I remember the first song I ever heard by Ben Harper.
I was a freshman in college, making new friends and discovering a semblance of independence. I participated in several student run organizations, and one of them was a vocal ensemble. A buddy of mine in the group invited me to hang with him and his housemates off campus. While kicking it, someone offered up a joint and we all sat there, “expanding our minds”, listening to Junta by Phish when my buddy got up and simultaneously asked me, “Have you heard this song?”
He opened up compact disc folder, pulled out a CD, and popped it into the player. Pecking the fast-forward button on the player with his index finger, the whizzing, internal, mechanical spinner settled on a track which opened with a soft, conga-beating rhythm. The song was “Burn One Down”, and the singer was Ben Harper. Talk about mood music. I was immediately drawn to the song, and after it had ended, my buddy started the disc, “Fight For Your Mind”, from the beginning with track one. We listened through the whole disc while talking about all things music.
On the way home, I stopped in at the college-town music store (which was replaced by a Kinkos after I had graduated … make sad face here …). I used the money I had earned working as a part-time beer server for fraternity parties to buy the only used Ben Harper CD that was in the rack, “Welcome To The Cruel World”, “sight unseen”. I would have bought “Fight For Your Mind” new, but money was a scarce commodity back then, and I just didn’t have much of it.
When I played that CD in my tiny boom box, in my tiny dorm room, the simple acoustic melody of “The Three Of Us” filled the room and captivated me. “Whipping Boy”, “Waiting On An Angel”, “Mama’s Got A Girlfriend Now” entranced me. “Forever” and “Walk Away” … my heart was spilling emotions from out of nowhere. I became and instant fan. 18 years later, and I’m still a fan.
I took two pages of notes about the show, but after reading this review and this one, I figured that I didn’t need to retell the stories Ben told or describe the audience’s emotions throughout the evening. That was already done by others, and eloquently so. But let me say … after being moved by his performance of “Forever”, a cover of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, in the “guitar like acoustics” of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, when Ben told the audience that he didn’t want the evening to stop, I could only wholeheartedly agree.
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UPDATED: 1/14/14: I found video online of Ben Harper performing Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” on Youtube.