American Splendor

The American culture (is there such a thong though?) has always found an avid audience in my family, circa 1987 onward. Both my folks exposed me to American literature, cinema and art very early on. I have vivid memories of afternoons in the early 90s: me as a kid drawing with crayons in the living room while my Dad played his favourite music on the tape recorder- The Doors, Deep Purple, Eagles, Blondie, Heart, Alan Parsons, ELO, Creedence Clearwater Revival, CSNY and ZZ Top. Mom on the other hand was a sucker for melody. Her jukebox played Stevie Wonder, Lobo, Foreigner and Bruce Springsteen.  Then of course there were jams that the TV and radio liked to play on a loop too- Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, Paula Abdul, Shania Twain’s That Don’t Impress me Much, Gloria Estefan and Kenny Loggins. Ballads from The Doors often left us three musketeers in such a trance that we wouldn’t even notice the sun set at the end of Ray Manzarek’s piano riff.

Yankee hits have always been one of those things that bond all 4 of us ‘type-A’ personalities together (my kid sis has been joining in on the fun since 1997). Home videos have recorded this phenomenon- especially from our road trips in California. Dad driving, Mom by his side, me holding the handy-cam and baby sis in the child seat at the back: Stuck in traffic on the roads of San Fran by day, passing the lights of Las Vegas by night and cruising through the deserts of LA in between- with Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here Album as the soundtrack of choice. Of course, there were also the occasional guilty pleasures like N*Sync, Backstreet’s Back Alright! and Britney Spears.

Over the 2 decades, my taste has evolved with the times to include Rap, Hip Hop and House, but certain classic gems (like Pat Benatar, The Runaways, Madonna, Iggy Pop, Janis Joplin, Margaret Whiting, Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez) will always rank high on my charts.

American literature is the second founding pillar of the Garg way of Life. My full fledged reading habit developed in elementary school in the States. The emphasis on arts in schools there was very obvious. Not only was there a state library but libraries in every district with free membership! My school had a grand library and so did the class I was in. Nancy Drew, the Ramona Quimby books, Scott O’Dell, R.L. Stine, Anne of Green Gables and Lemony Snicket’s “Unfortunate” Series all honed the writer in me. Why I hadn’t taken to fiction sooner is beyond me. My parents have always been religious readers of John Grisham and Sidney Sheldon. I naturally migrated to reading non-fiction and autobiographies- invariably of American personalities, history, counter culture and politics. Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, The Vietnam war, Malcolm X, Kelly Cutrone, Fran Lebowitz, Nora Ephron, Gloria Steinem, Watergate, Club Kids, Studio 54, Sussana Kaysen, The Beat Generation, The Hippie movement, 1960s student protests, The Manson Family, the 90s Pop Scene and on it goes… The piles and piles of books in our house give off the air that we are great writers, readers, curators and well… hoarders! It’s been a family dream for years now, that one day we shall make this private library, public. It shall be called “Samwise” – after Samwise Gamgee – one of my favourite characters in Lord of the Rings. Also my mother’s friends from college call her Sam. (The fact that The USA is commonly personified as Uncle Sam is purely coincidental!)

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There was, however this one masterpiece that caught my eye and fancy like no other. MAD Magazine! Actually, MAD Comics helped my parents catch each other’s fancy first. Story goes: this newly wedded couple had just moved in to their own apartment, ready to begin a new chapter in their lives, together. Typical awkward silences pursued, as it naturally does at the very start of a marriage between 2 polar opposites. As they were unpacking from card board boxes in the new living room, with their backs to each other, 2 twin sepia toned stacks of magazines caught their eyes. “OMG, you read MAD?”  “Yeah. I had no idea you read MAD too!” And so started the brick laying to the foundation of the Garg Family! 3 years later, I was born. Like a dutiful daughter I have added to the MAD shelf with my own collection. This family heirloom shall be passed on to my children and theirs, not only furthering the beginning of my parent’s love affair, but also chronicling the cultural & satirical landscape of the US of A. Yes I am an Indian. This post is in no way a propaganda piece for an honorary US citizenship. But with globalization, nobody can avoid being “americanized” via media and television. Cartoon Network played a big role in shaping most of the kids who were born in the 90s. It not only entertained us, but also provided a portal into the American society, slangs, perspectives and sensibilities. One of Tom Cruise’s first lines in the movie Jerry Maguire is “America still sets the tone for the world”. That’s no longer true of course, but for the time it did, it was memorable and campy AF.

My Dad’s taste in movies helped build the 3rd pillar holding the roof over the heads of us film buffs.  My feminist leanings are thanks to his recommendations- Baby Boom, Bette Midler’s films, The First Wives Club, Whoopi Goldberg’s films, Cleopatra, Miss Congeniality and Julia Roberts.

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He also shared his favourite comedians with us. We never fail to crack up on Eddie Murphy’s antics as the Beverly Hills Cop, Chris Rock’s stand up or Tim Allen and John Travolta in Wild Hogs. I returned the favour by introducing Daddy Cool to Sandra Bernhard and her godfather Paul Mooney, my personal favourites.

Whose Line Is It Anyway is the family glue during turbulent times. Hitchcock, Scorsese, Eastwood, Spielberg, Pacino, Brando, DeNiro, Fonda – I grew up watching their work. Mom and Dad used to watch the Bold and The Beautiful, Phil Donahue’s Show and the Dick Cavett Show late at night while I used to bathe in the TV’s silver light that consumed the house.

The fourth pillar is art. This one was born into our homes by accident. Keith Haring’s artwork casually hung on our walls, not because my folks were influenced by the New York Street culture, but only because it went well with the straw furniture and stone floors. My recent interest in Jackson Pollock and Ronnie Cutrone could add more credibility, but I’m weary… Art is an expensive taste to develop. I think I’ll just stick to good old name-dropping to get by on this one!

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