My Life and times with John Clayton Mayer’
I was 12, borderline obese and fidgety when by some divine providence i was gifted a CD man. A sony CD man. Im talking about 2002, and a CD man in those days was a gilt edged possession. I grew up in a small suburban town in northern india, Dehradun it says. Back in those days good expressionist music was something unheard of, not that i had any semblance of either as to what it was. Now i had a CD man, but i didn’t have any clue as to where i’d find some good cd’s to go along. Not that i had a beautiful and rich musical lineage, nor was the case that my family were musical aficionados in the least bit of sense. Out of dearth and desperation i went scouting for some music in a shanty little establishment of a shop, which was quite a dugout for the quintessential and proverbial ‘lazy bones’ of our Pahaari towns, the people who quit jobs and quit family and rent a room and listen to Stevie ray vaughn or Colin James or say even Kenny Wayne Shepherd, ok ill put Robert Cray too in the list. For the ones who know what i am talking about, this was the shop behind the universal filling station. I don’t register the name, but yes it did sell pirated cd’s, home made pirated stuff at throw away prices. And damn was the collection something to reckon with.
Ive had my share of metal days, but now i can punctuate them with ease. Yes for all the detractors out there, YES I’m a lesser mortal, YES i have an unabashedly pop art sentimentality, and i like music that celebrates life. To be very honest I’ve had my share of music that extols the virtues of existential ennui, that extols the solemn depravity in our society, that extols being hermitic in a negative sense of the word. And yes i say ‘negative sense of the word’ with all my other world sentimentalities intact.
John Mayer to me is not some blues rock artist sitting half way across the globe, he’s not to me ,the story of steadfast beginnings and near mortal failures, he’s not just the person I’ve grown up with since the past decade and more. He’s the person I’ve cried my heart out to, he’s been with the downs and downs of my life. He’s been neck deep in the little elements of happiness that came and went like the breeze on a chilly november morning. He’s been an avuncular countenance i banked on. Sitting on the top of my broken iPod. Always ready for a song or two, rummaging through my hurt endings and healing them with candor and pristine melodies in b flat.
So yes i was 13 maybe, when i got my hands on inside wants out heavier things on a pirated Cd written by an unknown Mr. Pawan Rawat. Thank you Mr. Rawat. Heres an attempt to bring into picture my life paralleled by some Mayer and how and in what subliminal ways it shaped me as a human being.
INSIDE WANTS OUT/ ROOM FOR SQUARES
It was the winter of 2002, my father had just come out of a near fatal paralysis attack, so i in my own little kid way had realized and come to terms with the ephemerality of life. In my own little way i learnt to face things on face value. I was young and very proud of the way this young man was shaping things on the block, i had immediately found resonance with some of the tracks on the EP. Back to you and ‘ no such thing’ just made so much sense to me. I still cant fathom how they made such sense to me when i was a just a kid waiting to hit puberty.”
Welcome to the real world”, she said to me
Take a seat
Take your life
Plot it out in black and white
Well I never lived the dreams of the prom kings
And the drama queens
I’d like to think the best of me.
Life lesson learnt: theres no such thing as the real world, just a lie you gotta rise above.
The staccato picking and plucking licks (used in Neon)which formed an intrinsic part of much of Mayer’s body of work took me completely in a different zone. Id attribute solely to ‘neon’ for making me pick up the guitar in a town so sleepy that the closest i came to the ‘best guitar’ was worth some 800 bucks. Things in this phase of my life were soporific and content. I mean i was at school, was listening to a lot of mayer, playing a lot of G chord and thinking i had found out the secret of happiness by striking that mellifluous G.
High school. And the name of his next project couldn’t be more predictable. School as it turned out wasn’t so much fun after all, we had our own sense of internalized fraternities, which in fact was a euphemism for unadulterated and lesser fictionalized versions of rivalries. Frustrations, that sense of growing up against odds. Urban middle class canon isms. The indian education system, the rut of being in the rut, girls growing up faster than we could have imagined and things happening to us that we had imagined were part of folklore or happened only in the badlands of middle earth. Internet was something which was starting to have a reputation, it had something to do with books i had heard. Television was perennially pillaging our interiors and our minds with squalid content. Content so depraved and worthless, it was fit to be banned in Guantanamo.
‘Bigger than my body’ screeched through the scene. The alternative and pop rock jingle was a complete departure from Mayer’s earlier acoustic sensibilities and it was an instant soar. I remember myself air guitaring in front of the mirror on the track so many times.
‘Someday ill fly
Someday ill soar
Someday I’ll be so damn much more
Cause I’m bigger than my body gives me credit for’
I wont be platitudinous and call this a teen anthem, but it did set certain things straight. It was the ‘smells like teen spirit’ for me, GRUNGE WAS DEAD. IT WAS. And I’m glad it was.
Another track was ‘somethings missing’ which was simply put epic brilliance in all it little ways. Steve Jordan’s drumming, David la Bruyere on the bass and later Pino Palladino made the tightest possible thump i had heard of, and mind you i had heard a lot.
“I’m dizzy from the shopping malls
I searched for joy, but I bought it all
It doesn’t help the hunger pains
and a thirst I’d have to drown first to ever satiate
And I don’t know how to fix it
And I don’t know what it is”
Lifes lesson learnt: i was witnessing Mayer’s growth both as a songwriter and a lyricist. And at that petulant age of 16, i had come to know that the only thing that was pertinent was GROWTH.
By some twisted sense of circumstance, i prepare for entering medical school. Continuum was flying off shelves, by this time Mayer was ‘THE international’. Gravity, Slow dancing and Stop this train was something no one had ever imagined would come out of his stable. The TRY trio was working magic, this was blues in all its commercial glory. Pino Palladino on the bass was a beast, i did miss La Bruyere though. The edition i had downloaded was a radio pre release with some informal commentary interspersed in between.
I remember listening to the first lines, ”here i am with a product of my invisibility” Slow dancing in a burning room he said was a song about two lovers knowing that their relationship is ending and they wanting to make the end a beautiful thing. This was both intriguing and intimidating. I better not extol ‘Gravity’, for it till this day stands tall in the annals of blues glory, with the likes of Clapton, BB king and Buddy Guy acquiescing to this guy being the be all and end all of blues legacy.
I was again studying nothing for my pre med entrance. I was locked up in my room, sitting on the edge of my bed and practicing for hours on length. Trying to own the BB King box on the B flat, and trying my hands on pentatonic scale progressions.
I even did an intensely kitschy video, playing slow dancing in a burning room, which of course i now despise doing. The women liked it though.
This was the interregnum which Mayer filled with a lot of touring and some insanely original compositions coming from the TRY, ‘good love is on the way’ remains my favorite.
Im midway into medical school by this time. Battle studies, the name was picked up from Ardant du Picq’s book, which found a mention in another book called ‘Of Killing’ which Mayer was reading. This is again one of the most thought provoking Mayer albums of all time, each song being a story in itself. The sequencing too is done with precision and subtle delectability. This was a time when i was facing my slow dancing moment, on the verge of an imminent breakup, i found meaning in ‘Edge of Desire’
Young and full of running
tell me where is that taking me?
just a great figure eight
or a tiny infinity?
love is really nothing
but a dream that keeps waking me
for all of my trying
we still end up dying
how can it be?
‘Friends lovers or nothing’ was the song i stuck to after the breakup happened. ‘Perfectly lonely’ was more of an obtrusive pennant i was beginning to be sure of.
I found love again, luckily.
This is the time of my life, when things did a volte face, i was practically sitting On a Velvet sofa, well ensconced in the four glittered walls of my unassuming identity, when out of some sense of self righteousness, i decided to shake things up, i was fed up of being suffused with hubris, tired of being not tired.
I took a bag, sold my car, sold my happiness and bid goodbye.
BORN AND RAISED
The beards a sign of giving into sublimation, i feel happiness after a long long time. I know my precincts, my precincts know me. Ive hurt a lot of people, friends lovers or nothing, there can never always be one. I was hedonistic in my own sense, i seeked mental hedonism, i was seeking a mental construct that was impervious and obstinate to other worldly travails. Travails which i miss dearly today. Acceptance is part of the process. When there is acceptance, finding an escape route to the sordid acceptance is truculence in all its maleficent form. This is the one thing I’ve learnt now when I’m 25. Embalming yourself in the dead dreary acceptance for some time and coming out stronger is the right way to go according to me. Why are people perpetually finding ways to come out of things in a hurry. Scurrying across situations is one thing ill repent all my life. I want those travails of life back, if only.
It was almost like magic, I’m sure people who follow their stars( both figuratively and literally) have this uncanny knack of finding parallels, but this was actually happening.
I didn’t want to now, but i did stumble upon born and raised. ‘Queen of California’ was me all the way. ” just found out a ghost left town, the queen of california is stepping down” “hello beauty, hello strange”.
Then there was ‘shadow days’ which says “I’m a good man, with a good heart, had a tough time, made a rough start, but my shadow days are over now”. I agree its kitschy, but looking beyond the kitsch, could i agree less? In the time that ensued i sent a letter to my ex girlfriend with the song ‘Walt Grace submarine ride 1967’, i thought it was the perfect analogy to my life.
“Walt Grace, desperately hating his old place
Dreamed to discover a new space and buried himself alive
Inside his basement
The tongue on the side of his face meant
He’s working away on displacement
And what it would take to survive
‘Cause when you’re done with this world
You know the next is up to you
And his wife told his kids he was crazy
And his friends said he’d fail if he tried
But with the will to work hard and a library card
He took a homemade, fan blade, one-man submarine ride”
I signed the letter saying ‘hope you drink up to me’.
Present, things look up, and they show promise. The world is but a canvas to our imagination. All i know is this is a phase, we all come out of it. As he says in ‘whiskey whiskey whiskey’.
On the way home~
The summer’s over, this town is closing.
They’re waving people out of the ocean.
We have the feeling like we were floating.
We never noticed where time was going.
Do you remember when we first got here?
The days were longer; the nights were hot here.
Now, it’s September; the engine’s started.
You’re empty-handed and heavy-hearted.
But just remember on the way home (ooh ooh ooh)
That you were never meant to feel alone.
It takes a little while, but you’d be fine:
Another good time coming down the line.
John mayer at an interview at oxford says the biggest compliment he gets is people coming to him and saying “Man I’ve had a tough life, thanks a lot man!!”
Thanks a lot indeed you beauty. Ill be cliched now.
SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND. Thanks for the happiness.