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2016 - The year music died

Dwelling on fond memories of music havens Rhythm House and Blue Frog, both of which shut shop in 2016

brunch Updated: Jan 28, 2017 19:37 IST
Rahul da Cunha
Rahul da Cunha
Hindustan Times
Rhythm House,Mumbai,Blue Frog
Blue Frog was the true game changer for live performances in Mumbai

I’m an audiophile. Meaning I’m beyond passionate about music – bit obsessive actually... have been since the first day I walked into Rhythm House in the late ’70s. The iconic Mumbai music store had little cubicles, each with its own turntable. So you bunked college lectures, took the bus to the shop and selected sample records off the rack…LPs like Deep Purple’s Machine Head or the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. You holed yourself up in this curtained little room, got transported to the worlds of psychedelia, pop culture and pounding rock.

Far away from the dusty classrooms of Dhobi Talao, you soaked in The Doors, knowing that the vocalist belting into your headphone cans had overdosed on drugs 10 years ago. So, when Jim Morrison sang This is the end, my only friend, you kind of knew this was subtext for suicide.

Perhaps it added to the charm that all those great artistes – Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, Janis Joplin – had all breathed their last, while in that cosy little cubicle in Kala Ghoda they were breathing into my ears, paeans of pain, lyrics of wastelands in their heads. It’s like they were singing to you from the grave.

We all have early influences that guide us through our adult years.

For me, it’s been rock music dating back to the years 1968-1985. It’s been my safety net, my night sedative, my morning pick-me-up, my refuge from the world, and most vitally, remembrances from when the world used to be a simpler place.

So when it was announced that Rhythm House was closing, a large part of my old-world Mumbai closed with it. I bought The Doors’ Absolutely Live vinyl as a final memoir from the iconic store.

The iconic store that was Rhythm House (Hindustan Times)

And I was thinking if we have become so lazy that the laptop browser has replaced browsing for music. Or has the Apple Store stopped us from visiting stores? On another note, have long playing records now been replaced by PlayStation?

In another space, there’s the live music scene in Mumbai. Of course, Rang Bhavan was our primary playground. I’ll never forget the year 1980, when the Mumbai police patiently waited outside, while The Police played Message in a Bottle. It was a wild experience, with none of that moral policing, no ‘don’t carry booze, smokes, hashish’ into the ‘stadium’. You had to just bring along your love for music.

A decade later, Razzberry Rhinoceros pioneered live acts in what was a seedy Juhu Hotel. But it was Blue Frog that was the true game changer for live performances in the city. Housed in the Todi Mills Compound, Lower Parel, if you were a jazz aficionado, then Blue Frog was Mumbai’s Blue Note.

When the first email came to me, with the classic blue amphibian leaping out of the page, announcing that there’d be a live act every single day of the week, I remember thinking, “Yeah right, let’s see how my friends Srila Chatterjee, Mahesh Mathai, Dhruv Ghanekar and Ashutosh Pathak can sustain this over even one year.”

Nine years later, the place epitomised live music. The Frog was indeed alive and kicking.

Acoustic sets, jazz sessions, DJs with their unique electronica, and spring chicken musicians – all congregated here, except for perhaps Mondays.

It was the Mecca for musicians. If you played an instrument seriously, this was the stage you waited to be invited to play on. Like all great places, it didn’t matter if you were collegian or the crème de la crème. Blue Frog symbolised the celebration of live music.

Till the RIP day came. The Frog, we were told, was calling it a night. And I remember thinking, why does music in Mumbai keep dying on me? With both Blue Frog and Rhythm House shutting down in one year, 2016, as Don McLean would have said, was the year the music died.

Rahul da Cunha is the creative head of daCunha Communications Pvt. Ltd and a theatre director/playwright. He belongs to one of Indian theatre’s most illustrious families.

From HT Brunch, January 15, 2017

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First Published: Jan 14, 2017 19:32 IST