The great musical legend Ravi Shankar passed away on Dec. 12 in my beloved hometown of San Diego, aged 92, following recent surgery.The world will remember Shankar as the sitar-playing musician who so greatly inspired a new generations of artists like The Beatles. My parents were fans of Shankar and so even at a young age I quite admired the man.
The LA Times wrote a lovely obituary for him and had this to say: “The Classical trained Shankar was a darling of the hippie movement, gaining widespread attention through memorable performances at the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh. George Harrison called him “the godfather of world music’ and the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin once compared the sitarist’s genius to Mozart’s.”
Ravi Shankar did a lot in his life and had many interesting adventures, to say the least. The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn said that he had been the one to originally introduce Shankar’s music to George Harrison by way of a a party at Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house in 1965.
McGuinn says that he and Harrison were both taking LSD at the moment and Harrison was obviously wildly inspired by what he heard.. It was that fateful night at Gabor’s house that helped put the thought in the head of The Beatles to visit India in the first place in order to meet Ravi Shankar and learn how to play the sitar themselves. One can hear the Indian aspects of Shankar’s influence on records like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul.
It wasn’t just George Harrison and The Beatles that Shankar inspired however. He greatly influenced artists all across the spectrum of music from Steve Wonder to the Rolling Stones.
The influence of The Beatles wasn’t all rosy for Shankar though. He wasn’t totally happy that he had turned into an overnight pop sensation as such and most certainly wasn’t deeply entranced with the hippies that surrounded him. He did deeply love George Harrison anyway and spoke of George being “special.”
“He would corner me and ask me about the relation between spirituality and music, religion and music. He met me a few times and then I started teaching him. And that news spread all over. That did help me. When people say George Harrison made me famous, that is true in a way. Then what happened was that I became a pop star all of a sudden. All young people, bearded, long hair, wearing beads and not normal. They would behave like Naga sannyasis if they were permitted. And I was not happy at all.”