It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)

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"It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)"
Song by George Harrison from the album Dark Horse
Published Oops (UK)/Ganga (US)
Released 9 December 1974 (US)
20 December 1974 (UK)
Genre Folk rock, gospel
Length 4:50
Label Apple
Writer George Harrison
Producer George Harrison
Dark Horse track listing

"It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" is a song by English musician George Harrison, released as the final track on his 1974 album Dark Horse. Harrison was inspired to write the song while in the Hindu holy city of Vrindavan, in northern India, with his friend Ravi Shankar. The composition originated on a day that Harrison describes in his autobiography as "my most fantastic experience",[1] during which his party and their ascetic guide toured the city's temples. The song's choruses were adapted from the Sanskrit chant they sang before visiting Seva Kunj, a park dedicated to Krishna's childhood. The same pilgrimage to India led to Harrison staging Shankar's Music Festival from India in September 1974 and undertaking a joint North American tour with Shankar at the end of that year.

Despite the devotional nature of the song, Harrison wrote it part-way through a period of divergence from the spiritual goals he had espoused in his previous works, particularly Living in the Material World (1973). "It Is 'He'" serves as a rare example of an overtly religious song on Dark Horse. Recorded between August and October 1974, the track features an unusual mix of musical styles and instrumentation – including gospel-style keyboards, folk-rock acoustic guitar, Indian string and percussion instruments, and Moog synthesizer. Besides Harrison, the musicians on the recording include Billy Preston, Tom Scott and Emil Richards, all of whom played in his 1974 tour band and contributed to Shankar's concurrent release, Shankar Family & Friends.

"It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" continued Harrison's fusion of the Hindu bhajan style with Western pop and rock, although the song failed to attract the favourable reception afforded his earlier productions such as "My Sweet Lord", "Hare Krishna Mantra" and "Give Me Love". With his spiritual pronouncements during the tour proving similarly unwelcome to members of the press, it was the last overtly devotional song by Harrison until the posthumously released "Brainwashed" in 2002.

Background[edit]

I was a stiff Westerner when we started off, but there was a moment when the atmosphere of [Vrindavan] got to me, melting all the bullshit away … it became a fantastic, blissful experience for me.[1]

– George Harrison, 1979

In a 1994 interview held at Ravi Shankar's home in California,[2] George Harrison referred to the reluctance he would often feel before visiting Shankar in India or meeting with ISKCON founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada – due to the "craziness" taking place in his life as a rock musician, which sat at odds with the spiritual goals represented by these friends.[3] One such visit to India occurred in January and February 1974, part-way through a period that Harrison describes in his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, as "the naughty years", coinciding with the end of his marriage to Pattie Boyd.[4][5] The visit led to Harrison writing two songs that would appear on his Dark Horse album later that year: "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" and "Simply Shady".[6][7] While the latter track reflected the singer's recent indulgences with drugs and alcohol,[8][9] "It Is 'He'" documented what author Simon Leng terms "a spiritual epiphany for Harrison" in the Hindu holy city of Vrindavan.[10]

Harrison went to India in 1974 to attend a ceremony in honour of Shankar's new home,[11] in Benares, on the banks of the Ganges.[12] At this time, the two musicians came up with the idea for Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India,[13][14] an ambitious revue of Indian folk music presented by an orchestra of eighteen pioneers of the genre,[4][15][nb 1] followed by a joint North American tour.[12] During the visit, Harrison and Shankar travelled across the state of Uttar Pradesh to Vrindavan, where the Hindu deity Krishna is said to have spent his childhood, thousands of years before.[17][18] Discussing "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" in I, Me, Mine, Harrison recalls that they arrived there at dusk, and adds: "the whole town is Krishna conscious – everyone, everywhere was chanting 'Hare Krishna' and various permutations on that."[1]

Touring Vrindavan's temples[edit]

The Yamuna River at Vrindavan, at sunset

Shankar had arranged for an English-speaking ascetic named Sripad Maharaj to serve as their guide on a tour of the local temples.[19] Despite the bedraggled appearance of Maharaj, Harrison noticed that throughout the tour, swamis and other passers-by would greet this "old beggar" by kissing his feet[1] – a sign of the utmost reverence.[18]

Part of Seva Kunj gardens in Vrindavan

The party then slept for a few hours in rooms provided by one of the temples, during which, Harrison recalled, he heard "huge heavenly choirs" in his dreams and experienced "the deepest sleep I had ever had in my life".[19] After they had attended morning puja at this temple, at 4 am, Maharaj began singing a bhajan, to which Harrison and the others there sang the response, repeating his lines.[20] In I Me Mine, Harrison recalls that the communal chanting lasted for up to five hours and that he never wanted it to end.[21]

Late that morning, Harrison and Shankar accompanied Maharaj to Seva Kunj, a park that commemorates Krishna's love for all-night dancing with his gopis (cow-herd girls).[22] Harrison later marvelled of Seva Kunj: "All the trees, which are so ancient, bow down and the branches touch the ground. Just to walk in that place is incredible."[21] He describes the Vrinadavan tour as "my most fantastic experience" and, at Maharaj's suggestion, turned the bhajan into a song, which he titled "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)".[23]

Other activities in Vrindavan[edit]

Harrison and Shankar spent a few days in the city, at the Sri Chaitanya Prema Samastbana ashram, on the banks of the Yamuna River; there, they meditated, wrote music and discussed "the art of devotion".[24] Harrison also met with Prabhupada at this time and reunited with ISKCON disciples Gurudas and Yamuna.[25] The latter couple were among the founding devotees of the London Radha Krishna Temple,[26] whose recordings of chants, including a hit version of the Hare Krishna mantra,[27] Harrison had produced for Apple Records in 1969–70.[28] Theologian Dale Allison writes that Harrison "rediscovered his enthusiasm for chanting" while in India and that "It Is 'He'" was "the result".[29]

Composition[edit]

Leng describes the mood of the song as "upbeat pseudo-calypso". He also notes it as a further example of the musical approach employed by Harrison in songs such as "My Sweet Lord" and "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)", whereby the Hindu bhajan is fused with Western gospel music.[30] Over a three-chord pattern in the key of G major, the bhajan's words are set out in the repetitive form typical of a mantra:[19]

Jai Krishna, jai Krishna Krishna
Jai Krishna, jai Sri Krishna
Jai radhé, jai radhé radhé
Jai radhé, jai sri radhé.

The chorus's words translate to mean, "All glories and praise to Lord Krishna; all glories and praise to Goddess Radha."[31]

Similar to the previous year's "Living in the Material World" – where Harrison contrasted the Western or "material" parts of the song with its meditative, "spiritual sky" sections[32] – "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" employs a change in tempo and rhythm, to differentiate between the Sanskrit choruses and the English-language verses.[33] Lyrically, the latter sections outline the "It Is 'He'" element of the song title. In the first of the three verses, Harrison sings of his deity as "He whose eyes have seen / What our lives have been / And who we really are"; in the final verse, the description is: "He who is complete / Three worlds at His feet / Cause of every star …[34]

Recording[edit]

Throughout 1974, progress on Dark Horse was compromised by Harrison's commitment to setting up a new record label, also called Dark Horse, and his dedication to projects by the label's first signings, Shankar and the duo Splinter.[35][36] He later referred to the pressure he had imposed on himself that year as "ridiculous".[37] In addition, his return to less ascetic ways post-Vrinadavan was marked by what he termed "a bit of a bender to make up for all the years I'd been married",[38][39] as Boyd left him in July.[40]

The main sessions for Dark Horse took place at Harrison's Friar Park home studio in Oxfordshire over August–September 1974,[41] in between rehearsals there for the Music Festival of India's tour of Europe[14] and the recording of a studio album by Shankar's ensemble, which Harrison also produced.[42][nb 2] Participating in the recording for "It Is 'He'" were the nucleus of his tour band: Willie Weeks, Billy Preston, Tom Scott and Andy Newmark.[11][43][nb 3] In October, with his album still unfinished,[44] Harrison flew to Los Angeles, where he rehearsed with his musicians and Shankar's orchestra for the upcoming North American tour, while carrying out further recording at A&M Studios.[45] As additional members of Harrison's tour band,[46] Jim Horn, Chuck Findley and Emil Richards overdubbed their contributions to "It Is 'He'" at A&M.[47][45]

The recording features a hybrid of musical styles, with the rock-funk rhythm section of Weeks and Newmark; gospel keyboards from Preston; light jazz-inflected flutes from Scott, Horn and Findley; and skiffle courtesy of Richards' playful wobbleboard.[48] Harrison provided Indian music textures through his use of the gut-stringed gubgubbi and finger cymbals (or taal), along with familiar Western instrumentation in the form of acoustic rhythm guitar and a Moog synthesizer part.[49] Unusually among the songs on Dark Horse, Harrison's vocals are untroubled by the effects of laryngitis,[48][50] which he contracted during rehearsals and would doom his subsequent concerts in the eyes of many observers.[51] At the pre-tour press conference on 23 October,[52] Harrison distributed a written Q & A using questions first put to him in 1963 by the New Musical Express; in reply to what his "most thrilling experience" was, Harrison wrote "Seeking Krishna in [Vrindavan]" where previously the answer had been the immediate success of an early Beatles' single.[53]

Release[edit]

Every show was probably hard for him. He was trying sincerely to do something to benefit people. You see, in Indian tradition you cannot separate music from spirituality ... Anyone else under that kind of pressure would have said, "Okay, I'm calling it off ..." I always had the feeling someone very special was occupying that body.[54]

– Indian musician L. Subramaniam, on Harrison's commitment throughout the 1974 tour

Dark Horse was released on 9 December 1974,[55] towards the end of Harrison and Shankar's North American tour.[56] The concerts had attracted scorn from many music critics,[57] partly because of Harrison's choice to feature Indian music so heavily in the program[58][59] and his frequent statements regarding his Hindu faith.[60][61] "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" appeared as the final track on Dark Horse;[62] it was sequenced after "Far East Man",[63] a song that Harrison biographers interpret variously as a tribute to Shankar and India,[64] or a reaffirmation of the humanitarian goals represented by Harrison and Shankar's Bangladesh aid project.[65]

In contrast with Living in the Material World in 1973, "It Is 'He'" was the sole example of a devotional song on the album.[66][67] Amid confessionals dealing with Harrison's troubled personal life and rock-star excess, the track has been described by Leng as "almost a reminder to himself of golden days in India, when he felt comforted by belief".[66] While he identifies a level of religiosity in other songs on Dark Horse, Allison pairs it with Material World as albums that "literally wear their Hinduism on their record sleeves".[68] The front cover of Dark Horse includes a Himalayan landscape, above which floats the Nath Tradition yogi Shiv-Goraksha Babaji.[69]

Reception[edit]

Like the tour, Dark Horse was much maligned on release,[70][71] and this particular song greeted with "outright hostility" by some critics, according to Leng.[30] While Brian Harrigan of Melody Maker called it "a bit of a groover",[72] Bob Woffinden of the NME wrote: "You keep looking for saving graces [on the album], for words of enthusiasm to pass on ... Tracks like 'It Is HE (Jai Sri Krishna)' are more typical. There, the endless repetition of 'Jai Sri Krishana, Jai Sri Radhe' over an enfeebled tune is hardly compelling listening."[73] Writing for Rolling Stone, Jim Miller opined: "[Harrison's] religiosity, once a spacey bauble in the Beatles' panoply, has come to resemble the obsessiveness of a zealot."[74]

In their book Eight Arms to Hold You, Chip Madinger and Mark Easter dismiss it as "an inauspicious ending to a half-baked LP".[75] The song continues to divide opinion among Harrison's biographers in the 21st century. While commenting on the underachieving "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" single, which Harrison had released as a hoped-for ChristmasNew Year hit in the UK, Alan Clayson writes: "Despite its non-Christian slant, George might have fared better with the wonderful 'It Is "He" (Jai Sri Krishna)' ... [The] repeated chorus was so uplifting that it scarcely mattered that it was sung (without laryngitis) entirely in Hindi – no more, anyway, than McCartney breaking into French on 'Michelle' off Rubber Soul."[48] Clayson finds the deceleration into half-time during the verses equally "joyous",[48] whereas Ian Inglis describes these changes as "awkward" and notes the failure of "It Is 'He'" next to Harrison's earlier successes with "My Sweet Lord" and "Hare Krishna Mantra".[33] Inglis concludes: "The gently floating Indian [choruses] are somewhat undermined by the ponderous nature of the rock-oriented interludes, and the evangelical nature of the English words – 'he who is complete' – finally discourage any attempt at participation."[33] Author Elliot Huntley describes the song as "Krishna-consciousness psychobabble", with a refrain that is "repeated ad nauseam".[76] Writing in The Rough Guide to the Beatles, Chris Ingham views the track as "George at his happy-clappy nadir" and pairs it with "Ding Dong" as "two of the worst songs he ever allowed out".[77] Robert Rodriguez rates "It Is 'He'" among Harrison's most overlooked tracks from the 1970s and describes it as "a joyful delight" and "unrelentingly calming yet catchy".[78]

Simon Leng notes the continuation of Harrison's successful bhajan–gospel formula – "complete with Tom Scott playing Krishna's flute" and set in a "Kashmiri party atmosphere"[79] – but acknowledges: "the media were sick of the formula, and this was one Krishna paen too many."[30] Leng views "It Is 'He'" as "charming" and credits Harrison with predating the late 1980s world music trend, through his ethnomusicologist's adoption of the "banjo-meets-vocal sound" of the Bengali gubgubbi, or khomok.[30]

In a review of the 2014 reissue of Dark Horse, for Paste magazine, Robert Ham cites the song as a highlight of the album, writing: "The giddy 'Is It "He" (Jai Sri Krishna)' … is a joyous affirmation of [Harrison's] spiritual beliefs that mashes up many of his musical interests, with Indian instruments finding consort with rambling English folk and R&B horn stabs."[80] Blogcritics' Chaz Lipp opines that "there's a lot of rewarding listening [on Dark Horse] for those willing to listen with an open mind", among which: "'Far East Man' is a smooth soul collaboration with Ron Wood that, once heard, lodges itself in the brain. Even catchier is the closing track, 'It Is "He" (Jai Sri Krishna).'"[81]

Legacy[edit]

Three men in their early fifties, one on the left, wearing a white robe and holding a bottle of water with both hands, and two on the right, one in a white robe and one in a pink robe. On the wall behind them is something written in Sanskrit, both in Roman characters and in Sanskrit characters.
Harrison, with ISKCON friends Shyamasundar Das and Mukunda Goswami, in Vrindavan in 1996

First published in August 1980,[82] I Me Mine contains two pages of description from Harrison on Vrindavan and the story behind "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)".[83] This coverage contrasts with little discussion of his years as a member of the Beatles,[84] and typically brief commentary on each of his songs.[85][86] In the book, Harrison dedicates "It Is 'He'" to Sripad Maharaj, whom he describes as "a wonderful, humble, Holy man".[21]

In addition to the hit singles "My Sweet Lord" and "Give Me Love", to which Leng compares the song,[11] "It Is 'He'" shares common musical ground with "Dehradun" and "Gopala Krishna";[87] these two unreleased Harrison compositions originated from the late 1960s and feature entirely Sanskrit lyrics.[88] After 1974, Harrison no longer wrote songs as obviously Krishna-devotional as "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)",[89] although he returned to recording bhajans intermittently, with songs such as "Dear One" in 1976 and "Life Itself, released in 1981.[90] In his book The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, Peter Lavezzoli writes that following Dark Horse and the "ill-fated 1974 tour", Harrison "continued to infuse his work with an implicit spirituality that rarely manifested on the surface".[91] Speaking to ISKCON devotee Mukunda Goswami in 1982,[92] Harrison said:

Back in the sixties, whatever we were all getting into, we tended to broadcast it as loud as we could. I had had certain realizations and went through a period where I was so thrilled about my discoveries and realizations that I wanted to shout and tell it to everybody. But there's a time to shout it out and a time not to shout it out.[93]

Dale Allison comments that it was not until the chanted mantra at the end of "Brainwashed", issued posthumously in 2002, that Harrison again made such an "explicit statement" of Hindu religiosity as he had on "It Is 'He'".[94]

Personnel[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Lakshmi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, L. Subramaniam, T.V. Gopalkrishnan, Shivkumar Sharma, Alla Rakha and Sultan Khan were among the musicians selected by Shankar for his Music Festival orchestra.[16]
  2. ^ In the liner notes to the 2014 reissue of Dark Horse, Harrison's widow Olivia says that he worked at night on his own album and would wake up to the sound of the Music Festival orchestra rehearsing in the house.[14]
  3. ^ An earlier, unreleased version of the song featured Bobby Purvis and Bill Elliott of Splinter on backing vocals.[30]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d George Harrison, p. 296.
  2. ^ Shankar, p. 309.
  3. ^ George Harrison: Living in the Material World DVD, Village Roadshow, 2011 (directed by Martin Scorsese; produced by Olivia Harrison, Nigel Sinclair & Martin Scorsese), Disc 2; event occurs between 14:38 and 15:35.
  4. ^ a b Leng, p. 148.
  5. ^ Tillery, pp. 116–17.
  6. ^ George Harrison, pp. 282, 296.
  7. ^ Madinger & Easter, pp. 443, 444.
  8. ^ Inglis, pp. 44–45.
  9. ^ Allison, pp. 100, 154.
  10. ^ Leng, pp. 150–51, 157.
  11. ^ a b c Leng, p. 157.
  12. ^ a b Shankar, p. 223.
  13. ^ Olivia Harrison, p. 302.
  14. ^ a b c Kevin Howlett, liner notes, Dark Horse reissue (Apple Records, 2014; produced by George Harrison).
  15. ^ Lavezzoli, p. 195.
  16. ^ Shankar, pp. 223–24.
  17. ^ Greene, p. 209.
  18. ^ a b Tillery, p. 112.
  19. ^ a b c George Harrison, pp. 296–97.
  20. ^ Tillery, p. 113.
  21. ^ a b c George Harrison, p. 297.
  22. ^ George Harrison, pp. 297, plate XXXVII/p. 390.
  23. ^ George Harrison, pp. 296, 297.
  24. ^ Greene, p. 210.
  25. ^ Greene, pp. 211, 221.
  26. ^ Dwyer & Cole, p. 30.
  27. ^ Clayson, pp. 268, 276.
  28. ^ Spizer, p. 341.
  29. ^ Allison, p. 147.
  30. ^ a b c d e Leng, p. 158.
  31. ^ Allison, p. 46.
  32. ^ Leng, pp. 130–31.
  33. ^ a b c Inglis, p. 48.
  34. ^ George Harrison, p. 295.
  35. ^ Leng, pp. 147–48.
  36. ^ Huntley, pp. 105–06, 108.
  37. ^ Timothy White, "George Harrison – Reconsidered", Musician, November 1987, p. 59.
  38. ^ Doggett, pp. 209, 225.
  39. ^ Huntley, p. 107.
  40. ^ Tillery, p. 94.
  41. ^ Leng, p. 147.
  42. ^ Olivia Harrison, p. 312.
  43. ^ Spizer, p. 265.
  44. ^ Tillery, p. 114.
  45. ^ a b Madinger & Easter, pp. 443, 444.
  46. ^ Leng, p. 167.
  47. ^ Badman, p. 135.
  48. ^ a b c d Clayson, p. 344.
  49. ^ Leng, pp. 157–58.
  50. ^ Madinger & Easter, p. 442.
  51. ^ Schaffner, p. 177.
  52. ^ Badman, p. 136.
  53. ^ Greene, pp. 212–13.
  54. ^ Greene, p. 218.
  55. ^ Badman, p. 145.
  56. ^ Madinger & Easter, pp. 443, 635.
  57. ^ Woffinden, pp. 83–84.
  58. ^ Schaffner, pp. 177–78.
  59. ^ Lavezzoli, p. 196.
  60. ^ Ingham, p. 128.
  61. ^ Tillery, pp. 114–15.
  62. ^ Spizer, p. 263.
  63. ^ Castleman & Podrazik, p. 144.
  64. ^ Inglis, p. 47.
  65. ^ Allison, pp. 69–70.
  66. ^ a b Leng, p. 159.
  67. ^ Michael Gross, "George Harrison: How Dark Horse Whipped Up a Winning Tour", Circus Raves, March 1975; available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required; retrieved 18 October 2013).
  68. ^ Allison, pp. 7, 47, 48.
  69. ^ Spizer, pp. 263, 265.
  70. ^ The Editors of Rolling Stone, pp. 44, 46.
  71. ^ Greene, p. 213.
  72. ^ Brian Harrigan, "Harrison: Eastern Promise", Melody Maker, 21 December 1974, p. 36.
  73. ^ Bob Woffinden, "George Harrison: Dark Horse", NME, 21 December 1974; available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required; retrieved 1 September 2012).
  74. ^ Rodriguez, p. 379.
  75. ^ Madinger & Easter, p. 444.
  76. ^ Huntley, p. 112.
  77. ^ Ingham, p. 134.
  78. ^ Rodriguez, pp. 379, 384.
  79. ^ Leng, pp. 157, 192.
  80. ^ Robert Ham, "George Harrison: The Apple Years: 1968–1975 Review", Paste, 24 September 2014 (retrieved 3 October 2014).
  81. ^ Chaz Lipp, "Music Review: George Harrison’s Apple Albums Remastered", Blogcritics, 5 October 2014 (retrieved 6 October 2014).
  82. ^ Tillery, p. 164.
  83. ^ Allison, pp. 46, 59.
  84. ^ Doggett, pp. 265–66.
  85. ^ Staff reviewer, "Nonfiction Book Review: I, Me, Mine by George Harrison", Publishers Weekly, 2002 (retrieved 14 January 2015).
  86. ^ Kent H. Benjamin, "Review: I Me Mine", The Austin Chronicle, 22 November 2002 (retrieved 14 January 2015).
  87. ^ Rodriguez, p. 384.
  88. ^ Madinger & Easter, p. 433.
  89. ^ The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 140.
  90. ^ Leng, pp. 192, 219–20.
  91. ^ Lavezzoli, p. 197.
  92. ^ Allison, pp. 47, 48, 59.
  93. ^ Chant and Be Happy, p. 13.
  94. ^ Allison, p. 48.

Sources[edit]

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