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Get Miles: A Month of Sundays

et Miles is an occasional series of music and travel dispatches from Colin Cooper. Armed with an mp3 player and a luxurious notebook, Colin relays his experiences from the bustling Internet cafés of South East Asia, all in an attempt to explore old bonds with his record collection and forge new ones with the wider world.

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
'This could be Heaven or this could be Hell'
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

Fucking “Hotel California.” I’ve been in Nepal barely three weeks now, and I hate this song even more than I did at home—more than I ever thought possible. The only interesting thing about this song; the only mesmerizing, incredible and pretty baffling fact about The “Classic” Classic Rock Song of All Time is its Asian omnipresence. It sits alongside Hindu Gods and Buddhist Stupas, those selling hash and those smoking it, pictures of King Gyanendra and Queen Kornai on every available internal wall—it’s everywhere. A traveller friend told me the other night that he visited a village in Thailand where no one spoke a word of English—that is of course apart from the lyrics to The Eagles’ only flagship song. So there they are, totally oblivious to meaning or means—wailing away in their restaurants, bars, homes and of course their hotels about Tiffany’s Mercedes Benz, the captain’s wine, and a funny whiff of colitas. Whatever colitas is.

Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourist district, has one other obsession: the works of Bob Marley, specifically that which is to be found on the Legend CD. I’ve got nothing against the guy—the grooves are nice, “Redemption Song” is the obvious classic (although I prefer Joe Strummer’s better-produced interpretation than Marley’s tinny original)—but on my first night here I decided to sidestep the tourist trap for something a little more authentic.

In a restaurant filled with locals (always an encouraging sign for quality, price, and a good time) local youths wearing traditional Newari clothing over jeans and t-shirts acted out something pretty familiar to those of us back home. Kirsty and Shane. The Beautiful South. 8 Mile. Taking a well-known native tune performed with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the backing group, the male and female singers take it in turns to improvise insults and slurs on the good name of the opposition. I am dutifully informed that in a country as good-natured as Nepal, it’s unlikely these skits run to anything like the standards of Marshall’s “Kim” or indeed the record she made in response (I may or may not have imagined that), but still. As I had no access to accurate translation that night, I have attempted below to recreate what I think they might have been singing:
Man: “That dhal baat you made this evening was dreadful, dear. I’ve eaten better English food.”
Woman: “That’s so typical of you—all you care about is your stomach.”
Man: “That’s not true. Sometimes I enjoy getting it on as well, but you’re always too tired or have a headache or whatever.”
Woman: “Eurgh. The reason I’m never interested in bedding you, honey, is that you’re a slob. Plain and simple. Get down the gym, get a shower from time to time, and perhaps I’ll think about it. ’Til then your backpacker can stay right out of my rickshaw.
Man: “Oh bollocks.”
Who wins the battle is, like with rap battles, dependent on whom the dancing crowd thought was the more lyrically impressive. It’s pretty electrifying stuff.

Pashupatinath is one of the city’s most important Hindu temples. Rituals of very public human cremation take place by the river, whilst holy men known as Saddhus jostle for the tourist dollar by performing weird and wonderful feats of physical endurance including contortion, manipulation, and lifting boulders with their disfigured members. On this particular visit we met the young and quite possibly stoned apprentice of a Saddhu who has survived solely on milk for the last 25 years. He invited us into his lair, made us milky tea (he is only the apprentice, after all) and sung meditative songs, attempting to translate as he went along. Naturally the whole thing got very confusing, but this approach to world music was definitely new to me and all the better for it. What I was craving though, was for something more familiar…

Then yesterday, whilst walking passed a shop selling rip off Gore Tex/North Face gear, I helped the shopkeeper (a young boy in Western dress circa 1988) sing a few lines in Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall”.

“You play guitar?” he shouts at me, already making my way through a myriad of pedestrians, cyclists and motorbikes.

“A little.” He looks baffled. “Yes,” I elaborate. He waves me in and plays a Nepali rock song before I strum through one by Belle & Sebastian. God knows why, I’ve just been listening to them a lot recently, I guess. Taking it in turns, his finger picking becomes more impressive as my repertoire becomes more predictable: Dylan, Cohen, Badly Drawn Boy. This is definitely not how I see myself; I just have very little in the way of spontaneous imagination.

The rest of my music listening time, spent mostly on buses or on a nine-day trek in the Annapurna region has been spent either with earphones jammed in or stereos on. The former has been dominated by the likes of The Stone Roses, Neil Young’s Harvest LP, the aforementioned Belle & Sebastian and some mental live DJ Shadow sets borrowed from someone I met halfway up a mountain. The latter’s cascading rhythms, Buddhist chants, and occasional male/female battles has been both enjoyable and challenging in equal measures. The sounds are repetitive to the nth degree, one element challenges another and the music runs with that for a while until something else alters, if only slightly. This music is probably Eno’s spiritual home, but I’m still not sure it’s for me.

Still, anything’s better than “Hotel California.”

By: Colin Cooper
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