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BOOK REVIEW: "Train Wrecks & Transcendence" by Vic DiCara

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BOOK REVIEW: Train Wrecks & Transcendence: A Collection of Hardcore & Hare Krishna by Vic DiCara (independent) 2016

Back in the early-to-mid 1990’s, I was a student at a small, conservative, Christian college in Arkansas and it goes without saying that I did not fit in at all, particularly when it came to my leftist politics and beliefs.

I was a committed activist in those days. I participated in protesting circuses with fellow animal-rights advocates. I supported environmental activists protesting logging efforts in the Ozark Mountains. Our college drove out gay students and professors, something that angered me to no end and something I was vocally against. Fortunately a lot has changed at that college in the interim.

In any event, my battered Chevy Celebrity, covered in progressive cause bumper stickers stood out in this community. And one day it caught the eye of a passing Hare Krishna devotee who told me he was on his way back to Dallas. My “Meat is Murder” sticker told him that he suspected I was a vegetarian or even a vegan and he asked me if I was familiar with Hare Krishna.

I told him I was. He handed me a book, as Hare Krishnas often do, and it was Sri Isopanisad, by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the leader of the Hare Krishna movement.

I recall being disappointed that this friendly Hare Krishna didn’t suggest I come down to the Dallas temple with him and join in the chanting and kirtan, because I was in a place in my life where I would have done just that, with a little encouragement.

In any event, I did not. But a native New Yorker named Vic DiCara did a few years before my own encounter, but in DiCara’s case he fully embraced the Hare Krishna religious belief systems and philosophies as put forth by Prabhupada who came to America from India and established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in 1966 – introducing the nascent American counterculture to this interesting branch of Hindu beliefs, based on select scriptures from the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam.

For baby boomers who were looking for themselves in the 1960’s and 70’s, the Hare Krishna movement provided the answers, with big celebrities like Beatles guitarist/singer George Harrison becoming a big advocate during the period when he was immersing himself in Eastern mysticism and philosophy, as well as learning the sitar from Indian musician Ravi Shankar.

But back to Vic DiCara. This was a guy, not unlike myself, who was drawn to role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, skateboarding and punk rock music. I was not very good at D&D, a terrible skater and an amateur drummer in a punk rock band called Technicolor Stew.

Still, reading DiCara’s memoirs of his time from roughly 1987 to 1996, when he was immersed in the culture of Krishna consciousness, I felt like I was right there with him, trying to live a pure life while seeking transcendence and being hardcore, particularly in the area of punk rock music.

In the Northeastern U.S., where this Italian-American seeker lived, straightedge punk, like that of Minor Threat, was gaining popularity. No drugs. No drinking. No illicit sex. Being vegetarian.

And a lot of these rules crossed over into the realm of Hare Krishna life. Little did DiCara know that Krishna consciousness and the Vedic lifestyle, embraced by hardcore punk bands like the Cro-Mags and Youth of Today, would be entering his life in a big way, particularly the latter band, whose lead singer/songwriter, Ray Cappo, would form a Krishnacore band called Shelter, one of my favorite hardcore bands of the 1990’s.

And for DiCara, this process seemed to happen somewhat organically, appropriately enough, as he began to see patterns forming that were leading him to embrace a lifestyle considered by most as being far too difficult to follow, particularly in what is known as the Kali Yuga, a spiritually-bleak age that in Hindu teachings is said to last thousands of years.

And through some synchronicities in his life, DiCara was drawn to the Hare Krishna temple and when there was clearly a connection

Naturally, his parents were skeptical of a group – which they viewed as being cultlike – that kept devotees away from anyone in maya – the material world.

Still, DiCara was having his own issues, particularly with ISKCON’s seeming embrace of sexism – women not having prominent roles in worship services and not leading events and so forth – and some rather authoritarian positions taken by the organizational leadership – all which rubbed DiCara the wrong way as he became more involved, through his band Inside Out (with Zack de la Rocha, later of Rage Against the Machine) and eventually joined up with Shelter for a bit, before starting his own Krishnacore band 108.

And as interesting as DiCara’s accounts of his burgeoning punk rock career are, it seemed to take a backseat to his devotion to Krishna.

This includes his first trip to Vrindavan, the ancient, temple-choked city in Uttar Pradesh, India where Lord Krishna spent his early days, not far from his birthplace in Mathura, according to Hindu teachings. It was here where DiCara – soon to be known by his Hindu name Vraja Kishor – felt at home and fulfilling his destiny. His guru at the time felt DiCara was of better use back in America spreading the Krishna message through his devotionally-minded punk rock. This was sort of frustrating because DiCara's mind didn't seem fully focused on the music, affecting his band's output.

DiCara puts it all out there, warts and all. His struggles with celibacy. The pain his commitment caused his parents, who did not fully understand his devotion. The struggles of being in a band and the disagreements that come with that, including facing down critics in the punk rock community or kicking the asses of Nazi punks. Constant touring, particularly in America and Europe. Getting sick and having a trippy near death experience. Facing the brutal truth of child abuse allegations that rocked ISKCON, and caused DiCara to distance himself from the one organization that helped bring him into Krishna consciousness.

And through it all, DiCara kept copious notes in journals – while studying Sanskrit texts under his guru - and made the most of his exciting adventure (which would include a harrowing train wreck in India that could have been far worse, except that he was apparently being protected) that would change his life forever and lead him to make some important decisions, including his marriage to Shyama Sahki, the one person DiCara knew he could marry if he were to ever marry at all.

And while many readers may find the subject matter too fringy or obscure – particularly when DiCara – now a Vedic astrologer - uses somewhat unfamiliar terminology that are standard in Hare Krishna circles – I found Train Wrecks and Transcendence to be entirely readable (although a final edit and the addition of photos would help for future editions) and covering topics that I could relate to, even if I did not jump into that Hare Krishna’s van back in ’96 and begin a new life chanting that well-recognized mantra:

Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa
Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare
Hare Rāma Hare Rāma
Rāma Rāma Hare Hare

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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