On November 2nd, 1974, ex-Beatle George Harrison launched his North American tour in Vancouver, Canada. Since George was a follower of Krishna consciousness, the Vancouver devotees were eager to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books and magazines to local fans attending his concert. George was expected to play a number of hits from his latest record ("Living in the Material World"), which contained many songs of devotion to the Lord:
"I’m living in the material world
Living in the material world
I hope to get out of this place
By the Lord Sri Krishna's grace
My salvation from the material world."
As we entered the Pacific Coliseum, Mahesh Prabhu and I headed for the floor, our saffron bags filled with books, magazines and incense. The crowd was obviously excited as we gradually walked to the front of the stage distributing our spiritual goods along the way. "Hare Krishna" people shouted. Many of George's fans knew that he had an affinity towards our movement, so they were very friendly and supportive. When the concert began, George appeared on stage wearing a number of badges with spiritual pictures and "om" signs. His neck was adorned with tulasi beads.
Mahesh pulled out a large hardbound edition of Srila Prabhupada's Krishna Book which had been published with the help of a kind donation by George Harrison himself. When Mahesh got to the front row, he held the Krishna Book high in the air so that George could possibly see it from the stage. As he made his way towards Mahesh, George in fact noticed Srila Prabhupada's book. His eyes lit up and a large smile beamed across his face as he bowed his head in respect. Since Mahesh was a big fan of the Beatles before joining ISKCON, he was thrilled to have this simple transcendental exchange with one of his old heroes. What an auspicious start to George Harrison’s 1974 tour.
However, not all efforts to preach to rock stars were successful. In 1975, the devotees at the Montreal temple learned that Frank Zappa — the avante-garde maestro of rock music— would be appearing at the Montreal Forum along with his band "The Mothers of Invention." Devotees made plans for a large harinama party outside the building. Despite the anticipated security, I was hoping to give Mr. Zappa one of Srila Prabhupada’s books. Thinking that he might find it intriguing, I chose a copy of the Seventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam with a picture of Lord Nrsimhadeva on the front cover. Also included was an invitation to the temple, a Hare Krishna mantra card and a copy of Back to Godhead magazine.
On the day of the concert the devotees turned up in full force outside the Montreal Forum. Since the chanting of Hare Krishna is intensified when there are more participants, the kirtan was especially sweet and powerful. Midway through the harinama I made a move towards the back of the building. There I discovered a doorway crowded with fans and security guards. I tried to get permission to enter the door, but was refused. After a few attempts I finally decided to return to the harinama party out front. Just then a man dressed in a business suit walked by. He seemed important, so I inquired about his identity from one of the security guards. "That’s Zappa's manager," he replied. Here was my chance. "Excuse me sir," I shouted in his direction as he walked briskly towards what I assumed was the rock star's dressing room. "I'd like to give this book and invitation to Frank Zappa." He paused for a second and then replied, "Well, I can’t take you in, but I can give him the book" That was good enough for me. As he left with a copy of Prabhupada's Bhagavatam in hand, I assumed that the matter was over and done with. So I was quite surprised when a few minutes later the man reappeared and called out, "Frank wants to see you." The crowd parted and I was ushered backstage like a V.I.P.
When I reached the dressing room, Frank Zappa was sitting on a chair strumming his guitar. His hair was tied in a ponytail and he wore purple leotards. The room was small and messy with plates of food scattered here and there. "Hare Krishna," I said with folded palms and smiling face. I assumed that he must have been interested in Prabhupada's book since he had made the effort to call me backstage only fifteen minutes before his concert was about to begin.
"I just wanted to tell you that I don't want this book," he announced. Taken aback, I realized that I'd have to try hard to convince him that it might provide some value or interest for him. "This book was originally compiled in Sanskrit over 5,000 years ago," I began. "No it wasn't," he retorted sarcastically. "It was actually 4,999 and a half years ago." I could see that this wasn't going to be easy. We conversed for over half an hour, but he challenged and refuted everything I said. I tried to be polite and not argue with his sharp comebacks, but after some time it was obvious that he had already made up his mind. He wasn't interested in Krishna. He wouldn't even budge when I requested that he please consider the book as a humble gift from me to him. He picked up the invitation and said, "But I'll keep this." Although Frank Zappa didn't accept Srila Prabhupada's book or visit the temple, the kirtan outside his concert that night was especially ecstatic despite the cold winter weather. At least Zappa's fans enjoyed the chanting.
The next popular musician to visit Montreal was Bob Dylan on December 12th, 1975. He was traveling with a large entourage of musicians, artists and poets — including Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuinn, Allen Ginsberg and others — in what was billed as the "Rolling Thunder Revue." Again I somehow managed to get backstage. Many of the performers were already hurrying to climb the stairs for their performance, so I had to act fast. Luckily, I spotted Canadian folk singer, Joni Mitchell. "Joni," I called. She turned in my direction and I said, "Hare Krishna," handing her a Back to Godhead magazine and a large bunch of red carnations offered to the Deities. She accepted them graciously and then bounded for the stage. As the curtains opened and the music began, I was delighted to see a number of famous artists holding red carnations in their hands. A roar of approval swept through the front rows of the audience as the performers onstage began throwing Krishna’s flowers to their adoring fans.
The next day, Satyahit Prabhu and I decided to try and meet Bob Dylan in his hotel room downtown. Somehow or other we managed to convince the hotel receptionist that Dylan would like to meet a couple of Hare Krishna devotees. So he rang upstairs and spoke to Dylan's manager who told him to send us right up. When we arrived at his room, he greeted us warmly. "Bob's out shooting a movie right now," he said, "but I'm sure that he'd like to meet you when he returns." Meanwhile he was interested in Krishna consciousness, so we spoke in length with this friendly and receptive man.
After a few hours it was getting late and Dylan still hadn't returned. So we finally begged permission to go, but not without leaving behind a basket of fruits and sweets, along with an invitation for Dylan and his friends to attend the Sunday Love Feast, plus a few small books and Back to Godhead magazines. Although they never visited the Montreal temple, Bob Dylan and his friends had contacted Krishna in the form of His transcendental prasadam, flowers and literature. By Prabhupada's grace, there is no limit as to who can receive — or distribute — the mercy of Krishna consciousness.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
By Padmapani das