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Chris Cornell, and the school of rock

The music app on my phone had a notification. It read 'Remembering Chris Cornell'. After devouring a 4 course Andhra lunch, I was a bit groggy and it took more than a few seconds for me to  it. Isn't remembering used only when you are talking about someone who is no longer there? I was listening to Soundgarden just a few days back. In an My hands, working quicker than my mind, leapt to the keyboard and typed his name. Sure enough, the flood of bad news was all over the internet and the good feelings from my 4 course lunch quickly evaporated.

Soundgarden was a great band but I never obsessed over them like I did over other bands. There was a time when I listened to Black Hole Sun and later to Like a Stone on loop, two songs that harnessed Cornell's breadth of voice but the story of how his voice, among many, came into my life is what I will always remember.

I like to think of it as the summer of rock. Or the summer I lost my rock virginity.

There is a room in my home. It has 2 cartons that are filled with old cassette tapes. Last year, I went on to google and typed 'how to use old cassette tapes.' the options ranged from using them to make pen stands to lamp covers. I even sat down to make a half-assed pen stand and resolved to manufacture a few more pen stands and give it as gifts to people who came home during Dasara. None of that has happened and the boxes of tapes still lay in cartons, waiting to sentenced to the gallows of extinction or a slightly more interesting after-life as pen stands.

But in those cartons lies a story.

Rewind back to the end of the 90s. Backstreet boys released their magnum opus Millennium and boy bands were being manufactured in some boy band factory that all produced songs that reeked and spoke of the same topics - heartbreak, desire, unrequited love and fucking without using the word fuck. At some point they ran out of names to call themselves and one band, after possibly exhausting all possible names, called themselves 911.  

I know because I went and bought all those bands. They polluted my cassette rack, my mind and soul and music education. I then moved homes and my friends circle suddenly changed to a bunch of guys older to me and with musical tastes that were, to put in simple terms, evolved. 

In the movie Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy opens a wardrobe and discovers a fascinating parallel universe that exists inside. I wish my life was as interesting but my schooling in rock began it pretty much the same manner - when I opened a cupboard. I was at house of one of my older friends when he causally mentioned that I could take a look at his music collection. I opened the draw and it was like all there - tapes, CDs, reams and reams of rock music. Aerosmith, Tom petty, Soundgarden, The Verve, Pearl jam, Nirvana, Collective soul, Goo Goo Dolls, Ugly Kid Joe, Metallica, Def Leppard. 

If someone gave you a million bucks, the biggest problem you will be faced with is where to begin spending it. I was faced with that dilemma. Then there was another dilemma. Before mp3s and later, apps, robbed us of the ephermal joy of building a music collection from scratch, seeking and hunting music. My sister and  would painstakingly put down a list of songs and give it to the cassette shop guy to record. Tape to tape was 5o bucks. CD to tape was 100 bucks. 

Damn, I miss the pleasure of waiting for your favourite song. 

The discovery of the treasure trove posed a small problem - that of storage. Even my personal computer was few years away and I was left to think of other options to encash my haul and make copies for myself. I then realised what my friend had done - he had recorded on old cassette tapes, cut pieces of paper in the same size as the cassette box and written the names of the songs painstakingly on them. 

Without a second thought, I proceeded to do the same. A host of hindi cassettes and boyband tapes got upgraded to rock. Baazigar became Gin Blossoms, Human Nature became Ugly Kid Joe. In the gaps between songs, you could still hear remnants of the original inhabitants of the tape, like ghosts whose screams were drowned out. I did that all summer. Recorded, cut paper, wrote songs and listened to them until my ears bled. 

My wife wants me to give away the cartons away. I have cajoled and pleaded for more time. I will recreate them into pieces of art, relics from the past forced to change form to survive. 

If you still cared to dust one of those boxes, I'm sure you can still hear Chris Cornell's voice raging against the dying light. 

One day you might receive a fancy pen stand made of cassette tapes and you will marvel at how cool it is. 

For you, it's a pen stand. In another lifetime, it was the soundtrack to someone's life. 


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