I put on the new white t shirt I’d bought for
the occasion, packed
some essentials and left for park street.
Moinak had called up to say
that he was just leaving home and would be
there in half an hour. In
the auto from nonapukur to bata more, and
walking the rest of the way,
i cross checked the timings. 8 pm to 11 pm,
21st May, Someplace Else.
Bob Dylan tribute concert with Lou Majaw and
the Saturday Night Blues.
111 people were attending. The pub would
be jam packed.
I googled lou majaw on the web. The usual
story. Boy from Shillong
with a passion for blues learns to play the
guitar, comes to Kolkata
and plays with a number of heavy metal
bands, plays at a number of
pubs. Then, a person gifts him a record of Bob
Dylan one evening when
he’s playing at Moulin Rouge. And, as he puts
it, his life is changed
forever. He becomes a fan, more accurately, a
disciple of Dylan.
In 1972, he organises a dylanfest at his
hometown on the occasion of
the maestro’s birthday, 24th May, which
eventually grows into a
national event over the years.
And, in Kolkata, he forms the Ace of Spades
with him in the lead,
Arjun Sen on guitars, Lou Hilt on Bass and
Nondon Bagchi on drums,
which, other than celebrating Dylan’s birthday
in style at SPE on the
weekend before, each year, also plays the
Beatles, the Doors and so
By the time I turned the corner of Free School
Street and saw Music
World, it had started to drizzle. Which slowly
turned into a downpour
by the time I raced past Moulin Rouge/Olypub/
Oxford to reach The
Street. I called up Moinak who was still stuck
at Rashbehari, and told
me to go on in.
When I entered SPE through the lounge of The
Park, it was 8 pm and
Deep Purple was playing. Child in Time.
Ritchie Blackmore’s incredible solo that
completed the song about the
Cold War was followed by REM’s melancholy
Losing my religion, Dire
Straits’ Sultans of Swing that was written for a
night just like this,
and a host of other songs I didn’t know the
names of. It was twilight
inside the pub, and a few people were havingtheir evening rounds
while watching the IPL match between KKR
and Pune. I recognised one of
the faces, Pratikda, drummer of our college
band, Lucid Interval. He’d
come only for a couple of drinks with his
friend, but I asked him to
stay over for the performance.
Moinak came in at 8.30, after waiting for a
while, we went out and had
dinner at Waldorf, where Moinak said he
recognised one of the girls in
the table next to us as one whom he chatted
with regularly over
Facebook. Then we made a list of the songs
we wanted to hear tonight.
In order, it was:
1 blowing in the wind
2 hey mr tambourine man
3 times they are a changing
4 like a rolling stone
5 it aint me babe
6 all along the watchtower
7 knocking on heaven’s door.
Though our repertoire of Dylan songs was
rather restricted, we rushed
off enthusiastically so as not to miss any one
of those, at least.However, it was 9.30, the pub was fuller now,
and yet, there was no
sign of either Mr. Majaw or the SNB.
We whiled away our time admiring the Squire
Strat on show, while we
discussed about what guitar we wanted to
play, someday when we could.
Moinak wanted a Gibson Les Paul and a
Fender Strat while I wanted an
ESP, and a Fender strat. By 10, we were
getting restless and tired of
admiring the girl in a black top and white
bermuda having a cocktail
with her friends on one of the couches. I
stayed back to listen to
some bob dylan being played, the usuals,
while moinak went out for a
smoke. The guy setting the playlists messed
up a bit and played John
Mayer’s version of Crossroads instead of
Dylan’s. However, Mayer’s
soothing voice crooning ‘I went down to the
crossroads, tried to flag
a ride/Nobody seemed to know me, everyone
passed me by’ complimented
by his incredible guitarwork was a treat for
sore ears.
Then, we went out to the lounge and chatted
about things: college, a
weird almost impromptu song parodying
death metal that moinak had
recorded with his friends, etc. Just when we
started wondering if we
should leave, moinak told me that a man with
a ‘metal’ look had just
walked past us into SPE. I asked Moinak if the
man had long silver
hair, and when he replied in the affirmative, i
told him that this was
our man.
The Man:
We walked into SPE just behind the man,
making his way through the
crowd, many of whom did not seem to know
him and were busy with their
drinks, partners, or stories. But, of course the
majority were there
only for him. He went into the room with the
music console while his
guitarist tuned their guitars. Mr. Majaw’s was
a well-used Epiphone,
the other guitarist, a diminutive NEastern with
the most unassuming
appearance, blue checked shirt, dark blue
denims and a regular black
shoe used one I could not recognise, with a
symbol like the pharaoh’s
cigar on the headstock. The bassist, a rather
large man with a
ponytail, in white tees and denim, used a
beautiful designer Fender
bass – whitewith black clouds and wings. The drummer,
another typical
NE musician, handsome, with a ponytail in
addition to his goatee,
settled his cymbals while Mr. Majaw mixed the
drinks that would keep
them going through the night.
Then, the music console finished playing
Sultans of swing for the
second time that night, fell silent and Lou
majaw walked on stage to a
huge applause from a packed audience.His appearance and attire was, in short,
designed to stand out in a
crowd. In spite of a balding scalp in front, he
still sported silver
hair that fell down to slightly below his
shoulder. His Mongolian eyes
and laugh crinkles at the corner of those eyes
were accentuated by the
broadest and most dazzling smile i had seen
for a long long while, and
a tuft of short silvery beard jutting out from
just below his lower
lips. His sleeveless gray tees decorated with
two embroidered orange
eyes and a nose was offset by a green bead
necklace. And, he wore,
well, light blue denim hot pants! From which
his two stout legs stood
out, and ended in an odd pair of woollen
socks – red with two
horizontal yellow stripes on the left foot and
yellow with two
horizontal black stripes on the right. A pair of
white sports shoes
with red-black laces on the left foot and
purple-black laces on the
right completed his striking attire.
The concert:
His opening words, after a fantastic opening
instrumental in which his
guitarist demonstrated why you shouldn’t
judge someone by looks alone,
playing a remarkable solo with equally
remarkable ease, were:
‘It’s good to be back home’
In the huge applause that followed, one of the
audience yelled
‘Let’s have some Beatles tonight!’
without blinking an eyelid, Mr. Majaw replied
‘sure, we shall have some Beatles 2/3 months
later. But tonight, we
have gathered here to celebrate the birthday
of one of the greatest
men’ *applause* ‘ a man with whom we
should feel lucky to share the
same planet with’ *more applause* ‘yes, to be
in the same planet with:
Mr. Bob Dylan. Mr. Dylan, wherever you are
now, happy birthday!’
*thunderous applause as he ends this speech
with a reverential bow to
the maestro*.
Then he launched into a foray of songs, most
of which i could not
unfortunately, recognize.
However, it was unmistakably dylan, right
from the nasal whine to the
doubting, questioning lyrics, to the amazing
earthy guitar riffs that
never once deviated from the spirit of the
song no matter how loud or
fastthey were. Mr. Jones, harold wesley and just
like a woman were
the only ones I could sing along with…but the
infectious enthusiasm
of mr. Majaw as he danced in time to the
music, just like charlie
chaplin in modern times, and beat the hell out
of his well-worn
guitar, and ended each song with a flourish
and a bang on the guitar
was too catching as the crowd got on its feet
and bounced to the
beats, spilling over a bottle of beer and
breaking a glass of some
green cocktail in the process.
Around 11.10, he applauded the audience
while his band members went
for a drink…asking, with astonishment, what
would we do if Mr. Dylan
were actually here now?
Before the roar of laughter and applause
could die out, he started
strumming the first chords of ‘hey mr
tambourine man’ and the crowd
sang along with him on the trip upon his
magic swirling ship, though
the evening’s empire had returned into sand…His smiling face turned serious and you could
tell how much Dylan
meant to him as he played a beautiful
interlude to a full house
singing along to his cry of hey mr tambourine
man…and i had my
cellphone out, video recording this
experience. Song after song
followed as this 64 year young dylanist, drew
upon his inexhaustible
reserves of energy to continue performing
solo even as his much, much
younger bandmates were taking a rest,
pausing only occasionally to
take a sip from the water bottle he’d filled
with an amber coloured
liquid. And each time he ended a song with
his trademark flourish and
a loud last chord that rang through the pub,
the crowd, right from the
girl we’d been eyeing to the middle-aged lady
in green salwar who
stood just a feet away from the massive
speakers right throughout the
concert swaying to dylan, broke out into loud
impromptu cheers.
And then as his band returned to the stage,
the virtuoso ended the
solo leg of his performance with blowing in
the wind…and cheered on
as the crowd sung ‘the answer my friend is
blowing in the wind’. The
song drew towards a close with the band
joining in, and ended with the
longest flourish and the loudest ovation for
dylan’s masterpiece.
Then, the madness started as they belted out
awesome renditions of
dylan’s classics with mr. Majaw quipping ‘let’s
have some queen jane’-
queen jane approximately; ‘no matter how
much times change, the one
thing you should never lose is your youth’-
times they are a’changing
. Unable to contain my excitement, I yelled out
from my side of the
stage…’like a rolling stone’.
The singer looked at me with no hint of
condescension like acceding to
a request from a fan, just a childlike glee in
having found a fellow
dylan fan.
‘Yeaah! We should all go through our life like
rolling stones…the
rolling stones that gather no moss!’
and launched into ‘once upon a time you
looked so fine/dinnyooo!!’ and
his audience shouted along to the heart-
rending chorus of ‘how does it
feel/to be on your own/with no direction
home/acomplete unknown/like
a rolling stone’. Sweat dripping from his
forehead, voice almost
cracking from the strain, he still danced and
jumped along in the 10
feet x 15 feet stage, playing the guitar – and
the crowd – like the
pied piper. He sang on continuously, drawing
from dylan’s huge body of
work, the crowd swaying with him, till he hit
the compulsory ending
stroke on his guitar, ending ‘forever young’ at
Eager for more, i shouted ‘knockin on
heaven’s door!’ from my corner
of the stage.
He smiled his childish smile and asked me
what the time was, by my
watch. A guy next to me said it was 12. ‘It’s
time to go home!’, he
said in his dylanish accent with a laugh. I
shouted ‘no, it’s just
11.52’.He laughed in reply…and burst out in a final
reserve of energy, into
a version of knocking on heaven’s door that,
though kind of guns ‘n
roses in its loudly melodious guitars, still
retained the
quintessential dylanish flavour that was Mr.
Majaw’s hallmark…and
then, as the show came towards a close, he
loudly informed us, over
the music, about the 2 gigs he and his band
would play at shillong on
23rd and 24th to celebrate Bob dylan’s
birthday – one at a club from
2pm to 4pm and then the actual concert from
8pm to 2am in the
evening/night where 8 other bands from all
over the northeast were
also going to participate!
Moinak and I stared at each other, amazed at
this superman and his
devotion towards his idol!
Then lou majaw took off his guitar, his shirt,
took the mike from its
stand, and resumed singing. The frenzy
started as he repeated the
chorus of ‘knock knock knocking on heaven’s
door’ again and again and
again…on the stage, then standing on the
monitor, then on the bar
table, where he couldn’t stand up to his full
height because his head
was touching the roof…the crowds turned to
watch him, repeating,
shouting, singing knock knock knocking on
heaven’s door like it was a
prayer, he held the microphone to faces in the
crowd, voices that had
broken sung the chorus over and over, the
diminutive guitarist,
imposing bassist and impossibly fast
drummer launching into their own
separate beautiful solos that merged into one
complete harmony with
the crowd and mr. Majaw’s voice.
By the time he came back on the stage to
introduce his band members
(the music was still playing), even his voice
had cracked.
Finally the crowd erupted into an ovation as
the performance drew to a close.
‘Thank you, all you beautiful people, I wish mr.
Dylan could be here,
to see how much you beautiful people still
love him. It’s been an
amazing experience, as always, here back to
my home, to calcutta, to
someplace else. Happy birthday, Mr. Dylan. May
you live long!!!’