An Interview With Ravi Shankar

HARVEY KUBERNIK: In 1997, I conducted an interview with Ravi Shankar, he was delighted to talk about the 1967 Monterey event and the warm feelings he still had for the landmark musical gathering were obvious in his observations.

All through 2012, we are celebrating the 45th anniversary of the ongoing Monterey Pop legacy. Shankar has had some very recent health situations of late, and we feel it is appropriate at this time to once again hear Ravi’s own comments about a world he experienced and celebrated during June 16, 17 and 18th 1967.

RAVI SHANKAR: … Monterey to me was like a revelation. Completely new. I had met George before that and that started the whole big hullaballoo. To me, it was a new world. I had been performing in the United States since 1956. Carnegie Hall. My first fans were jazz buffs and jazz musicians and average American people ...

So, a decade later, I arrive in Monterey and see butterflies and colors and flowers with peace and love. It was fantastic. I was impressed, but everyone was stoned. But that was all right and I was meeting all these beautiful people. Fine. It was one day before my concert and I went to hear the whole thing. That to me was the real experience. One night, I really heard Otis Redding. He was fantastic. One of the best, I remember. I really like The Mamas and The Papas. Lyrical, harmony and good choruses and harpsichord. Then, you know, came the hard rock. The Jefferson Airplane. The Grateful Dead. To me it was difficult in a very loud, hurtful in-my-ear way. And Janis Joplin. I had heard of her, but there was something so gutsy about her. Like some of those fantastic jazz ladies like Billie Holliday. That sort of feeling, so I was very impressed by her. Then, some others and what really disturbed me was the hard rock ...

I had heard so much about Jimi Hendrix. Everyone was talking about him. When he started playing...I was amazed...the dexterity in his guitar playing. But after two, three items, he started his antics. Making love to the guitar, I felt that was quite enough. Then, all of a sudden he puts petrol on his guitar and burns it. That was the leaving point. Sacrilegious. I knew it was a gimmick. Then, The Who followed, started kicking the drums and breaking their instruments. I was very hurt …

The next day, in the afternoon, It was cloudy, cool, it had rained a little and that’s when I played and it was like magic. Jimi Hendrix was sitting there. (Jerry) Garcia was there. I remember a few names. All of them were there and you can see on the film what magic it had. I was so impressed and it is one of my memorable performances. I didn’t plan for this. I was grateful to God that I was sitting in the atmosphere without anyone disturbing me. It drizzled for a few minutes and then it stopped. So, it was cloudy and there were flowers from Hawaii and you know, what atmosphere! After my set, it was crazy. I have never felt such a commotion of this sort. I was so pure, in spite of the fact that there were many people who were also strong. But it didn’t matter, because the whole atmosphere was so clean and beautiful and I could give my best. That’s all I can say.

HK: I know you weren’t in the Woodstock Festival movie, but I recall a live album from your appearance at Woodstock, right?

RS: It was so big. Half a million people. Rain so much that there was mud all over. You couldn’t see the people or look into their faces. It looked like a big parking place. We came by helicopter and landed behind the stage and it was raining. It was a mess. But, my commitment was so strong, because I couldn’t get out of it, so I did my best. And somehow, in that atmosphere, I did my best, but I couldn’t feel anything. I have always said that if Monterey was the beginning of this beautiful peace of love, flowers and all that, then Woodstock was the end of it.