In One Track Heart, after reciting a spiritualist maxim about servitude or self-abnegation or the like, Krishna Das has the unfortunate habit of letting his gaze linger on the camera, eyebrows raised, head just perceptibly nodding as if to say, “How indisputably cool was that?” Jeffrey Kagel, the subject of this documentary by Jeremy Frindel, is your everyday, average Long Islander who once turned down a gig as a the frontman of Blue Öyster Cult in order to indulge in a life of asceticism—which, as suggested by events depicted in this documentary, is not a contradiction. Frindel sets out to craft a legend around Kagel’s early-’70s apprenticeship in the Himalayan foothills and his emergence as the Grammy-nominated chant master Krishna Das, a thoroughly new-school Krishna who uses terms like “bullshit” and prefers to go by “KD.” In traditional music-doc form, Frindel devotes screen time to tour-bus antics, concert shots, and crowd-pans of the Krishna’s groupies—who, for all appearances, seem to hail from the same division of bindi-embossed suburban moms who practice baby yoga with their bemused offspring as props. Nevertheless, the director makes the case that Kagel’s legitimacy in the faith is uncompromised by commercial success, chronicling long years in India and Kagel’s close relationship with the Maharaji Neem Karoli Baba. “I walked around barefoot in a red dress for a year and a half,” the Krishna remembers and laughs as the frame zooms in on photo evidence. Frindel can’t rescue Kagel from marginalization as a New Agey preacher man, but he does portray this hippest of all Krishnas as someone who deeply believes in the self-sacrificing mantra he chants, even if the very act of starring in a film seems to threaten it.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 10, 2013