
I discovered Bruce too late. My first introduction to Bruce, like so many other Indian kids of the time, were through imported cassette tapes of his Greatest Hits (1995). In small town India, even today, you are very lucky if you manage to obtain anything other than compilations of the artists MTV & Channel V cover because retailers know that those will sell, but are less sure of albums which they have not heard of. So it makes absolutely no business sense. The ‘Greatest Hits’ first arrived on Jamshedpur Amar Market ‘racks’ in 1997. Two years after its first release. I kept the tape on repeat for weeks. And I played ‘Dancing in the Dark’ loudest & sang along to it the most. I usually ffwded ‘Thunder Road’. But my true, almost secret love was ‘Streets of Philadelphia’.
I started looking out for concert recording on cable TV. And I would try to keep from tearing up everything in sight because my mother would be on the phone next to the TV, and it seemed to me that the maid servant had designed some pretty neat methods of sweeping the floor just as the E-Street Band started a melancholy saxophone solo. And then my father would walk in and plant himself next to the bed and make grunting noises until I handed over the remote so that he could check out the latest events in Pakistan.
But I am one of the lucky ones. My family had a colour TV ever since I was born. We had cable TV in the house since ’94 because Dad loved the concept of being able to watch BBC News. He spent about ten hours at home, of which about seven were at night when he was sleeping. So I don’t know if he got his fair share of the Beeb but we sure weren’t complaining. And post his ‘Greatest Hits’, MTV loved Bruce madly. To my absolute delight. Amar Market even gave me my first copy of ’18 Tracks’ in 1999. But this time, it was a CD. It cost me Rs 550. In 1999. I decided to like ’18 Tracks’. I didn’t like it to begin with, but my mother always spoke of things which you grew to like gradually. I liked that concept. And I had paid Rs 550. So I decided ’18 Tracks’ was my wine. Because I loved Bruce. Deeply. I could do that for him.
After a few listens, I pulled out the CD cover leaf and read the lyrics as Bruce sang. On the CD, it felt like he was right next to me. It helped that the speakers a few inches from my face.
And something happened.
After shamelessly asking her for it, Padmini gifted me ‘Tunnel Of Love’. It had come from God knows where. She never told me, but I suspect some NRI vistors had been asked favours.
This time, I read the lyrics first. And I noticed ‘Brilliant Disguise’ from the ‘Greatest Hits’ tape. Hands trembling, I played the CD. I resisted the temptation to play the familiar first.
‘Aint got you’ – wtf?
‘Tougher than the rest’- Silence
‘All that heaven will allow’- Silence
I didn’t sing along. I couldn’t. My throat had gone dry.
“Bruce fans are a fraternity. We share something deep and special, a relationship with the artist and with each other. But it’s more than the typical admiration for an artist, much more. Bruce’s integrity, passion, compassion and truth inform our lives. It has mine.” – Jeff Perlman, Delray Beach, FL