Bhindi Bhagee

By Sean Carroll | June 21, 2006 10:24 am

Regardless of how unhip I may be now (a matter for everyone to decide for themselves), it’s nothing compared to how unhip I was growing up, especially when it came to music. The first 45rpm single I ever purchased was by Kiss, and the first full-length LP was by the Electric Light Orchestra; let us say no more about that.

In particular, I didn’t know anything about punk rock, and certainly didn’t come close to appreciating the genius of the Clash. Sure, I knew Rock The Casbah from the video on MTV (although little did I suspect it would some day become a conservative rock anthem, the Clash being secret Republicans at heart). But I didn’t at all understand the skill and passion with which the band blended hard-core punk sensibilities with a disparate palate of musical influences.

Joe Strummer Which is just as well, as my lack of familiarity allowed me to fall in love with frontman Joe Strummer on the basis of his solo work with backing band The Mescaleros. After the Clash broke up in 1986, Strummer’s output waned, while he appeared in a couple of films and contributed some soundtrack music. Then, starting in 1999, he released a series of three albums of astonishing range and beauty: Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, Global a Go-Go, and Streetcore. The last of these, sadly, was posthumous, as Strummer died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2002. (I’m sure everyone else knows all this. Me, I never whould have discovered Strummer if Mondo Bongo hadn’t been prominently featured on the soundtrack for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Thanks, Brad and Angelina!)

Reviews of Strummer’s solo work have been largely positive, but somewhat tempered by confusion due to a lack of obvious continuity with his punk roots. Personally, I think that if the albums are considered in their own right, rather than as “by the guy from the Clash” with all the preconceptions that implies, they are an amazing achievement. Strummer was always interested in different genres of music (and reggae was an important influence on the Clash), but here he mixes a mad panopoly of styles — from punk to folk to reggae to rockabilly to Middle Eastern to Latin to African and on — with equally eclectic instrumentation and colorful lyrics. (Where “colorful” should occasionally be taken to mean “surreal bordering on nonsensical,” unless I was patrolling a Pachinko / Nude noodle model parlor / in the Nefarious zone is more transparent to you than it is to me.) Along with drums/bass/guitar, a Mescaleros song might feature violin, whistle, mandolin, organ, conga, bells, bodhran, udu, accordion, saxophone, dulcimer, and/or whatever else was lying around. While he could still rock with the best of them, Strummer could also step back with an acoustic tune like Bob Marley’s Redemption Song (also recorded elsewhere in a duet with Johnny Cash).

You can get a good idea of the playful energy, at once exuberant and reflective, of Strummer’s later music from the lyrics to Bhindi Bhagee. It’s a song about eclectic food choices, but there is an explicit parallel (which the lyrics are happy to spell out) with eclectic musical choices. Of course, if you listen to a bit, the energy is even more obvious.

Well, I was walking down the High Road
And this guy stops me
He’d just got in from New Zealand
And he was looking for mushy peas
I said, no, we hadn’t really got ‘em round here
I said, but we do got

Balti, Bhindi, strictly Hindi
Dall, Halal and I’m walking down the road
We got rocksoul, okra, bombay duck-ra
Shrimp beansprout, comes with it or without – with it or without
Bagels soft or simply harder
Exotic avocado or toxic empenada
We got akee, lassi, Somali waccy baccy
I’m sure back home you know what tikka’s all about – what tikka’s all about

Welcome stranger to the humble neighborhoods
You can get inspiration along the highroad

Hommus, cous cous in the jus of octopus
Pastrami and salami and lasagne on the go
Welcome stranger, there’s no danger
Welcome to this humble neighborhood

There’s Balti, Bhindi, strictly Hindi
Dall, Halal and I’m walking down the road
Rocksoul, okra, bombay duck-ra
Shrimp beansprout, comes with it or without

So anyway, I told him I was in a band
He said, “Oh yeah, oh yeah – what’s your music like?”
I said, “It’s um, um, well, it’s kinda like
You know, it’s got a bit of, um, you know.”

Ragga, Bhangra, two-step Tanga
Mini-cab radio, music on the go
Um, surfbeat, backbeat, frontbeat, backseat
There’s a bunch of players and they’re really letting go
We got, Brit pop, hip hop, rockabilly, Lindy hop
Gaelic heavy metal fans fighting in the road
Ah, Sunday boozers for chewing gum users
They got a crazy D.J. and she’s really letting go

Oh, welcome stranger
Welcome stranger to the humble neighborhoods

Well, I say, there’s plenty of places to eat round here
He say, “Oh yeah, I’m pretty choosy.”

You got
Balti, Bhindi, strictly Hindi
Dall, Halal, walking down the road
Rocksoul, okra, bombay duck-ra
Shrimp beansprout, comes with it or without
Let’s check it out

Welcome stranger to the humble neighborhoods, neighborhoods
Check out all that

Por-da-sol, por-da-sol
Walking down the highroad

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Music
  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ QUASAR9

    Yep, could be not just a parallel between food choices and eclectic music, but between cosmopolitan, cosmopolis and the multiverse (cosmology?). Major cities are rich in diverse + alien cultures, all in human shape or form.

  • http://goatsreadingbooks.blogspot.com Tim D

    Joe Strummer is the man. I think I prefer the Clash (London Calling would definitely make my top-5 desert island list), but Global A-Go-Go is a great album too. Thanks for the reminder – I think it’ll be my coding background music for the afternoon.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    You youngsters…

    Everyone knows Strummer’s best was from BEFORE he was in the Clash, with a group called the 101ers. To catch up on your history, see

    http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/donwhistance/theclash/joetheearlyyears.htm

  • S

    If it is really in Hindi, I think it ought to be “Bhindi Bhajee”. “Bhindi Bhagee” would mean, quite literally: “Okra ran away”!!

  • http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/blog/ Rob Knop

    In the “nerdier than thou” category — I was so unhip in high school that about the only records I bought of music written after 1900 were music of Aaron Copeland. (One exception: the Bobs.)

    My musical tastes are still pretty similar, actually.

    -Rob

  • http://cinematicrain.com almostinfamous

    yay sean! welcome to the delightful world of joe S. i was born too young to enjoy the clash in their heyday, but i still love ‘em.

    and bhindi bhagee is my fave song from the one mescaleros album i don’t own. streetcore is definitely in my top 5 favourite all-round rock’n’roll records.

    and here’s a song to remember him by:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRwmZ2bp_B0

  • The Anti-Lubos

    Hey, ELO rules! I’ll not have their good name besmirched!

  • Julianne

    ELO was also my first full-length album purchase. I’m willing to admit this because (1) Sean confessed first, and (2) my first concert was much, much worse.

  • Cynthia

    A Quick Sketch of Bhindi Bhagee: Human Culture meets Quantum Mechanics… Sort of like injecting the Anthropic Principle into Particle-Wave Duality: the culinary properties of humanity complementing the musical properties of humanity…

  • http://markandmarjorie.blogspot.com schnitzi

    Sean, you rock. No lie: I myself have been tossing around the idea of writing an entry on my blog about this very song.

    What’s great about it, to me, is this: here’s a guy who’s seen it all; from punk roots, to international superstardom, to getting screwed over by his record company and not producing any albums for ten years as a result. He could’ve ended up jaded as hell. But as his recent work in general and this song in particular point out, he died in love with the world, and not just his corner of it. You could do worse in this life.

  • Elliot

    “Coma Girl” by far the best song by Strummer ever. IMHO one of the best rock songs of the last 10 years.

    Elliot

  • Doc

    I miss Joe. I got into the car yesterday and Bummed Out City was on my iPod, and all I could say was, “Joe, I miss you. What happened?”

    There’s an excellent book called _Vision Of A Homeland_ which is about the history of the Mescalaros (short though it was). It’s a good read.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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