In A League Of Its Own
Rarely have I known someone to be as passionate about music as was my friend Amitava. Incorrigible Deadhead and passionate lover of guitar jams, he’d drop by in office occasionally to check what I was listening to and pass me his pen drive for a top-up. I enjoyed feeding him new music; mainly because he would not only listen to the stuff I proffered but promptly provide feedback on the music as well as regularly on this column. Amitava ‘Goldie’ Guha passed away recently and I shall miss him sorely.
Not very long ago, when bluesman Buddy Guy performed at the Siri Fort Audi in Delhi, I was in the audience. As had been Goldie. He was enthralled by the music. So much so, that when the blues showman stepped off the stage and walked around the hall with his guitar searing, Goldie got out of his seat and went down on his knees in front of Guy, completely in thrall.
I’ll miss Goldie’s regular text messages on Sunday mornings, making a point or two about DC or just commenting on some new stuff that I may have shared with him. Unlike many of my generation, who appear to be stuck in the music of the seventies and familiar stuff from our college days, Goldie was always hungry to try out new and uncharted stuff. When I sent him funky New Orleans tracks by Kermit Ruffins and an album by the San Francisco-based The Mother Hips who play psychedelic folk rock, he sent me a text message barely two months back in typical ‘Beng-lish’: “Kermit Ruffins is brilliant swingy music. As are Mother Hips. Shokal theke shunchi. Thanks millions.”
But if you really wanted to make Goldie’s day, you had to discuss The Grateful Dead. Such a mad Deadhead he was that he could keep listening to endless collections of bootlegs by that one band and keep talking about their music. Still, for me, he was one of the few people I know with whom I could share new bands and new sounds and enjoy the experience.
Last week, when I finally got to hear Wilco’s new album, The Whole Love, I dearly missed Goldie. He’d have loved it. For an alternative indie-ish (they were not always on an independent label although they may sound like they are), Wilco has an ironic name. After all, Wilco is the military usage of the phrase ‘Will comply’ used normally in response to an order. Wilco complies with no order. Formed after the break-up of an alternative country band, Uncle Tupelo, after Jeff Tweedy (Wilco’s frontman) and Jay Farrar fell out, Wilco started in the same vein as Uncle Tupelo, making country-ish alt music. But with time and a succession of albums, their music became more experimental, drawing on rock, blues and psychedelia. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, released in 2002, found them fame and over the years, the band has amassed at least five Grammys.
The Whole Love (released this September) is Wilco’s eighth album and their first released on their own label, dBpm. As with each of their albums, Jeff Tweedy and his band keep reaching for higher levels and The Whole Love is perhaps a notch higher than 2009’s Wilco (The Album), which itself was a very good album. On The Whole Love, the band experiments with a range of styles—cocky rock, introspective, moody songs and even infectious pop tunes. And comes across as a band that has matured and is confident of doing its own thing the way it believes is the best. Being on its own label probably helps.
If you haven’t heard Wilco yet, most critics will point you towards Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born (2004) to sample them. I like both those albums but the ones I’d recommend are The Whole Love, of course, and 1996’s Being There—a two-disc album with 19 songs that the band released a couple of years after it was formed. The best thing about Wilco is their unpredictable nature. Some of their music has hooks that click with you instantly; but some take time to grow on you. Exactly the way I like it. I wish I could get Goldie’s take on them.