[The interview begins with a small technical glitch called leaving it on "Pause" when it actually seems to be engaged. KD was looking for sugar for his tea when I called first, so I put it on Pause and called back, and... Anyhow, we talked first about how he originally came to know about and search out Ram Dass. He said that he was staying in NY state, with some friends who were mountain climbers and spiritual seekers, though he was not necessarily disposed that way himself. Ram Dass was staying at his father's house, just back from his first trip to India, where he'd met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, also referred to as Maharaj-ji. KD's friends got wind of the fact that this character was welcoming visitors to his father's beautiful place, where he was talking about his experience and his wondrous teacher, and they set out to join the growing throng. KD was busy in his pursuit of Country Blues.]
Krishna Das: I was very racist in those days.
KD: I liked Mississippi Blues.
PM: Oh, yeah, "I was a blues racist."
KD: Yeah, I only liked the blues. And I wasn't really interested in white yogis. So they went without me. But when they came back, I got such a hit off of them when they stepped out of the car, then I packed my bags and left immediately. And then that just changed everything.
PM: So you left for where, for that same house or--
KD: Yeah, back up to New Hampshire, where they had just come from.
PM: And did you go solo or with some of them?
KD: No, I just went by myself.
PM: And how were you received by Ram Dass? Was he open to the idea of a stranger or friends of friends just showing up?
KD: Oh, sure. He was there for that. He was just there to hang with anybody who wanted to hang.
PM: So it was a remarkable time, no doubt, to run into this man who came to be a teacher to so many of us. Was he a very different guy than you know him to be today?
KD: Yes, and no. That's a complex question, but I'll try to--it's only complex because I probably don't understand it.
PM: Well, also because we all have changed so much over that many years, but--
KD: Yeah, we do change, but our essential nature stays the same. Who we really are, we already are. And so the way I look at it is that he's more himself now than he was then.
KD: He's more just naturally who he really is. There's less personality around--although that personality was very youthful, it gathered a lot of people and turned on a lot of people. I think he's happier now, as a person, anyway.
PM: And being a happier person, you say there's less personality about him?
KD: Yeah. I think for all of us, we're happier when our personality stuff--our emotional stuff--doesn't hurt us and bring us down.
KD: So I think, like I said, there's a lot less of that around now, so he's in a much happier, deeper state most of the time.
PM: And as I hear you speak, I'm reminded to tell myself, Frank, try to speak less and let KD talk, okay? [laughs]
KD: Oh, no, no. You shouldn't do that, because I could go on about nothing forever.
KD: And you won't have an article.
PM: So then what followed was you pursued the guru, for lack of a better word.
KD: Yeah, I mean, I just wanted to hang out with him. Let me see what happened. Yeah, I quit school again, for the third time.
KD: At that point I was at New Paltz, State University of New York.
KD: I had been at Stonybrook. But at that point, I transferred up to New Paltz, because there was an Asian Studies Institute opening up, and I thought, "This is great, this'll be just what I want." But actually, it was one of the most disappointing situations of my life. It was so horribly intellectual and dry, boring.
KD: I couldn't stand it. So I was in really great despair because I thought this would save me, this Asian Study Institute. I could study Indian philosophy, and I'd learn everything, but it was just the opposite. It was so horrible.
Then I met Ram Dass right after that, and I was really ready for that. I quit school again, and we all went traveling, me and him and a number of other people. We went out to the Llama Foundation in New Mexico, which is this commune up on the top of a mountain. We spent the whole winter up there just reading holy books out loud, and sitting, and singing.
KD: Yeah, it was a really beautiful time, in spite of the fact that we were so messed up.
KD: It was a good... And then he went off, and I went off to California. And then in the spring I went back out to his place, and I spent the whole summer out there at his father's place. That was the summer that people really started to gather there. There would be hundreds and hundreds of people on the weekends.
PM: Holy jeez! And what did his dad think of that?
KD: Oh, his father was really cool with it. He loved it. He really had a good time with it.
PM: That's fantastic.
KD: Yeah. And I was kind of working for his father, mowing the lawn and --it was kind of a mansion he had, with a three-hole golf course, or something like that.
KD: I used to mow the golf course with the tractor, and all that. I had a little cabin out in the back there. It was great.
PM: Now, were you playing any music at this particular time?
KD: I was playing guitar. I was playing, like I say, blues. I was really into country blues. That's what I was mostly into at that time, like your beloved brother. [www.billygoodman.com]
KD: But I didn't play slide. I played more like Mississippi John Hurt stuff.
PM: Yeah, sure. That's how we grew up playing, absolutely.
KD: Yeah, yeah. And I can't wait to get him back here for a tour sometime. That'll be fantastic.
PM: While we're mentioning Billy, let's say that it's very unusual how you and I came to meet at all--
PM: --and that my brother ended up playing some gigs with you. How did that come to pass?
KD: And it's unusual for a slide guitar player to be playing chanting gigs, too.
KD: Well, Billy's friend Bub--Jim-- is my good buddy of mine for 30 years as well, but in a whole different cultural context.
KD: So they all came together when we went over to Germany. And Bub was with me there. Billy said to Bub, "Well, maybe I can do some gigs with KD. I've heard his music and I like it," or something like that. So I thought, wow, how cool. [laughs]
PM: Wow. And Bub, he's a magnificent soul as well.
KD: Bub is great, yeah.
PM: And I think Billy has profited greatly from the time spent gigging with you guys.
KD: Well, I feel we profited as well. He has a great passion to his playing, and his dedication to the music is really wonderful. continue