So you were united in opposing this common enemy, this other force.
“I mean, the force was just so different than us – mainstream music, mainstream food, mainstream lifestyle, mainstream clothing – and in retrospect, even though we were all completely different and the people I hung out with were nothing like mes. That’s what New York was like in the ’80s – at least the culture of mine. There was mainstream culture in New York too, but it was a weird place. It was a sort of Wild West, so to speak – the police were corrupt, the city was dangerous. The city now is like a Disneyland and it’s safe; I’m happy because my mom lives there and I’m glad she’s not dealing with the stuff we had to deal with. But back then it was scary, so you clumped together with other people.
"One of the biggest yoga groups in the world is called Jivamukti. They have this big place in London, a big place in New York, and the founders of that were these punk guys we knew from the Lower East Side – they were just a freaky group also that did yoga. It wasn’t such a weird thing, but it was a different thing, and now, 30 years in, the tree has just grown different fruits. Now the fruit is that I’m a yoga teacher and a father, and I did all this stuff in my youth and occasionally we get together and write songs and play music.”
How important was it for you to spread your message – with Shelter particularly? Presumably that was an integral part of what you were doing.
“I feel music and messages go hand in hand together – otherwise music just becomes a soundtrack. Which is okay. But I feel if you have a stage to say something that’s going to benefit people, why not use that stage? It’s almost like you get a platform to speak and if you have something good to say you can really affect people in a deep way – why would you waste that opportunity? For me, times were so problematic that I always felt myself like a mouthpiece of social change – which stems from your own personal change – and I still feel like it’s important to say those things. It’s how I want to raise my kids, it’s how I teach my yoga students, it’s how I wrote my lyrics. I feel like I have a platform to lead by example and to share that. Especially when they’re stemming from an inspirational place. For me, it was old wisdom literature from Ancient India. I felt these were so deep, and we’ve gone so off-track in modern culture that it would help for people to just hear these type of things. So in a very broadminded way, I tried to put these truthful ideas as lyrics.
"Instead of writing a love song, or a song about being broken-hearted, which are really just like reading a tabloid, and who wants to read or hear that? If I’m going to give a person a book, I’d rather give them Shakespeare than People magazine – so if there’s some truth you can give a person in a CD or an LP or some music, give them some truth, instead of the same old dumb love song that everybody’s been singing forever.”
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Punk’s always been a little bit against that, and against the sappy old love song.
“Punk’s been sort of everything, and it’s always been. After punk rock, it’s like, how much do you want to hear about how much you want to hate the government? How about work on your own problems? And even with, say, a marriage problem – if you go to a good therapist, what’s a good therapist going to say? ‘You got a problem with your wife? What’s your problem?’ Anybody who’s a little bit thoughtful, right down to Western therapy, will say ‘Stop complaining and start working on yourself.’ So you’re right – punk went through this whole phase, where it’s like you want to blame the government, you want to blame the Queen, you want to blame the president, you want to blame the CIA. I get it. They’re corrupt, they’ve got deep pockets, they couldn’t give a shit about you – I get that. But what about you? When are you going to change yourself? I know you want the whole world to change, but when are you going to change? And I think that’s why I liked straight edge – I felt like we’re turning the microscope on me. And I felt like at the same time you can get a little arrogant with that too, and I felt like my next band, Shelter, got a little bit more into dealing with the stuff that the Buddhists or the Hindus wrote about. Some people would even say, ‘Yeah, you can’t write about spiritual things with punk’ and my answer to that was, ‘I thought you said there are no rules? If there’s no rules, fuck you. I can write whatever I want. Don’t say there’s no rules and now all of a sudden come after me with some rules?’”
Do you think you made things harder for yourself by being who you were?
“Here’s the deal. If you have some deep, deep inner calling within your heart, what are you going to do? Dumb that down to win people over? All you can do is follow and speak your heart. And if people don’t like you, you’re going to have to let that go. If I’m here just to please people, what’s that going to get me in life? Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you believe in, despite public opinion. And you know what? It worked out good. For all the people that gave me the finger, there’s a bunch of people who are like, ‘That changed my life.’ I’ve met kids all over the world who got serious about their spiritual life – not just Eastern spiritual life, but I’ve met people who have become Christian mystics from listening to Shelter. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a home run – for a person to get serious about their own spiritual life.”