Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Seven Notes & the Muse

In 1998, India’s most adventurous literary magazine Gentleman began to devote four pages in every issue to popular music. It started as a series of 2200 to 3000-word essays on singer-songwriters who changed popular music, as we knew it.

The main focus was to give prospective listeners an idea of what was available. As the main contributor to this series, I saw it as my personal tribute to musicians and their work that had meant a lot to me, without losing sight of the agenda of being a sort of a guide to people who might have wanted to be initiated into that music.

We never thought of target groups, sample sizes or any of that stuff. Perhaps that is what made the pieces heartfelt and sponteneous.

The series caught on very quickly. The Internet wasn’t the force it is now, but even now it is difficult to get pieces of this length, that balance information and subjective expressions on these musicians and their work.

The success of this series led to a 50% increase to the number of pages devoted to music. There began a sponsored series on India popular music (non-Bollywood) that also received a pretty good response. In October 1999, a whole issue of Gentleman was devoted to music – a Western Music Special. The tremendous response to that led to an Indian Music Special in June 2000. There were also other pieces on popular music – reviews of (usually enthusiasms on) new albums released and the like.

Sadly, in October 2001, Gentleman was forced to wind up, as its overall literary (and sometimes esoteric) slant was not seen as viable to its funders.

It has been four years now since its demise, yet murmurs of regret can still be heard, on the Web and even in the mainstream press. As the main contributor to the music section, I’m still surprised by strangers who respond to my name by bringing up the Gentleman pieces; some have even said that it shaped their music tastes. Clearly, those pieces (especially the songwriters series) had touched a chord in a lot of people.

Obviously, it is the the musicians who should get the credit for that. This was a celebration of their work, and ultimately if that music had not spoken to those people, they would definitely not have remembered what had led them there.

A lot of people have been urging me to set up a blog with those pieces. I’m finally doing it, figuring that if the music hasn’t dated, the pieces wouldn’t either.

I only have my pieces so I’m putting them up. Hopefully, gradually, others who contributed during that period will use this space to do the same.

The “Great Songwriters” pieces (totalling just 14 here, by no means comprehensive) are here.

The Music Special Issue of 1999, and its rock/ pop/ soul recommendations are here.

The pieces on Indian and Pakistani popular music are here.

Between 2000 and 2004, I worked full-time on a novel called Local that got published in April 2005. The webpage on the book is here.

Narcissism meets storage, I guess. Hopefully, it'll be useful to some in other ways.

Jaideep Varma
August 2005