Although he was not the first to bring yoga and Eastern spiritualism to the US, Paramahansa Yogananda’s extended 30-year residency in America significantly impacted its proliferation. His popularity was due in part to his dedication to living and working in America, which he believed was his calling, but extended to his relatable and scientifically-grounded teachings.
Yogananda’s first lecture in the US was delivered in Boson and titled The Science of Yoga. He spoke of restructuring the brain through the repetition of meditation, creating grooves he likened to those on a phonograph record. This analogy is now understood to be an early understanding of neuroplasticity, something that wouldn’t be studied for decades. Although Yogananda’s concepts may have been advanced, relating them to elements in the physical world as well as aligning them with science brought the mystical experience down to an approachable level.
Yogananda was a man of his times, describing everyday life as vivid cinematic experiences that could be fantastic while not authentic. The filmmakers of Awake: The Life of Yogananda run with this idea as seen through documentary footage, with the grainy quality to be expected from early film, spliced with surrealistic reenactments and manipulation of still images focusing on Yogananda’s arresting gaze. The film attempts to create a historically accurate portrait of Yogananda and a record of his teachings in the United States while only hinting at reported scandals and accusations among his contemporary yogis. Focusing on the facts of his teachings and the beliefs of his followers without questioning their validity at times creates the feeling that one is watching a late-night infomercial. Still, the testimonials are from people such as George Harrison, Deepak Chopra and 30+ year practicing followers like Sister Premamayee. The facts of Yogananda’s life, as related by believers, make a strong case for a life of isolated meditation as the true path to self-realization.
The documentary montages of Yogananda’s Vedic teachings practiced in modern settings across the globe are entirely images of quiet, solemn meditation; that is, except for the images of a large group of spandex-clad women doing yoga in Times Square. While Yoganananda used popular culture to his advantage, the latter in turn may have adopted some of the more superficial aspects of the former’s teachings. The possibility that an individual would internalize the spiritual benefits over time seems to be an example of both his patience and confidence in his message. A particularly telling interaction is related by actor and jazz singer Herb Jeffries. Rather than forbidding Jefrries’ behaviors of drinking and womanizing in order to practice meditation, Yogananda slyly says he can’t promise that, through meditation, those behaviors won’t become less appealing. The filmmakers, with their ever-present, hypnotizing Eastern music and compelling imagery, similarly challenge you not to consider yoga and meditation as a serious lifestyle change.
Awake had a limited local run, but you can request a screening through Gathr.
Aziz Ansari is ready for his blurry phone photo (source)
Sunday night in Boston, comedian Aziz Ansari performed a benefit for the Boston Marathon bombing victims at The Wilbur Theater. Tickets for the show, announced only hours before they went on sale, sold out in five minutes. Ansari’s fans, hooked into social media, were ready to pounce at noon causing him to say that those in attendance Sunday frightened him a little. Ansari went on to stand still center stage encouraging everyone to take their photos of him before he started any jokes. Anyone who didn’t have a camera out proceeded to hold up their phone and snap away. Ansari remarked, “This is what I have to do now.” (more…)
The Americans, the new TV drama on FX, follows married KGB sleeper agents living in the US as they carry out missions that are too violent, or sometimes sexually explicit, for a primetime audience. Hopefully this new drama won’t die in the mid-week, late-night spot.
Watching Beyonce swing her hair around during the Super Bowl halftime show, my mind started to wander over to another dynamic and extremely different musician I had seen recently. Reflecting on Kathleen Edwards‘ performance last week at Brighton Music Hall, I came upon a version of the same question I ask myself about most of my favorite artists: Why isn’t Kathleen Edwards more popular? I might append “in the US” to that as all of Canada will politely remind you that Kathleen Edwards and hockey belong to them.
The Magnetic Fields – “Andrew In Drag” – ATP Festival
The lyrics to any Magnetic Fields song, if read, appear overly simplistic and often disturbing. The voices of Claudia Gonson, Shirley Simms, and Stephin Merritt easily recreate them as lighthearted, humorous or heartbreaking –sometimes all in the same song. (more…)
Describing Stephen Tobolowsky as “the bald guy in Groundhog Day” is guaranteed to get one of two reactions: “I never saw Groundhog Day” or “Ned!”
Tramp, Sharon Van Etten’s third album, is washed in a plaintive mood but is driven by an urgency that keeps it interesting. On more optimistic songs like “Leonard”, Sharon Van Etten’s vocals become operatic, one word stretched across a few scales creating constant crescendos. Where someone like Rufus Wainwright would break into a falsetto with a horn section blaring, Van Etten lets the sound swim around as an accompaniment to her voice. At times her slight lilt is taunting the music to catch up to her. Songs like “All I Can” that build softly musically would benefit from a little more variation that the welcome back up vocals from Beirut’s Zach Condon on “We are Fine” bring. Produced by Aaron Dessner of The National, Tramp is a nice medium between Van Etten’s quieter singer-songwriter style and the strong, loud work she jumped to with 2010’s Epic.
Sharon Van Etten performs Thursday, February 23rd, at The Paradise.
Matt King doesn’t have time for his emotions. He’s in the middle of a real estate deal that could result in signing over to developers of a large plot of virgin Hawaiin land entrusted to King’s family by their ancestors. Even when taking care of a schoolyard quarrel between his daughter and a classmate, he is reminded that everyone is anticipating his decision. On top of that, he’s clumsily caring for his two daughters and trying to figure out the logistics of his wife’s impending death. The responsibility of being the public face of both a well-known ancestral lineage on large, public scale as well as on a personal level with friends and family takes precedence over his own feelings. (more…)
Any song Elvis Costello sings sounds like an Elvis Costello song, so I’m always surprised to find out about songs he didn’t write. Possibly his most well-known song, “(What’s so funny about) Peace Love and Understanding” was written and first recorded by Nick Lowe, later Elvis’ producer on Armed Forces. Elvis recorded it as a B-side to a Nick Lowe single and tacked it onto Armed Forces for the 1979 American release when his cover became a hit in the UK. This was back in the days when a hit single could make a hit record. The album went gold in the US and has been hailed as helping define New Wave by Rolling Stone. Elvis was at the height of his popularity and it’s impossible to know how big an impact the addition of “Peace Love and Understanding” had on record sales. Still, these days you know you haven’t come to the end of an Elvis Costello concert until the short, sweaty man in huge glasses sings “Peace Love and Understanding” (the suit in the above photo began as the same shade of gray). (more…)
Mary Timony (photo by Catherine Maldonado)
Janet Weiss, Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, and Rebecca Cole, collectively called Wild Flag, returned to Boston after their summer show at The Brighton Music Hall, for a concert at The Paradise.My favorite line from their self-titled, debut album as a group is in the song “Something Came Over Me.” The phrase “let the good times toll” which, despite the double meaning, connotes “ring out.” Mary Timony couldn’t help letting a “let the good times roll” squeak out at least once. The lyrics, many of which are directly related to sound and listening to music, truly come alive in concert. The joy and enthusiasm of the performance demonstrates just how much desire all the members of Wild Flag have to continue making music. Having spent time in well respected bands like Sleater Kinney, Helium and The Minders, they’re proving that their time’s not up yet. (more…)