THE PUNK MEETS THE GODMOTHER
THE PUNK MEETS THE GODMOTHER: AN INTERVIEW WITH SYAMA MANJARI (LORA LOGIC).
The following is an interview I did with Lora Logic almost four years ago, in July of 2006. I had met her husband, Yaduraj Das, at Rathayatra (also known as the "Festival of India" ) in New York City a few months prior. I had been introduced to Yaduraj by none other than John Joseph of The Cro-Mags, a man who I can personally say walks the walk and doesn't just talk the talk.
Since putting down drugs and alcohol in 1997, I had developed a keen interest in various forms of Spirituality. Given my vegetarianism, interest in yoga and general fascination with non-Western forms of thought, Krsna Consciousness and I have always been a good fit, although I am hesitant to call myself an actual devotee of it. I had watched the tail end of the "Krsna Core" movement (Shelter, 108 and of course The Cro-Mags) through slightly bemused eyes. I was a bit too old by then to latch onto a new scene, and frankly skeptical of the "Guru" system many devotees of Krsna adhere to. Nonetheless, many of the beliefs and practices resonated with me and do to this day.
It's way beyond the scope of this interview to go into either the Krsna HC scene or the internecine struggles within the religion. But, for a little clarification, Syama and her husband are part of the "Iskcon Revival Movement" (IRM), a group dedicated to bringing back the basics, and doing away with an often corrupt system that puts an earthly Guru ahead of the philosophy of the original spiritual texts. I highly recommend the magazine "Back To Prahbupada" and the book "Monkey On a Stick" for those who would like to know more....although take the latter with a grain of salt, since although it's basic contents have been corroborated by many devotees I know, it's served up with a great deal of sensationalism.
The interview was part of a larger project which just never happened, due to work, family, and life commitments. (Not too mention a good bit of laziness on my part...the revolution will NEVER begin on time if it's up to me). However, I came across this in my files the other day and figured "What the hell, there's at least one or two people on the web who might like this". I would have liked more details about the halcyon days of X-Ray Spex and Essential Logic, but given the crackling nature of an intercontinental phone call (USA to India) and the fact that Syama has moved on, it wasn't to be. Looking at it four years later--through the lens of endless big money reunions, cloying nostalgia and the like--I have a new found appreciation of Syama's stance.
"I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO. AND I HAVE NEVER LOOKED BACK....."
I: Hi, my name is Sascha Gottschalk. I’m working on a book about Krishna Consciousness and the music scene. So I spoke briefly with you husband and he recommended I talk to you. I met him at the Rathayatra a few months back.
F: Yeah, he mentioned it.
I: Could I have your Krishna name again?
F: My Krishna name is Syama Manjari.
I: Okay, I got it. Great. Well do you have a few minutes?
F: Sure, yeah, yeah. I’ve been expecting your call. My husband’s told me about you and I’ve set aside the time.
I: Well first of all, musically have you been recording anything lately?
F: I don’t know if it’s possible for you to speak up. Your voice is quite faint.
I: Okay. Is this better? Can you hear me now?
F: I think so, yes.
I: Okay. I was just asking, my first question was if you’ve been doing anything musically oriented lately?
F: Not since I’ve been in India. But I don’t think you’re aware I had my last record put out about four years ago.
I: Yeah, the . . .
F: Maybe it was three years ago.
I: It was the retrospective?
F: Yeah, pretty much everything under the sun really. It was just on a small independent label. But I had quite, I’ve had good feedback from that. You know, people ring me up here and there. But I’m not, I haven’t been working on anything new at the moment.
I: To go to the beginning, how did you discover punk?
F: How did I discover punk? Well I guess I’ve sort of been a punk in spirit and I was looking for anything alternative or different. And I played the saxophone and I saw an advert in melody maker for a punk musician. And nobody used the word punk in those days. I went to the interview and Polly opened the door, Polly and I sort of hit it off straight away. She was into jumble sales, and so was I. You know, clothes that Grandma would wear with pointy shoes.
F: We had a chat and then the manager decided to give me the job. They didn’t actually want another girl, but because Poly and I hit it off , that was it. I got the job and I was in the band. The band happened very quickly. It was all about the right time and the right place and the right color, the right song.
F: So that was that band.
I: And you gigged with all the big names of the day?
F: Yes. It was an exciting time.
I: And then you ended up leaving X-ray Spex?
F: Yeah, yeah. After about a year.
I: That’s when you formed Essential Logic?
F: Not straight away, no. I was pretty fed up with the music business because it wasn’t very nice the way I, I just was disillusioned by everything. It had been my dream come true. And then I had to, I was kicked out and replaced by another saxophone player. I think Poly started having some mental problems. She had--she has--schizophrenia and she developed this whole thing about me and I had to go and . And then they replaced me without even telling me, with another saxophone player. I was really hurt. So I felt horrible and I went to art school at that point. And then about after about six months, this man kept asking me if I’d like to record a record label, a sales record, if I’d like to put my own band together. And I wasn’t interested. But he kept catching me at lunch break. And then I thought "Okay, why not?" And I just knew a couple of chaps who lived near me and it just happened from there.
I: Okay, that was the first single "Aerosol Burns"?
I: Okay. Now in terms Krishna Consciousness, when did that, was that part of Essential Logic or did that come later?
F: No, that was after. Actually my best friend at school, she moved in to the country. She was a big fan of Essential Logic and we remained close friends for many years. And then-- unbeknownst to me--she moved into the temple and became a Krishna devotee. One day I just saw her on the street with the markings. She had tilak markings on her forehead. She was walking right down the street. I nearly died. When I saw her dressed in a sari singing and dancing with a big smile on her face. I went to the temple with her and tried fish her out. And I ended up really liking what I saw. I liked the food. I really liked the books. The books especially. And gradually I just became more and more involved over the next two, three years, to the point where I decided to take a break from Essential Logic, move into the temple and become a full-time Hare Krishna.
I: Was there any interest in turning Essential Logic into a band that would have a Krishna Conscious message?
F: Yeah, yeah there was. I mean in the beginning I was very interested by different related philosophies. And you know, I used it, that was reflected in the lyrics quite a lot. In the latter part of Essential Logic, the whole lifestyle really started to get me down. No one around me, I didn’t know anyone that wasn’t in a completely different world than the one I was getting into. And nobody could relate to what I was doing or what I wanted to share with them. And they thought I was crazy. Also my health wasn’t very good. I sort of drank too much, smoked too much. The whole lifestyle that I’d been living since I was about 15 was starting to affect me. So I decided I had to make a complete break. And I wanted to make a complete break. Although I never thought I’d give up music. I always thought I’d carry on. But at that point, for my own sort of health and sanity, I wanted to make, I needed to make a complete break. from everybody even though my record company was really disappointed and, people thought I’d gone crazy. But I did what I had to do. And I have never looked back.
I: Now Poly became a devotee as well. Was this around the same time or was it later?
F: Um, around about, around about the same time. She also had devotee friends over the years and she was quite aware of the problems of, so yeah, it was around about the same time. Although at the time we weren’t talking to each other. And I never wanted to see her face again because of the way she had treated me.
F: But we made up. Unfortunately, we don’t really speak now. She really has the best of intentions. But she’s schizophrenic so it’s very hard for anybody to have a consistent relationship with her.
F: But I respect her very much as an artist, you know? And I wish her well.
I: Do you see parallels between people who get into the punk rock, and then do you think there’s a natural attraction for seeking out like a greater spiritual existence with say Krishna Consciousness?
F: Yeah, with some people. But really, I’d say probably more actually with the Hippy Movement. There’s so many people from the 60’s who became devotees. But there’s also the, the mentality is probably more spiritual than the times. Generally.
F: And the drugs they took were more you know, they were looking for higher consciousness. The drugs during the punk era tended to be more destructive more sort of the, not really spiritual, more sensual probably, more destructive. Speed, that kind of thing.
I: Now in the early 1990’s, there was a huge influx of them of Krishna Consciousness into American hardcore punk bands. Were you aware of that at the time?
F: Yeah, I guess I was superficially aware. Superficially aware. I mean I read here and there about in the bands. I met a couple of the devotees in different bands, but I didn't know all that much about it.
I: What about the IRM and the whole Guru Controversy? Your husband Yaduraj is very involved with that?
F: So many people, so many people have fallen by the wayside because of the so called Gurus. And this is a hard spiritual practice to start with…
F: It’s a daily struggle isn’t it?
I: Yes it is. It really is.
F: I find it a daily struggle. Maya is always there and the mind is very fickle and easily distracted. Like so many others I smoked too many drugs as a teenager.
I: Yeah. It’s certainly difficult.
F: So if you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?
I: I’m 35 now.
F: Thirty five, great. Oh, you’re still a spring chicken. [Laughter] I think it gets easier as you get older. The hard realities of life hit home.
I: Do you feel there’s a way of balancing the lifestyle of playing in a band and being in the material world, but carrying a spiritual message? I know I’ve talked to other musicians who are devotees and that’s sort of always sort of an ongoing struggle with the balancing of the two. It seems like a bit of a tightrope act.
F: Yeah I think it is. I mean I haven’t done anything for a while, basically because I have young children. But it’s hard. It is very hard. You’re doing it with the most passion basically. And it’s hard. I think you have to be solid in your spiritual practices you know, to keep everything balanced. Definitely. Yes, it’s a delicate balance. Does that answer your question?
I: Absolutely. Were you aware of how influential both Essential Logic and X-ray Spex had been on the Riot Grrl scene in the US?
I: Really? [Incredulous]
F: No, quite honestly. I’ve spent the last 13 years being a Mom and I haven’t really had much time to keep in touch with the music scene around the world. It’s not really a priority. People send me interviews, or they ring me up for an interview and then they send me their magazine or they send me their book after publication. And then I read about it. But I haven’t really heard anything. I haven’t heard any Riot Grrl music. I don’t even know what it sounds like!
F: I can only imagine from reading the articles I've been sent.
I: What, this is slightly off the topic, but how do you, what’s it like being a former punk and a mother as well now?
F: Uh, living in India. Everything’s very different. I don’t really relate so much to my punk rock days. I think being a Mom is something that most women do. And it of course takes over your life, the reality of things. I mean that punk thing was a little bit of rebellion I had when I was 15 years old. You know, from 15 to 22 or whatever, I was sort of wild. It was my teenage dream. And so you know, it really doesn’t bare too much on reality, life as we know it. It was good though. I mean I think I got it out of my system at that time. And it made me very ready for Krishna Consciousness when I met a devotee. You know, I did a lot of things in a short amount of time.
I: Now in terms of . . .
F: But I guess I got it out of my system.
I: Right. In terms of the ISKCON Revival Movement, now did you, you and Yaduraj have been married for some time and did you get into it at the same time?
F: When my husband realized the importance of it, he started working with Krishnakant who originally explained the whole issue clearly for the first time. So really I think it sort of rubbed upon me from hearing about it all the time. And at first I was a little unsure you know, for the first 18 years of my life or whatever, it is hard just being raised on the whole Guru Conscious thing. It made an awful lot of sense having had an unauthorised Guru myself who had seriously let me and so many other people down. I’d given my life to him and I’d given my savings, so many things, so I was already somewhat disillusioned with the Gurus. It actually made perfect sense to me. What the painful thing was, I just realized that the people that I’d grown up with in Krishna Consciousness, my so-called friends, didn’t’ see things the same way on the Guru issue. I just realized I couldn’t be close to them anymore because I just saw them in a different light. They were happy to carry on the guru bandwagon just for the sake of society, friendship, and community. But actually it just made me realize that it was thoughtless behavior. So that sort of being the toughest thing for me to contend with not being part of all that anymore. The IRM is bit of a punk thing, in a way. We're the punks of the movement.
I: That actually was sort of going to be my next comment. It seems like the IRM--not iconoclastic because obviously you know, there’s still the love of Krishna and Prabhupada--but you’re really trying to affect a positive change you know an established system. Would you say that’s reasonable?
F: Yeah. Yeah. We got a lot of flack. We’re not very popular. You know, we don’t relate to people that we grew up with on this kind of thing, where they are still worshipping the false gurus. You’ve got to do things in life. But it’s really my husband. It’s not me so much. As I say, I followed him on that one. But I do accept it, 100 percent.
F: And if you’re going to go for something as radical as Krishna Consciousness, well you know, you might as well stick with the real thing.
F: And yeah, might as well do it properly.
I: Do you have any sort of closing comments you’d like to make about Krishna Consciousness? Or anything we've touched on?
F: What can I say that hasn’t been said before? What’s the title of your book?
I: Oh God, I'm not even there yet! But I was thinking of calling it "Beyond Zero Gravity", at least as a working title.
F: Uh huh. Sounds good.
I: If you have any suggestions I’d be happy to take them. This whole project is still in it's embryonic stages.
F: Great. I can’t really think of any final comments here. I’ll leave it up to you. I’m sure you’ll come up with something. Just keep in mind that all this is a process, whether it's the book or life. Hare Krishna…and good luck.