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Poetic Justice Vol. 4: The Ghetto-ization Of My Youth

How a night at Bombay’s original rock ‘n’ roll dive bar came to chronicle a fat chunk of this author’s youth.

6 Jun, 2013

Abhimanyu Meer


Pretty much everybody has that one local speakeasy they frequent, feel one with, feel right-at-home at. Mine’s a dive called The Ghetto in Mahalaxmi, and it’s been my go-to place for drink, social stuff and serious alone-time since I was about 15-years-old, since the days of them having a DJ (#someremember). Now when I say dive, I’m saying it looks and feels like a dive bar, but their prices are more in line with say a dive in uptown Chicago. That wasn’t always the case, though. Blame taxes. I also met my first girlfriend there, had my first real drunk episode over there around the same time, got arrested there for drinking without a permit (2006; really), immortalized the name and logo of my super, super indie band on its ceiling (2008), and who knows what else. Oh yeah, yesterday, I fell asleep there for a little bit. There are way too many memories, a lot of them predictably hazy.

When I went there about a month ago, amped after NH7′s first #ZombieDay, I happened to walk in to hear the last few bars of ‘Zombie’. It was serendipitous, and I felt some kind of dopaminergic validation for the effort the team put in to pull off Zombie Diwas on short notice. At The Ghetto that night, my friend Philip and I were shooting pool after a long time. This is because we’ve never seen the sense in paying 100 bucks for a game, especially when we have awesome friends who feel the explicit need to totally justify that spending (every. single. time). But before I go on, I’d like to tell you about The Ghetto’s musical formula, if you don’t know it already.

Rock ‘n’ roll is what they play on the regular, mostly stuff from the ’70s and the ’80s (leaning toward the latter). Some of the bands you can hear there are Poison, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Tom Petty (yep), Whitesnake, Heart (oh yeah), and a lot of related acts. I went to Toto’s in Bandra twice purely out of curiosity. After my second disappointing-because-of-the-crappy-service visit, I realized what Toto’s musical formula is. Basically, they play “the other track on the album”. What I mean by that is if The Ghetto plays ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ off Slippery When Wet, Toto’s plays ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’; if The Ghetto’s playing ‘Black Dog’, off IV Toto’s plays ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’. That way both places can coexist without stepping on each other’s toes playlists. Last night, The Ghetto played ‘Achilles Last Stand’ while I was waking up from my slumber, so obviously they’re the clear winners to me.

I don’t really listen to the music there. In fact, it’s one of the only places my friends and I can completely tune out and have conversations at. On the other hand, I know a whole lot of people who go to The Ghetto just for their dose of classic rock music, but I’ve been there so often now, I can pretty much spend the entire night there and leave not remembering a single song that played (has nothing to do with being intoxicated while there), and still rattle off probably eight tenths of their playlist on any given night. It never really changes. ‘Coming Back To Life’ has ended the night there since basically forever (it’s your cue to go out and blaze one before the fuzz comes around to check if everyone’s gone). You will most definitely hear ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ and on a crowded (read mainstream) night, you will probably hear Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State Of Mind’.

That night though, something weird happened. It also had to do with the fact that after ages, I was actually listening to the music. While Philip and I were shooting pool, they played ‘Take A Look Around’ by Limp Bizkit. We found ourselves singing along. It took me back to my friend’s red Chocolate Starfish CD, and the times we’d drive around our neighbourhood (I had a total of one friend with wheels at that age), rocking our 59FIFTYs (I kid you not, still got mine), blasting Bizkit and giving minimum fucks as shocked elderly folk looked on from the steps of Maker Arcade.

Then, they played ‘Chop Suey’, which took me back to a solid three-four year obsession period with System Of A Down before I watched them live in 2005 (with aforementioned friend-with-car) and had some closure. ‘Chop Suey’ is one of my least favourite SOAD songs, but it’s the only one they play at The Ghetto regularly (read mainstream). It took me back to jamming with the old band in my Colaba garage, stirring around the damp room, completely blitzed, playing the creeping introductory notes to ‘Mind‘ (what a song).

Next up came ‘Ramble On’, which really signifies a time when we were getting older, trading aural assault for the gentler nuances of championship-level classic songwriting. This was the beginning of our classic rock music initiation with Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. Back then, we were cranking that music wherever we went, and including a bunch of their songs in our cover set routines. ‘Ramble On’ is a Ghetto playlist mainstay. Ghetto tip: You request a song often enough, and if it manages to not offend the regulars, it’ll become a mainstay.

Then came ‘Crush’ and I was taken to 2003. Like I mentioned, I met my first real girlfriend there. She introduced me to the real magic of Dave Matthews Band whom I was obsessed with soon after. This was around the time that local jam band Something Relevant had played a one-off show at The Ghetto and covered ‘Crush’. It wasn’t on The Ghetto’s regular playlist back then. The Ghetto plays a live version of ‘Ants Marching’ and ‘Crash Into Me’ almost regularly though. ‘Crush’ was her favourite song. This night was getting heavy.

When the first bars of ‘Animal’ kicked in, Philip and I exchanged affirmatory glances. These songs were playing out pretty chronologically in sync with my life. Vs. (the song ‘Leash’ specifically) was my formal introduction to Pearl Jam around that same year, and ‘Animal’ had us making connections with times and places in the past almost instantaneously. This was while we were head-banging by the pool table. It’s one of my favourite PJ songs ever.

Before I tuned out that night, they played one more song after ‘Animal’ that really sealed the deal and by sealing the deal, I mean giving me enough meat for this piece. It was the really life-affirming, grown-up ‘How Soon Is Now’ by The Smiths. This is also a playlist regular, a song enjoyed and felt best in a dark dive like The Ghetto. And its words kinda tied things together for that moment, that night. Call it poetic justice, if you like.

On a side note, I think it’s important to know why classic rock is called classic rock. Classic rock doesn’t mean music from the ’60s, 70′s and ’80s. Classic here is something that stands the test of time, something that manages to permeate so deeply and possibly so often, that it’s forever etched in your memory. It’s possible that The Ghetto’s taken a sort-of ownership of the songs I heard on that day. They’re quite possibly more synonymous with that place now than they are with my memories. As I’ve grown older, I’ve managed to get less offended by music that doesn’t float my boat. Hearing ‘Zombie’ over there for the last decade or so has gotten me pretty used to it, but I’ll be honest, I’ve still gotta fight my urge to throw up when they play ‘Linger’.

Photo credit: barchick.com

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