Saturday, February 19, 2011


As previously mentioned (see BORDERS' SONG) whether it's global warming, or over-population, or abuses of human rights or even animal rights, nobody's listening.

It would easy to point a finger at the greedy landlords who raise the rent on the poor, Joni Mitchell's army of "short-sighted businessmen" who strip mine the land and pollute the rivers, or the religious fanatics who believe their way is the only way, or the politicians who pander to special interests and maintain the status quease. But we see that the Internet has turned into a nightmare of cyberbullying and selfishness, and several monopolies have risen to break laws and make billionaires out of punks with no morality. The blog and torrent world's gone from an eccentric "sharing" community to a spammy, smarmy, selfish assortment of glory-grabbing Paypal-demanding fools who rationalize the unthinkable and have no empathy for the creative people they rip off. Their power has corrupted, and their notion that everything should be free spits in the face of all the logic that says that an economy thrives on paying for goods and services.

It's reasonable to expect moderation…some form of gun control, some acceptance of birth control, some responsibility about replenishing our natural resources, some realization that piracy is not the answer and that taking what doesn't belong to you is nothing to be proud of. Selfishness rules, not the Golden Rule. The bigger they are, the less they care, and the more unreasonable they become. People are pleading for simple human rights, for copyright protection, for a job and a place to live that is safe from violence. They might as well talk to a wall.

"The Rock" is a little story song about someone who sees a problem and can't convince anyone to do anything about it.

The solution is so simple we ignore it. It's the Golden Rule. It's empathy. It's moderation. It's using self-control or the arm of the law to curb the all-too human instincts of greed and power.

Harry? He's here on the blog of less renown because despite having a hit song or two, he's largely forgotten now, and was often the target of critics who hated his story-songs, his sentimentality, and his passionate views on morality. Face it, even his biggest hit, "Cats in the Cradle," makes people uncomfortable, because…well, the truth tends to make people uncomfortable.

Some of his fellow musicians weren't so wild about Harry either, frowning on the whole concept of the "story song," or complaining about the man's voice, which did become increasingly harsh thanks to his heavily committed touring schedule. I was hanging out with Meatloaf one evening, and he scowled that one of the things he really didn't like, was when people compared his voice to Harry's.

Harry himself knew that he often went way too far with his pathos, and sold "Harry, It Sucks" t-shirts at his gigs. But at his best, he wrote some touching, moving songs. Thankfully, when he was around, he had a record label that stuck with him long after the hits weren't coming. I'd heard of him, but hadn't paid much attention till a woman handed me one of his albums and asked me to listen. She figured if I liked some folkies, like Mr. Ochs, I might find a place in my heart for Harry. She had an ulterior motive. A song on the album was "A Better Place to Be," and she said she identified with the waitress, and what she said to the man at the diner: "I wish that you were mine." And she was looking at me when she said it.

Harry sure had a way of getting to people. I saw Harry in performance, and it was one of the best concerts I ever saw, because the man was an exuberant showman. As good as some existing footage of him might be, it doesn't remotely capture what it was like "being there." In person, he almost sent out microwaves. Some people really come alive on stage, and the energy ignites the audience, and vice versa. Believe me, I walked in expecting Harry to do a competent show as everyone from Ian Dury to Ray Davies can do, and was not expecting to walk out buzzed or blown away. So Harry surprised me.

While you could sit alone and be touched by a song like "Mr. Tanner," or enjoy a story with a wicked punchline such as "The Mayor of Candor Lied" (I'm not ashamed to say I didn't see that one coming), this guy could also work magic of a different kind in live concert. Aside from being a performer, and a very good songwriter, and a fair vocalist, Harry was a humanitarian. On the day he died, the 39 year-old was as always, in the midst of a heavy schedule of activities…phone calls and promotions for his "World Hunger" organization, driving into town for meetings, and mindful of a scheduled free concert in the evening. He saw a lot of problems, small and intimate ones between people, are large ones involving countries and corporations. Depending on the target, he could be tender and patient, or strident and urgent. There are boulders in our paths, cinders in our eyes, and sometimes a teetering rock on a hillside. Who recognizes these, or becomes convinced that action must be taken, or takes that step from being part of the problem to part of the solution?


1 comment:

Duncanmusic said...

I saw Harry first as a surprise opening act for Carly Simon in the Fall of 1971, Like you said he could blow you away. I obsessed on "Taxi' until the LP came out and then during the next 6 months he came and did a week long residency in Rochester at a long gone saloon. His fine quartet five nights in a row with no more than 30-50 people each night. I couodn't stay away after the first night and spent time drinking beer and playing pool with them all. Nicer folks there couldn't be. I've always thought "Circle" of the "The Sniper & Other Love Songs" may have been his crowning moment and have sung the song repeatedly myself in co9ncert over the years. He certainly had a way of bringing real life into your face. I even thought 'THe Sequel' was well thought out and completely warranted as a release. How many people can visit their biggest triumph and not ruin it?