Film Review: One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Dass

Worshipful documentary about rocker turned guru Krishna Das will basically appeal to the already—and very, very happily so—converted.

The deeply resonant chanting of Krishna Das (aka KD, aka Jeffrey Kagel) provides the most compelling part of Jeremy Frindel’s documentary about a rocker turned guru. The sincerity and rhythmic savvy of the artist are undeniable and obviously many agree, for he is able to fill huge spaces with devoted followers, most of them white and middle-class—if not much, much better off—who ecstatically sway in time and freely join in with the spiritual euphoria.

Greatly abetted by music producer wiz Rick Rubin, recordings of Krishna Das’ music have also been highly popular, with other music stars like Sting hopping on his transcendental bandwagon. Rubin is interviewed along with a squad of other bearded, graying Jews who have embraced Hinduism, many of them, like Frindel, seeking an alternative lifestyle to the frenzy of show business.

KD was a self-described “neurotic kid from Long Island” with a tendency towards moroseness, so musically talented that he was offered a spot with the group that would become Blue Oyster Cult. But he walked away from this opportunity, and that was the defining moment of his life before he encountered Maharaji (Neem Karoli Baba), a Himalayan saint he went to India to find. The great spiritual awakening began, but he was utterly devastated when Maharaji died (“I never thought I would be happy again”) and descended into the depths of an addiction to free-base cocaine. One more Indian guide eventually shook him out of this funk, and he began performing in yoga studios; that eventually burgeoned into the phenomenon he is today.

One Track Heart is pretty much a sermon to the choir, and one wishes Frindel—also co-founder, with his wife, of the Brooklyn Yoga School—had offered even a rudimentary overview of Hinduism and its basic tenets for the unenlightened laymen in the audience. The film is unabashedly worshipful of KD, as are all the interviewees, who include such eminences as Rubin, Ram Dass, authors Daniel Goleman, Dr. Larry Brilliant and Sharon Salzberg, disabled musician Jason Becker, and Sharon Gannon and David Life (co-founders of ultra-trendy Jivamukti Yoga, which provided KD’s first performing space.)

“I just sit my miserable body in front of the harmonium and squeeze and moan,” says KD, modestly. It’s undoubtedly helpful that he’s also saturninely handsome, as his constituents continually express awe at his charismatic power over people. When one chants, he says, “the outer edges of who we think we are dissolve and just for a moment we touch that place of truth where there’s only one of us in the universe. Even when I think I am a wave, I am just part of the ocean.”

These words are what his devotees revel in, but more skeptical viewers may wish for something more in the way of explanation here, and wonder about the scary power of gurus whose death can utterly destroy their followers’ lives. Isn’t some contingency plan ever preached, along with all the endorphin-charged day-to-present-day guidance? Also, when KD’s manager, Nina Rao, a performer herself, says she ”feared the worst” on first seeing him in t-shirt and sweat pants, followed by his drummer wearing jeans and “looking like he came from a Pennsylvania construction site,” you might think, “Isn’t being non-judgmental supposed to be the basis of this religion?” The thought may also occur to you that the whole subject is ripe for Christopher Guest.