'If you pay attention to the moment, the moment will pay attention to you.' Peter Matthiessen


Krishna Das: “Kirtan Wallah”

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Apr 16, 2014
Category: World

The Pied Piper of Park Avenue: The New York Observer has just published Episode 1 of my multi-part series, “The Pied Piper of Park Avenue.” It’s got private school kids, agitated parents, baffled school administrators, gobs of money, and — disguised — some New Yorkers you might know. It’s not “Sex and the City,” but… To read it, click here.
Free Ticket: I’ve got an extra ticket for the Renaissance choral concert by Pomerium at The Cloisters, 1 PM this Saturday. Want it? Write HeadButlerNYC@AOL.com.
It’s that time: Easter is Sunday. Those who have served this holiday ham will never go back to the traditional lamb.
Up early. Coffee. Get the child out. And then I’m here.

I have technical skills now, maybe even mastery, but writing was easier when I was a brash kid just trying to make my name. The words matter more now. What I’m trying to do, here and elsewhere, is harder. Or perhaps, if I could get out of my way, easier — there’s nothing between me and getting it done except myself. It’s just that I find myself so… inadequate.

I would like some help. I lack a religion or even a spiritual practice, so I turn to music, most often Krishna Das. I don’t have the slightest clue what he’s singing about — the Hindu names of God, mostly — but I take comfort in the comfort he’s found in his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. My ears like the way he’s made chanting accessible to my hopelessly western ears. And the trajectory of his life — from a kid about to join Blue Oyster Cult to the Bruce Springsteen of Hindu chant — pleases me: a Jewish boy from Long Island made something of himself.

His new release, “Kirtan Wallah,” is the CD in heavy rotation these mornings. And it’s the weirdest thing. The music begins and, five seconds later, I feel like I’m… home. I start writing, sometimes through tears. Good tears: I’m crying for happy. My hand is being held. I have the hope of writing better than I’m capable of.

I’m not the only one who has this experience. A woman who sings in his choir, the Kosmic Kirtan Posse, told me her KD story. She was young, beautiful, wild, going fast down the road to nowhere. Walking with a friend, she saw a poster for an appearance by Ram Dass. She had no desire to go, but her friend dragged her along. Krishna Das was a kind of opening act. He started singing, and that was it for her. Just total release. The sense of being seen and found and loved. Home. She cleaned up, started doing yoga and chanting. What does it mean to her? Not words.

I used to push you to try Krishna Das with Heart as Wide as the World, because it’s his first CD to incorporate music you know (“For Your Love,” a hit for the Yardbirds in the ‘60s). Now I’d say “Kirtan Walleh.” He’s 67 now, and the years are in the voice: more knowing, more compassionate, deeper. More accessible. Or so it seems to me. [To buy the CD of "Kirtan Wallah" from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]

The song I play first every morning is “Sri Argala Stotram/ Show Me Love.” The Hindu words, which won’t matter to you at all, are a prayer to the Goddess taken from the Durga Saptashati. But then KD and the choir transition to Foreigner:

I want to know what love is
I want you to show me
I know to feel what love is
I know you can show me

That’s pretty much the problem of human life, isn’t it? And that’s where I lose it. Or find it. See if you do.

I’m equally knocked out by the first half of “Radhe Govinda.” (I get embarrassed when it goes into overdrive and people start flinging themselves about. My problem. Maybe not yours.)

I’ve said some of this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. I’m not pushing Hinduism. KD’s guru is, for me, just a friend of a friend. I see spirituality as the place we now go to fix ourselves — as the replacement for self-help. The news from here is that “Kirtan Wallah” is a big help.

(Thank you, PB)

Short takes

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials.

Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well. Of course, I couldn’t help but thumb through the books when they arrived today and landed on the review of Hard Bargain by Emmylou Harris and your interview with her. What a remarkable woman and a great conversation — incredibly well done on your part.

I’m confident that between here and when we deliver the books in a couple weeks, I’ll have read one copy cover to cover and discovered or rediscovered a treasure of music, movies and books myself. I’m so glad you put this together – thanks for the assist with introducing my children to your great work and especially “The 100 Essentials.”

From Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me about six weeks ago when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.

They took a stand. Some hated it. The response is easily the ad of the month.

I can almost forgive the high fructose corn syrup in the product. Here’s the story.

Do not think for a second you will watch this only once

The band is Future Islands. Mesmerizing at the start, eye-popping at the end — watching Sam Herring is like watching the young Brando. On tour now. April 30 in New York already sold out. It’s like that. So… full screen. Maximum volume.

Available: Fantastic NYC Caregiver

One reason our daughter writes “I am awesome” on snow-covered cars in winter is because Opal Campbell was her caregiver for her first five years. Opal is loving but firm, full of plans and adventures that kids love, steady, honest — we have nothing but praise for her. She’s now looking for full or part-time work, ideally in Manhattan. Write me or call her at 917-533-3487.