Music and life

In the finale of season 2, Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation, the Pauls—BBDO’s chairman Josy, doctoral student Shlok, and jazz and gospel singer Marie—share their journey of how music influenced their lives

Founding Fuel

In a truly magical finale to Season 2 of TAMG, Josy and Shlok Paul—with Marie Paul joining them with song from Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh—take us through their life’s musical journey.

A synopsis cannot do justice to this episode. It cannot recreate the atmosphere—the feel of jamming with friends of an evening—that the Pauls created. Nevertheless, here’s a snapshot. We urge you to watch the video and join in with your own songs.

The power and meaning in music

“Music is not just music,” says Josy Paul as he recounts his first encounter with protest music at 15, on his first day in college. The students were fighting authority, they were seeking representation in the management committee. “I realised the idea of authority was giving way to the authority of ideas.”

Josy: I see pamphlets being thrown from the rooftops. Sky is grey because of these pamphlets. People are running on the rooftop. And I saw something I'd never seen my life…. Here were people protesting and singing Hum Honge Kamyab / We Shall Overcome.    

I grew up on Bollywood, on Shammi Kapoor… But here was music with a little more meaning…. That day shaped the way I wrote, I created, worked, everything. Suddenly, the world became a little more important than just the musical aspect; it was music with meaning.”

Marie:

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

Shlok talks about the difficulties Marie had when she was pregnant with him and how music gave her strength.

Shlok: She had a really tough nine months… she overcame it by singing. One song she would sing was this old gospel song ‘One Day at a Time’. The crazy part that I very recently learned is that when I was a baby, and when she would sing One Day at a Time, at a show or when she was practising, I would start to cry.

Dad said, ‘empathy is a mysterious memory structure that music is made of, and that me and mom are connected by the umbilical cord of songs’.

Marie:

I'm only human, I'm just a woman
Help me believe in what I could be and all that I am
Show me the stairway I have to climb
Lord for my sake, teach me to take, one day at a time

One day at a time, sweet Jesus
That's all I'm asking from You
Just give me the strength to do every day
What I have to do
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus
Tomorrow may never be mine
Lord help me today, show me the way
One day at a time

- One Day At a Time

A love story

Josy recalls when he and Marie first met. They were chatting on a bridge in a garden and it began to drizzle. And Marie broke into song. “I just knew something had happened! This feels right,” he says.

Josy: All of us have something we carry with us in our hearts. When that song comes up in Hindi or English, Marathi, Malayalam—whatever the language we grown up with—that’s part of us.

Marie:

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

- From The Sound of Music

Josy: You can fall in love over and over again.

Music as inspiration

A chance music video turned Shlok towards building awareness on climate change—and joining activists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd to build the climate clock on Union Square in New York. It counts down in years, months, days and seconds, the time we have left before climate change becomes irreversible.

Shlok: When I first came to college, I had selected to be a chemical engineer…. They sell you on the idea of having one of the best salaries in the world. And I hopped on that train for two years; I was happily brainwashed.

Until one day, just like the Greek gods had destinies for Greek heroes, the YouTube gods showed me this video—The Elegy for the Arctic by Ludovico Einaudi. This old Italian man is sitting on an iceberg with a massive Steinway piano, playing this piece as he's crying for the Earth. And in the backdrop, you can see a massive glacier colliding down into the ocean. That really affected me.

Marie:

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew…

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

- Colours of the Wind, Pocahontas

Music for focus

Shlok: “I used to work in a nanoparticle lab where we would synthesise magnetic nanoparticles and watch them self-assemble, what structures do they form on earth, and on a space station—we’d send it up to the ISS, and we’d watch them self-assemble in zero gravity. It's a boring, repetitive task that takes about 45 minutes. I would always have this one song on, which was perfect because it was 45 minutes long. It's written by John Luther Adams, who won the Pulitzer Prize for music. It's called Become Ocean.

Like a chef who knows by the sizzle of the steak when the steak is ready, I used to know by the notes in the song, what step of my reaction I was on.

Josy: My early influence never left me. Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd spoke to me more than anyone else. They helped me discover my creative side.

When I heard David Gilmour sing Us and Them years ago when I was in college, something in me stirred. He sang the words that Roger Waters wrote. This particular statement where he said,

Haven't you heard it's a battle of words
The poster bearer cried
"Listen son", said the man with the gun
There's room for you inside

- US and Them, The Dark Side of the Moon

I was so impacted by these words that I left my sporting interests. And I started writing posters saying that I could write for the future. My search for meaning I began here with this music—music that was questioning the status quo, seeking change. And it fuelled me to find my own purpose. And like many of you, John Lennon was one of them.

Marie:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today…

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

- Imagine, John Lennon

Josy: I remember the first album I bought with my first salary—Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. The album cover was fascinating. The spectrum of rainbow colours emerging from the central prism, it just blew my mind. That album made me look at the world of visuals. Music was no longer sound. It was the things you saw in your head. And I let that play with me.

Music as an energising mantra

Shlok: There is this YouTube sensation called ChilledCow lo-fi. It’s a YouTube channel that plays lo-fi music—calm, melodic beats that you can focus to 24/7—with this animated girl in the background, and she's got headphones on and she's studying. She's just listening to music, studying as you yourself sit and study. There's companionship between you, her, and the entire audience around the world. That was my go-to ritual when I studied during quarantine.

Josy: Before every big presentation, including this one, I psych myself with three songs that I play one after the other. It's like a mantra mix

  • Shine On You Crazy Diamond, by Pink Flyod
  • Scarborough Fair, by Simon and Garfunkel
  • Mountain Hare Krishna, by Krishna Das

This combination is lethal. I storm into sessions with so much excited energy.

Marie:

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see

- Amazing Grace

The inner rock-and-roll in the lockdown

Josy: During the lockdown, I spent three months just walking round and round on this small terrace outside by study. Each day I chose a theme from my past and played songs that fit the theme. All the things in my life associated with the music would walk with me. I was never alone. I believe the only way to fight our Covid blues is with our inner rock and roll.

Shlok: I started to lean into rap, especially Kendrick Lamar. He raps about how he grew up in a very tough part of America and how he overcame the destiny of his life to become the sensation he is today.

Dealing with quarantine… I had to go back to music that reminded me of being with other people. EDM, trance, rap, just attending all these concerts.

I started cycling aggressively. I would put on a song that matched my cadence, and just go for it.

Once when I was cycling around Central Park, I was listening to Kendrick Lamar’s Money Trees. And I noticed that the song was getting louder and louder. I thought it was a glitch with my iPhone. Till I realised that there was a group in the park that was just blasting the song.

I'm not surprised that these events are popping up in New York where people just play loud music—they don't care. They just want other people to listen with them.

In my neighbourhood, people play the trumpet at 7pm and people stand outside the building to attend it—that’s how music is bringing people together.

I want to bring up Kendrick Lamar again. In India, at least I from my privileged background, never got to experience racial oppression. Listening to his lyrics, he showed me how lucky I was, but also how powerful he is to use his words to change his neighbourhood. I want to read these lines from his song, Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst.

Look at the weak and cry, pray one day, you'll be strong
Fighting for your rights even when you're wrong
And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I'm gone
Am I worth it?
Did I put enough work in?

- Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst, Kendrick Lamar

Marie:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

Yes, 'n' how many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

- Blowin’ in the Wind, Bob Dylan

Marie: Gospel, jazz, Barbra Streisand, Mahalia Jackson… music just uplifts the soul. That's all I can say.

Where do they discover new music?

Josy: Radio Paradise, run by somebody in California who just loves music. And it's very eclectic.

Shlok: I get the good stuff from a lot of my friends.

Marie: while I'm singing, I kind of just go into some sort of deep space… for me, music is very spiritual.

Encore by Marie

We'll Meet Again
Don't know where, don't know when
But I know We'll Meet Again
Some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away

So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won't be long
They'll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song

We'll Meet Again
Don't know where, don't know when
But I know we'll meet again
Some sunny day

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