I have just started reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, taking it slow and easy. This is a book to savour for anyone who remembers the music and culture of the 1960s and ’70s. And the first few pages are just like his songs — evocative and impressionistic. He recalls a room full of books where he spent much of his time in his early days in New York and he writes about the books with the same feeling he describes his own hunger to hit the limelight as a singer.
What is surprising is his regard for singers who passed out of fashion because of artistes like him. He admires Roy Orbison. The passage where he describes Orbison’s unique range is extraordinary coming from him because they are so different in style: Orbison is dramatic, rising from throaty growls to sweet falsettos sometimes in the same song, while Dylan is deadpan, taunting, teasing, often in a flat monotone. But they are both great, though Dylan of course is greater by far because of his style and lyrics which are absolutely unique. But as he himself points out, Orbison can’t be boxed in as a rocker or a torch singer because of his incredible range. I love his Pretty Woman which is so different from Only the Lonely, my favourite Orbison classic which invariably gives me goosebumps.
I was even more surprised to discover that Dylan used to be a fan of Ricky Nelson. He writes about hearing Travelling Man for the first time. Travelling Man, Hello Mary Lou and A Wonder Like You are my favourite Ricky Nelson songs. Dylan sums up Nelson perfectly. "Ricky had a smooth touch… His voice was sort of mysterious and put you in a certain mood… but that type of music was on its way out." Thanks to artistes like him — Dylan himself. It’s a pity.
Popular music has got grittier and grittier until it’s even kicked off melody now to gyrate to the herkyjerky rhythm and rapid-fire bursts of rap, which doesn’t sound like music at all to an old-timer like me. We Bengalis did have something like rap music in the olden days. It was called "kabir larai" in Bengali which means fight of the poets — "kabi" is Bengali for poet and "larai" means fight — and it was something like a poetry slam with musical accompaniments. But give me blues, soul, rock’n’roll any day.
A computer microphone for my son
I bought a microphone-cum-headphones for my son today. I will give it to him when I fly to Calcutta (Kolkata) later this month. He will take it back to his college in America. Somehow we forgot to get one when he enrolled in college last August. So he borrowed one from a friend to chat with us online on his laptop. But he will be moving to a new room when he returns to college now that he will be a sophomore. Of course, he could have bought a microphone from Wal-Mart. That’s the only big store they have near his college. But to go there, too, he needs a lift from someone. He has friends and some of them have cars. But here in Singapore shopping is so convenient. There are electronic and computer stores almost everywhere. Still I went to Sim Lim Square off Little India to buy the microphone because that’s one of the more popular computer malls.
My wife also asked me to check the price of the Encarta CD. One of her colleagues at her college wanted to know how much it costs in Singapore. At Sim Lim Square, I found the Encarta Standard costs 49 Singapore dollars and 90 cents, the Encarta Reference 99 Singapore dollars and 90 cents and the Encarta Premier more than 120 Singapore dollars. One Singapore dollar is about 63 cents. So the Encarta Standard costs 31 (US) dollars in Singapore and the Encarta Reference, 63 dollars. But the price may vary from one shop to another.