Salman speaks

By PETER KADZIS  |  June 21, 2007

Did this experience change your concept of liberty or your feeling toward freedom?
Well, it made me think a lot more about it. I think one of the things about living in a free society ― which, broadly speaking, I've done all my life, first in India and then in England ― is that you don't have to examine the idea of freedom too much because it's simply there. You've got it, you don't need to make great speeches about it because you already have it, and it would seem unnecessary to bang on about the importance of free speech when everybody has free speech. I guess what happened in my case is that somebody tried to turn off the tap. Somebody tried to deprive me of those basic freedoms and, as a result, drew my attention to the importance of them ― not just the importance, but the importance of articulating the case for these fundamental freedoms. I became much more involved in that battle than I ever had been before. I mean, one is always asked to sign things. I'd probably sign my share of petitions on behalf of this or that. But it suddenly became to me, for obvious reasons, a very central issue of my life, and I think it will remain so even though the bad days have come to an end.

Why a rock-and-roll novel? You've said rock is a universal, an international language?
Yeah, that had something to do with it, but that wasn't the starting point. I mean, that was one of the valuable things about rock and roll. It meant that there was a language of cultural reference that I could use which people all around the world would easily get, just in the same way that people once might have got a range of classical or mythological reference. Rock is the mythology of our time. It was interesting to contrast it in the novel with that older mythology, which now requires more explanation than it used to. I wanted to write about rock and roll partly because it's the music of my life. When I was young, it was young. We've more or less grown up and grown old together. It feels as if rock music is the soundtrack of my life. As if I could associate all kinds of moments in my life with songs, and songs would evoke memories that otherwise might have been lost.

Could you sketch that soundtrack?
Well, I suppose it starts with Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley ― all that takes me right back to the late 1950s and early 1960s, even before I'd come to England. Many of those songs can evoke moments of my childhood. Then I came to England at the time when the music was in the process of transforming into what became the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And that music, the music of the Beatles and the Stones and the other bands, that period seems to have been the background to most of my teenage years. Bob Dylan was very, very important for me. I remember one of the boys at Rugby, in the boarding house where I lived, first introducing me to an early Bob Dylan album. And actually, I have to say, at that time, he made a bigger impression on me than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. I'd never heard this noise before, you know, the nasal intonation, the strange phrasing, the ― oh, you know, the harmonica, the extraordinary surrealism of his lyrics. And I became a Dylan fan at that point, and I have never ceased to be one. So yes, it was very important.

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