Volume 93, Issue 35

Tuesday, November 2, 1999


Ben Harper reveals side as genuine as his music

Public Enemy number one

Is Western ready to Laugh?

Nice deserves namesake

Ben Harper reveals side as genuine as his music

Photo by Grant Fear

DESPITE HIS MUSICAL BRILLIANCE, MANY WESTERN STUDENTS STILL DENOUNCE HARPER FOR HIS LIKE, UNACCEPTABLE HAWAIIAN SHIRT/TUQUE COMBO. Musician Ben Harper shares his earnest views on the music scene and finally becoming a songwriter.

By Chad Finkelstein

Gazette Staff

Some write it, some perform it, but few have the power to truly create music. Ben Harper is one of these precious few.

This unique ability has been harnessed almost to inimitable flawlessness by Harper, a man with enough talent to take him far beyond rock star status and earn him the reputable title of a true musician.

His work becomes meaningful in the way it adheres to any emotion listeners might be grappling with, while occasionally even discovering new ones. His definitive and original style has been finessed throughout previous albums and his latest masterpiece, Burn to Shine, is no exception.

The album experiments with a new musical theme, while still retaining the vulnerability and force his other records command. "Music is an immediate extension of an emotion that I connect with through an instinct," Harper says of the new album's versatility. "Different songs cry out for a voice and you've got to follow that voice."

The album is also more personal to Harper, as it marks the first time he has considered himself a songwriter. "You write one great record full of great songs, that's cool, but you're still not a songwriter. You write another record, you're still not a songwriter," he explains.

"You know when it clicks, because I feel right now that I've never been so close to the art and craft of writing songs. I could write a song in five minutes and it would be decent. I could reach into a fantasy. I can completely separate my physical presence and my psychological presence and I could go inside of you and write a song. I can sit next to a rock and write a song. I can sit next to a table and get a vibe from it."

The beauty of this skill shines through his albums, each encapsulating its own theme and each song building on the one before in an emotive flurry. "I'd like to be able to make music that people can grow up with and grow old with," he concedes.

So far, this aspiration doesn't seem unreachable. Harper points to the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young as his inspirations for longevity, but is quick to distance himself from any comparisons to them.

As for today's onslaught of considerably insubstantial popular music, Harper recognizes the contrast between what he strives to attain and what is simply a fleeting fad.

"People get away with calling things that aren't art, art. And that belittles art, but makes what is art that much more prominent. There are different musical worlds and they are so separated at the moment just due to the marketing of music and the way music reaches different commercial mediums.

"Every once in a while, great music makes it to the mainstream, but not always and it takes a tremendous push and a lot of work to get musical music to the attention of a majority of people," he says.

This push seems to have materialized for the musician, as the public are starting to unearth the magic which lies with Harper. The title track on Burn to Shine has been getting serious rotation on the airwaves and his current tour has consistently sold out.

But the passion behind Harper's work isn't for fame or glamour, as he recognizes the mere illusion of status. For him, it's about working hard to create something he loves. "It's about making really good music while I'm inspired. I don't formulate it or search for it. I'm not gonna make music just so I can be the hip, cool guy."

Though Harper always writes songs for his own purpose of expression, he proudly leaves his work open to interpretation. He feels the interpretation is what keeps music free and for this reason he will never define a song. "People always want to break away the mystery of music and I refuse to let it happen."

Sometimes when writing, Harper even finds meaning beyond his initial intention, which helps him to nurture his work and grow as a musician. "Diversity is what keeps music exciting, it's what keeps me interested. If I go out and rock out on every song, I'm really gonna get bored. When [the songs] start sounding the same, I'll probably have to stop making music."

Harper's disappearance from the music scene due to creative stagnation doesn't appear imminent, as listeners need only engross themselves in an album or live performance to appreciate the passion and intensity he dispenses. This truly is a man who is as genuine as his music.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999