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Review: One Track Heart

  • A behind the scenes shot of director Jeremy Frindel filming at the Kainchi temple in India, 2009 ( Zeitgeist Films / Substratum Films)

Meditation is a way to practice letting go of expectations. In that spirit, "One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das" is a fine enough documentary, a nice enough introduction to a charismatic figure with a fascinating life, an unusual art and worldwide fans. But oh, what might have been. (It is an elusive goal, this letting go of expectations.)

Krishna Das is a singer of kirtan, a call-and-response chanting of, normally, names for God in Sanskrit. Some of this film's best moments feature him performing kirtan in his low rumble for ecstatic, blissed-out audience members in churches, yoga centers and concert halls. Krishna Das, also known as KD to his fans, turns 66 this month and has a busy touring schedule and several albums.

He was born on Long Island as Jeffrey Kagel, who grew to be a budding rocker. As a confused seeker in the late '60s, he met Ram Dass -- also American, born Richard Alpert -- who turned him toward India and Neem Karoli Baba, known to his followers as Maharajji. Kagel considered Maharajji his guru, and Maharajji gave him his new name. With his guru, the reborn Krishna Das chanted, loved and learned.

Still, Maharajji sent him back to the United States and, soon after, died. His devotee then felt lost in grief, wrestling with depression and drugs before remembering his promise to his guru: I will sing for you in America.

Yet Krishna Das, having reversed his life's course several times, is no stereotypical mystic: He wears his Long Island heritage as closely as he does his red flannel and red T-shirts. Casual, humble and appealing, likely to speak obscenities as well as ideas.

Unfortunatley the film makes almost no room for its subject's interactions with others. "One Track Heart" is too idealizing to dive into messy spots, where truth tends to live. YouTube clips can offer as much insight. A little dialogue, a little mixing it up with friends, a little picture of Krishna Das's daily life would have gone a long way toward giving this documentary texture.

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