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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ah Ahimsa

Ah Ahimsa
words and music by Lloyd Miller (c) (p) 2011
arrangement by Ari Dolegowski, Chris Johnson, Ely Levin, and Lloyd Miller

Ah... ahimsa
Shake out your limbsa
Drift to the ground, yeah
Make a lotus flower, yeah
Mahatma Gandhi
He's the one who told me
He fought the British Army
Without a gun

I say "ahimsa" and I mean "do no harm"

"himsa" - harm in Sanskrit
"a" - "no" or  "non"

I read about nonviolence and I'm like yeah that's my philosophy
But as soon as I leave the house I feel differently
Why can't people be nice to me?

Have you wanted to punch somebody... But then walked away? That's ahimsa... Sort of.

Gandhi's idea of ahimsa was that you didn't even think about punching the person in the first place...

Ahimsa, it's easy, man
When you read what the Swamis said
But not so easy when someone hits you on the head
I'm all about ahimsa when I'm standing on my head...
But not so much when I see a kid push my kid
I'm like, yo, is anyone else practicing ahimsa around here?

How did you do it, I'd like to know
When the cops came out with the riot hose?

How did you do it, I'd like to know
When they whipped out the clubs and started whacking you?

Ahimsa... I know what you're going through
Ahimsa... It's hard to do

I wrote a first draft of this song while working at a wild school in the South Bronx. I was working with four fourth grades, each studying a different country. The class studying India had an especially difficult time practicing nonviolence. Kids punched, pinned, choked, and generally battered each other just as a matter of course, the classroom teacher unable to stop them and I, armed with my guitar and my jokes, only able to distract them from their brawls. One day, in an attempt to rein in this one kid who was always throwing himself on the floor to do push-ups or roll around, I suggested that we do some yoga. The kids loved it and it became immediately the only thing they ever wanted to do. I decided to work it into our songwriting activities and in the performance of our song itself.

"Ah Ahimsa," in its original form ("Do the Ahimsa") began with a sun salutation and then each line was accompanied by a different yoga move (or pseudo yoga move). Honestly, it was the only way I could get the class through the whole song without someone being injured.

I always liked the idea of the song but the music not so much. It was a standard 12-bar blues that I wrote on the spot as I stood in front of a chaotic classroom searching for something that would quickly get them singing along. When I began to consider reviving the tune for this new album I rewrote the melody over some more interesting -- and Bollywoodish -- chords, added a B section, and changed the point of view of the song to my own. The spirit of the kids is still there, though. Nonviolence is a great idea but a hard thing to put into practice, especially when no one around you is practicing ahimsa.

Who does what on "Ah-Ahimsa"
Booker Dee (Chris Johnson): keyboards, vocals
Moby Dee (Ari Dolegowski): electric guitar, vocals
Otto von Dee (Ely Levin): drums, professional Bollywood drum machine, vocals
Ulysses S. Dee (Lloyd Miller): electric bass, lead vocals
Dean Jones: recording, mixing, vocals