In the 1970s, Bob Seger wrote and sang that he would travel to Katmandu. It was really, really where he was going to, if he ever could get out of “here.” Seger never went to the high and deep East; he kept on being a rock star – who wouldn’t? A young, shaggy Jeffrey Kagel wouldn’t, and didn’t. According to Jeremy Frindel’s gentle, helpful documentary on Kagel – who is now known as Krishna Das, a Grammy-winning kirtan-chant songster and spiritual leader – turned down a chance to sing with a band that eventually became Blue Oyster Cult, the early metal-rock kingpins who advised millions of FM radio listeners not to “fear the reaper.”
Living an acid-drenched life of quiet despair and intrigued by Buddhism and Hinduism, Kagel dropped out of university, changed his name and headed for the Himalayas in search of happiness and the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba (aka Maharaj-ji).
He found both and, periodically within the course of his life, lost both. Over the course of 72 compelling enough minutes, Das tells his story, with some help from science journalist and Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, music producer Rick Rubin and others. One scene involves Jason Becker, a former musical prodigy who has lived with Lou Gehrig’s disease for more than 20 years and still manages to produce music, in his way. The onetime virtuoso guitarist is also the subject of an inspirational documentary: Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.
Das’s ups and downs are waves of an ocean, and the repeating narrative to his life. We learn about his saint Maharaj-ji – “a dispenser of divine grace,” says Das – and we learn about the value of getting out of one’s own way, as a necessity of enlightenment. We do not learn about Das’s money-laundering conviction in 2002. And I’m not sure we really find out what makes this man tick.
But then again, this is mysticism, right? “I don’t even know it happened,” Das says, of his unlikely mountain of a career climb.
If we don’t have it all figured out, the story is charismatic enough. It is told in a level-headed way which avoids the emotional high highs and low lows – which is, as one of the film’s gurus advises his followers, the way to do it.