I was in the middle of working on a tribute to the great Ravi Shankar when the news stories of Sandy Hook broke. Like most of us, I spent the next few days trying to make sense of it all. And I couldn't. It's not possible to make sense of something so violent and cruel. The images of those beautiful children and the heroic educators will live on in our collective memory, and our hearts, for many years to come.
As a parent and a co-founder of a school, I understand the enormous responsibility that comes with caring for children. When a societal trust like the safety of school children is so savagely violated, and darkness sets in, it's hard to remember, that there is still some good in the world. When something as evil as this shooting incident happens, we can take some small comfort in remembering the world is largely made up of good people, who work in big and small ways to better mankind for us all... Which brings me to Ravi Shankar...
The best music, for me, comes from three places: the heart, the spirit and the actual locale synonymous with the sounds you're hearing. With just a few plucks of his sitar, Ravi Shankar captured all three at once. You could hear something personal, you could hear the lively villages of Varanasi, and you could hear the heavens.
Around the time The Beach Boys brought the fun and the sun of Southern California to every corner of the world, those stateside began to experience the mystical sounds and the extraordinary culture originating from the Eastern world. Mr. Shankar played a very large part of that important discovery. He brought the world closer and expanded our minds at the same time. His talent, his craft, and his worldwide travels exposed the Western World to the endlessly fascinating music originating from the land of the Vedas- India.
For many, Ravi Shankar was the world's ambassador to the extraordinary ragas and melodies of India. This music was the foray for millions of Westerners to Eastern philosophy and practices like transcendental meditation, which has had a profound impact on my life for more than 40 years.
I was first exposed to Indian music in the spring of 1968 at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Academy in Rishikesh. George Harrison and I both shared our birthdays in India that year, and music was a big part of our celebrations. It was George's personal relationship with Ravi Shankar, and his tremendous interest in sitar (and other instruments native to India) which became the vessel that connected Eastern and Western worlds. Ravi actually taught George how to play sitar. And that sitar sound in Beatles songs like "Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)," "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Across the Universe" moved boundaries musically and culturally.
Much of the music that came from the East and West during the sixties was about peace and love. And Ravi and George embodied the spirit of this time as well as anyone. They didn't just sing about peace and love, but they lived it. They used their talents and names to inspire positive change. Although he became a musical ambassador to the west, Ravi never forgot his homeland and people -- he brought the plight of Bangladesh to the attention of the world when he and George Harrison organized The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. Beyond the funds the concert raised, it pioneered the "rock and roll benefit concert" which has had a profound impact on our culture and raised hundreds of millions for those in need. The roots of The Concert For Bangladesh grew into 1985's Live Aid and have continued to blossom in every all-star benefit since, including the recent epic 12.12.12 concert at Madison Square Garden.
I'd like to think there is a grand celebration in Heaven right now, and not to mention some incredible music being played. If you listen closely, I bet you could pick up some celestial good vibrations. Let's hope they find a way back to earth.