Srila Prabhupada on the Bowery
(Photo of Srila Prabhupada at 94 Bowery which appeared in the Village Voice.)

Renowned journalist Howard Smith interviewed Srila Prabhupada for the Village Voice in June of 1966. Although the Voice archives doesn't include issues for that year, I did some research on Howard Smith which I think our readers will find compelling (see below). By interviewing Srila Prabhupada before the Hare Krishna movement took hold in the West, Howard Smith unknowingly landed the biggest and best interview of his career. -Pd

Howard Smith: So I went down there and went upstairs into this very funky artists' loft. There were carpets all over the place, old and worn out, and a lot of people sitting around in various kinds of hippie garb, plus what I think they must have thought was Indian garb. Most of them were sitting alone around the room facing the wall, like they had nothing to do with each other. They were sitting cross-legged, and each one seemed to be doing something different. Nobody paid any attention to me when I walked in.

I saw shoes lined up and I thought, "Maybe I am supposed to take off my shoes," but nobody said anything to me. So I walked around the edge of the carpet, looking for somebody to pay attention to me. I wondered what was going on and I didn't want to interrupt anybody, because they all seemed deep into whatever kind of prayers they were doing.

In the back of the loft I noticed a little curtain -- an Indian madras type of curtain -- and so I decided to peer into that area. I looked in and there was Swami Bhaktivedanta sitting there cross-legged in saffron garments, with the markings on his forehead and nose and his hand in the bead bag. Even though he looked like the real thing, he seemed more approachable and I said, "Hello," and he looked up. I said, "Swami Bhaktivedanta?" and he said, "Yes." I said, "I am Howard Smith." I was expecting to sit down, so I said, "Excuse me, I have to take off my shoes," and he said, "Why do you want to take off your shoes?" I said, "I don’t know -- I saw all the shoes out there." And he said, "I didn't ask you to take your shoes off." I said, "What are all those people out there doing?" and he said, "I don't know. And they don't know what they're doing. I am trying to teach them and they seem to be misunderstanding me. They are very confused people."

Then we sat and talked and I liked him a lot right away. I mean, I’d met a lot of other swamis and I didn't like them too much. I don’t think it's fair to lump them all together and say, "Those swamis in India." He was very, very basic, and that's what I seemed to like about him. He not only made me feel at ease, but he seemed very open and honest -- like he asked my advice on things. He was very new in the country.

I thought his ideas stood a good chance of taking hold because he seemed so practical. His head didn't seem to be in the clouds. He wasn't talking mysticism every third word. I guess that is where his soul was at, but that isn't where his normal, conversational consciousness was at.

Then he told me that several people had told him that the Voice would be a very good place to be written up, and that basically it would reach the kind of people who already perhaps had a leaning or interest in what he was preaching. I said I thought he was correct. He asked me if I had read any books or knew anything about Indian culture. I said no, I didn't really. We talked a little and he explained to me that he had these books in English that he had already translated in India. He handed those to me and said, "If you want more background, you can read these."

It was obvious to me that I was not talking to some fellow who had just decided that he had seen God and was going to tell people about it. He seemed to be an educated man, much more so than myself. I liked his humbleness. I just plain liked the guy.

He explained everything I wanted to know -- the significance of what he was wearing, the mark on his forehead, the bead bag. I liked all his explanations. Everything was very practical. Then he talked about temples all over the world and he said, "Well, we have a long way to go. But I am very patient."

*   *   *

"Howard Smith (1936-2014) wrote regularly for the New York City based weekly newspaper, the Village Voice, in the 1960s and 1970s. One of his regular columns was "Scenes." Smith was hired by Village Voice co-founder Dan Wolf and continued to write for them until 1989.

During the Village Voice's early and formative years, his column, "Scenes," with its reporting on the emerging counterculture, became a part of the paper's groundbreaking new journalism. The column ran weekly for twenty years and became known for its cutting edge coverage and innovative short-form critiques. His work for the Village Voice is frequently cited as one of the highly influential examples of the new participatory journalism that made less rigid the distinction between the observer and the observed."


"Mr. Smith's column, which he wrote from 1966 to 1980, was equal parts tipsheet, on-the-scene reportage and democracy wall for the Voice’s anti-establishment readership. His relentless energy and disarming curiosity attracted a wide readership, giving many their first inkling of phenomena that became synonymous with the era.

'Be-in,' 'love-in,' 'Woodstock,' 'head shop,' 'Yippies' and 'Stonewall' were words and phrases that many Voice readers saw for the first time, or nearly so, in Scenes.
His knack for trend-spotting made Mr. Smith a magnet for political organizers, celebrities and aspiring celebrities. Reader interest in the doings of Abbie Hoffman, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Lou Reed, Frank Zappa, Wavy Gravy and others was frequently rewarded. His interviews and encounters with them, many of whom he considered friends, became a mainstay of the column. For promoters, a mention of a client in Scenes was the rough equivalent of a viral video in today's currency of publicity.

Mr. Smith, bombarded by impresarios' pitches and oddballs' manifestoes, was especially respected among fellow journalists for knowing a good story when he saw one.

At a time when rock 'n' roll, the sexual revolution and the anti-war counterculture all intersected, Mr. Smith spoke to seemingly every boldface name."

-New York Times

"It's rare that an interviewer helps to shape his era as much as his best-known subjects, but that is the case with Howard Smith. Smith reported from inside the counterculture, which built trust with his subjects, but his intelligence, curiosity and tenacity take these conversations to places to places no one could have predicted -- even Smith himself. These interviews -- with writers, rock stars, filmmakers, politicians -- have lost none of their immediacy. Decades later, they remain gripping, essential reading."

-Rolling Stone

"The 1960s were a period of radical cultural, social, and political upheaval in the United States and around the globe; yet in just three years, between 1969 and 1972, Village Voice "Scenes" columnist, WPLJ FM radio host, and cult figure Howard Smith got to the heart of it all by talking it out -- both on and -- off the record. As famous as those who passed through the airwaves, Smith encapsulated the end of an era through personal conversations and hard-hitting interviews with Mick Jagger, Frank Zappa, Andy Warhol, Buckminster Fuller, leaders of the feminist movement and the Gay Liberation Front, a NARC agent, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and scores of other iconic and influential personalities, including musicians, artists, filmmakers, actors, writers, politicians, and social activists, from countercultural luminaries to everyday revolutionaries and everyone in between.

Smith had an unique knack for meeting artists at seminal moments including Mick Jagger just weeks before The Rolling Stones Concert at Altamont, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda directly following their the debut of Easy Rider at Cannes, Pete Townshend after The Who’s rock opera Tommy performance at The Metropolitan Opera and the last interview Janis Joplin gave, just 4 days before her death.

During his tenure as the host of a nationally syndicated weekend program, Howard Smith conducted interviews with well-known musicians and notable cultural figures between 1969 and 1972. These tapes include revealing and personal conversations with Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, Buckminster Fuller, Abbie Hoffman, Jane Fonda, Dr. John, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Pete Townsend, Arlo Guthrie, Bill Graham, and many more. Smith sat down with John Lennon and Yoko Ono no less than five times and dispatched hourly reports live from Woodstock."

-The Smith Tapes
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