Music albums are more than just a bunch of songs put together in one place. It serves as bookmarks to the various chapters in your life which you might want to revisit every now and then. There is an album that can define every phase of your life. An album that meant more than just the music it contained. You attached new meanings to lyrics which only you understood. If you heard a happy tune during the downtime of your life, that tune took melancholic twist in your head. A meaning very exclusive to you and nobody else. Not even the person who created it.
I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. Planet M on the first floor (if you didn’t count the basement as ground floor) of the Sweet Chariot building on Brigade road. The diskman had just made its entry into the markets. The folks at Planet M had six little kiosks in their store which had three CDs each and a set of headphones where people could listen in and discover new music. I would find myself in this store very often. If I remember right I would pick booth 3, because it was close to the glass facade of the store which gave me a view of the bustling brigade road as I discovered new music or listened to some old favourites. I don’t know why, or maybe I’m not equipped to put into words why I loved looking at brigade road from the first floor while listening to music, but I just did. Maybe it just a gave soundtrack to one of my favourite streets in Bangalore. Or maybe a crowded street allowed you to lose focus on objects and people, and made you look at everything at once, creating a beautiful blur in your head.
I went down to Planet M so often that the sales chaps started noticing me; someone who walks in and listens to the music for free. The dot com bubble had just burst and people had to make sales. Freebies came at a cost. If I had to continue giving a soundtrack to Brigade road, I had to make a purchase. It would help me buy another two months of free music time at least, in the store. After days of speculating and calculating, I decided to buy U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind because it had one famous track – Elevation. And the music video featured Angelina Jolie. Come on, I was 14. The cassette costed 125 bucks, a big deal for somebody who depended on the mercy of his dad’s generosity. I don’t exactly remember my pitch to him, but I clearly remember walking into the store that day with a princely sum of 125 bucks in my wallet – which I otherwise filled with visiting cards of dad and mom just give it the thickness that every wallet deserved. I made my purchasing of the cassette a little event in the store asking all sorts of irrelevant questions just to ensure everyone who worked in the store knew I was making my purchase.
I went home and put the cassette my 2-in-1 set and waited for the songs to start playing. ‘Elevation’ was the third song. The rest of the songs I didn’t know, and soon enough to my absolute horror, I hated every other song in that album. I was broken, how could I spend 125 bucks on an album I didn’t like? And how can I admit to hating english rock music to people? I re-heard the album numerous times hoping to fall in love with it. But in vain. Disappointed, I put away the album and decided not to tell anyone about my failure.
A few months passed by and my 10th board exams were right around the bend. One evening as I was nervously preparing for my model exams, for no particular reason at all, I went over to my 2-in-1 and put in the u2 tape and pressed on the stainless steel play button. The first song played. “Beautiful Day”. And I don’t know what really happened, but it just opened a little unknown box in my head which stored that exact moment in my brain forever. It’s a moment I can recall even today at the snap of my fingers. It’s that feeling when your brain talks directly to your gut, and if you lean in close enough you can hear it say, “Yes, this is it.” I sat through the whole album at one go and remember falling in love with every beat and every line. These were songs about freedom, liberation, New York and world peace; things I knew nothing about. These songs took their own meaning in my head, none of which I’m sure even Bono would have thought of while putting pen to paper, or The Edge thought of while putting plectrum to chord.
I heard the album every single day for nearly a couple of months. When you unfolded the album cover it became a long horizontal sheet. On one side of the sheet, there were aesthetically shot black and white pictures of the band in the terminal of an airport. The band was dressed in black with a bunch of bags, taking off somewhere. On the other side of the cover, there were lyrics of every song in the album.
Underneath the lyrics of Walk On, it said, “Dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi”. It’s funny how a rock album can take a 14 year old all the way to a Burmese activist. The name of the album ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ is derived from a line in the song Walk On. Roughly translated, it means love is the only thing you can take in your heart and walk on, forever. “It’s all that you can’t leave behind”. It’s too much for a 14 year old to understand but when Bono is teaching you this, you just get it.
Tightly locked within this album is a 14 year-old me. Who was shit scared of talking to girls, who hated his hair, who was seeking approval, who was seeking attention, who wanted to be heard, who wanted to be left alone, who wanted to be smarter, who hated everything mainstream for it was cool to hate it, who was under confident, who was tongue-tied outside his comfort zone, who was unsure what he wanted to do and who absolutely hated writing. So when I heard a song from the album on the radio this evening, it just brought me face to face with that boy in Bangalore, once again.