Grok My Enthusiasm (11)

By: Erik Davis
March 23, 2016

One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars.

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bhagavan das

Bhagavan Das is now the OG dirty grampa of the yoga circuit, a powerful bhajan singer and meditation teacher known for his grizzled white-boy dreadlocks and fully carnal devotion to young women. But Das is best known for becoming one of the first boomer trailblazers of mystic India. Born in Laguna Beach to a family who named him Kermit, Das joined an organized sadhu order after making his way to South Asia in 1965. Then he ditched his formal mendicant robes for rags and skulls, becoming a quasi-ascetic freak who spent half a decade wandering around India. He took initiations from major Buddhist and Hindu teachers, including some heavy-duty tantric transmissions requiring corpses and charnel grounds. In 1967, Das famously introduced Ram Dass — the renegade Harvard LSD researcher then known as Richard Alpert — to the beaming, blanket-wearing god-man Neem Karoli Baba. In his 1971 hippie bestseller Be Here Now (a phrase he lifted from Bhagavan Das), Ram Dass described their encounter, and when the younger man returned from India and released the double-album Ah! in 1972, his star was already blazing. Too erratic to ever cut a believable guru persona, he instead became the groovy rockstar yogi supreme.

Worlds away from the smug pablum served up in today’s yoga studios, Ah! is a transcendent document of a singular California freak simultaneously finding and losing himself (or his mind) as he stumbles his way through one of the world’s great domains of sacred music. The devotional voice, brimming with savor and grace, lies at the heart of Indian music, and certainly of the bhajan: a category of sacred song that encompasses both the repetitive mantras of kirtan and the microtonal raga jams found in classical vocal forms like dhrupad. Backed up by tamboura, a plucked drone, and the occasional conch, Das apes it all, with a feral reverence guaranteed to offend sophisticated listeners and to grate on nearly everyone else. This is a holy music made with a mad hippie love infused with the same DIY impatience that secretly links the beats and the freaks and the punks.

There are currently four reviews of Ah! on Amazon. Two five-stars praise its sincerity and spiritual passion, while a two-star reviewer complains that he found the disc too hard to meditate to with all the yelps and whimpering going on. The oddest review comes from a former clerk in a record store, who wrote that they regularly used side one to chase shoppers out of the store at closing time. “Try to play it without laughing out loud,” he challenges in his snarky but loving five-star plug. But the real challenge is to hear how all these responses to Bhagavan Das’ masterweird are simultaneously true, just like all those gods we bring forth, and sing forth, from our yearning.

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GROK MY ENTHUSIASM: Rob Wringham on THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | Gordon Dahlquist on WEEKEND | Joe Alterio on MILLION YEAR PICNIC | Adrienne Crew on LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | Josh Glenn on THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | Alix Lambert on THE SKIES BELONG TO US | Adam McGovern on PENELOPE and CHAVEZ RAVINE | Rob Wringham on THE LYKE WAKE WALK | Mark Kingwell on NORTH STAR SNEAKERS & GWG JEANS | Gordon Dahlquist on FELLINI SATYRICON | Erik Davis on AH! | Devin McKinney on WHISPERING AFRAID | Mimi Lipson on 1973 SEARS ROEBUCK CATALOG | Jessamyn West on MOSS | Josh Glenn on THE SCOUT HOW BOOK | Brian Berger on SLACKER | Alix Lambert on ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS | Chelsey Johnson on MONOTREMES | Devin McKinney on THE BUTCHER COVER | Flourish Klink on ONE DIRECTION | Gordon Dahlquist on FULL METAL JACKET | Allegra Huston on CLOTHESLINE | Jenny Davidson on POWERLIFTING | Evan Narcisse on REZ | Deborah Wassertzug on VEGETARIAN MEATBALLS | Chris Spurgeon on WALLACE AND GROMIT | Mandy Keifetz on BENEFICIAL MICROBES | Annie Nocenti on MARKS ON WALLS | Molly Sauter on THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF | William Nericcio on LAND OF THE LOST | Dan Fox on “VOICE OF GOD” RADIO DJS | Brandi Brown on WIKIPEDIA TALK | Claire Lehmann on THE APPARATUS REVEAL | Alice Boone on COSTUME JEWELRY | Colin Dickey on WIDESPREAD PANIC | Anshuman Iddamsetty on THE FULL BODY PROJECT | John Hilgart on MAKING GRATEFUL DEAD ALBUMS | Rob Wringham on STEVEN UNIVERSE | John Overholt on DECKLE EDGES | James Hannaham on HABIT PATTERNS | Jessamyn West on THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM | Adam McGovern on THE SPACE GIANTS | Brian Berger on MEDIUM COOL | Chris Spurgeon on THE DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT | Joe Alterio on TABLETOP WARGAMING | Mimi Lipson on TRASH PICKING | Jason Grote on CZECH CINEMA | Roxane Gay on AUTOMATED CAR WASH | Dan Fox on JULIA DAVIS | Amy Thielen on BINGO | Steph Burt on FEIJOA.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

#SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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