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Indrajit Hazra
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 10 : 49

Spanking the monkey


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Not too long ago, I met an old friend of mine at that Great Pub in the Ether called Facebook and apropos some gibberish, he reminded me of the 'scratchy monkey' impression I once was known for in Kolkata's lice-ridden circles. One thing led to another and after I reminded him that monkeys were not apes and vice versa, I returned to the real world and that was that.

But that can never just be that, can it? 'Monkey' was lodged firmly in my brain and I needed to do something about it. Would writing about it help? As is the case for the bulk of what I write, journalism or otherwise (read: FB status updates), things boil down to catharsis and word-vomit therapy. But who would want to read about my thoughts on monkeys? I was not David Attenborough's organ-grinder. In any case, I was not harbouring thoughts on monkeys. I had jumping monkey thoughts and the print media would not be able to capture my restless rhesus feeling.

Which is when I thought of writing this blog. Mn'M was its original name -- the acronym of the expanded description of the quaint English term, 'Spanking the monkey'. But internet regulations apparently dictate that the word 'masturbatin'' cannot be used without a 'g' at the end. I felt that the whole joy in the blog's name would have been destroyed if it was called MgM.

But a grand compromise was found. Instead of writing a blog only about onanistic simians, I would write about music and movies and thereby keep the original blog name intact -- except for the subtle addition of another apostrophe that would turn Mn'M into M'n'M (Music'n'Movies).

Since this whole enterprise was kicked off by monkey thoughts, I thought it would be only right that my first installment of M'n'M deals with exactly that: monkeys. So without further ado or unnecessary displaying of rectum, here are five of my favourite sonic and visual moments involving monkeys.

1. Monkey Man

A song that starts with the non-Keatsian rhyming lines, "I'm a flea-bit peanut monkey/ and all my friends are junkies" can only get better with time. And the eighth track on the Rolling Stones' (finest) album "Let It Bleed" has matured well since it was unleashed on homo sapiens of all sexual persuasions in December 1969. Mick Jagger is a one-man chattering class in this song and the piano-tinkle opening by Nicky Hopkins leads to the full crash-and-bang of Keith Richards' tune and riff finding a cage to rattle from. They say Monkey Man's about tripping on heroin. But with words that include "I'm a cold Italian pizza/ I could use a lemon squeezer/ What you do?" I think something less innocent is at work here.

Martin Scorsese-bhai used the track in the opening credits of his 1990 flick "Goodfellas" where we see Ray Liotta witnessing the business of gore and bump-offs conducted by gangsters Robert de Niro and Joe Pesci from the inside. Vicious monkeys, them.

2. Kaala Bandar

Just in case you're the sort who believes in things only when you read about them in the papers, the mystery of the Kaala Bandar -- Monkey Man -- of Delhi remains, well, a mystery. In the summer of 2001, Delhi was awash with reports of a creature that was attacking people at night. Eyewitnesses described the shadowy entity as being about 4 feet 6 inches tall -- although some reports stated that he was a whole foot taller -- "covered in thick black hair, with a metal helmet, metal claws, glowing red eyes and three buttons on its chest".

Many drunk hirsute men in Delhi were worried for a while believing that after ingesting a bit too much of Solan No. 1, they would change into the hairy monster-killer as depicted by Rajkumar Kohli's 1979 (wads of) hair-raising horror flick "Jaani Dushman".

But on speaking to less expensive versions of Ashis Nandy, I have come to the conclusion that the Kaala Bandar was a case of a mass delusional phenom. Something that was taken up in a strand of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's 2009 film "Delhi-6", and particularly marked by the song "Hey Kaala Bandar", in which Karthik, Naresh Iyer, Srinivas, Bonnie Chakraborty and Ember rap away with terror-shorn fun to the AR Rahman music and, er, Prasoon Joshi lyrics.

3. Snake in the Monkey's Shadow

John Cheung Ng-long plays the student who comes to the kung-fu teacher mastered in the drunken-monkey style and is initially rebuffed Ekalavya-Dronacharya-style in the conic (I can't say iconic as Apple may file a lawsuit) Cheung Sum-directed martial arts 1979 flick "Snake in the Monkey's Shadow". The drunken monkey-style celebrated in the film is to kung-fu what quantum mechanics is to classical physics. Here, the body sways and rocks and folds like a drunkard's would. But because the fighter does all those movements mid-fight super-quickly, it's not called drunken-style, but drunken-monkey style. Kung-fu literature tells us -- ok, me -- not to believe that actually getting drunk can improve one's drunken-monkey skills. But pay them peanuts, and you get liars.

4. Brass Monkey

New York hip-hop toreodors the Beastie Boys came out with the phattest, dirtiest monkey song of them all in their 1987 debut album "Licensed to Ill".

As in the Stones' Monkey Man, 'monkey' is effortlessly made to rhyme with 'junkie'. But the mystery is cleared after the opening pump'n'jump lines of "Brass Monkey/ that funky monkey/ Brass Monkey-junkie/ That funky Monkey" with the explanatory "Got this dance that's more than real/ Drink Brass Monkey, here's how you feel" -- the explanation being that the song's a straightforward endorsement of a cocktail drink that goes by the name of Brass Monkey whose contents are one part dark rum, one part vodka and one part orange juice. Sonically, it's the funkiest of monkey ditties. I have to shower after listening to it every time.

5. Where's Your Head At?

Brit electronic dance music duo Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At?" from their 2001 album "Rooty" doesn't have anything to do with monkeys. It's a catchy, frisky, bumpy track with an infectious hands-in-the-air chorus. But it's the video to the song, directed by the filmmaking collective Traktor, that's pure monkey-shit brilliant.

We find a Bob kind of man coming to a clinic where the sinister-looking 'doktor' (played with pure facial madness by the Czech actor Petr Janiš) claims that he's made a breakthrough discovery in pop music. It turns out that the big discovery is making monkeys play music. Or is it something more sinister? Oh, it is! To the boom'n'bass'n'echo of the song, we find monkeys playing musical instruments and singing -- yes, the song Where's Your Head At? -- but with human faces. These faces, it becomes apparent, belonged to musicians whose brains have been implanted in the heads of these performing monkeys. Things go out of hand when the monkeys (they have the faces of Basement Jaxx members Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe) start trashing the place. This is a brilliant piece of audio-visual art that should be permanently displayed at the Tate Modern. If you find it extremely disturbing, I suggest you just settle down to listen to this simian song.


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More about Indrajit Hazra

Indrajit Hazra is an author and journalist. He writes Red Herring for Hindustan Times every Sunday and Last Laugh for Khaleej Times every Friday. He is a decommissioned Jedi and a BlackBerry addict. He lives in New Delhi, which is a good thing.

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