A New Indian Book Documents Interviews with Roger Waters, Keith Richards and More
‘Calling Elvis’ author Shantanu Datta, a veteran journalist in Kolkata, has spoken to everyone from Mark Knopfler to Sting, in addition to Indian stalwarts like Dr L. Subramaniam and Louiz Banks
As a journalist writing on arts, culture and politics since 1987, Shantanu Datta began compiling and readying his first book Calling Elvis just about over two years ago. “I had to make time for it outside of my professional commitments as a journalist. May be that’s why it took a bit longer than it should have.”
Even though he’s still a regular contributor to Kolkata’s Telegraph Online, Datta spent over three decades covering the Indian subcontinent and specifically Kolkata’s music space. Calling Elvis features an envious list of rockstars, but also important figures in India’s music history – from violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam to keyboard veteran Louiz Banks to seminal groups like Mohiner Ghoraguli.
Along the way, rock artists like Sting, Roger Waters, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana and more spoke to Datta in regard to India. The writer says getting a yes from his editors was not a major concern. “I have been lucky that most of my editors liked music, not necessarily jazz and rock always. But they all had a ear out for the greats. That definitely helped. So, I would say my experience has been very encouraging. I don’t think I have ever been denied the opportunity to write on a musician when I wanted to. I guess, I was able to pitch my ideas cogently,” he says.
In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Datta talks about Calling Elvis, his love for the Beatles and whether India can bring down the rock legends ever again. Excerpts:
You often bring in the Beatles and it seems like a band intertwined into your life, as the book suggests. Are there more Beatles-related anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book?
Yes, surely. For instance, I can go on and on about how certain Beatles songs helped me, first, to play the drums and later, encouraged me to learn a few chords on the guitar. Then, there are albums which I devoured thanks to another music mad friend of mine…I could go on. I guess these are milestones in the life of a music lover. But the journalist’s bullshit meter in me kept me in check so as not to inflict readers with such dribble! But the most momentous Beatles moment (about George) is in the book. It had to be.
In your writings across the years, I can tell there’s some amount of keeping up that you do, in the sense of being clued in to younger artists like Nubya Garcia as much as you can write about Kolkata’s most veteran musicians. Was that the intention with including more recent interviews?
Yes. I was lucky to have been able to hear Nubya, at the Tollygunge Club in Calcutta on a Sunday evening, and was blown away. It wasn’t difficult for me to realize that she was bound for glory as a jazz musician. Her ideas, phrasings on the sax and the ability to weave in various strands of musical genres seamlessly were very impressive. She is destined to be among the ‘greats’ of the future. In fact, there is an exciting gang of young musicians in the U.K. that is burning up the jazz soundscape outside of the U.S.. And she had to be in my book as an able representative of this current phenomenon.
Documentation is a very important part of music history in India and this book contributes to that. Is this a book also for all the young people who perhaps don’t even know that artists like Rolling Stones, Roger Waters and Herbie Hancock or even Carlos Santana were once in India?
Thank you. What India witnessed during the turn of the millennium with all these bands coming down is historic. So, this book is definitely for the youngsters to tell them: see they were here, and they played. And some of us were there when they did. You will be surprised at the number of youngsters who listen to the bands you just spoke of. My daughter has a few friends who dig the Beatles and Dylan like mad.
Yet that was not my primary purpose. I wrote the book the way I did to explore and expand on the reasons why the music of, say, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull and the entire pantheon of classic rock and jazz stalwarts, continue to touch us so deeply. In certain instances the sophistication of thought and the present day relevance of the lyrics are simply stunning. They make us think and continue to give us so much joy. This is what great music is about, which I wanted to celebrate.
You’ve mentioned DNA Networks often in the book and rightly so, because they were involved in bringing down some of the biggest artists to India over the years. Do you think India can see these very artists you’ve interviewed once again?
Well, Roger Waters, Carlos Santana and the Stones are still playing. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull is touring with a new band. And DNA Networks is going great guns too. So, who knows? But realistically, given our national mood, the unforeseen health exigencies of the day, coupled with a sluggish economy, the prospects of holding rock concerts in the near future don’t seem bright. But the song remains the same, right?
Get ‘Calling Elvis’ via Speaking Tiger Books here.