Why, and for whom, a great song going mainstream is bad

I don’t usually write propaganda articles, it is not my forte, but I have recently seen a lot of hipsters going under the blade because they say things like “another song ruined by mainstream”, or “fucking sellouts”, or “I heard them before it came on House”, without any proper defence. I am here to say that they have a point, and that they are totally justified in letting their wrath out on songs or bands that get mainstream.

First up and most importantly, exclusivity and the feeling of being cheated upon. There is something about having your own little discoveries that no one else knows that are reflective of your dedication to discovering new music. And when you have searched long and hard for a gem only for it to get mainstream a month later, it can piss you off. It’s no longer your baby, it’s a whore now, playing everywhere. You cannot share it even, because everyone knows it already. This feeling is crucial to the enjoyment of any song, and without this, a lot of the juice of the song goes away. When you spread the word about a lesser known band and everybody appreciates them, they are not just a band whose music you listen to, but you now become a member of their band, obviously not musically but emotionally. This is critical to any band getting recognition. Once the band becomes famous, you no longer are a crucial member of the band, your appreciation and word is no longer important to them, you are just one of the crowd that oh so loves them.

Secondly, for the artist, displacement of motives and dilution of quality. In most of the cases, art is created by an inspiration from within, a feeling that is alien to anyone without this sensibility. But artists are human too, they need love too, they need appreciation too, they need money too, they like fame too. When a particular song gets a disproportionate amount of success compared to their other songs, they are tempted to make more music like that, and though it may be great for the new labels and the new fans who think that this sort of sound is cool, it is no longer a genuine form of art but insecurities and desperation masquerading as new art. This is loathsome to the fans who loved them from earlier days, because they are more discerning than their current followers, and know they are being cheated. This boils to foaming rage in some cases.
While I do acknowledge that going mainstream is not necessarily bad and creativity can still flow, it is very difficult for naive artists to avoid such traps. I am quite sure that if a band manages to retain its strengths, the loyal and intelligent fans will still stick around, albeit with pouted lips about they no longer being as special as before.

There are two type of hipsters, one who have no choice and the others who choose to be hipsters. Needless to say, the second type are the ones that are generating all the flak hipsters receive. It is just like artists, some people have no choice but to be artists, the ones I call genuine artists, and some choose to be artists because being an artist is “so fucking cool, right?”, the ones who, even if they produce something valuable, are disgusting in a stomach churning, vomit inducing way (Andy Warhol, for example).

Maybe, as Don’s mother in law in Mad Men says, a hipster is a person with “the artistic temperament but is not an artist”.

The Painting with no Perspective

The old man with a broken guitar sat in a corner, admiring the picture from a distance, so intently that he forgot only an hour ago his guitar had fallen on its neck and broken into a miserable two. His head was aching with an ache that seemed to move inside his head from corner to corner, but his sweat was drying up and he felt better. He had an odd condition due to which one of his eyes grew larger than the other when he was immersed in something and wasn’t paying attention to control his condition. So the old man with the broken guitar sat in a corner admiring the picture with no perspective intently with one eye larger than the other feeling fresh from the evaporating sweat, a feeling that surely interfered with his interpretation.
A little kid was looking at the picture closely, the painting so large and real that he seemed to be a part of it. Everything seemed big to him, he couldn’t understand when the voices around him discussed how the painter had paid so much attention to painting such small boats and people. A house in the painting lay tilted at an odd angle but when he tilted his head to see it better, the house was overwhelmed by the strange and horrifying face that was now staring at him from a corner. He seemed to have a broken neck and oddly shaped eyes. His hands unclasped due to an onrush of fear.
A journalist was taking pictures of the gallery, staring into the camera’s viewfinder with the eye that he trusted would be a good judge of the picture’s composition. He thought of including some people staring at the painting in the picture, and was looking at different angles that would show the reaction the painting generated in the audience. He caught a particular girl staring at him, he thought he would flatter her later if he had a picture of hers in his armory. He took a picture of her staring into the viewers’ eyes with the painting as a backdrop so she looked like the Monalisa, only a bit more real and sorrowful. His neck was now straining with pain.
The artist was in his studio, thinking of how a self-contained painting could be drawn. He thought about how ones in the painting had to be watching the painting and those would be the most honest judges of his work. He was wrong, of course, they had no perspective. He then thought of removing perspective altogether and make a painting that was floating in space and frozen in time.
He had the skill. But he couldn’t do it, his wrists were sore from holding the brush at a certain angle all the while and his eyes strained from staring at the painting for so long.

I am not like everybody else…

I am a strange guy. I have my heroes, and I like to watch them grow big, and then I like them to implode and become abominations and nobodies. All so I can relate to them better, so I can think that they were indeed what I would’ve been if I had wanted and tried as hard. Perhaps.
I am an arrogant man with such an impenetrable shell of ego that I rarely get hurt when the cause of hurt is outside me. I cannot be hurt by anyone other than myself. I often assume that there was no way to change the course things took and all I can do best is to dissect the ambitions and actions of others. I love the ‘equal to’ sign, or its extension, the ‘implies’ sign.
I often think that people like to hear me talk, because I often like what I say, it is funny, critical, fresh, not stale like the opinions of everyone else (which I consider to be half chewed, half understood, mechanical statements of mass media, or their cult leaders). I also assume that when I turn my back to a group of people, they pause for a few moments to sink in all of what I left them with to think before they resume their insignificant and mundane conversations. I often want a background track for such moments.
I like chains of logic, and creating clouds of rationality where everything is connected to something else and all makes perfect calculable sense. I find emotions to be the height of mathematics, the mathematics of infinity and recursive loops, and deducing, predicting or understanding them an honor.

Then sometimes, doubt creeps in. It plagues me. It bangs on my head like a small plastic hammer which doesn’t hurt but just is really annoying. Repeatedly. It makes me feel like I am one of them, I am like everybody else. People don’t change conversations after I leave, nor when I enter. They understand emotions and people just as well as me. That their choices are just as informed as mine. I get afraid. I start to feel alone and in the dark and it starts to affect me and makes me feel weak and worthless.
Then it just leaves suddenly. Just like it came. And I try to look best in the mirror and go outside and start to impress people again in the way that conforms with me.

I am not like everybody else in that I know that I am like everybody else. I am a snake that eats its own tail and grows bigger. Or smaller, perhaps?

The Hypochondriacs

An intelligent mind is easily seduced by logic. It is open to a rational argument but it often overlooks the pitfalls that most logical arguments have. This leads the most brilliant minds into accepting some irrational hypothesis, which may, even on the initial cursory ponderation of ordinary minds, appear outright stupid.

In order to create an argument that is fallacious yet convincing, one should first understand the audience the argument holds interest to. By creating a premise that accommodates and makes the audience at home, one can launch to create a detailed deductive chain of logic that would eventually culminate in the intended fashion. Naturally, it requires an understanding of general human nature as well as the particular archetype the audience belongs to, for every human can be represented by a few and finite number of templates for all practical purposes. For instance, in order to set up a winning argument against a vain person, you would want to incorporate that person into the premise in a way that is flattering to him/her. On the contrary, you should avoid creating a premise that portrays a suspicious or cynical person in a good light, especially if that person has a good insight about his/her own character, for he/she will then be suspicious of the argument as well. Since each particular person has mostly thought of counter arguments only to the ones going against what he/she generally believes in, one would be at a loss of a starting point if one were to negate the arguments that he/she usually advocates, and are now being used by you to create the premise, whence the deductive chain will follow.

There lies a trick, that translates to skill in most cases, in how one goes about creating the premise. The human mind has a weakness for details as well, and the more details woven in the premise, the more the audience would diverge from seeking the fallacy, seeking, rather, the imagery the abundance of details has created.

It would appear that even to win a rather simple argument one would have to go to great lengths. Well, if your argument is fallacious, and if it is not statistical, then indeed one has to resort to a complex algorithm to achieve  the desired end.

The psychological process working at the core of this strategy is the Semmelweis Reflex, or the confirmation bias. It appears that we are all ideological hypochondriacs, and like hypochondriacs, we need to believe that we are the ones who first thought of us having the disease.

The Resurgent Renegade

It has been almost one bad year since I have written anything, though there were enough things and happenings to boil my blood. I would be kidding myself if I say I hadn’t the time, for time is not a quantity scarce to me, despite me often complaining about the contrary. I entered the world of suits, a race for money and a race for tying sackfuls of sand to your feet to keep you from wandering. I have enough money now, and I know now it’s not money that I want.

I am getting asphyxiated thinking of how my metaphors have eluded me. I have never been so literal. And there is nothing in this world that I despise more than being literal.

I am not going to aim for coherence in this piece of shit, I have eaten too much garbage and need to flush my insides out before I can sleep easy and start being normal to myself again. I am ashamed to publish this, but I will do it anyway. As a poet you lack strength, for you know your foolishness is unbound. As a man of suits, you will never lack such courage, for fools around you would be roaming brazen, instilling in you a great confidence.

I am trying to regain the touch of Athena, and free the crazy little man in my head, the one that makes me laugh while I sit on my table writing mundane menial codes to add and subtract things of little importance but huge money. This is how this shitty article must end, abruptly. I will try to focus the next time.

The Sorrow of a Man Who Has it All

I am a very conceited man. I write only when I need to flush my sorrow out. To a man who looks at me today, in a moment when he cannot see my eyes, everything would look bright and beautiful. Indeed it is. As beautiful as it can be. And I daresay, as perfect as perfect can be. That is where it all starts to go wrong. That is where I need to make something go wrong.
Deliberately eating up all the chocolates I have so I can be sick, so I can enjoy the feeling of having a lot of chocolates, I skid often into an anxious territory, where fighting with, against, and for myself are the only means of survival. I love this territory, for this land is fecund, and it breeds words. I don’t love this place because it makes me happy, or sad, or any silly one-word emotion. I love this place because here I can, and have to, talk to myself, and words love me here.
I am hardly an honest person, and this admission does nothing to upstage that claim. I lie often, and to myself even. These lies regularly exceed my own brilliance, perhaps it’s the rebuttal of my unconscious I keep pestering into the daylight ever so often.
This isn’t even a coherent piece of writing. This is written with sorrow, but not with effort. Not a single person would like it. I apologise to the foolish few who are still reading.
I hope I can sleep. I am tired. I. . .

Case Interview for Dummies

This was written with the intention of helping my juniors in college with Case Interviews. The general nature of the topic, however, made me share it on my blog as well, to help some other souls in distress.

Highlights of my campus stay:
Never a serious student, nor ever interested in extra-curricular activities that the institute provided me with, I think my selection comes as a hope and inspiration to those who think they won’t be placed anywhere. Being a dual-degree student, I had a PG and a UG CPI, being 9.3 and 6.4 respectively at the time of the interview. Don’t be too shocked by my PG CPI, only three courses comprised that, at that time. As far as extra-curricular activities go, I was a secy in Synchronicity, nothing to boast of. Still, as I am sure most of you will also manage, I had a decent resume, banking on my school-time achievements, like NTSE, some contests et al. So go the highlights of my stay at IIT Kanpur, let’s talk about the interview in the next section.

Why were you short-listed?
This is a very dangerous question to ask, for I risk appearing to be wearing my lucky underwear on the interview day. Though I must not shy away from awarding a sizeable portion of my selection to my luck, it would be unfair, at the same time, to undermine the importance of my behaviour during and around the time of the interview. I had prepared just enough, read some puzzles, standard ones (and believe me, the companies ask just those), read about case interviews and how to behave in them (very essential). Since I had nothing to lose, I had no choice but to “be myself”, a point so often iterated that it risks losing its importance. What it essentially means is to appear very frank and outgoing in the interviews and saying the things that they want to hear in a way that makes them think you’re pouring your soul in a wineglass for them to take a sip out of. Though they know this all is pretence, but these are precisely the kind of guys they’re looking for. Also, language helps. Look your best, and maintain composure even outside the interview room.

The Interview

a) EXL Service, Round One

Interviewer: Darpan Jain, Manager

PI Questions:
Led by a friendly handshake to a seat, probed lightly about my background with the cliché “Tell me about yourself.” Waited for some brief seconds to see how gracefully I stop. Then talked about my city, from the resume; moved on to asking puzzles, followed by a small but tricky case study. Then talked about my CPI, asked me if I would go for research, told him how bad I was at studies, and not to be fooled by my PG CPI. Laughed and showed me to the door.

Case Interview:
This was the question. A company wants to send promotional e-mails to its customers. How much is enough?
It is very important to be prepared for such a small and detail-less question. What they want to see is how you approach the problem. So show them. Keep on talking to them while you arrive at the solution, but don’t jump to a solution directly, take a minute off before starting to work the solution out with his help. Probe him for details. What kind of e-mails are these? Does the company know the details of its customers beforehand or not? And any stuff that pops into your mind. Though I did arrive at an answer after some deliberation, a simpler solution was to just ask the customers themselves. The interviewer told me this, and I discussed his solution for a while and settled with his answer after admiring the ingenuity of his thought a little, subtly of course.

What went well?
My demeanour, the air of frankness I had assumed and the puzzles. Maybe my grammar, and thence my confidence, as well.

What went wrong?
I, for a moment, was about to have a Simmelweis Reflex when he told me about his solution to the case; I suppressed it instantly.

Take away for future batches:
Hope is all I have to offer. Go in with a dash, come out with a dash.

b) EXL Service, Round Two

Interviewer: Jasjeet Singh, Head, Consulting, EXL Service, India

PI Questions:
This one was a lot more gruelling, with precise questions about my resume, about my capabilities, and how my resume reflected my capabilities. He also briefly touched upon my background, but that most probably only to ease me into the process, not that I hadn’t eased into it already. Almost my entire resume was touched, and I was asked to first select three points in my resume, defend them, and then tell him how those were important to him as an interviewer and why he should select me on the basis of those points. However, my entire resume got discussed. My plans, my CPI was also discussed. I was also asked where I would see myself five years down the line, a pretty clever question which you can use to your advantage by showing them your naiveté, and your hunger for success and progress. The interview is almost always concluded with the trickiest of all questions: do you have anything to ask me? The trick is, don’t appear dumb. Don’t ask about salary or comfort of living or work hours or trivial details. Ask, rather, about how the company suits you, the kind of work and opportunities that you will get. And at all times, appear enthusiastic. It’s only half an hour of drama, a successful one will be worth it.

Case Interview:
The question: Nokia comes to your campus. It’s going to launch a cheaper version of the iPhone, and is interested in your campus as a potential market. In order to lure some customers, it approaches you with a proposal of giving you 100 coupons of 20% discount on a new phone, and for every successful coupon, you get a thousand bucks. Maximize your profit. Select potential 100 students who are most likely to buy the phone from your campus.
It was clear from the go that he was not much interested in the final solution as he was in the way I approached the task. Took a minute to regroup my thoughts, scribbled and drew a brief outline of my proposed method, and began expanding it with his collaboration. Asked him brief and precise questions, focussed on covering as many aspects of the problem as possible, and laying out as diverse a solution as possible. It is essential that you avoid getting stuck into only few dimensions of the problem. Involve him into the discussion, for when you work, you will be solving cases together. Show him how game you are for discussions like these.

What went well?
It went really smoothly, appearing almost scripted. The answers flew, the humour was light and effective, and I almost made a friend in that room after 45 minutes of tête-a-tête.

What went wrong?
I felt my resume was a bit weak and I hadn’t prepared well on how to defend it. Know your resume; each point should reflect some aspect of your personality- think of something clever to say for each point.

Take away for future batches:
CPI is great and so are extra-curricular activities, but a weak resume should not make you a weak candidate. Ace the written test, prepare for the interview, eat something light and energetic, appear fresh, talk fresher. Good luck.

Roth’s Pastoral

This is an essay I wrote for the appreciation of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Read it after a long time, and enjoyed it, so thought of sharing it with you guys.

Is it still I, who there past all recognition burn?
Memories I do not seize and bring inside.
O life! O living! O to be outside!
And I in flames. And no one here who knows me.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

If there was one thing that could be called omnipresent, it’s struggle. American Pastoral, intertwining Jewishness, Americanness, the struggle to be right, the struggle to be moral, the struggle to be true to oneself, the struggle to appear true to others, the struggle to remain true to yourself while appearing true to others, becomes a parable of life in its most basic form. The novel is more of a direct conversation with the reader of Roth’s confusion and less of an expert’s take on the dilemma of Jews living in America in the post-war era.

Roth relives the life of Jewish Americans in the guise of Nathan Zuckerman, a person struggling to decipher life. In the process he raises many questions about what defines life. Throughout the text, in a style as simple as it was prosodial, he subtly explores the ideologies, the beliefs and the acts of people by wide and versatile paradigms ranging from extreme non-violence to extreme violence, from an utter disrespect of life to an insanely high regard for it. He praises the protagonist, Swede Levov, almost raising him to a pedestal and then calls him fake and dumb and disposes of him as a phony. But throughout the novel, Roth remains absolutely convincing, which I believe is due to his inner struggle with these ideas. Roth’s masterful writing explores Merry as a lunatic and the reader cannot beg to differ. Then he sympathizes with Merry and again the reader cannot help but pity ‘the poor girl’.

In some sense the novel is an allegory of life, the pastoral a term for something we all believe in, something which each of us lives for. In the process of achieving this pastoral, this ideality, many lose hope, many adopt ways that are deluded. The styles of these delusions are also varied: on the one hand is Swede, a strict liberal, a true rational, living in the delusion that life will be perfect if he does everything ‘right’ and on the other hand is Merry, whose irrational beliefs make no sense to Levov, an extremely leftist ideology ranging from first violently fighting for the lower class to a frighteningly high regard for life in the end. Roth mocks both, Roth mocks everything.

By way of Nathan Zuckerman, Roth vicariously explores life by living in an era that was the best window into the nature of human thought. With death looming large in the war, the scar had hardly healed when America plunged into another battle with Vietnam over defending its capitalist regime. Life becomes precious in the vicinity of death, and forces even the ordinary mind to find ways to save it from devastation. With security in the economic sphere but death in the background, life had to be taken more seriously and not be compared by the accumulation of laurels, thus providing a case against the winner of the war, capitalism. Roth had the benefit of hindsight when he mocked the strict communist wave inside America, a so called retaliation for life, ironical in its modus operandi. By placing all extremities in a single family, Roth weaves a delightful drama, evoking a rich debate over what is right and how to live, essentially showing us how to think.

Roth subtly points out the various facets of life, unlike Bellow or Camus who adopt one of those to define life. He neither accepts life as bliss, each moment of which we should be grateful for, nor does he shun it by invoking Sisyphus, and calling life a mere myth of Sisyphus. The conversation between Lou Levov and Dawn elucidates the helplessness of religion to muster a reason, a meaning. I quote some lines from the book which will throw some light on what I want to say:

(Loneliness) “For him it was stripped of any other meaning- no meaning could make better use of that building. Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always, in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper.”

(Merry’s answer to the question: What is life?) “Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive.”

(Roth, according to me, mocks religion in these lines) “(Lou) I’d rather not leave it up to the child, Dawn…my grandchild is not going to eat Jesus…I give you the Baptism. That’s all I can do for you.”
Religion is a faculty that gives people a reason to live, a higher meaning for their lives. By way of these lines, Roth tells us how it fails when it is inherited or when you decide to fight it with reason.

(Here’s what Roth feels about blissful existence) ‘”A mere taste,” Proust writes, and “the word ’death’ has no meaning for him” So greedily I ate, gluttonously, refusing to curtail for a moment this wolfish intake of saturated fat but, in the end, having nothing like Marcel’s luck.’

Capitalism was ridiculed at every step by Roth, communism was ridiculed whenever he chanced upon it, Roth dissects fascism, tearing it to shreds, Roth mocks pacifism, Roth laughs at Judaism, he laughs at Christianity. He treats righteousness with a sinister derision, he denigrates intellectuals. This book is starkly elegiac in the fact that it mourns the death of such ideologies, the incapacity of these to explain life, to find a suitable way of living.

In spite of these arguments, and in spite of the fact that he is tempted to follow Sartre in calling life meaningless, Roth is not negative. Roth wants us to tackle reality head on and not be deluded by one or the other theories that tantalize us at one point of time or the other. As I put the book down and spent time meditating on its meaning, I felt that Roth had this to say to us: I don’t find bliss in existence, I don’t find relations meaningful, I don’t see why struggles define life, I don’t find meaning in anything but in the fact that we have to live. Roth is not a believer of any higher power, or as Michael Guillen puts it, “something that lies beyond the grasp of pure smarts.”

I end this essay by quoting Arthur Schopenhauer, “there was no Absolute, no Reason, no God, no Spirit at work in the world: noting but the brute instinctive will to live.”