La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House

8. Pandit Pran Nath

FRANK J. OTERI: At the same time that you were studying raga, immersing yourself in Indian classical music and giving your all to your guru, you were also actively pursuing your work as a composer and your work as a performer in non-Indian music with The Well-Tuned Piano. You said that Pandit Pran Nath heard it Rome. So he was supportive of the work you did outside Indian classical music.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Absolutely. That’s right.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s remarkable!

MARIAN ZAZEELA: He was very remarkable.

LA MONTE YOUNG: He was a remarkable human being. He was a rare person. In India, it’s true, everybody says my guru is the greatest and nobody else is any good. So I accept that context, but even so, Pandit Pran Nath was a miracle of God, literally. He was a very rare human being. He definitely had extraordinary psychic and physical powers. One time he gave us a letter that we were supposed to mail and he said, “Don’t mail it until tomorrow morning. I’ll let you know.” We were in India. And we thought: we’ll mail it now. The post office is still open. We want to be sure we’ll manage it. We don’t want to be late in the morning. So we did it.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: The next day something came in the mail that drastically changed the plan that we had. It had to do with a tour that we were going to be on in Europe after we left India. And something came in the mail the next day. And I guess we came to his house and the mail came there. And he got the letter and we read it to him because it was probably in English. And it turned out that something, which I don’t even remember, some detail that was in the letter we were sending was going to be wrong. So, of course we then had to confess that we already mailed it. And he said, “I told you not to.”

LA MONTE YOUNG: [laughs]

MARIAN ZAZEELA: He came with us. We went back to the post office and convinced them to give up this registered letter in India, where they’re martinettes. You think of the Post Office here

LA MONTE YOUNG: Talk about red tape… Perfect administrators, the postal clerks!

MARIAN ZAZEELA: We did get the letter back. But it was an example. You really have to learn to do what the guru says because you just don’t always know why.

LA MONTE YOUNG: And that’s why it is necessary that the guru be a real guru and that you have ultimate respect for the guru. Because if you get hooked up with the wrong person, it could be a travesty… But it was a miracle the way we were brought to him and he was brought to us. We went to a Bismillah Khan concert. Ralph Metzner took us.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: You know who Ralph Metzner was? He and Timothy Leary and…

LA MONTE YOUNG:Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert)…

MARIAN ZAZEELA: …were the big three in the psychedelic movement in America in the mid ’60s.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Ralph Metzner was the editor of a periodical called The Psychedelic Review and he had published an article by Alain Danielou on sound in which he talks about some of these vibrational processes that I had become very interested in. So, we went together with Ralph Metzner to a Bismillah Khan concert. And there Ralph Metzner introduced us to Shyam Bhatnagar. And Shyam said, “Well, if you like this, I have some tapes that you really must hear.” And then he brought us these tapes of Pandit Pran Nath. And that’s when I first heard Pandit Pran Nath singing in 1967. And together we worked with Shyam to bring Pandit Pran Nath in January of 1970.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: Actually, we thought that we would have to go to India. We started corresponding with him. Shyam suggested writing him a letter. Of course, there was no phone. He had no phone in his home until much, much later. And, it’s hard in the context of our rapid-fire digital world, to look back only what was it, 35 or something years ago to what it was like. Looking back to when La Monte was a child and living in that primitivism in Bern, Idaho. But in 1967, you still wrote letters and so on. Anyway, we thought we would have to go to India and were planning to go and then Shyam had the idea to try to make an arrangement to bring him here. So we went along with that and we succeeded.

LA MONTE YOUNG: And, in turn, he wanted to come here. It was very good for him. The economic opportunity for an Indian in America is just fantastic.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: He had three daughters and this was a big burden to him. In an Indian household, you have to come up with the dowries to make a good marriage.

LA MONTE YOUNG: So part of our service to our teacher was to help him earn money so that he could eventually arrange for the weddings of his daughters.