Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Hare Krishna and Western Music : Dope of spiritual Angst ?

Lennon and Ono (lying in bed in the middle of the picture) surrounded by devotees, Lennon reading Back to Godhead no. 23. Left to right: Rukmini devi dasi, Melvani the Muslim, Jayapataka das brahmacari, Baradvaja das, Himavati-Hana Kalbert, Himavati devi dasi, Yoko Ono, Sripati das, John Lennon, Hansadutta Das, Dayal Nitai das

From sixties on to the eighties and nineties in music jazz was quickly being left behind and sometimes overrun by rock, punk, disco,R&B, fusion and metal. And from among these genres another sub-genre of Krishna core seemed to have enjoyed a short, albeit exciting times at the intersection of punk and Krishna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada

The fascination with India had never quite ended in the West. Whether it was the Rajahs, snakes or sadhus (ascetics) and religion, famous names had visited including the Beatles, André Malraux, Aldous Huxley, Jean Renoir to return home with different stories of satisfaction and fulfillment. They on their part added to the many myths, lies and fantasy about the country called India. Alongside, its famous savant abroad, Ravi Shanker had succeeded in making the Western World take notice of something equally compelling in its Classical music. Many travelled to India for that, too. The flower generation had become passé and instead, even more harmless saffron clothed white men and women with shaven heads and chotis and big tikkas had taken to the wide public roads happily singing and chanting hymns in praise of the glory and greatness of Krishna, serving prasadam, and playing on ancient Indian instruments like harmonium, bells and cymbals. This group mostly identified themselves with International Society for Krishna Consciousness Movement (ISKCON) founded by Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada .It had some illustrious musical patrons like Allen Ginsberg, George Harrison, and Chrissie Hynde, Boy George, KRS-One, and members of X-Ray Spex. In fact, truth to tell, many honest, simple Americans seeking mental peace were its many devotees too. Not to forget that the famous of the punk generation Ian MacKaye articulated this coming together and the birth of a new fascination.

Without being cynical or conceited I believe It would not be too far wrong to believe the fables of many loves, secret trysts, salacious adulterous escapades of the most colorful Hindu gods and goddesses, incredible sex, moksha, tantra and yoga, the supposed magical mantras of sadhus, still was at the bottom of the attraction to Krishna Lila, supposedly the god of Free Love. Around this time, the Bhagwan Rajneesh phenomenon also in no small measure, introduced a most modern and contemporary liberating and licentious mood of sex to super consciousness through the many fascinating philosophical stories in the Upanishads and Hindu texts told ever so hypnotically as only he could? Or was it the wandering bard Chaitanya and his rootlessness and propagation of other worldly love that fascinated the restless Western drifters seeking salvation through Prabhupada's ISKCON? We shall never quite know.

The Musicologists believe that in its initial years there was some great music produced despite almost the fatal combination of an agro Punk style combining with monk like niche demands of the spiritual lifestyle, no meat, all vegetarian, no sex and alcohol. This sub-genre was in that sense destined to die early, just like any other obsessive fad gone awry. Notwithstanding, it would be fair to record and recognize the contributions of Ray Cappo, perhaps ,in the lead, along with the likes of John Joseph and Harley Flanagan, John “Porcell” Porcelly, and Vic DiCara, for this short-lived sub-genre of Krishna core.

Nate Rabe made me sit up to listen to the many voices and tributes of some the very famous who had perhaps, their own reasons to be enamored of the “Black God.” I go searching and this is what I find. (Not in any particular order)

Stevie Wonder:

“Pastime Paradise” (1976)

The lyrics and the Song talk of the bad times of materialism and love of the transient and in the end the black gospel choir singing we shall Overcome and the chanting of Hare Rama Hare Krishna with Kartalas (hand held small cymbals) from 2:37 onwards come together in a soulful celebration of the True Spirit. Pastime Paradise is from the double album “Songs in the key of life” of September 76 vintage which though was very fuzzy in its lyrics was still considered innovative and ahead of its time, though very self-conscious and to be his signature album in pop history. The album won three Grammy Awards, one for the Album of the Year and ranks 56th On Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of all time.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono:

“Give Peace a Chance” (1969)

This was that famous number that put him on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 songs that signified Rock and Roll. He had already met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and now he along with George Harrison was introduced to Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada who stayed at his British home at Tittenhurst Estate for over 3 months. This song was recorded in the hotel room at Montreal, Canada where John and Yoko had their honeymoon, a famous bed-in demonstration for world peace with very famous friends like Allen Ginsberg, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, Timothy Leary, and Tom Smothers among others, journalists included. It went on to become the signature song of protest against the Vietnam War and over 50,000 demonstrators sang this at Washington Square the same year on October, the 15th. Tamborines, acoustic guitars, beating on suitcases had the Krishna devotees singing in the background chanting Hare Rama Hare Krishna at (2:01 to 2:13 and at 2:56).

The song was used sometime or the other by icons such as Paul Macartney,Aerosmith, Louis Armstrong,U2,Peter Gabriel and a host of others.

Marc Bolan and T Rex

“Frowning Attahulpa “(My Inca Love) 1968

Marc Bolan was, Flower Child, rock guitarist and glam rock pioneer of the hippy underground scene with other world poetry, mascara on his eyes and plugged in guitar, the original stylist who transformed psychedelic rock to glam. The track ends with Hare Krishna being sung and reaching a frenzied crescendo at (2:23:2:59).Wild and free.


“Boots of Plastic” (2008)

A great rock and roll song with the cool Bo Diddley beat, that the other-worldly inclined Chrissie Hynde sang to her heart’s content thinking of Jesus in the four-line rock and roll format thus:

Hare Krishna Hare Rama too,

Govinda I am still in love with you,

I see you in the birds and in the trees,

That’s why they call me Krishna Mayi

The image of Krishna flits by at (1:03, 2:09, and 2:18)

George Harrison 

“My Sweet Lord” (1970)

A lifelong Krishna devotee, he joined the Gaudiya Vaishnava sect, donated huge sums to the Krishna Consciousness Movement including his house the Bhaktivedanta Manor in London. He wrote “My Sweet Lord “as a dedication to the unity of faiths and not its divisiveness while cross matching “Hallelujah” with Maha Mantra and other Vedic words. The inimitable Beatles touch is also evident. It went on to be a No 1 hit single for a long time and was honored by being considered to be on the best 500 Rolling Stone Magazine’s songs of all time. The gospel choir ends with the chant of Hare Rama Hare Krishna from (2:54).Pure Harrison with the slide guitar! 

Harrison at Vrindavan

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