Thursday, December 13, 2012

Genghis Khan, Grandfather of Kublai Khan

"Renowned Beatles Influencer Dead at 92" says the Huffington Post's daily email of links to its headline stories.  The story itself is headed "Ravi Shankar Dead: Indian Sitar Virtuoso Dies at 92".  MTV's website has another version: "Ravi Shankar, Beatles Influence, Dead at 92".

Then there are numerous variations on another theme: "Sitar superstar Ravi Shankar, Father of Norah Jones, dies". "Norah Jones' Father Ravi Shankar Dies at 92 After heart Surgery".  Some headlines even manage to combine the two: "Beatles Muse Ravi Shankar, Father of Norah Jones, Dies".

Somehow I find all this offensive.  I love Norah Jones' music, but to write of her father's death as if his most noteworthy achievement was to sire her - or to teach George Harrison how to play the sitar - is insulting to a man generally recognised as the leading Indian musician of his era, so renowned that the Indian Prime Minister was among the first to pay tribute to him on his death.  It's particularly ironic when you consider that Shankar had little contact with Jones during her childhood, unlike his other daughter - also a respected musician in her own right, and the bearer of her father's musical heritage - Anoushka.

Furthermore it's insulting to the readers of these various publications to imply that they are so ignorant that they will not have heard of Shankar, or that they will not be interested in him unless there is a connection to someone they have heard of.  CNN gets it right: "Sitar legend Ravi Shankar dies at 92".  If you're a legend, you don't need any introduction.  Nor do you need to be defined by your relationship to others - Woody Guthrie's legacy stands secure with no help from Bob Dylan, for example.

There are many famous fathers of famous children.  I suspect Loudon Wainwright III is resigned to being labelled "Father of Rufus", but when Paul McCartney eventually passes on (at well past 64) will we see "Oasis Influence Paul McCartney, Father of Stella, Dies" headlines?  I hope not.


foamier said...

Hopefully, we will see, "Paul McCartney, the Beatle they should have shot, finally dies."

Private Beach said...

I see that Shankar will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. Well-deserved, but given that he lived to 92 and was well-known in the west for 45 years, you'd think they could have got round to doing it in his lifetime!