Last year, I called him the “Johnny Cash of Kirtan” (Dec. 8, 2005).
But Krishna Das, formerly Jeffrey Kagel of Long Island, is infamous of
his own accord—.singer of contemporary Hindu devotional music. This
year I had a chance to talk to him, by phone, while he was in New York
before his return trip to Maui next week.
MAUI TIME WEEKLY: Hello, Krishna—er, Mr. Das? Uh, how should I address you?
KRISHNA DAS: You can call me anything you want. You can call me Al! But KD is good.
How was your weekend?
It’s been a long week, running around after Dalai Lama so it’s just been no sleep—a lot of g
Wow, that sure beats my weekend. So what’s it like hanging out with the Dalai Lama?
Well, it was me and a couple thousand people. He did teachings; he’d
talk about a particular text and something like that. Basically he’d
tell stories and give teachings and smile and laugh.
You talk a lot about the “natural
magnetic attraction” you felt for your guru, when you went to India.
What was that first moment with Maharaj’ji like?
I met him when I met Ram Dass for the first time. And I just
thought, “Wow, it’s real—whatever it is I was looking for, it’s real,
it exists.” That was the first thing. This is not some kind of thing in
a book, it was a really big moment.
It was about a year and a half before I met him in person. And it
was kind of anti-climactic—it was super great but I’d already felt him
before I ever met him. I just thought, what’s the relationship between
this guy and how I feel. It was just so intense, it’s amazing. I was
just trying to kind of start to focus on his physical presence. Some
people were more sophisticated, less needy of a physical feature. But I
needed somebody to show me that love, physically.
Is it sometimes hard to find focus, in your meditations or performances?
No. Because my job is to just do the best I can. I’m not there to
please anybody or to entertain anybody or to make anybody happy. I’m
just there to do my practice, with the people there. I have very little
expectations of what it’s gonna be like. Everybody has their
thing—maybe my girlfriend just broke up with me, maybe I just won a
million bucks—it’s irrelevant. It’s not even to get me off, it’s simply
to repeat the name. And over the years, I’ve gotten more and more
What are your musical inspirations—what are you listening to these days?
There’s a great CD called The Lama’s Chants, Ray Charles, Van
Morrison, Steely Dan, Bruce Sprinsteen, Snoop Dogg, Enimem, a lotta
Aside from your Studio Maui kirtan thing, what else will you be doing here?
Trying to catch up on my sleep. Ram Dass and I are doing a weeklong
retreat—I sing at night, he hangs out with people in the afternoon,
then there’s a longer evening chant.
I’m going on tour in the Northwest—Seattle, Portland, Eugene—and L.A., then back to New York.
What do you do for fun, when you’re not chanting?
I sing! If it was work, how can I do it? I mess around, play a
little guitar, mess around with my computer, go see the Dalai Lama…
What most people think is fun is actually killing them.
People must expect you to always be a peaceful, righteous person. But you do a lot of traveling—how do you resist being cranky?
I don’t resist it; I just enjoy it. What are you gonna do, you know?
Everybody has their own nonsense. I just sing, you know. I sing to him,
and everybody is in him. To me. And that’s what I do. I feel very
blessed to do this and to be on the receiving end of so much love. You
can’t get everybody. I don’t really think about it much. I just think
about the basics. MTW