Yes, it’s now official. The pioneers of rock music in Pakistan, Junoon, have ‘fired’ their leading bass guitar player Brian O’Connell, setting the entire future of the band into uncertainly. Although the rumors of the split had been around for quite some time, the situation became obvious when during a press conference in the mid of last July, Salman and Ali both vehemently avoided any questions regarding the status of their former band mate. In fact, Ali got so infuriated by a fellow journalist’s persistent questions regarding Brian’s health that he almost yelled ‘ Aap uss say khud phone kerkay kion nahin pooch laytay?[Why don’t you call him up and ask for yourself?]. The final nail in the coffin appeared when a cheery Salman Ahmed announced the inclusion of Mekaal Hasan as a ‘special guest on bass’ in all their upcoming gigs.
On the other hand Brian was reported in the press giving conflicting statements regarding his position in the band. Instead of using the word ‘fired’, Brian said he was ‘temporarily non-existent’. The picture became foggier when he was found representing Junoon on City FM 89 in spite of his declared disassociation. However on bringing up this issue, Brian made it clear that he has been ‘fired by Salman’ and explained the sequence of events: “Well I decided, before they decided to kick me out. I was finding that the band was keeping me away from my family for too long. It’s been a tough year(that had the) ending of a marriage, losing all of my money, then coming into a place like this; I mean I used to live a rather nice life and now I’m ‘Ghareebo’. Also, my parents ‘ health is very poor and I don’t get a chance to see them much. I suffered from depression which affected my performance in the band, and it got to the point where I said, I just don’t want to do this anymore. Then a few months back we had a show in the Middle East-I slept right through it and never boarded the plane; it was the first time I had ever missed a Junoon show. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back when Salman and Ali said ‘No, we can’t take this kind of behavior anymore’”.
Brian further comments on the straining relationship between junoon members. “Over the past couple of years the three of us have drifted [apart] as friends. Salman is now living in my hometown in New York, so communication is very limited; I haven’t spoken to him in months. And I can’t hang out with Ali cause Ali is Ali; he ‘s a party animal. He can’t understand who I’m not; I’ve got girls, I’ve got responsibility. We would always come together on stage but then after we left, sometimes we wouldn’t even talk for weeks! So the whole thrill is gone.”
Nursing a bandaged arm from a recent car accident that has caused partial paralysis in his guitar playing right hand, Brian describes his fear of not ever being able to play the guitar. “It scares the heck out of me. Just little things you take for granted, [for example], I couldn’t even cash a cheque at the bank because they couldn’t recognize my signature. I can’t write and because of the nerve damage sometimes the hand shakes,” His hand condition is so serious that this writer actually had to help the bass guitar maestro to switch off the alarm in his left handed wrist watch.
Choosing family over Junoon this single parent of two girls aged 6 and 10 isn’t sure whether he should stick around Pakistan or not. “But I do feel, I definitely sense that I need to be here. [At times] I strongly consider going back to the states, because sometimes this place drives me nuts. And with all the violence, I worry so much about the kids. But I love the cultural and educational upbringing that we receive here; you can’t get that in the States. Also my present state of affairs is such that I just can’t afford to fly the three of us there and back. So I’m working towards that, doing side jobs, teaching here at the house and actually lots of offers have come in for me.”
Elaborating more on his offers he continues, “Karavan’s Assad Ahmed approached me to play guitar in his band but I refused. I just need a little vacation from all this for a while. I’m really interested in getting into (band) promotion. An idea I’m toying with is to open up a Café Blue-like place where bands used to play. I might even do a television program that focuses on music education.”
Now that Mekaal has taken away Brian’s position in the band, is he feeling betrayed by Junnon? “I did for a while… but it’s all in God’s hands. There are no bitter feelings on my part. I became a burden on the band trying to manage the kids and everything else. I know Mekaal is struggling in my position but I’m his biggest fan and I think he’s so extremely talented. In fact I think it should be Salman on bass and Mekaal on guitar… but then it wouldn’t be Junoon,” he laughs off.
The question is, is there a future of Junoon without Brian. “It was always like a three legged stool, where if you pulled one of those things off, everything would come crashing down. I’m afraid that may happen with Junoon, If it doesn’t, great, more power to them. I can see a number of things happening. I can see Ali going into a complete solo career, Salman going into a complete solo career or I see Junoon coming back with a reunited tour after some time.”
In a formal statement released on the JunoonForums.com and the Junoon community at Orkut, Salman Ahmed has blamed his former band mate of “not contributing to Junoon’s music for the past three years.” It almost scolds Brian “to take responsibility for his life and his work”. Besides mentioning the favors he had done in trying to save Brian’s marriage and career, he also reminds his childhood friend that “Junoon gave a lot to Brian”. Brian claimed that he hadn’t seen that statement before this interview was conducted. “It hurts to hear that… my lack of contribution as he viewed it was simply due to the fact that he was over there( in New York) doing it all on his own while I’m the one who’s going through very traumatic things in my life, But I’m not the type to blow my own horns saying hey I did this and that; I just do it. Salman has a huge, huge ego. Now ego is a kind of a funny psychological term. Ego can also stem from insecurity cause Salman wants to be an over achiever. Now Salman is an over achiever and I’m so proud of him for that; I respect him immensely. He ‘s a hard guy to keep up with. I mean if he were sitting in a chair over there I wouldn’t get a word in edge wise. That kinda put me off for a while. I do take offense to that (statement). With regards to my playing, I think I’m a solid player but as far as people commenting on my personal life, I think that’s absolutely inexcusable.”
With the latest controversy affecting the band and his divorce, Brian who confesses to not liking fame at all, companies that people now bug him more often. “For example when I go out to a Chinese restaurant with my daughters where I just want to be a normal person, people approach me saying ‘oh sorry I don’t mean to interrupt’. I get very angry when people do that but you can’t blame them since they look up to me. So God forbid If I snap at them. Another tough situation is when people ask ‘how’s your wife Ayesha doing?’ [And I have to tell them] we’ve broken up and then you have to talk about it. You know it’s taken me long enough to get over that… that absolutely crushed me.”
Reflecting back on his career, he confides that… “ I don’t think anything is never not worth it, because even though we can’t see how things unfold and develop, God has a plan for each and every one of us. Nothing is for naught. I just wish a rock would drop on my head and I knew exactly what He wants me to do. But you know he’s kinda clandestine in that way. He gives us signs, encourages understanding the straightened arrow and keeping in touch with him. So that’s what I do.”