Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)

Ravi Shankar died Tuesday, at the age of 92. Wow, I guess I'm getting old, huh?

Yeah, I know. This shouldn't be about me. But the news has me remembering 1972, when I saw Ravi Shankar in concert in West Berlin.

Admittedly, that was mostly accidental. I did think his music was neat, but it was also the only major concert available when I was in Berlin. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. And he was big back then. I didn't think of it as a consolation prize.

That was back before the reunification of Germany, of course, and there was just one highway route available for westerners through East Germany to West Berlin. I was hitchhiking and got a ride on the West German side of the border. But, for some reason, my ride was only going half-way to Berlin.

I never understood why - the language barrier, you know - since there wasn't anywhere else you could go in East Germany, not freely, as far as I knew. (I could, and did, tour East Berlin, but that was a special case.)

Anyway, for whatever reason, I ended up hitchhiking alone in the middle of East Germany, and I got picked up by a tour bus! They gave me a free ride to West Berlin, because they said I could get in trouble on my own like that.

That has nothing to do with Ravi Shankar, but the whole experience brings back memories. Once I got to Berlin, I pissed on the wall dividing East and West (hey, I was young, and it seemed an appropriate way to express my contempt), and I even tore off a piece of rusty barbed wire, to take home as a souvenir. (I wore it as a bracelet, occasionally - just for a little while - and finally threw it away years later.)

The next day, I went through Checkpoint Charlie and looked around East Berlin. The East Germans required that tourists exchange a certain amount of money, which couldn't be changed back, so it had to be spent in East Berlin.

But what I really remember about all that was how West Berlin, near the wall, was completely undeveloped. The heart of the city was just a few blocks away, but near the wall, the buildings still showed bullet holes and other damage from World War II. It just seemed so bizarre to me.

Anyway, you might honor Ravi Shankar by listening to that video clip (from the Dick Cavett Show, the year before I saw him, I think). And think about how the world changes. We're all busy making history here, whether we realize it or not.

And making history is the appropriate phrase. You might think you're an idle spectator, but your apathy is also one of the threads by which history is weaved. Apathy is not a very strong thread. Indeed, it weakens the whole fabric. But none of us stands outside history.

This is a good time to remember that.

1 comment:

Chimeradave said...

Wow that's too cool. my brother went to Germany and brought me home a piece of the wall. It has a certificate of authenticity so I figure it's real.