Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"She Gets Cold"

Photo courtesy Flickr

News of Ravi Shakar's death prompts me to share a story. I attended a performance in a tiny Tudor timber hall in 1964. A couple of hundred people were in the audience, and the city was enduring a record storm. It was fifteen degrees outside, the ground was covered with ice and snow, and the chill factor was around minus ten. I and probably the rest of the audience had discovered Ravi Shankar's work as the sound track of "Pather Panchali", the enchanting trilogy film about East Indian rural life.

Shankar and his ensemble entered the hall, seated themselves on a riser covered with a hand knotted rug, and began to play. He stopped frequently to retune the many strings on the sitar, and finally, he looked up, smiled sweetly, and said, "She gets cold."

I haven't heard Shankar's music for years, but today I realize how important it was to the expansion of Western culture in the Sixties. My favorite aunt walked into a communal Haight Ashbury front parlor in 1967, cocked an ear at the stereo, and said, "You mean you really sit around listening to this stuff?" That music was part of the fundamentally valid part of the Haight's cultural matrix, the one that did not require dope to have an effect.

One of Ft. Lewis's Viet Nam era bandsmen studied sitar with a former mistress of Ravi Shankar. The story went that Shankar, who had raised his share of hell as a young dancer, presented himself to Ali Akbar Khan to learn to play. Shankar spent three years learning how to sit and hold the instrument. Seemed like he was doing a pretty good job of it  that icy night in Portland.

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More after the jump.