A Track I Never Listen To While Driving

Decades ago when I was a kid, I heard these strange but enthralling sounds my mother used to make. I could not relate to what they were but was only excited and waited eagerly to hear them again. It was different from the normal tone and pitch used to communicate with me. At times it’s repetitive and rhythmic nature captivated me, brought me alive, while at certain others, it lulled me into blissful sleep. I couldn’t understand how something so simple – a bunch of words, together with different intonations, could create such a wide spectrum of experience. Later they told me it was called “music”. The first time I participated in absorbing a piece of music completely and blurting it out was The Special’s dedicated to Nelson Mandela. I can go back to this particular point in life when I was like four or five years old and see how the entire fabric of life unfolded for me. Experience bloomed and almost everything around me started looking lively! It was perhaps my lack of experience doing its job to present life before me – in its raw and unbridled beauty. Unlearning everything I’ve learnt in the past 3 decades, would probably bring forth life in its full glory once again.

When I was older, and I could understand words, the first thing I recognised was the close resemblance between “music” and “magic”. For me music was nothing less than magic in the first place – it still is – throw a bunch of musical notes together harmonically and you have a masterpiece. Most creative art forms border on magic – writing/ composing/ inventions. They seem to come from a magical place, a place one cannot simply put down in words or explain with a detailed process flow. I enrolled in Guitar lessons and it helped me understand the intricacies of the process better. It didn’t make me a better guitar player though. Ha ha.

The highlight of my entire experience with music was yet to happen, and it would leave a mark for the rest of my life. It was 1997, we’d traded a decade old television set for a new one. It came in with all the bells and whistles – a remote – and had over a hundred channels. We’d installed Cable Television and our TV viewing experience went from one channel a day to 20 times that. We were spoilt for choice. However, amidst all the buzz, the regular 9’O clock news on national television made its stoic appearance – you see parents aren’t as excited as a pair of 10/ 12 year olds and they like to stick to their routines – and somewhere for 2 minutes the news caster spoke about a musical concert scheduled at the Taj Mahal. It wouldn’t have caught my attention, if it wasn’t about music. The only reason I watched the news intently – than I ever have in my life – was to collect all the details I could about this concert. I’d visited the Taj Mahal in 1992, and I knew it would take a herculean effort to stage a concert because there was no right place to do it. What caught me was the architectural marvel of the stage/ set which was going to come up on the river bed with the Taj Mahal as its back drop. What was even more interesting – a Greek composer was taking all this upon himself to do so. That was when I first heard Yanni’s name. Little did I know his rendition of a piece will form the crux of my entire musical experience. Physically attending this concert was ruled out – no brainer there. I didn’t want to miss any of this over live television. Spread out over 3 nights, this was going to be epic on so many proportions because of the gargantuan orchestra Yanni was going to bring along with him. This was Yanni’s “Tribute” to India.

The tour and the album was set in two pieces – one in the Forbidden City of China, Beijing and the other at the Taj Mahal, Agra. By the time I finished listening to the entire piece, over the course of 3 nights, my heart marvelled at how a Greek had built a bridge with musical notes between two vastly different cities. This was the first time I was exposed to an orchestra, and there was an immediate magnetism which pulled me to it – not just to Yanni, but to the entire experience of a plethora of musicians co-ordinating in real time to produce a marvel! The magic however, appeared on the fourth night, when there was no concert. I didn’t know the titles to the tracks, they didn’t play it on the screen, or I didn’t remember it. Though, I suspect this to be largely due to Yanni’s reality distortion field – amidst rows and columns of keyboards. A particular track stuck with me. I was trapped like a fly in a spider’s web. I could do nothing. Struggling was a hare-brained thing to do, or so I’d read, about spider-webs. So like that fly, I just waited. I kept humming the tune like a gramophone record stuck on a loop. It was beginning to annoy everyone around. I still didn’t know what it was called. I felt I could conjure the name if I kept repeating it long enough – you see, magic and music.

During a random visit to an audio store in 1999, I chanced to see a tape sitting in the midst of all genres of tapes titled Yanni – Tribute. My heart skipped a few beats. Here I was, and my teenage crush right in front of me – a glass separating us. And probably a few bucks. What prompted my parents to purchase this? Probably a sense of relief that my crush was nothing more than an audio tape. The cover had a photograph of Yanni with a gentle smile with the Taj Mahal and the Forbidden City as backdrops. It was almost as if Yanni was telling me, have patience my friend – what you want is all in there! The journey back from the cassette store till the cassette player felt eternal. Once I got home, I ripped open the plastic packaging, popped in the cassette and waited. The first track played out – titled Deliverance, it was a stunning opener.

A brief pause between, and then the next one titled Adagio in C Minor. It started off normally like any other piece of music. I was listlessly looking through the inlay when at the 18 second mark things began to get interesting. It was that web, the piece I’d annoyed everyone with for the last 2 years. This was it! It was redemption for me. (In the video – Yanni’s expression at 00:48 in the video says it all.) From 00:40 on, this piece tugged at every fabric of my being, telling me this is life – in its pure glory. The bow of the violins and cellos drew out from within, the most primal of my emotions, moved me, shook my to my core, and reminded me what it was to be alive. Like the crests and troughs of waves, the notes surfed the highs and lows breathing life into me. I never knew a world like this existed. At 01:25 the waves reach a peak and then die down for a few moments. And just when you think the storm has subsided, it takes on its full strength at 02:00 whipping up giant waves. Somewhere along 02:26 is when the storm dies down completely and sun shines forth making its appearance through the cracks in the clouds. There you see it, the entire scene changing in a span of three and half odd minutes. The whole track is an ode to life – beginning from an unknown, then taking on a melancholic feel, and towards the end, a crescendo. I had to wait for two full years with a piece of this track stuck in my head to listen to it completely, to know it by its name, to fall in love with it, and to lose myself. The spider is finally here.

I knew nothing about music and its magic till I’d heard this. Of course I love music, I love singing my heart out, and intermittently playing my guitar. But this piece made me sit up, take notice and say “What in the hell was that?”. It was like a magician hypnotising me and sending me on some trip – and it happens every single time I listen to it, thereby reinforcing my initial hypothesis about the words music and magic being related.

There’s also powerful memories attached with this tune – because it was all I ever listened to during my mother’s long drawn battle with cancer. The piece evokes a strong sense of her presence, her constant – though loving – rebuke about me playing this repeatedly, and finally of her absence. Yanni’s Adagio in C Minor was my catharsis. Music, after all is best experienced when you listen to it with your eyes closed, and your heart wide open.

When I listen to it intently I feel it’s composed on a different plane of existence. Very few pieces of art come this close to taking you to another dimension, a mystical place, where you lose words to describe how you feel, and there’s pretty much nothing left to do but absorb everything that’s showered on you. Every time I play this song, my heart explodes with a multitude of emotions and my eyes well up! This song wasn’t composed to be heard, but felt. And when one drives, one cannot feel. That can cause one to end up against a wall. Which is why I don’t listen to this tune when I drive. This, is also the point where my wife – who I am sure is now alarmed by this new discovery – asks, “What else shouldn’t we play in the car when you’re driving?”. I’ll reassure her, “Just this one…”.

P.S: The times in the post and the audio track match. The video is a little bit off because of the applause in the beginning. But I think you’ll get what I’m saying.

A request – Listen to the track and let me know how you feel! I’ll be thrilled to hear what you have to say. Or if you have your own Adagio in C Minor, I’d love to listen to that too!


This post first appeared on “The Lighthouse”.

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