Friday, June 26, 2009

Music is in the Air!

I feel sad today. The news of Michael Jackson's (MJ) death came as a complete surprise and shock to us. MJ was an exceptionally gifted singer and dancer. My friends and I were mesmerized by "Thriller" and especially by his "moonwalk" dance moves. The year was 1982. Videos had been introduced already in Kathmandu in 1980. But since TV/VCR equipment was very expensive, special arrangements had to be made to see videos. The first set of movies that I had seen on video was Amardeep (Rajesh Khanna - my favorite Bollywood actor), Suhaag (Amithab Bacchan), and a Chinese Kung-Fu comedy in 1980, all in one sitting. A friend's relative had rented the equipment for the day, we had to contribute 25 rupees each to see the movies. Watching the moives on a small box (the TV screen must have been 20 inches) felt very strange (Satellite reception had not arrived yet). The experienced seemed unreal and somewhat weird.

Masan Galli (behind Indrachowk) was the center for all viewing pleasures. Many residents of Masan Galli were the pioneering entrepreneurs in providing video viewing services (for a fee, of course). I used to go with my friends to watch Hollywood movies, as we felt they were different from the usual song and dance masalas of Bollywood movies. Another reason to watch English movies was to pick up some slangs and learn how to use them in everyday conversation. I was already used to wathcing English movies. When I was in Grade 7, our English teacher (she was an American) had taken our class to go see The Wizard of Oz, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea at the British Embassy compound. Several cinema halls in Kathmandu, specially Jay Nepal Chitraghar, used to show English movies (I remember seeing movies like the Return of Ringo, Death is Quick, Diamonds for Ursula, Imperial Venice). With the arrival of videos in Kathmandu, we slowly started watching more English movies, and Masan Galli was naturally the place to be.

Video owners or their agents would come out on the streets and announce that such and such movie would be played at certain times. Public viewing at private residences was still not illegal, as it would be in later years. Once inside the house, we usually had to wait for 30 minutes until the room filled to its capacity, or, at least until the specified show time. To keep the viewers entertained while the owner waited for more customers, the audience were provided free previews of other movies or concerts. The "Thriller" music video was always on high demand. We would be almost in a hypnotic state, completely engrossed in MJ's "moonwalking" moves. Later on, back in our neighborhood my friends would try out MJ's moves and would argue who had the best imitations.

MJ had swept Kathmandu's music scene. Everywhere on the street audio cassettes would be playing "Beat It", "Billy Jean", and "Thriller" - the three were MJ's most commonly played songs on the streets. I did not have a cassette player, so I used to visit my friends to listen to these songs. We did not understand the lyrics, nor we cared to learn the words, all we cared for was the electrifying sound, the mesmerizing rhythm, and MJ's oohs and aahs! Of course, back then Bollywood movies had a total grip on most Nepali's musical interests, but many of us had also heard about the Beatles, Elvis, ABBA, Rod Stewart, Eagles, and the Bee Gees. However, none were as popular as MJ (at least during my days).

So, it was kind of sad to learn that MJ is no more. I wanted my kids to understand the gripping influence MJ had on yongsters like me. This afternoon, my two kids and I went to Bestbuy to look for "Thriller", but we did not find it. Luckily for us, we found one copy of "Michael Jackson Number Ones" on the shelf. We bought it and on our way home played it loud, enjoying it just as much as I had enjoyed it back then, and remembering the "King of Pop" and his extraordinary talent.

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