The Music Of JC Harris

positively the most intelligent progressive rock on this here planet

positively the most intelligent progressive rock on this here planet


It’s Magic

Post tour review. Many Words vs. Apollo 100. More music so bad it’s good. Shred intolerance is a real condition.

Roger CortonYou’re back. How ya feeling, champ?

JCHWell, better than I thought. Not as good as I’d hoped. I mean, you’re not supposed to say this but I was not feeling great at a couple of the gigs. I didn’t hear any snark, but one never knows.

RCHonestly, I’d tell you. Before we move on, we got a bunch of traffic on your Piracy You Can Believe In post. Like twenty messages.

Hello. My name is JC and I am shred-intolerant. To keep me safe, my mother has limited me to two double bass drum rolls and one two-handed tapping per day. In case of seizure call this number.

JCHReally? Cool. I was listening to those Schickele Mix shows almost non-stop during the tour. We’re flying back to Seattle and he did this one joke and it was literally the ‘Coca-Cola shot out of my nose’ moment. I had always doubted that shit really happens. And then it happened to me. And the seats are tight these days so my seat-mates got sprayed.

RCHow embarrassing. Is it OK to ask what the joke was?

JCHI’ll tell ya later. It wouldn’t translate. It’s like my Grandfather always said, “If you have to explain the gag, it ain’t funny.”

RCSage wisdom.

JCHBut before we move on, here’s one thing which relates back to what we were talking in that post about 2001 Trumpets. These guys were actually fantastic musicians in the 40’s and 50’s. They did this on the side as a gag. I hope people get it. It’s not quite as funny as the 2001 trumpets, but…. almost! Anyhoo, there’s a point in there I wanna swing back to later.

RCThat is funny. As you said, it’s hard to do. But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the big thing this week is how many comments we got about the last section of The Solid State Siren.

JCHAKA Many Words?

RCRight. We got feedback that Many Words is a sound-alike of Apollo 100. That Bach Rock thing from the sixties.

JCHGet out of town.

RCSeriously. Even comment cards said that.

JCHI’m having a tough time processing this, give me a minute. Should I be upset?

RCI don’t think so. That tune kinda rocked. In a Mannheim Steamroller kind of way. (laughs).

JCHI never realized before. You have quite the cruel streak.

A first for this site: some visual aids. Here is a side-by-side taste test. First a snippet from The Solid State Siren

And now the Apollo 100 version of the Bach hymn, circa 1972. Do you think they sound alike?

RCReally. People liked that Apollo 100 thing. I like it. And hey, it’s Bach. How can you object to being compared with Bach?

JCHOK, fine. They’re both 6/8. There’s a B-3. At least it’s not Jonathan and Darlene. I don’t wanna sound ungrateful. We stopped for a moment to listen to Apollo 100. It’s actually pretty peppy until 1:12. But it’s the part after that I remember as a kid. That’s what makes me want to barf. People remember the head. I remember what comes next when the guy tries to rock out. Oy. But ironically that reminds me of what I wanted to say about Jonathan and Darlene and our previous conversation.

RCI assume the professionalism thing. Those people are obviously talented musicians.

JCHYeah, Jo Stafford. She was one of the best singers ever. The thing I wonder about is how much it appeals to non-musicians. I mean, what’s the appeal if you aren’t a musician? But this is the comment I got, er… ‘get’ over and over. “More shredding, dude!”

RCYou’re right. I know when you do those, what you call ‘party pieces’ everyone’s jaw drops. If you haven’t seen JCH live, each show usually features one or two very short bravura solos, usually from the classical repertoire. JCH refers to these as ‘party pieces’.

JCHAnd why is that?

RCWell, because you do that for maybe five minutes in the whole show… plus or minus a dozen little dabs within the songs. It’s just not part of your normal show so when it happens it seems like it’s coming out of nowhere. They’re almost non sequiturs, to use one of your three dollar expressions.

JCHOK, indulge me. I really like Cirque Du Soleil. I mean, I eat that shit with a spoooon. A big soup ladle. Can’t get enough. Now I want you to imagine ten Olympic gymnasts all lined up in a row bending over backwards like Olga Korbut. Is that worth paying $175 for?

RCOf course not.

JCHAnd why not?

RCWell, it’s cool if it’s a competition… you know to see who can bend over backwards the best, but no it’s not entertainment if that’s what you mean.

JCHRight. It’s not entertainment. And why not?

RCIs there a point here?

JCHSee a display of skill is not intrinsically entertaining. I mean there are always people who dig seeing someone do something physically difficult. But there are a lot of really strong people. A lot of really fast people. A lot of guys who can bend over backwards.


JCHYou got that right. And there are a lot of guys with really great fast twitch hand muscles in their hands. But there are very few things one can do that nobody else can do. I dunno… maybe that guy who tightrope walks over the Grand Canyon. So what makes it entertainment… or GASP -art-? When there’s a story; a gag.

RCNot sure I’m following you.

JCHOK, watching a guy shuffle a deck like a fiend is very cool. For about two minutes. But Ricky Jay? He turns that into a compelling twenty minute bit. Both guys are great hand athletes. The gymnasts bend over backwards and that’s awe inspiring for about two minutes. But Cirque Du Soleil, they put it within a compelling context. Put a plot into it, some great Beatles songs and…?

RCNinety minutes of magic. I get it. But what does that have to do with shredding?

JCHI believe in the gag a lot more than the actual trick of bending over backwards. So I bend over backwards only enough to tell the story.

RCOK, but you acknowledge that there has to be a trick, right? There has to be some magic in there, right?

JCHAbsolutely. There has to be some razzle dazzle or Ricky Jay is just talk and Cirque Du Soleil is just some pretty lights and costumes. So to the extent that I’m not putting enough razzle dazzle into my music to make people go ‘wow’, that’s something to consider.

RCHow does that square with creating ‘art’? What you just said almost sounds like pandering.

JCHAnd maybe you’ve hit on the difference between ‘art’ and ‘entertainment’. I mean something can be both of course, but to me ‘entertainment’ implies a concern for how yer effort is affecting the audience. You’re taking their needs/wants/desires into consideration. Pure ‘Art’, whatever that is, is basically “You follow me.” I’m going on a journey. You can come with me if you want. But it’s my boat. It’s my journey.” Those are the polar forces.

RCSo on a practical level how does that change what you’re doing?

JCHWell, for the compilation record coming out next year, the new arrangement of Beautiful Sounds has more (cough) virtuosity. Now, I didn’t think, “How can I add some pizazz to this baby so good ol’ Rog sits up and takes notice?” It’s just that people didn’t respond to it and after a while I started to get what they were on about. The current version felt wrong to me.

RCBecause of the lack of ‘shred’?

JCHNo. I didn’t think “More vitamins, nurse. Stat! The patient lacks the MDR of shred!” But when people that have responded favorably to my other stuff, didn’t respond to Beautiful Sounds, I felt like I had to figure out why. I can’t just blow it off like “Peasants!” It took me a while to figure it for myself.

RCAnd the answer? In twenty five words or less, if possible.

JCHWell, I think it was more structural. That’s why version 2.0 is much longer. I tried to cram too much into too little space. But the stuff that needed to be added to feel ‘right’ did involve adding some bits that sound more viscerally impressive. That’s what the thing needed. And my point is that a lot of, perhaps most good art, intrinsically has that good balance

RCBalance CD is still available.

JCHI hate when you do that. Where was I? Seriously.

RCWe are supposed to be marketing. Art has some intrinsic balance.

JCHRight. This balance between viscerally cool, aka ‘shredding’ or ‘beautiful’ or some other surface appeal and then the real message underneath; the stuff that makes people come back for repeated listenings.

RCGot it. So let’s roll back and wind it up. Are Jonathan and Darlene Love shredders?

JCHYeah, you bet. Those guys did a bunch of records. But as much as I love this one number, I can only listen to it for about two minutes. It’s a great party trick, but can you imagine listening to forty five minutes of this? Hoo boy.

And that’s how I feel about almost all fusion, prog, metal, whatever. It’s like a thousand Olga Korbuts bending over backwards. Look at me! Look at me! But there’s no story. At least, not beyond each trick. Most of those shows are like, you know a carnival barker might say, “A compendium of amazing feats of physical derring-do!” You walk past each booth, see something mind-blowing for thirty seconds and then move on. But unfortunately, yer average fusion or prog song goes on for a minimum of five minutes.

RCYou’re upsetting a bunch of potential fans, including me, who love a lot of that stuff. We line up for shows by Joe Satriani, Scott Henderson, etc. What can you say to those people without causing hurt feelings?

JCHAt this point, I feel like how vegans used to be. People thought you were nuts and you wouldn’t want to make a stink, so you’d have to make up some polite excuse for why you don’t want to eat the Lamb entreé. The host just spent twelve hours making it, but you don’t want to have to explain for the umpteenth time the whole philosophy while everyone else is so darned excited to tuck in! So you lie. You know, “It looks fantastic, Marlene, but my doctor has given me express orders to cut out all Omega 27s from my diet. You wouldn’t want me to have a stroke, right?”

RCYou think you can get a note from your doctor for something like that?

JCHSure. I’ll just make a laminated neck tag. “Hello. My name is JC and I am shred-intolerant. To keep me safe, my mother has limited me to two double bass drum rolls and one two-handed tapping per day. In case of seizure call this number.”

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