Korla Pandit

By: Peggy Nelson
September 16, 2010

The Age of the Avatar did not begin with the Internet. KORLA PANDIT (John Roland Redd, 1921-1998) both embodied and disembodied the promise of reinvention inherent in America’s mythos. His heavy-lashed eyes framed by turban and keyboards, Pandit’s idealized exotic permeated suburban cul-de-sacs; his amplified vibrations of the airwaves outdid Mesmer. A composer and media-savvy performer, Pandit used an art-directed and well-accessorized back story to become, briefly, Juan Rolando, on his way to himself. Silence was central to his shtick — as he performed thereminized classics on multiple organs and a Steinway grand, often at the same time, he gazed straight at the camera. And the camera gazed straight back: these lingering close-ups, impossible now, allowed the promise of our virtual future to leak back into its origin story, as seen on TV. But the gaze was mere foreplay — the money shot was Pandit’s infrequent smile, which lit living rooms like the elusive green flash. In his heyday he had the most famous 15 minutes on TV; later he was replaced by Liberace. After his death, we learned that Pandit was actually an African-American from St. Louis. But we can decide for ourselves whether one of his personae was more real than the other — or whether we need to decide.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Colin Newman.

READ MORE about members of the New Gods generation (1914-23).

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  1. The above lyrics are a passage from Korla covering The Chairman of the Board on organ with – maybe – some beatboxing accompaniment? Sadly the mp3 is not online, but I can assure you, late-career Korla was *just as weird as his early promise indicates!

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