At the end of it all, it was the music that radiated through. Really. Life is so short, shorter still when you stop and try to count the moments that matter. Morrissey sang, ‘They were born, and then they lived, and then they died. Seems so unfair’. Indeed. It is unfair.
I will always remember Junaid Jamshed for the man he himself perhaps wouldn’t want to be best remembered as. I will always remember Junaid for the icon he was that perhaps he himself tried to change. I will always remember Junaid for the music he made that perhaps he tried to distance himself from. In essence, he failed.
He failed in his attempt to distance himself from the legend he had already become. His music, his passion for his art, and his voice…oh his voice…all were too great for even him to draw a cloud over.
If you were a Pakistani and grew up in the 80’s/90’s, there were several constants that you could always count on: Anwar Maqsood and Moin Akhtar to make you laugh, Imran Khan and the Pakistan Cricket team to bring you joy/pain, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to move your soul, and Junaid Jamshed and Vital Signs to make you fall in love.
There isn’t anyone in Pakistan who doesn’t have at least one story of adolescence with a background song of Vital Signs included. My Vital Signs cassettes were a part of my standard set of accessories wherever I went: chewing gum, Walkman, Depeche Mode, and Vital Signs. When I got bored of "reaching out and touching faith" or "enjoying the silence", then I would get lost in the ‘shaam’ that would never come again or the ‘musafir’ that my heart was in the journey of life.
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As a teenager growing up, like every teenager, I looked for an outlet of acceptance where my rebellious mind could find comfort in. It wasn’t in the movies since Hollywood would never front a man of my color or background as a protagonist. It wasn’t Lollywood because I wasn’t a ‘vadera’ out to seek revenge against two hundred people. It wasn’t MTV because MTV didn’t know what my life as a Pakistani meant or how to portray it.
Ironically, like millions of others people in my stage of life, I found my connection in the most unusual of all places: PTV. Yes, that’s right. The one channel everyone had, but that everyone wished they could replace with anything else. While in hindsight, it produced some of the most brilliant shows Pakistan has ever had, at the time, PTV just didn’t seem hip. It wasn’t cool. It was like ‘unda toast’: basic and it satisfied the hunger yet it just wasn’t exciting and delicious.
However, somewhere in between the ‘khabernama’, the ‘aik doh teen Dentonic’ commercial, and the ‘Neelam Ghar’ show where Tariq Aziz would frantically scream ‘sawaal durust hay!’, I suddenly found four guys in jeans and shirts, guitars in hand, synth techno tunes belting out, and singing about everything and anything that a fifteen year old could care about.
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I was instantly attracted. Who are these guys? Who is this lead singer dancing on stage in front of a bunch of ‘uncles and aunties’ who are sitting quietly as if they were at a poetry reading? Who was this guy singing about ‘tum duur thay toh kiya hua, tum mil gaye toh kiya hua?’. Really?! When the rest of the world was getting With or Without You from global stars like U2, I was getting the Urdu version of it in my own little world of PTV.
I knew I had discovered something special. It must have taken me days to memorize all the songs they had come out with. I then waited patiently for the slightest news that they would come out with a new album and then searched all over Islamabad to see if it was released. When new albums came out, I bought them on the day and again memorised them within days. It was my own private club where I was both bouncer and member. It wasn’t until many years later however that I actually saw Vital Signs play live when I was studying in a university in Texas.
To this day I remember that concert with great detail. Having one of my favorite bands whose every lyric to every song I knew playing right in front of me, I knew that I had to go back stage and say hi to them. But this was the 90’s and amongst those in the know, Vital Signs had a fanatical following. The task was easier said than done. Somehow through all of the crowd, security, and doors, I managed to find myself backstage. As I hurried my way through the hallway, not knowing where I was going, I opened a door in search of the band.
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To my sudden surprise, right in front of me was Junaid Jamshed and Rohail Hyatt chatting with who I believe was their manager. They turned around and stared straight at me. Think about this for a minute: an 18 year old groupie wannabe walks into your private room after you have just finished a two hour concert and you want to steer clear of the scores of people screaming your name, and now you are confronted with this kid standing speechless in front of you.
What do you do? Well, if you were Junaid Jamshed, you would break the tension by asking me to come over and sit with them and put your arm around me and make me feel relaxed.
Junaid Bhai as I called him asked me how I liked the concert, my favorite song, where I was studying, where I was from, and so on. There was no rush. Someone brought some soda bottles in and he asked me to have one to which I happily obliged. Eventually after chatting with me for a few minutes, he told me he was really tired and that they were ready to go to the hotel. And with that I shook his hand, thanked him, got him to sign my ticket, and I left.
And that was it. I didn’t forget it then, and I haven’t forgotten it now. In between, I continued to value their growing strength as musicians, their monumental effort in helping to define a new age of music and identity for an urban Pakistan, and their personal achievement in instilling a sense of national pride amongst both the youth and the elder generation. And I knew, actually we all knew, that Junaid Jamshed was too large a character to slip somewhere quietly into the vacuum of time.
He was the frontman of the most popular band in Pakistan for decades and he knew how to pull a crowd. Whatever he was going to do next, I knew that he was going to use the stage with equal might to pull similar crowds. Such was his gravitas.
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Junaid Jamshed went on to his next journey, taking many with him and bringing on millions of new passengers. In this new journey of his however, he lost me, as indeed he lost many others. In his path towards self-discovery and self-fulfillment, he would go onto to shun many of the very things he helped conceive and ignite in a nation that was in desperate need of ignition. That is where my relationship with Junaid the legendary front man of a music inspired movement ended, and my disdain for Junaid the judgmental preacher with strong views of likes and dislikes started.
In remembering Junaid, I choose not to indulge or focus on that second public chapter of his life. He had every right to be the man that he chose to be and he had every right to have the views on life that he did. And I have every right to disagree with him. I will leave it at that.
That however will never change my relationship with him and his music that I grew up with. Salvador Dali once said ‘the only difference between me and a mad man, is that I am not mad’. Junaid Jamshed was always going to live a life and have a voice that demanded to be heard. I will always remember the Junaid Jamshed of my youth, the one that sang the soundtrack to my adolescence and the one that pulled me into a club where I felt completely accepted.
And like the way he and his band one day just ripped through the airwaves and entered our lives, he has been ripped away just as suddenly from our lives. And so life goes on. I will never forget Junaid Jamshed. His music and what he did for my youth is permanently tattooed on me for that to happen. RIP Junaid Bhai, you were a special one.
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