The following is the transcript of an interview by John Fuglesang with George Harrison and Ravi Shankar on the VH1 program "George Harrison & Ravi Shankar : Yin & Yang" which aired on July 24, 1997. Please allow for slight error in my hearing.
John: Itís been a great year for music fans. Last year saw the release of Ravi Shankarís four CD boxed set "In Celebration", and this year has brought us the release of the new album "Chants Of India", produced by George Harrison. And itís a great thrill for me to be here today with two of the greatest living artists in music, from the east and from the west, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. Thank you both for joining us.
George and Ravi: Thank you.
John: George, how did you first come to meet Ravi and discover the music?
George: During the days when there was the mania, the Beatlemania, well I got involved with the records, you know I bought some of Raviís records, and I listened to it, and although my intellect didnít really know what was happening, or didnít know much about the music, just the pure sound of it and what it was playing, it just appealed to me so much. It hit a spot in me very deep, and it was, you know I just recognized it somehow. And along with that I just had a feeling that I was going to meet him. It was just one of those things and at the same time when I played the sitar, very badly, on a Beatle record, then Ravi was coming to London. A lot of press were trying to set it up that weíd meet, but I just avoided that. You know, I didnít want it to, you know, be on the front page of a newspaper as a gimmick, because it meant more to me than that. So I thought, well Iíll wait and meet him in my own time. And that arrived on an occasion, there was a society called Asian Music Circle, and the fellow who ran that, who Iíd got to know, he said Raviís gonna come, he was in London, he was going to come for lunch, and we met like that way. Then he came to my house and got me to learn how to hold the sitar and put me through the basic lessons of sitar.
John: Ravi, Iíve always wanted to ask you, how did you feel the first time you heard "Norwegian Wood"? What did you honestly think of Georgeís sitar playing?
Ravi: When my niece and nephews, they made me hear this, and that was after I met George, I hadnít heard anything before that, and I wasnít much impressed by it you know. But I saw the effect on the young people, I couldnít believe it, even in India. It was not only in the west, it seemed they were just lapping it up as you say. They loved it so much.
John: How did the other guys in the Beatles react when you started bringing this...when you brought this instrument into the studio?
George: Well in those days, you know we were growing very quickly, and there was a lot of influences that we were... I mean that was the best thing about our band. We were very open minded to everything and we were listening to all kinds of music you know. Like avant-garde music, later became know as avant-garde a clue, and various things like that. So you know, they just thought well thatís good, they liked the sound of it, and on "Norwegian Wood" it was just one of those songs that just needed that little extra, and the sitar Iíd bought, a very cheap one in a shop called India Craft in London, and even though it sounded bad it still fitted onto the song and it gave it that little extra thing so they were quite happy about it. I went to India to be with Ravi, to see India, to learn some music, and just to experience India, but I also wanted to know about the Himalayas. That is the thing thatís always fascinated me about the idea that...um, I mean it sounds like a lofty thing to say on VH1 but basically, you know, what are we doing on this planet? And I think throughout the Beatle experience that weíd had...weíd grown so many years within a short period of time. Iíd experienced so many things and met so many people but I realized there was nothing actually that was giving me a buzz anymore. I wanted something better, I remember thinking, Iíd love to meet somebody who will really impress me, and thatís when I met Ravi. Which is funny, cause heís this little fella with this obscure instrument, from our point of view, and yet it led me into such depths. And I think thatís the most important thing, it still is for me. You know I get confused when I look around at the world and I see everybodyís running around and you know, as Bob Dylan said, "he not busy being born, heís busy dying" and yet nobodyís trying to figure out whatís the cause of death and what happens when you die. I mean that to me is the only thing really thatís of any importance. The rest is all secondary. I believe in the thing I read years ago, which I think was in the bible, it said, "knock and the door will be opened", and itís true. If you want to know anything in this life you just have to knock on the door. Whether that be physically on somebody elseís door and ask them a question or, which I was lucky to find, is meditation, is you know itís all within. And thatís really why for me this recordís important, because itís another little key to open up the within. For each individual to be able to sit and turn of, um..."turn off your mind relax and float downstream" and listen to something that has itís root in a transcendental, because really even all the words of these songs, they carry with it a very subtle spiritual vibration. And it goes beyond intellect really. So if you let yourself be free to let that have an affect on you, it can have an affect, a positive affect.
John: Ravi, how was it for you when you first met George? What was your take on Beatlemania?
Ravi: Iím ashamed to say that I knew almost nothing about them when I first, you know, met them excepting that theyíre very popular. And meeting them in the parties I was so impressed by George at that time, who looked so much younger and was so inquisitive. Asking about so many different things. Mostly music, sitar and of course along with that certain spiritual...and the only thing... I felt that his enthusiasm was so real you see, and I wanted to give as much as I could through my sitar of course, because that is the only thing that I know of. The rest I can not express. He [George] talks so beautifully. He is used to words. He writes poems. He writes songs. I do sometimes foolishly but Iím not that much...I express myself through notes, musical notes, so itís a different way of...but anyway. As you said when I met him and we started off immediately after a few days, as he said earlier, to sit properly, how to hold the sitar and you know, how to handle the finger position and all that, the basic things. And he was so interested and he was so quick in learning and then we fixed immediately for him to come to India and he came. We fixed it for six weeks but unfortunately it didnít happen because people recognized him after a week or so and there was such a commotion in Bombay that we had to runaway to Cashmere and live in a houseboat and all that. But unfortunately he had to leave. There was some...
George: I believe Sergeant Pepper or something was getting...
Ravi: Then I thought, my God, I couldnít believe that any four people could create such a storm all over the world.
George: The Spice Boys
Ravi: And it was not that I was unknown or anything you know. I was playing concerts in Carnegie Hall and different places, but as a classical Indian musician, but the moment it was know that he has become my disciple, it was like wildfire. I became so popular with the young people all of a sudden, and I was rediscovered as they say and then I took that role of a superstar for a number of years because of him. Cause you know the whole thing was going a bit not to my liking because of the association of drugs and things like that. So I really had a very difficult time for the next few years putting my music in the right register or right place but because I did that is why I am here today also. Sitting with you. Otherwise I wouldnít have been here. People have really come to understand the depth and the seriousness of our music along with all the, you know, enjoying part of it, the entertainment part, that is there, but the true root and thatís what is also projected in this particular record.
John: I want to talk about the early 1970s, the Concert for Bangladesh. Now how did this all come about? Was it Ravi who set it in motion?
Ravi: Yeah, it was that period when Eastern Pakistan and the Pakistan government had problems and they wanted to get separate, and they wanted to name it Bangladesh. It was mainly the language issue. It started with that and then became a big political issue. But our concern was...my concern was that many of my relatives were there. They come as refugees, a lot of children. So all that was very painful to me and I was at that time planning to give a benefit show and maybe raise 20,000...25,000...30,000 dollars and send it, you know as...and George happened to be in Los Angeles at that time and he saw how unhappy I was, and I told him. He said, "Thatís nothing, letís do something big", and immediately he, like magic, phoned up, fixed Madison Square Garden and all his friends, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and it was magic really. And he wrote that song also "Bangladesh". So overnight that name became known all over the world, you know.
George: America was actually shipping armaments to Pakistan who were, you know, just massacring everybody, and the more I read about it and understood what was going on I though well weíve got to do something and it had to be quick. And what we did really was only to point it out. Thatís what I felt.
John: It was a very controversial thing in Bangladesh. John Lennon used to get in trouble all the time for his activism. Did anyone tell you, you know itís a little bit hot, donít go there? Were you discouraged at all by people for pursuing it?
George: No, not really. I think that was one of the things that I developed, just by being in the Beatles, was being bold. And I think John had a lot to do with that, you know, cause John Lennon, you know, if he felt something strongly he just did it. And you know, I picked up a lot of that by being a friend o Johnís. Just that attitude of, well weíll just go for it, just do it.
Ravi: This was something unique. The whole spirit was so beautiful, Bangladesh Concert.
George: It was just pure adrenaline, and it was very lucky that it came off because all musicians werenít there for rehearsal. We rehearsed bits and pieces with different people but we didnít have everybody all on at one time until the show itself. And we were just very lucky really that it all came together.
[George now sitting with guitar strumming]
John: Wanna try one of the Beatlesí tunes? Wanna try "Something"? A Bob song? A Carl Perkinsí song? Iíll take a Rick Asley song George. Iíll take a Spice Girls medley George.
George: Iíll play one of mine if I can think of one.
Someone off camera: All Things Must Pass
George: Really? [sings first 2 verses of "All Things Must Pass" but changes the word gray to way]
[No more guitar]
John: Iíd like to start off talking about the "Chants of India" album, cause itís a real beautiful CD, record, whatever we call them these days. Do you think that an American audience is gonna be able to relate to the music on the album?
George: I think so. Itís like, first of all itís not really like sitar music, I know Raviís sitting here with his sitar, everybody knows him from sitar music, but it isnít really sitar music. I mean itís basically spiritual music, spiritual songs, ancient mantras, and passages from the Vedas, which are the most ancient text on earth. And so itís these ancient songs, which are all spiritual music, but trying to put it in a context where it doesnít change it from what it basically is but at the same time the instrumentation to make it palatable to not only westerners but to everybody.
Ravi: Well I always had in my mind not to make it so difficult for hearing for people who are not used to our music for instance. But apart from the words which are very old and they all mean almost the same thing, you know, peace, love, for equality, for trees, for nature, for human beings, body, soul, everything. About 30..40 years ago these were absolutely not heard. You were not permitted to even...you had to give it only to your disciples and that also privately in the ear, not loudly. But now books are all printed. Everything is out even in network. So as far as the words are concerned they are open now, but the tune, that I had to give, or added slight orchestration in the background, was with this very thought, that it should match this old sentiment of whole spiritual context that it has. At the same time not be too much, or sound too ritualistic, or fundamentalistic, or anything like that. Thatís the main thing that I tried.
[guitar is back]
John: Well for a kid from Long Island I never thought Iíd get to say this on TV. Please welcome performing "Prabhujee" from "Chants of India", joined by Ravi Shankarís wife Sukanya, please welcome Ravi Shankar and George Harrison.
The following is the transcript of an interview with George Harrison and Ravi Shankar for the program CBS This Morning (aired June 12,1997), as heard by me. I appoligize if there are any errors.
Interviewer: You said as a Beatle you had met captains of industry, politicians and royalty, yet no one impressed you until you met Ravi Shankar.
George: Thatís true, yeah.
George: During that time, you know, we met just about everybody and I just thought, well, Iím looking for something really really beyond just the ordinary, the mundane, and thatís where I wanted somebody to impress me and, um, you know I didnít expect it to be this little Indian man but, you know good things come in small packages. (laughs)
Interviewer: Now itís your turn Ravi. Youíve called him many things. Three words that stand out, friend, disciple, son.
Ravi: At presently, chums, because he makes me laugh more than anyone else.
Interviewer: What is it like having him in the studio with you?
Ravi: this was a great experience. He helped me so much in real producing. Itís taking being there in the recording booth from the very beginning balancing, to editing, mixing, and everything.
Interviewer: Ravi, in this country when we hear chants, we tend to think of Gregorian chants. We think of religious chants. This album is no like that. This is more mainstream.
Ravi: I chose the chants which are not so much into religion. No matter who listens to it feels that special spiritual feeling.
George: Something like this is totally new. Itís like, and now for something completely different, and, uh, you know I think itís worthy. Itís something that I believe in, and I think itís a benefit if people during the day, you know everybody gets stressed out, and this music is particularly inclined to calm you down. Itís an antidote to stress.
Interviewer: You brought your mates Paul and John to India in the sixties, to hear his music and to taste the culture. They left, you stayed. Iím speaking more, your soul stayed, as it were. Why do you think that is?
George: Well, from my point of view, itís the only place to be really. For every human is a quest to find the answer to, why are we here? Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? That to me became the only important thing in my life. Everything else is secondary. So for me there is no alternative.
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