Krishna Das: “Kirtan Wallah”
Published: Aug 19, 2015
Up early. Coffee. 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 turn more to “Kirtan Wallah.” 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, and the lyrics mean something new when you consider who “you” is:
I want to know what love is
I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is
I know you can show me
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)