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Ben Harper speaks on life, his walk, and wisdom
By Peter La Grand
Arts and Entertainment Editor
The following is an interview done about a week before Harperís show here at Calvin. At the show Harper talked about religion, and this interview is a continuation and deeper exploration of those thoughts.
Chimes: On your first CD you gave thanks to a folk music store. How did you begin playing folk based and roots music?
Ben Harper: That was my grandparentsí music store. Itís all acoustic musical instruments and folk instruments from all around the world. My parents loved folk music and roots music but not only that but everything from Hank Williams to Stevie Wonder.
Chimes: What led you to slide [guitar] and Weissenborns?
Harper: The sound...the sound of slide guitar is really what pulled me in.
Chimes: Did any of your relatives play slide?
Harper: No. My Mom plays regular guitar and my Dad plays percussion. But it was the sound of the slide, hearing it at the right time, that really just yanked me in.
Chimes: Do you have any contemporaries you would hold as having influence on your music?
Harper: Anyone whom I share a stage with...a lot of times Iíll get into their music. Whether itís The Fugees or Pearl Jam or PJ Harvey...or whoever. You definitely get an immediate impact from seeing their live shows...Dave Matthews for sure.
Chimes: Your music has always struck me not only as excellent music but as containing excellent lyrics. The philosophy behind your lyrics blows me away...I was wondering what your main passion is between music and faith? How does that work out in your daily walk?
Harper: Itís just a part of the direction.
Chimes: The direction of your life that....
Harper: That I try to live? Sure.
Chimes: You seem to be a very distinctive artist in that you are up front and articulate with what you believe in. Have you been questioned by people because of this? Has it brought you into interesting talks with people?
Harper: All the time...Iím talking with people and meeting people every day. And Iíve been to some exotic places and things, but, I mean, sometimes no more fulfilling than a great time in Cleveland, you know what I mean?
Chimes: Youíre very big outside of the U.S. I read some things that said people are catching on to it very well...Do you prefer going outside of the U.S. To playing at home?
Harper: No, because the U.S. Crowds are amazing as well.
Chimes: On your new CD youíve got some pictures of a dead elephant and some massacred cattle. What are you trying to say here?
Harper: If I can be as clear as explaining my feeling, it is about records, how they look and how they sound. When I was growing up records meant a freedom to me. The music, the lyrics, the imagery, and thatís why I donít ...I step away from defining images and lyrics because they mean something different to different people. Like the music that means the most to me, means the most to me. I hold that so dear to my heart and its a freedom to take your mind and your ideas anywhere you need then to go at any given moment, so I donít want to put any of my weight on a definition of the images. I just thought they fit well.
Chimes: That sounds like Seal. He never writes his lyrics down. In his last album he said that the lyrics are up to the listener to discern...Do you agree with that?
Harper: No, I always put the lyrics...because thatís how the song goes. I donít want to not have the songs out there. The lyrics are the lyrics. Thereís no sense in having something sound unclear. Thatís not my point. I just donít want to take away the imagery that those lyrics can bring. Itís not that those images are blurred. Theyíre clear images...I donít want to put a permanent definition on them.
Chimes: I have read other interviews and quotes of you on the subject of ecology. This seems to be a subject you are interested in...can you speak your stance on the subject? What is the trend in our world, what needs to change, and how can it change?
Harper: Itís an obvious trend, itís an abusive trend in which I take part in. But Iíll be damned if I donít turn off my lights when I leave the house...turn off unnecessary lights, donít throw trash on the ground, turn off the water when youíre not brushing your teeth. Just the little things to bring into your consciousness that can put the world so far ahead of where it should be. If we all take a step itís a huge step for humanity. If only a few people take a step then its just a step for a part of humanity. Everybodyís gotta step with it.
Chimes: Our school is founded on reformation theology which runs sort of in step with the reform over revolution theory, and relies on the involvement of all people in the steps taken so that it wonít bottom out...
Harper: Wars donít work.... Are we free through war? Iím from a very anti-war family, and I am anti war. Are we free, question, and is our freedom at the cost of blood shed? Was the Civil War good? There is no longer slavery. Or has it become institutionalized? I can argue it on both sides and that is my problem, Iím willing to be too objective. In opposition of my beliefs.
Chimes: That, more than anything seems to be the plague of our time. We have been taught to see from every viewpoint and so it seems that we canít hold any viewpoint.
Harper: But at the same time, I know where I stand, personally.
Chimes: Where is that?
Harper: Itís through a feeling, itís through an emotion, you know what I mean?
Chimes: Is that what puts together your faith?
Harper: Yeah. Itís something that is in my blood so I canít question it. Itís not a blind faith and itís not a faith thatís taught. Itís a faith thatís felt. And itís a faith that brings in ideas from different faiths that is a direction.
Chimes: What do you mean by ideas from different faiths?
Harper: I mean that I believe in the wisdom of all beliefs. Not the division of all beliefs. I believe in the wisdom of belief systems. I believe in the wisdom that is in and among the different ideologies on which religions are based. But I do not believe in the segregation and separation, by man, of God. I believe in the godliness of all religions. I do not believe in the segregation of God by man.
Chimes: While you say that, is a song like ďOne Road to FreedomĒ about Jesus?
Harper: Iím not going to define the song. But itís...itís how you live through your beliefs that puts you on a road. If you believe in Buddha, you have that right, that freedom. If God doesnít represent freedom then how can that be a true God?
Chimes: That seems to follow into the song ďI want to be readyĒ and the desire to live out your beliefs in a real way. Would you say that you are trying to be in this world but not of this world?
Harper: I feel very much of this world...I donít want to come off as that. Hereís the thing man, everyone believes. Everyone believes in something, and we express that belief any way we can or see possible. Some people donít feel the need to express it. They believe silently, quietly. Iíd never talk about God if I didnít have to, Iíd only sing about him. Not just sing about it, but sing thanks and praise. But Iím asked about it. Which brings me to discuss it. If I wasnít asked then I wouldnít have to go into the discussion. Words and God are far apart, very few words are godly...
Chimes: That sounds similar to orthodox jewish belief that you can only sing the word that represents God, because it is too beautiful to say...
Harper: It is, itís too beautiful. But again, when Iím asked...We all express our beliefs in our own way. Even for atheistsóto believe is to believe you donít believe. And they express that in their own way with who they are. I know god loving atheists.
Chimes: Howís that?
Harper: Theyíre atheists, and they still love god but their god means something else to them. God might be a mountain, god might be a tree, god might be the blessing of the first rising sun. Or the last setting sun. And they have the freedom to believe that god is that and to be right in that belief.
Chimes: Is that freedom?
Harper: Sure it is, because itís true belief for them. Now if they claim that their God is the sun and the moon, yet they throw all kinds of stuff on the earth, and dirty up the earth then thatís not a wholehearted belief. But I think you see the direction Iím leading.
Chimes: I would agree with you that everyone needs to search as hard as they can, and to use the freedom they have to do this. I personally believe that if you search hard enough for the truth that you will end up at Jesus. Whether or not thatís true for you is not for me to decide for you...and my faith entails being open to conversion everyday. I think thatís what people need to be.
Harper: I just think that there is so much wisdom to be drawn from Allah, Islam, Rastafari, Jah, Christianity and Catholicism. There are wonders in all of them. But I refuse to buy into the segregation in all of them through manís involvement in the belief systems. If you subtract man from God you just have one God. You start bringing in manís involvement into a belief and it gets separated and segregated.
Chimes: But we are a fallen humankind.
Harper: True as that may be, I refuse to have my belief system obstructed by their vision of God. Itís insulting in the name of God.
Chimes: Thatís great to attempt to do that but also...
Harper: Itís not an attempt, Iíve done it. This is my life, thatís what I believe.
Chimes: And you walk it and it works?
Harper: I canít say how. I canít say how I got blood in my veins.
Chimes: All we can do is follow and watch you?
Harper: No...donít watch me.
Scofield and MMW make jazz-funk
By Peter La Grand
Arts and Entertainment Editor
John Scofieldís latest album is entitled ďA Go Go,Ē but it could have been called ďSome funky jazz,Ē or, in light of the above quote, ďDigging.Ē The album is comprised of ten of Scofieldís own compositions, spun through the funk heavy sounds of the trio MMW.
Before this album I myself had never heard of Scofield, but I have listened to MMW for a while. The combination of forces works extremely well on this album. Any fears of either member taking control are easily put to rest by the chemistry that seems to flow out of the speakers when this quartet plays.
From the first track, which is the title cut, the music is simply refreshing. Here we have a guitarist who is not afraid to be patient and wait for music. The empty spaces on this album are what make it great.
If you do not know what MMW stands for, you have an enjoyable listening discovery ahead of you. MMW is the combination of keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood. Formed in New York City in 1990 this trio has risen as one of the hippest acts in the country. Through incessant touring and a unique mesh of traditional skills and modern improvisation, continue to amaze people who watch them.
Putting the MMW spice into the pot with established jazz guitarist John Scofield has created an album that takes the listener on a funky ride, not too fast, not too slow. For anyone who has listened to MMW before, it is a treat to hear the boys play with an excellent guitarist. For others who may find MMWís music too deep to catch alone, this may be your intro into their world.
The Weekly Thing
By Jonathan and Pete
Arts and Entertainment Editors
Greetings from the little netherworld known as the Chimes office. We have no life outside of classroom activities, so please understand that there is a certain amount of bitterness in our telling you what is going on in the rest of the world. Ha! the rest of the world...now thereís a sign Iíve been here too long, when I start referring to Grand Rapids as ďthe rest of the world.Ē
But letís start closer to home: The Calvin Theatre Company is presenting Beyond the Bedroom Wall this weekend. From the looks of their press release, it should be good. But then, what press release says, ďHey, this show really sucks, donít waste your time just because weíve wasted ours.Ē
Tonight if you are interested you can see The Wall and Rattle and Hum both for free in the commons lecture hall.
Also, begining yesterday the Earth Day Lecture Series starts. If you want to go, and you should, check out the flyer right by the security office. You can even clean up the East Beltline tomorrow from 10 to 12:30.
Tax-day was Wednesday, so if you havenít filed yet - YOUĒRE SCREWED!!! Again, we recomend Mexico.
Or just go to Young Life on Monday at 9:30 and maybe they can tell you how to do better next time.