Wednesday, April 27, 2011

India Part I

I am trying to think of a way to properly write about my travels to India, from which I only just returned. The place is mad chaos. And I loved it.

I was sent to Mumbai by my company for 8 days. It was an intense trip. As I stepped out of the airport I was immediately hit by a wave of thick humidity and heat out of which I could barely breathe. Stray dogs scurried around, people dodged the careening taxis, it was dark, lit by dim, yellow halogens. I commented on my driver's cap, "I'm completely charmed....drivers don't wear caps anymore in the US." He laughed.

I've never seen a city so crowded, so dense, so utterly lived in. There is never a calm moment during the night or day. Millions of people out and about, doing something, even if it looks inane. I once saw a man hammering a sheet of metal with a large sledge hammer on the street. He was a small, scrawny individual; could barely lift the over-sized tool. And yet he would swing it over his head and come crashing down on the aluminum, over and over again. Occasionally he would turn it over, to expose a fresh space in the alloy to bang away at. Everything here can be done on the streets.

Goats everywhere. People own them, but sometimes it's hard to tell since the animals wander around the streets, loosely tethered, eating lettuce. Seems a good, lazy life. They are a future meal.

Driving around town is maddening. There is a hierarchy in place, similar to the caste system I suppose. Buses and trucks are on top of the chain, followed by cars, ceded by tuk-tuk's, trailed by motorcycles and ending with bicycles. Each vehicle cuts off the other, missing a head-on collision by mere inches. Horns blare constantly. There are different types of honks, that I think I could've translated had I stayed a few weeks more. But the beeping is pervasive, as if a part of the air.

The streets are filled with drama. I saw a man fly off his motorcycle, skid half a block down the street, get back up and re-mount, speeding away. A crazy-eyed old man threw a rock at our car and it slammed violently against the passenger door, thoroughly freaking us out. Beggar children would come and knock on the windows at traffic lights, "please sir, please sir, please sir." I could see entire families sleeping on the street, torn sheets barely covering their naked feet. Men get a shave on the sidewalk. One night I hopped into a tuk-tuk, asking the driver to take me to a restaurant that was only a few blocks away. Instead he drove up and down the crowded street in circles, laughing like a maniac. I jumped out of the moving vehicle for the relative safety of the sidewalk.

For the most part the people of India are very friendly. We would wave and smile at each other as I meandered down the crowded allies. They would ask me to take their picture, help me with directions, recommend their favorite place to grab a meal, and sometimes just approach me to shake my hand. Although the medieval looking streets and the sheer numbers of people felt intimidating at first, over time I felt quite comfortable and safe.

After a full week of adjusting to Mumbai's buzzing atmosphere, I was finally feeling more at home. I could discern true poverty from just the typical living standards. I could sense a motorcycle speeding my way before I could see it with my eyes, darting out of the way as if through premonition. I could see order in the chaos. That pile of trash isn't there randomly. The neighborhood has chosen that corner as their refuse deposit, for lack of garbage cans.

Sometimes I wished I could become invisible, so I could walk along these dense alley-ways unnoticed. See life without my presence known. On my last night I came about as close to my wish as possible. I walked along the beach at night with no moon in the sky. The people of India love walking the beaches after sunset, when the air is cooler, and the waters of the Arabian Sea froth about their feet. I was among my Indian brethren that night, in near blackness, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. They could not quite make out if I was a foreigner or not. I was a mere silhouette and felt more alive than ever. I walked down that beach happily; whistling a tune and feeling totally satisfied.

Pt. II - Pictures of India

The elephant caves

Monkey's always a good time

Laundry day

I was eating at a diner and this guy was perpetually shouting into his telephone. I think it served as his office.

Street scenes of Mumbai...

Temples like this dot the urban landscape

These vintage bikes are commonplace. Stylish New Yorkers would love to get their hands on them.

"Horn OK Please" is written on the backs of just about every truck in India. And indeed, horns are used quite generously.

Owners paint their trucks with such wonderful expression

Tuk Tuk

There's no such thing as historic preservation in India. All the beautiful old buildings just slowly fall apart as they are left to rot in their foundations. This is the Crawford Market; architecture left over from the Victorian colonial era.

The interior of the Crawford Market

There are no garbage cans or dumpsters in Mumbai. People just pile the trash onto the street.

Some of the buildings are literally built of cloth and wood

The Chor Bazaar

I went inside one of the buildings and found these gentlemen hard at work....well except for the guy with no shirt on.

Another street along the bazaar

Vintage shops along the Chor Bazaar

Taking a nap after a long day

Pt. III - India in Motion Pictures

This is how you board a Ferry in Mumbai

Riding a train

Mutton Street

The Market

Chor Bazaar 1

Chor Bazaar 2

Friday, April 15, 2011

To the Seventh Sunset

Another year and another new album I've worked on sees the light of day. Sabbapath, To The Seventh Sunset is available now as a free download on J-Dub Records website. 18 songs are strung together to sound like a psychedelic Shabbos service, complete with droning harmonies, flutes, harmoniums, strum sticks and autoharps. The music is other-worldly, sung almost entirely in Hebrew, in a psych-folk amalgamation of musical heritage centered around the trippy musings of an unknown Rabbi, who declares we are all guided by an "unseen dimension" in our lives.

The creator of the album is my good friend Rob Markoff, whom I have musically collaborated with for the past 15 years. He came up with the concept from an old dusty album he discovered at a vintage record store entitled, "Sing Out It's Shabbos," made by a Jewish youth group in Englishtown, New Jersey. The discovery made him nostalgic of his own '70's synagogue experience, but he was disappointed in the music itself. It did, however, inspire Rob to make his own album.

With the help of myself and our mutual friend Kevin, he recorded the whole thing on his cassette 8-track, a vintage machine itself, to get a low-fi throwback sound from another era. He layered on much of the instrumentation with help from myself and (mostly) Kevin on the vocal tracks. He then handed the masters to me, on which I overdubbed percussion, harmonium, pianos and miscellaneous electric guitars through my own 8-track cassette recorder. Once complete, I mixed the whole album at my home-studio and Rob and I assembled the track order.....ready for mastering.

That was 2 years ago. The rest of the process; mastering, finding a label, etc, dragged on for what seemed an eternity. We thought the album would never come out. But come out it did, and you can download it for free and see what you think. If you're Jewish, you'll recognize the songs, but not the style they've been interpreted with. If you're not, like me, you'll just think they sound like they're from another world....a culture far, far away.

You can download the album HERE.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The days of government subsidies

Like most of us, I spent the first couple years out of college doing a combination of figuring shit out, exploring what my mind was capable of, experimenting and just plain slacking. They were great times, looking back, but I definitely wasn't making much money.

One day I was having a conversation with the drummer in my band and he mentioned being on public welfare. I was surprised because I thought welfare could only work if you were poor and supporting a family. But apparently single people can qualify for it too. My friend was a self-proclaimed socialist and said it was one of the few social programs in this country that young, struggling people can take part in. Well, I took a look at my own situation....I was always scrounging for the cheapest food, selling cd's and books sometimes to get by, shoplifting toiletries and doing the occasional dumpster diving. Yeah, I pretty much qualified for food stamps.

It was easy to get. Just an interview with a government employee to prove you fall under the minimum earnings category. Within a week I was waiting on line at the welfare center, picking up my food stamps. That was all I needed it for. Free food. I didn't know anybody besides myself, except my drummer, who took part in the program. I couldn't understand why because pretty much all of my friends qualified. Maybe there was some shame involved? I don't know, I certainly didn't have a problem with it. It was a good way to get by in the lean years of my youth. Indulging in self exploration; giving myself some time to stretch out and be creative without the pressure of a full time job.

By the way, identity thieves, don't get excited by the personal information on the card. I jumbled all the numbers around in photoshop.