Rockin out with the D!

“Have you ever had your ass waxed? It hurts. But then it feels good, really good. Well that a lot like our next act.” This was the intro to Tenacious D’s performance of Tribute, their first song I ever heard, some 5 years ago. Then in 2006 came “The Pick of Destiny”, the movie masterpiece starring the incomparable JB and KG. And yesterday, October 24th 2012, I got to witness their glory in person.

I caught the last concert by Tenacious D on their ‘Rize of the Fenix’ Tour 2012 at the Hammersmith Apollo. It was easily one of the best gigs I have ever been to! The beauty of the D is that they are far different from your usual rock band. Yes they do rock. There’s no debate about that. But they are more than that. They are funny, and entertaining and just plain fun. They have a crazy sense of humor and their concert definitely showcased their particular brand of rock-comedy.

With the exception of “The Pick of Destiny”, the title track from their 2006 movie, they played every song that I was looking forward to. From Tribute to Dude to F**K Her Gently, their set list definitely did not disappoint a fan of many years who has been psyched about this night since he heard they were performing while he was in town.

And in a sheer moment of sick brilliance, the concert ended with the backdrop piece (which was Phoenix shaped oddly similar to male genitalia) lowering itself and shooting out hundreds of pieces of confetti, with pictures of individual spermatozoa (with Jack Black and Kyle Gass’ faces on them) all over the crowd. How very D!

On a side note: There was a surprise appearance by Julian Barratt (star of the show ‘The Mighty Boosh’) during a jazzy number that the band decided to throw into their repertoire. His presence may have been lost on many of the attendees but for a fan of the niche comedy show, it was quite a treat.

Once again Apollo you have shown me a great time indeed. I believe this may just be the beginning of a wonderful courtship : )

A Thought after a Midnight Encounter

London is a wonderful city. It is full of diversity and for the most part I do marvel at its ability to accept and assimilate so many different cultures and backgrounds. But I would be lying to you if I said that you would never have a “negative” experience during your time here.

Let me illustrate with two recent examples. The last time I was here on a visit I was walking down Shaftsbury Avenue on my way to pick up tickets to a showing of Monty Python’s Spamalot, when a loud, possibly inebriated, Englishman yelled out at me “Ay Paki!” Now startled as I was, I turned to face him, not knowing how to respond, before I turned and kept walking on to my destination. At the time I barely even knew what to make of the experience, yet alone to appreciate the deeper racial undertones of this “passing” experience.

Last night, as I was seeing some friends off on the main road at Mile End a man walking by shouted something, seemingly pointed at me. Inquisitively I faced him and asked “Sorry?” His response to this was to pull the earphones from his ears and yell out “What?!” “I’m sorry, I thought you were saying something to me,” I responded. His response was, in a most inordinately rude way, to scream back. “I ain’t talking to you, keep walkin!” He persisted and yelled again, “Keep walking m***er f****r!” Taken aback, I instantly moved away from him.

Now, this is not the everyday Londoner that you will encounter. I do not presume to judge, but maybe these particular gentlemen were not in the best way, and are far from a fair representation of the people of this city. For the most part, I have found Londoners to be hospitable and welcoming. Most certainly my interaction with the administrative and teaching staff of my college always proved to be a most positive and encouraging experience, and I do my best to push such memories from recollection. In fact, mere moments after encountering that rather rude black gentleman with the rude disposition, I had a casual and cheerful conversation with the Bangladeshi proprietors of a fried chicken shop as I purchased some wings for a midnight snack.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, don’t let random or one-off experiences color your appraisal of this city and its people. Chances are you will face discrimination or prejudice wherever you go. This is just the world we live in. We cannot expect everyone to be perfect. I’m sure, if we really thought about it, we are from it ourselves. Hate and discord is a truly unfortunate side effect of a multi-cultural and myriad culture such as London’s. People do not always express their discomfort with the new or the unfamiliar with the most civil or welcoming of responses. But have faith. And have patience.

As newcomers to this culture and this city, open your mind to new experiences, and keep it open despite any such encounters.

“Racism is better than Astrology”

Now before you go attacking me and jumping down my throat, let me put that heading into context. It was one many hilarious punch-lines/key phrases during “Craic Dealer” the marvelously funny show by comedian Dara O’ Briain at the Hammersmith Apollo. I won’t go into details about the specific joke or others, if you’re interested you should buy the DVD, or torrent a copy of the show if you’re so inclined.

(DISCLAIMER: The author of this blog does not condone and/or encourage illegal downloading/willful copyright infringement – Right well, now that that’s out of the way lets move on)

Dara is a wonderful comic. Most of his material is fairly family friendly, as he pointed out to the mom, sitting next to my friend and I, with her two kids. His style is conservational and he generally comes off as a comic who genuinely likes to include his audience in the act. I’ve been following him for a few years now and it was a great experience to finally see him live after watching and re-watching his earlier shows. Suffice to say I was NOT disappointed. In the some hour and 45 minutes of show time (excluding the interval) I don’t think I went more than 10 seconds at a time without laughing my lungs out. At one point I literally had to take my glasses off to wipe the tears from my eyes. Those of you who have not had a chance to check him out, I earnestly recommend you do. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

I am actually a huge fan of stand up comedy. Though I haven’t had much opportunity to see many big names (after this gig it makes three – the last two being Russell Peters and Rob Schneider) there is a lot of fun to be had going to amateur nights at smaller comedy clubs, and its a lot friendlier wallet wise, which is important if you’re a student. You should check out timeout for an excellent guide to free comedy nights all over the city. I personally recommend the Comedy Cafe or the Camden Head. Who knows, you may just watch the debut of a young comic who goes on to be the next big thing!

I would be remiss if I didn’t throw in a few words here about the venue itself – The Hammersmith Apollo on Queen Caroline Street in Hammersmith. It’s been around since the 1960s and has seen performances by the likes of Johnny Cash, Queen, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, KISS and countless other legends. Its humbling to think that the stage I was but mere feet away from held such unbelievable talent. And next week it will witness me yelling my lungs out at Tenacious D. Truly I am blessed!

(On a side note: Since the gig is still fresh in my memory, I’ve been speaking these words out in my head in an Irish accent the entire time I’ve been typing, which has made it even more fun to write ; p)

Try re-reading it the same way. Trust me its entertaining. : )

The Duality of Charity

Two weeks ago I was in a pub watching a cricket game with some friends when a woman shuffled up to me, looking a little distressed and out of sorts, asking for 50 P. Without really thinking about it I reached into my pocket, found a one  Pound coin and handed it to her. She quickly thanked me and scurried off. One of my friends turned to me and asked, “Why did you bother giving her anything?”. I simply replied, “I don’t know man. Its just a Pound. Plus it makes me feel good thinking, who knows, maybe I really made her day by just helping her out.”

This instance popped into my head today and it got me thinking. What is the true nature of charity in our current society? Is it truly giving in the true spirit of the word, or is it given with another purpose. Even in this, seemingly selfless instance, I justified by act of charity by stating that I felt a personal gain or worth form being kind to a random stranger. Does this mean that charity is sometimes just a means of self-indulgence? A way to justify our own personal worth?

The word charity itself can sometimes carry negative connotations. If you have worked in an NGO, at least one that still possesses a sense of idealism, you may have noticed that the word charity is sometimes frowned upon. It implies a sense of superiority in the giver. Well if it is just a case of terminology, then for the purposes of this short discourse let us use the word ‘Altruism’ in place of charity. My question however stands. Is altruistic behavior in this day and age real altruism in the sense of the definition? The Oxford English dictionary by the way defines altruism as a noun meaning “disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others“. How many of us can really say that our charitable/voluntary/community activities (and I purposely use these words interchangeably, because most often do) are truly altruistic?

Let me be the first to make confession then. I worked for a number of years with a youth-run NGO in India which, amongst other things, worked for the promotion of independent arts and tried to provide a platform for young amateur musicians trying to make it the “arts scene”. What drew me to work however wasn’t a deep sense of drive to establish opportunities for my fellow young people though as much as it was my own love for music and wanted to something creative and have some fun. Admittedly my feelings on many issues changed through the years of working with many talented and passionate individuals, and I am ever thankful to them, but that does not change the fact that my motives were not wholly “altruistic”.

This leads me then to my next question. Does it matter? Almost surely many of my former colleagues would say, yes it does. They would emphasize the importance that someone working towards real change in the community needs to believe in that change and work on the same level as others in the community, otherwise your work becomes a simple act of “charity” (I use inverted commas here to emphasize the negative connotation that many may feel the word to have). On the other hand, if I managed to raise X amounts of funds to keep projects running, through sweet-talking and arm-twisting my personal friends and well-wishers, without really caring deep in my heart about the work that project does, does that change anything? Would it matter that I did it just to be able to put it on my CV so it would seem more impressive?

I was always raised to look out for others and give back twice as much as I got. These are values that have always driven my parents, and which they take to heart and to bat. But somewhere along the way I fear I grew more cynical than that. I have seen people who choose to dedicate their life to helping others, expecting little in return and feeling genuine pain in witnessing the suffering of others. But I have also seen people who wish only to seem to do good, lavishing in the praise and limelight that “social work” brings to them.

Perhaps I have grown hardened and jaded. Perhaps television and the media have desensitized me to the pleas of my fellow man. Perhaps it is simply a self-preservation technique, lest I let the troubles of the world swallow me whole.

I have posed many questions here today. Many I fear I shall not ever be able to answer. Should you possess some answers dear reader, do share.