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

JCHRants

Progress (Fourth Progress Snippet)

This is the big one, folks. The eponymous fourth snippet from the new album, Progress. Genesis 1:28. Property management. Nietzche and Also Sprach Zarathustra. ELP and Jerusalem. Gentle Giant and selling out. Nobody’s Fool–he grows on people.

RCWow. I thought I was listening to Return To Forever for a minute.I take back everything I ever said about you not ‘shredding’ anymore.

JCHWell, it’s an eight minute (cough) ‘snippet’.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

RCNow I like that. It’s like the Detroit (Medley) you used as a bonus track for Nice Cuts. I never thought the snippets really worked well for ‘epics’–they don’t give the listener a good idea of the whole thing. On the other hand, new people are not going to listen to thirty minutes–they want to get to the meat of the thing. I know it’s extra work for you, but I think it’s a great solution.

JCHRog are you sick? I can’t tell via Skype, but it sounded like yer being nice for a change. Lightheaded? Palpitations? You may wanna check yer BP.

RCWell, you haven’t made it easy over the years. However I think this takes your work to a new level. I am not exaggerating. OK, so what’s it all about?

Progress

JCHAnd God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

RCBible study?

JCHWell, just that one bit. But that’s the germ for the whole thing. As we discussed, this album is conceptually tied to The Boats An opera JC is currently working on. It all went back to that one phrase, “have dominion”. If you think about it, it’s the entire source of Western Culture.

RCHow so?

JCHBecause in that passage God explicitly says, “I’m making you guys the overseers of the planet.” Well, in the twentieth century? Mission Accomplished! We have subdued the entire planet. We’ve extended our reach to every corner of the world. There is no undiscovered land.

RCExcept for ‘The Undiscovered Country’, right?

JCHThey’re working on it (laughs). I met this scientist guy out in the Nevada desert years ago. He was taking some sort of environmental measurements of some damned thing. I was interested as to why he was out there in particular; on public land. Why there as opposed to some more ‘protected area’. I mean the area was just miles and miles of ordinary scrub. Nothing special, right? And he said to me, “There is no such thing as un-managed land anymore. Human beings manage everything now. We affect everything.”

RCWhich is such a different notion from, say, an (American) Indian, right?

JCHExactly. The hubris of Western Culture comes from that one passage. We manage everything.

RCBut the album cover is about ‘limits’. How does that connect?

JCHWell, you’re the manager of the property. That implies that you actually know how to manage the property, right? Well God doesn’t tell us how to manage things. He…

RCShe.

JCHYeah, right. I just had this image of ‘God’ being Hillary. Wagging her finger at me in this silk pantsuit. Anyhoo, ‘she’ just says, ‘go do it!’ But we’ve made up the process as we go along.

RCInteresting. Free will isn’t just an individual idea. There’s a collective free will. I never thought of that before.

JCHRight! We all chose together to run things in a certain way. And here’s another thing: the other major theme in all ancient cultures is the endless quality of the world. There are an infinite number of fish in the sea, stars in the sky, etc. Eg. God promises Abraham to make Israel as numerous as grains of sand on the beach, right? That sort of poetry is everywhere in every ancient text. And that endless quality is always assumed to be a good thing, right? So that’s where the property manager metaphor breaks down.

RCBecause property has boundaries and limits. You have to be careful to not over-graze, over-plant, etc?

JCHExactly! But Genesis sets no limits. So Western Culture has, until recently, had no limits. We can’t yet get our minds around the notion that you actually can run out of fish or wheat or water. You can use up the land. You can actually change the global temperature by running trains, planes and automobiles. That would’ve been unimaginable to a person in 500 BCE.

RCOr even in 1850AD.

JCHRight. We’re living in a world now where we have to evolve our minds, super fast, to get past a model of thinking that is basically at the bed rock of the entire way of thinking THAT BUILT THE ENTIRE CIVILISED WORLD. And we have to do that in a matter of decades. We have to completely retool from a ‘subdue’ culture to a ‘steward’ culture, practically overnight.

RCI’m glad you used that word ‘steward’. I’ve seen that passage now translated in several Bibles to use ‘steward’ as opposed to ‘dominion’.

JCHSee I hate that kind o’ shite! That’s not what the author intended. That’s just not what people in 500 BCE thought. I understand the noble sentiment of a modern Bible editor who wants to get people to be more ‘environmentally conscious’, but you don’t do that by re-writing history. Even when done for good purposes, it smacks of 1984. And I can see why many Evangelicals would recoil at such obvious monkey-business.

RCOK, enough philosophy. Let’s talk music. There’s the ‘fusion guitars’ at the beginning.

JCHSo the idea is that there are these fast, relentless themes that will keep coming back all throughout the piece. The vocals are the ‘humanity’, but the relentless, machine-like playing is never far away.

RCWhat’s that (sorry) ‘native’ sounding bit at around one minute in?

JCHThat’s just Genesis 1:28 in Hebrew. I wanted it to sound like a ‘mantra’ because that’s my memory of being in a synagogue as a kid. Orthodox Jewish services have a machine-like quality. There’s a ton of repetition that almost evokes a trance state. This ‘droning’ reminds me of machines that toil away tirelessly. Endlessly.

RCAnd then there’s a hymn in the center. That sounds very ‘frontier’, which is not what I expected. It reminds me of all those Ballads we used to sing in grade school. Like Casey Jones or even She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain.

JCHRight. Right. Whether it’s the Conquistadores in the 1500’s or Anglican Ministers during the Industrial Revolution or preachers in the Old West, we’ve always brought the clergy along to sanctify that “march of progress”. Think of that hymn “Jerusalem”, right?

RCGot it. The church not only evangelizes the natives, but blesses the spread of technology. The railroad is the ‘good news’ they’re spreading as much as Jesus.

JCHWell put! The hymn is selling the notion that the new railroad is an intrinsic good. Progress is an intrinsic good. And it’s ever-expanding. There are no limits.

RCUntil you run out of places for the railroad to go.

JCHWell, if you listen to it a few times, I hope you’ll catch something else. The prayer is not just to spread the technology (and thus the ‘good news’) everywhere. The prayer is also that new markets will constantly be made visible!

RCHuh?

JCHSorry to get back to philosophizing, but the free-market faith is not just that the markets, the tech will improve the world, it’s that there will always be new markets. That somehow as we make new stuff and explore new places, MORE new places will appear in which to sell the stuff. In other words, the central prayer is that the world is NOT a zero sum game. We will never run out of space. We may think there are limits, but there really aren’t. We just have to discover the new frontiers. The expansion never stops.

RCAnd you disagree.

JCHI do. I think that somewhere along the line we confused exploring and striving with mere wanting. There is never enough. If I want it? It has to happen. And even if we do have the technology to make that philosophy work, it feels ugly. It’s not the world I want to live in.

RCSo back to the music. Then there’s another ‘sermon’, but this time it’s sounds like the same ‘preacher’ you used in The One True Vine.

JCHSame guy. He’s a Northern Irish Church Of Ireland fire-breather I used to hear on the radio sometimes as a kid. But I gave him a new sermon; the sermon I kinda wish was somewhere in the Bible.

RCNot that too many people will care, but isn’t there some blasphemy in there?

JCHI suppose. But I re-read Nietzche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra a while back and the whole Prologue is sort of a mocking re-telling of the creation story. It has the same high-flown language. Well, OK. I decided to do the same thing–except that my version has that ‘stewardship’ POV as you put it. I dunno if that’s blasphemous, arrogant or just plain silly. But I wanted him to tell that story with the same vehemence as he might’ve broadcast all the hell-fire shite.

RCIs the ending, then, ironic or cynical? It really does sound like the end of a symphony. You’re always going on about Beethoven and ‘structure’.

JCHI’m honestly not sure. Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is not ‘program music’, it’s just music. I don’t have a play by play ‘plot’. The end winds out as it does because it’s a big piece and a big piece needs a big finish as we discussed two weeks ago. But speaking broadly, the ending is about hope. It’s hopeful. But as I said earlier, that can go at least two ways. Either the people in the story have faith in themselves and are praying that their hearts and minds will change in time to effect a solution. Or…

RCOr the people are still praying to the same ‘prosperity gospel’ that has worked for them for the past five thousand years!

JCHExactly. Some people may not see the need for a re-think at all and just want to double down. Maybe on another planet!

RCThat almost has a political tone to it–given the current election cycle.

JCHI see what you mean, but frankly, I started working on this long before 2016. So no, that has nothing to do with this music, except perhaps in that the two political parties kinda, sorta represent those two philosophies: steward or free-marketeer. But I am loathe to tug on that thread much as I don’t really feel like either major party has scored particularly high on the whole ‘stewardship’ test. People are simply not ready yet to think big picture about the ideas I’m expressing. Not really. Most of us are pre-occupied with our families, our mini-van, our baseball team, etc. If you are thinking about this sort of thing, you’re probably some sort of hippy-dippy, academic vegan who doesn’t own a TV (laughs). Thinking about ‘limits’ is probably where ‘racism’ was in 1900. It’s gonna be a long time before the average person makes it part of their daily thinking. So let’s forget that.

RCGot it. Let’s wrap it up with one other thing. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about the earlier snippets. On their own, they didn’t strike me as particularly ‘prog’. But when I listen to all four now, I hear how connected they all are. But if I didn’t hear this I wouldn’t get it.

JCHAs you know, I get this all the time. You hear a song by Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer or whoever and it immediately sounds ‘prog’, right? Their stuff that everyone loves all sounds ‘prog’. I mean, it’s when they sound ‘conventional’ that they all pretty much suck.

RCI never thought of it that way, but I take your point. That Gentle Giant album where they talk about selling out. Even though it’s meant to be ironic, it really is a weak album.

JCHRight. They want to have it both ways: they want to sound like a rock band and sell more records and make the record company happy, but they want to thumb their nose at the process. You can’t do that. You either rock it 100% or go home. But forget them (laughs). We don’t live in an ‘album’ world anymore. But that’s where my head is at. That’s how I think. I’m thinking about all ten pieces fitting together.

RCWe’ve talked about this before. The most common comment I’ve heard about your music over the years is that someone didn’t ‘get it’ until they heard maybe three or four songs or a whole record. They hear one song, it doesn’t grab them and then that’s it. But somehow, by accident, they hear a few other bits and then they’re hooked.

JCHRight. It’s that “Nobody’s Fool” thing. Nobody likes the guy at first, but he’s always saying, “I grow on people.” I’ve just decided that’s me; in real life and in art. I don’t know how to get people to sample three or four things. That’s just not how music works these days for most people.

RCAre we whining, son?

JCHNot a bit of it. You commented on your initial poor impression and if you are initially skeptical, how much more so the poor unfamiliar listener who happens upon my stuff, listens to 1:40 of any song and then has to decide whether to invest more time in the wonder that is ‘me’. I don’t know how to address that, so I don’t even try. Doing so puts one in that Gentle Giant conundrum you mentioned. All I can tell ya is that the record is of a piece. It’s written as a piece and it’s meant to be listened to that way. It would be swell if people like each cut on their own, but…

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