RIP- Ravi Shankar... Life Goes By So Fast
The 1967-'68 school year was an exciting one for me. I had been freshman class president the year before and was then elected to head the Student Activities Board, which had a huge budget. We had a great series of concerts-- at least from my perspective. I got to book whatever I wanted. To be honest, most of the students hated the groups I booked, although I bet you couldn't find anyone who would admit that today. But they used to try to impeach me for wasting student funds on "trash" like The Doors, The Dead, Hendrix, Big Brother, The Who. Oh, there were people who loved that stuff as much as I did-- hippies and peaceniks. But I'll never forget the sophomore class president screaming at me during The Doors concert (free for students) about wasting student money "on this trash." They did the show for $400.
The concerts that no one minded though-- or a last didn't complain about-- were the jazz shows. They were considered adult enough for college students and freaking Republican types would put on suits and ties and come to see Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk, Nina Simone, Charles Lloyd, even Sun Ra, with their dates. I managed to sneak in Ravi Shankar and later Ali Akbar Khan under the guise of jazz. The Ravi Shankar concert was on November 17, 1967 about a week and a half after a Jefferson Airplane extravaganza and a couple weeks before a Charles Lloyd/Olatunji show. Shankar endeavored to teach the audience about Indian music as well as play ragas. It worked really well and people were fascinated and enthusiastic. He had played the Monterey Pop Festival a few months earlier so there was a buzz about him. And people had heard rumors that the Beatles were fans of his and that he was teaching George Harrison to play sitar.
I discovered Shankar's music when I worked at an Indian import store/head shop on St. Marks Street in the East Village during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. Someone turned me on to a tape of him playing sitar with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and I was forever hooked-- first on Shankar and later on Bismillah Khan, the Ali Brothers, Ali Akbar Khan, everything I could find. Eventually I went to Europe, bought a VW van and drove to India. I keep going back.
Ravi Shankar, age 92, died Tuesday in San Diego, where he was living. The NY Times obituary acknowledges that he introduced Indian classical music to the West. Here's a raga he played with his daughter Anoushka, his last concert, just over a month ago in Long Beach. I'm sorry I missed it: