By Siddharth Prasad
Say what you want about them, but Americans really like America. And not just in the zealous, ‘this-is-my-motherland-and-I-will-lay-down-somebody’s-life-for-it’ kind of way. Nor am I talking about the patriotic hypermush that causes films like Independence Day and their subsequent triumphs at the Oscars. What I find really cool is the less lofty, more everyday kind of affection that finds its way into songs and on to t-shirts.
Patriotism is about believing your country is better than others. Painting a stars-and-stripes motif on the bonnet of your car is just love. And the reason said motif looks so cool is that over the years it’s got a lot of design input and it’s a part of contemporary culture.
There’s an obvious lesson in this for India – we put our national symbols on a pedestal and worship them, instead of turning them into cool stuff and dancing with them. (Take a bow, Tantra t-shirts).
But this piece isn’t about that.
This is about music. There are so many songs about so many bits of America. There’s West Virginia that country roads take John Denver home to; there’s Alabama that’s sweet home to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock; 52nd Street in Manhattan that Billy Joel named a song and an entire album after; a bridge on 59th Street that became the subject of an S&G song. And then there are the road songs like Truckin’ that can take you all the way from Dallas to Buffalo; and yes, there’s Hotel California too. And all this is stuff I could easily sing for you if you put a wee dram of Scotland into me.
Chicago is a band. So is Kansas. And Boston. There are songs about the Missouri and the Mississippi and the Rocky mountains. Dozens of them. Memphis, Arkansaw, Tallahassee, Muskogee – do these mystical lands really exist? Music has romanticized the American map so wonderfully and evocatively, that I have emotional bonds with many of these places without ever having visited the United States.
It’s not marketing (in the sense that marketing is a deliberate, pre-meditated act). It’s not like these are examples of places being honoured for their contributions to music (like St. Louis blues or New Orleans jazz). These are just examples of songs made more vivid by the inclusion of real places. And places made more wonderful by being celebrated in songs.
It’s beautiful, it’s cool, it’s art. It takes something from the world and then gives it back enriched.
Instead of cloning crappy reality shows, this is what we should emulate from American entertainment. Just think about it: a country so vast and diverse and nuanced as ours; it’s just crying out for songs. Of course we have the national anthem, which is probably our best celebration of the Indian map; but that’s not really mainstream. Popular music has very few examples like ‘Kabhi Linking Road, kabhi Warden Road, kabhi Cadell Road…’ from Patthar Ke Phool, but Mumbai is myopic and Bollywood can’t see much further than Khandala (Aati kya?). Which leaves the rest of India: a huge, virgin, fertile and royalty-free muse waiting to be versified.
‘Aara hile, Chhapra hile, Baliya hile la…’ and then what? What will rock our world after that? Why not a love ballad about a beautiful Gurgaon Ki Gori, or a travel song celebrating the awesome Grand Trunk Road? Or a heavy metal anthem called Ran-Tham-Bhor, or a light little something named Howrah Sunrise?