Ram Dass: Emerging from Grief

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Staring at the vastness of Niagara Falls, Ram Dass could not process the wonder or majesty of this powerful force of nature. He could not hear the booming sounds of the water crashing below him. He could not feel the water dancing in the air around him. All he knew was that his son was going to die. His pregnant wife was on the opposite coast while he was on tour, and they each processed this news alone. The incomprehensible journey of birth and death in the months ahead would change them. His wife’s subsequent battle with cancer and recovery, the end of their marriage, the reality of the ephemeral nature of life would leave its mark on him. Seven years after losing his son, Ram Dass would finally find the space to grieve his loss, and to lament the loss of the life he thought he would have, the only way an artist can.

Ram Dass is a music maker. He took all the rawness, the trapped emotion, the feelings that had no outlet, and released them through his songs. ‘And Now He Has Wings’ was born of that profound process. It is an album without words. You feel the beautiful sadness in its sounds, in the unnamed calling out of grief, and the powerful undercurrents of emotion infused into every note. The violins sing of loss. The guitar strings vibrate despair. The sounds of longing escape in wordless songs. The beauty and mystery of this collection of music is that in the listening, as in the making, lies the healing of those wounds. The process of creating this music began to mend his broken heart.

Ram Dass is a bit of a sound sorcerer. Not only in conjuring up his own songs, but also as a producer, leading  others through the creation process. When you see him at the control panels in his studio, surrounded by his equipment—his Microtech Gefell and Samar Audio microphones; Focal monitoring; his screen lit up with Avid ProTools; the walls filled with Martin acoustic guitars, Fender electric guitars, and Buffet Crampon clarinets—it feels like some strange magic when the sounds that emerge from the surround speakers are of the earth and the sky and somewhere out in the ethers. Ram Dass has produced records for a multitude of artists across varied genres, gently and skillfully guiding their process of music creation.

While he has always had an affinity for animals, even wanting to be a veterinarian before music became his primary focus, Ram Dass now has a bit of a menagerie that frequent his home studio with two cats, a dog, and a large property filled with squirrels, hummingbirds, opossums, and owls. His dog, Luna, can be found sitting either on the studio couch or on his lap while he works. Animals have a deep sensitivity to the emotions of humans, and his pets seem attuned to the goings on.  Luna will comfort and soothe musicians with her presence as they sing or play their instruments. Ram Dass understands that creating new music is about opening a space beyond just the technical ingredients of composition and instrumentation.

Ram Dass has music in his DNA. The magic that Ram Dass brings to his productions is the product of decades of hard work. Born into a family of classically-trained musicians, he began learning to play music as he learned to speak. He was a child prodigy who played at Carnegie Hall at the age of 15. He plays a myriad of instruments. His ability to sing in a nearly 3-octave range has made him much sought after, with his vocal harmonies included on over 100 song recordings. Ram Dass has performed live at the Grammys. He has toured with dozens of artists. He released a self-produced album of his own when he was only 23. But this brush with the fragility of life and the reality of death gave him permission to dive into another layer of the power that music holds.

Ram Dass received an incredible response to ‘And Now He Has Wings’ when it was released.  Listeners wanted to have more of the same. But instead of creating more in the same style, Ram Dass took a slight turn with his new album:  He decided to give words to his music.  His upcoming album, ‘The Unimaginable’ is a beautiful collection of songs, most of which are delicate poems put to music along with two instrumental variations of a classical prelude, composed as their counterpoint. And while the collection still speaks of grief and despair, it offers a more tangible experience of the emergence from grief. Through lyric and song, Ram Dass shares those things in this world that helped his healing process. They even speak of joy.  You might laugh. You might dance. But hopefully you will sing and feel the incredible power of releasing what holds you back when you sing.






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