Thursday, December 13, 2012

Room Service

The world music community is remembering Ravi Shankar today. Like most Westerners, I first came into contact with the man and his music through Beatle George Harrison. From the wonderful s of Norwegian Wood to later recordings like Within and Without You, the Sitar became a welcome addition to the progression of Beatle music. But Shankar will be remembered for the virtuoso he was and his total mastery of the instrument.
In fact, one of the stories that came up this week involved the uninitiated audience that showed up to one of Shankar's first American concerts. After a brief three minutes of music Shankar and his troupe stopped playing. They received a standing ovation. A smiling Ravi Shankar then announced "If you like our tuning up so much, hopefully you will like our music." My own little contribution to stories about Shankar's first days in the U.S.comes from a former roommate many years ago. Stan was originally from Brooklyn and found himself looking for work in Berkeley so he could eventually go back to school. We each shared a room in a large house in South Berkeley in the early 1970s. While I went to grad school at Berkeley, Stan went down to the Marriott Hotel on the marina where he landed a job as a room service busboy. One evening, as all my housemates gathered, someone mentioned that Ravi Shankar was playing a concert at the Berkeley Community Theater. This was shortly after he began to draw a big following in the U.S. We all knew who he was. Stan then went on to say that Shankar was in fact staying at the recently opened Marriott Hotel. "Actually,"Stan said, "I saw him today." Dumbfounded, we all listened to Stan tell us that early that very afternoon he was summoned to the room(s) that Shankar and his entourage were occupying while in Berkeley. "You guys are never gonna believe what I saw when I went in those rooms." We all had visions of incense, dimly lit rooms with spicy Indian food wafting all over the Berkeley Marina. "Nope," Stan said, they were all eating hamburgers and French Fries and watching Soap Operas on TV."
     I'd be less than honest if I said that we weren't surprised.  Secretly, though, knowing that these exotic visitors were not Hindu gods but rather just like most people was comforting.  Within you and without you, indeed.

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