The music lover’s book club

Here on February 27, 2018, I am sitting in front of my book shelf, paying tribute to Strand Book Stall, Fort, on its closing. Besides books of various other genres, I had picked up my first music-related books there.

It was late 1995. I had met the stall’s owner T.N. Shanbhag only once before, formally through my father in 1991. He had gifted me The Outsider by Albert Camus. That wasn’t music and he looked busy whenever I went there next. On that visit four years later, I found The Penguin Dictionary of Indian Classical Music by R. Raghava Menon and In Search Of Lata Mangeshkar by Harish Bhimani. A copy which the Nightingale later autographed.

It was the beginning of a journey. Fantasy-ridden highways, kayak rides and mountain treks of exploring music books. There’s too much to write, so will keep this to some basic thoughts. I am not the only one so crazy about music-related books. I know hundreds, and they love to browse through brilliance, grasp the genius, treasure their tomes. Thousands of music books have been written. Basic introductions to various genres, serious musical analyses, musical history, biographies and autobiographies, pop-art fiction. There's been a lot of utter trash too. Various genres from western and Indian classical to blues, jazz, hip-hop, Hindi film and, well, artistic wardrobe malfunctions and addictions.

From observation, music book collectors are a relatively small lot. But they are a passionate bunch, irrespective of genre. In Mumbai, they have gone to Strand, Smoker’s Corner, Crossword, Landmark, Title Waves, the now-defunct Reliance TimeOut, Om Book Store, Kitaab Khana, street hawkers at King’s Circle and Cross Maidan, and various station-side stalls selling such books, besides music magazines. It requires a special knack to find rare titles as music books are often clubbed with cinema or art, or just placed in some random corner.

Lecturing apart, a few other observations: the music book lover not only enjoys reading, but to exchange and gift too. When Rhythm House shut down, I gifted its owner Mehmood Curmally a copy of Fred Goodman's The Mansion On The Hill. It talked of the clash between art and commerce in rock music, which was perfect for him. Ghazal enthusiast Sandra D’Cruz presented me an anthology of Faiz Ahmed Faiz ghazals, knowing my admiration of the Urdu poet, and also a James Brown bio. I gave her books on poets Mirza Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir. Journalist and sports TV producer friend Glenn Mascarenhas gave me Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan’s autobiography. Music industry veteran Parag Kamani and I are on this constant exchange trip. And sports journalist Clayton Murzello couriered the autobiography of legendary music industry personality Clive Davis. It’s been a common desire to share.

Yet, times have changed as readers try and climb the mountains somewhere near the Amazon river, to Kindle their own self-created comfort along with a fancy music app. In this newfound jungle, it's not easy to find music books. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. In Bhubaneswar, of places least expected, I found three books on how human brains react to music. The authors sounded like Marvel Comics characters - Oliver Sacks, Daniel Levitin and Victoria Williamson. But I keep recommending them.

The only book I have bought on Amazon is blues legend Buddy Guy's autobiography, When I Left Home. Whichever genre you follow, read this one. It's funny. And yes, also buy the autobiographies of sitar great Ravi Shankar, Rolling Stone Keith Richards, Pete Townshend of The Who, Bob Dylan and conductor Zubin Mehta. If music be a feast for the curious ears and eyes, read on.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 12:57:08 PM |

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