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 during a visit to 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 same visit led to Harrison staging Shankar's Music Festival from India in September 1974 and a joint North American tour with Shankar at the end of that year.

"It Is 'He'" continued Harrison's musical fusion of the Hindu bhajan style with Western pop, although it failed to attract the favourable reception of previous efforts such as "My Sweet Lord", "Hare Krishna Mantra" and "Give Me Love". The recording features an unusual mix of instrumentation, including gospel keyboards, folk-rock acoustic guitar, Indian string and percussion instruments, and Moog synthesizer, along with choruses sung entirely in Sanskrit. 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.

Background and composition[edit]

In an interview with Ravi Shankar to promote their 1997 collaboration Chants of India, George Harrison referred to the reluctance he would often feel before making a visit to India or going to stay with ISKCON friends such as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, due to the "craziness" occurring in his life, which sat at odds with the spiritual goals represented by these friends.[2] One such occasion was when Harrison went to India in January and February 1974, his first trip there in almost six years; he later claimed: "I kept trying to go and it never happened."[3][nb 1] During those six years since 1968, Harrison had continued to do much to promote Hinduism and Hindustani classical music in the West,[6] although his lifestyle of late had veered significantly from the pursuit of spiritual divinity to embrace more traditional rock-star behaviour, with the failure of his marriage to Pattie Boyd.[7][8] The main reason for returning to India in 1974 was to attend a ceremony in honour of Shankar's new home, in Benares, on the banks of the Ganges.[9] It was at this time that the two friends came up with the idea for Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India,[10] a unique revue of Indian folk music presented by an orchestra of eighteen pioneers of the genre,[7][11] including Lakshmi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, L. Subramaniam, T.V. Gopalkrishnan, Shivkumar Sharma, Alla Rakha and Sultan Khan.

Also during the visit, Harrison made a trip across the state of Uttar Pradesh to the holy city of Vrindavan, where the Hindu deity Krishna is said to have spent his childhood, thousands of years before.[12][13] While discussing the song "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" with Derek Taylor, during interviews for his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison would say of Vrindavan: "the whole town is Krishna conscious".[1] There, Shankar had arranged for him to be shown around by an English-speaking ascetic named Sripad Maharaj.[14]

Part of Seva Kunj gardens in Vrindavan

Arriving at Vrinadavan at dusk, Harrison was brought to the man's home, after which Maharaj took him to countless temples in the town; all the while, shaved-headed swamis and other passers-by would greet this "old beggar" by kissing his feet,[1] a sign of the utmost reverence.[13] With it now well into the night, the party 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".[14] They were up again at 4 am to attend morning puja, at a temple dedicated to Krishna's love for all-night dancing with his gopis (cow-herd girls), set in the old garden of Seva Kunj.[14] Harrison later marvelled of the garden: "All the trees, which are so ancient, bow down and the branches touch the ground. Just to walk in that place is incredible."[15]

After their return from the temple, the group were sitting in a room when Maharaj began singing a bhajan, to which Harrison and the others there sang the response, repeating his lines.[16] Harrison recalled he was "blissed out" from the chanting, not wanting it to end.[15] (The chanting stopped after five hours.) He also described the whole Vrinadavan visit 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)".[17]

Over an unusually simple musical structure for a Harrison composition – featuring just three chords, in the key of G major – the bhajan's words are set out in the repetitive form typical of a mantra:[14]

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."

The three verses of the song move into more adventurous ground musically, while lyrically outlining the "It Is 'He'" element of the song title:

He whose eyes have seen
What our lives have been
And who we really are

He whose sweetness flows
To anyone of those
That cares to look his way

He who is complete
Three worlds at His feet
Cause of every star

Harrison and Shankar spent a few days in the city, at the Sri Chaitanya Prema Samastbana ashram, on the banks of the Yamuna River, where they meditated, wrote music and discussed "the art of devotion".[18] Reflecting the importance of the Vrindavan experience in his life up until the late 1970s, Harrison affords "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" a full two pages in I Me Mine – significantly more than for all his other songs, save for "Art of Dying", his 1970 essay on reincarnation. Harrison dedicates "It Is 'He'" to Sripad Maharaj, whom he describes as "a wonderful, humble, Holy man".[15]

Recording[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

"It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" was one of the last songs that Harrison recorded for his Dark Horse album, during sessions held at FPSHOT in August–September 1974.[19] As if to illustrate his return to less ascetic ways post-Vrinadavan, bass player Willie Weeks recalls Harrison slamming his Porsche sports car into hedges along a country road when the two of them drove into nearby Henley for fish and chips, during a break in recording.[20][21] By that point, the Music Festival from India tour of Europe was under way,[22] thus allowing Harrison to finally concentrate on completing his own album, before he and Shankar's ensemble were to reunite in Los Angeles to prepare for their joint tour.[11][23] Participating in the recording were the nucleus of his tour band: Weeks, Billy Preston, Tom Scott and Andy Newmark.[9][24] In October, once Harrison had decamped to A&M Studios in Los Angeles, Jim Horn, Chuck Findley and Emil Richards carried out further overdubs.[25][26][nb 2]

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.[28] In addition, 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 brassy-sounding Moog synthesizer part.[29] Unusually among his songs on Dark Horse, Harrison's vocals are untroubled by the effects of laryngitis,[28][19] which he contracted during rehearsals and would doom his subsequent tour in the eyes of many observers.[30] 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,[31] "It Is 'He'" employs a marked change in tempo and rhythm, to differentiate between the Indian choruses and the English-language verses.[32]

Release and reception[edit]

Dark Horse was released on 9 December 1974, towards the end of Harrison and Shankar's North American tour.[33] The concerts had attracted scorn from many music critics, partly because of Harrison's choice to feature Indian music so heavily in the program[34][35] and his frequent statements regarding his Hindu faith.[36][37] "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)" appeared as the final track on Dark Horse; it was sequenced after "Far East Man",[38] a song that Harrison biographers interpret variously as a tribute to Shankar and India,[39] or a reaffirmation of the humanitarian goals represented by Harrison and Shankar's Bangladesh aid project.[40] In contrast to his previous work, "It Is 'He'" was the sole example of a devotional song on the album.[41][42] Amid confessionals dealing with Harrison's troubled personal life and rock-star excess, the track has been described by musical biographer Simon Leng as "almost a reminder to himself of golden days in India, when he felt comforted by belief".[41] Given Harrison's marital problems, and the unfavourable reception afforded his tour, author Gary Tillery describes his new relationship with Olivia Arias as "[t]he one bright spot in the problematic year".[43] Harrison met Arias in Los Angeles in October,[44] and used a photo of her on the face label for side two of the Dark Horse LP.[45][nb 3] NME critic Bob Woffinden viewed the inclusion of this image as Harrison ushering in Arias, his future wife, and farewelling Boyd.[47]

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.[48]

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

Like the tour, Dark Horse was much maligned on release,[49][50] and this particular song greeted with "outright hostility" in some quarters, according to Leng.[27] In a rare positive review, Brian Harrigan of Melody Maker called it "a bit of a groover",[51] but more standard was Woffinden's assessment: "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."[52] In their book Eight Arms to Hold You, Chip Madinger and Mark Easter dismiss it as "an inauspicious ending to a half-baked LP".[53]

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."[28] Clayson finds the deceleration into half-time during the verses equally "joyous",[28] 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".[32] 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."[32] Author Elliot Huntley describes it as "Krishna-consciousness psychobabble", with a refrain that is "repeated ad nauseam".[54]

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"[55] – but acknowledges: "the media were sick of the formula, and this was one Krishna paen too many."[27] Leng views "It Is 'He'" as a "charming, upbeat pseudo-calypso" 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.[27]

In addition to the hit singles "My Sweet Lord" and "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)", to which Leng compares the song,[9] "It Is 'He'" shares common musical ground with "Dehradun" and "Gopala Krishna"; these two unreleased Harrison compositions originated from the late 1960s and feature entirely Sanskrit lyrics.[56] After 1974, Harrison no longer wrote songs as obviously Krishna-devotional as "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)",[57] although he returned to recording bhajans intermittently, with songs such as "Dear One" in 1976 and "Life Itself, released in 1981.[58] Theologian 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'".[59]

Personnel[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Harrison biographer Simon Leng writes of him travelling to India with American musician Gary Wright in early 1972.[4] In her 2011 book George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Olivia Harrison includes photos of this visit along with a quote from Wright, but gives the year as 1974.[5]
  2. ^ An earlier, unreleased version of the song featured Bobby Purvis and Bill Elliott of Splinter on backing vocals.[27]
  3. ^ The picture was taken by Harrison's tour photographer, Henry Grossman.[46][24]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c George Harrison, p. 296.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ George Harrison, p. 57.
  4. ^ Leng, pp. 124–25.
  5. ^ Olivia Harrison, p. 258.
  6. ^ Lavezzoli, p. 194.
  7. ^ a b Leng, p. 148.
  8. ^ Tillery, pp. 116–17.
  9. ^ a b c Leng, p. 157.
  10. ^ Olivia Harrison, p. 302.
  11. ^ a b Lavezzoli, p. 195.
  12. ^ Greene, p. 209.
  13. ^ a b Tillery, p. 112.
  14. ^ a b c d George Harrison, pp. 296–97.
  15. ^ a b c George Harrison, p. 297.
  16. ^ Tillery, p. 113.
  17. ^ George Harrison, pp. 296, 297.
  18. ^ Greene, p. 210.
  19. ^ a b Madinger & Easter, p. 442.
  20. ^ Greene, p. 212.
  21. ^ Tillery, p. 119.
  22. ^ Badman, p. 133.
  23. ^ Olivia Harrison, p. 312.
  24. ^ a b Spizer, p. 265.
  25. ^ Badman, p. 135.
  26. ^ Madinger & Easter, pp. 443, 444.
  27. ^ a b c d Leng, p. 158.
  28. ^ a b c d Clayson, p. 344.
  29. ^ Leng, pp. 157–58.
  30. ^ Schaffner, p. 177.
  31. ^ Leng, pp. 130–31.
  32. ^ a b c Inglis, p. 48.
  33. ^ Madinger & Easter, pp. 443, 635.
  34. ^ Schaffner, pp. 177–78.
  35. ^ Lavezzoli, p. 196.
  36. ^ Woffinden, pp. 83–84.
  37. ^ Tillery, pp. 114–15.
  38. ^ Castleman & Podrazik, p. 144.
  39. ^ Inglis, p. 47.
  40. ^ Allison, pp. 69–70.
  41. ^ a b Leng, p. 159.
  42. ^ 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).
  43. ^ Tillery, p. 115.
  44. ^ Olivia Harrison's foreword, in George Harrison, p. 1.
  45. ^ Spizer, pp. 265, 268.
  46. ^ The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 102.
  47. ^ Woffinden, pp. 84–85.
  48. ^ Greene, p. 218.
  49. ^ The Editors of Rolling Stone, pp. 44, 46.
  50. ^ Greene, p. 213.
  51. ^ Brian Harrigan, "Harrison: Eastern Promise", Melody Maker, 21 December 1974, p. 36.
  52. ^ Bob Woffinden, "George Harrison: Dark Horse", NME, 21 December 1974; available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required; retrieved 1 September 2012).
  53. ^ Madinger & Easter, p. 444.
  54. ^ Huntley, p. 112.
  55. ^ Leng, pp. 157, 192.
  56. ^ Madinger & Easter, p. 433.
  57. ^ The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 140.
  58. ^ Leng, pp. 192, 219–20.
  59. ^ Allison, p. 48.

Sources[edit]

  • Dale C. Allison Jr., The Love There That's Sleeping: The Art and Spirituality of George Harrison, Continuum (New York, NY, 2006; ISBN 978-0-8264-1917-0).
  • Keith Badman, The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After the Break-Up 1970–2001, Omnibus Press (London, 2001; ISBN 0-7119-8307-0).
  • Harry Castleman & Walter J. Podrazik, All Together Now: The First Complete Beatles Discography 1961–1975, Ballantine Books (New York, NY, 1976; ISBN 0-345-25680-8).
  • Alan Clayson, George Harrison, Sanctuary (London, 2003; ISBN 1-86074-489-3).
  • The Editors of Rolling Stone, Harrison, Rolling Stone Press/Simon & Schuster (New York, NY, 2002; ISBN 0-7432-3581-9).
  • Joshua M. Greene, Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison, John Wiley & Sons (Hoboken, NJ, 2006; ISBN 978-0-470-12780-3).
  • George Harrison, I Me Mine, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA, 2002; ISBN 0-8118-3793-9).
  • Olivia Harrison, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Abrams (New York, NY, 2011; ISBN 978-1-4197-0220-4).
  • Elliot J. Huntley, Mystical One: George Harrison – After the Break-up of the Beatles, Guernica Editions (Toronto, ON, 2006; ISBN 1-55071-197-0).
  • Ian Inglis, The Words and Music of George Harrison, Praeger (Santa Barbara, CA, 2010; ISBN 978-0-313-37532-3).
  • Peter Lavezzoli, The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, Continuum (New York, NY, 2006; ISBN 0-8264-2819-3).
  • Simon Leng, While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison, Hal Leonard (Milwaukee, WI, 2006; ISBN 1-4234-0609-5).
  • Chip Madinger & Mark Easter, Eight Arms to Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium, 44.1 Productions (Chesterfield, MO, 2000; ISBN 0-615-11724-4).
  • Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY, 1978; ISBN 0-07-055087-5).
  • Bruce Spizer, The Beatles Solo on Apple Records, 498 Productions (New Orleans, LA, 2005; ISBN 0-9662649-5-9).
  • Gary Tillery, Working Class Mystic: A Spiritual Biography of George Harrison, Quest Books (Wheaton, IL, 2011; ISBN 978-0-8356-0900-5).
  • Bob Woffinden, The Beatles Apart, Proteus (London, 1981; ISBN 0-906071-89-5).