Timeless Tracks: Ben Harper
March 17, 1998 @ Calvin College Fine Arts Center – Grand Rapids, MI
Ben Harper’s Fight For Your Mind
“Dude, I got you a ticket for Ben Harper,” Kyle said.
“A ticket for who?” I ignorantly responded.
“Ben Harper. He’s good. You’ll like him. You’re going. He’s playing tonight at Calvin College” Kyle confidently said.
“Well, what does he sound like?” I asked.
“It’s good, trust me. I’ll pick you up at 6 tonight,” Kyle said with confidence.
“Uhhh, okay. Let’s do it I guess,” I said quizzically.
Ahhhhhh, high school. As those days recede from my memory much like my hairline, this dialogue does not. It was one of those random events shrouded in the stupid monotony of high school that are as fresh and awesome as the day it occurred. For the music obsessed, those moments when you first hear that artist or that album whether on vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD or live in person, are solid gold. These are moments of personal definition, whittling your character out a bit more, although the art you are appreciating is not your own. Kyle and I had a lot of conversations in the halls of our public high school, but this one forced me into seeing a musician that almost 20 years later, I still admire, respect and always anticipate new material from.
Kyle picked me up that night in his navy blue 1990 Cadillac El Dorado, a vehicle we’d logged many hours in listening to old Dead albums, trying to buy booze, talking about chicks, going to the mall, killing brain cells, driving around and eating the finest fast food West Michigan had to offer. Of all my friends at the time, Kyle easily had the most high-tech and best sounding stereo. You know that friend; the guy with the choice speakers and Pioneer detachable faced CD player, all having been put in within 6 months of receiving the coveted driver’s license. Yeah, Kyle was that guy and his stereo was a life changing revelation. Well, at least then it was.
Ben Harper’s “Burn One Down”
The show was scheduled for 7:30pm, so we pulled out of my driveway just after 6pm with time to kill. Naturally, we did what any 16 year olds would do… We drove around and discussed our math homework. This was a different cruise in his Caddy though. As I got into the car, he immediately queued up Ben Harper’s Fight for Your Mind. In hindsight, I wish we had listened to Europe ’72 or American Beauty for the 9 millionth time, so I actually could have gone completely blind into Ben Harper’s show that night, but that’s alright. We listened to the entire album start to finish as we killed time before the show. It’s completely cliché and usually pure fluff to say that the first 20 seconds of said album hooked me, but this is and was true cliché as I listened to the opening track (Oppression) off of Fight for Your Mind. As memory serves, I think I said something to the effect of…
“DUDE, this guy is for real.”
And Kyle responded, “RIIIIGHT?”
20 seconds into the opening track of Ben Harper’s Fight for Your Mind and I was hooked. I’m still hooked to this day. Anyway, we gingerly strolled into the concert around 7:30pm after having listened to the entire album and found our way to two open seats and waited for the show to start. In an hour and a half I’d gone from asking who the hell Ben Harper was to now having freshly stored the entirety of Fight for Your Mind in my head. I was ready to hear the tracks I’d heard. Hell, I just wanted to see what this guy looked like and how he performed.
Ben Harper’s “Fight For Your Mind”
He took the stage promptly at 7:30pm and sat down. Sat down? I had never seen a seated guitar player! I would later become obsessed with the workings of one Michael Houser, but this was my first encounter with a seated guitar player. A seated guitar player, who also played slide with the guitar lying flat on his lap – this was incredible!
The show took off right from the start, as Harper played a multitude of tracks off Fight for Your Mind, as well as pressing his most current release at the time The Will to Live and covering “Sexual Heeling” by Marvin Gaye and “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix. The concert was Ben Harper solo, without the accompanying Innocent Criminals that would anchor his backup sound for years to come.
This was the only time, to this day, that I have ingested an album start-to-finish then immediately heard that artist play a majority of those same tracks in a live setting. All of it without any clue to who the artist was, where they’re from, what sort of style they incorporate, etc. It was truly a blind taste test to what would become one of my favorite recording artists of all time. It was truly a special night.
Fight for Your Mind is an enduring piece of art that is still visible everywhere today. Couples have danced to “By My Side” at their wedding, burnouts have taken “Burn One Down” and made it their anthem, public service announcements have been made to “Give a Man a Home”, and politicians have played “One Road to Freedom” before they take the pulpit. Released in 1995, Fight for Your Mind lives on as a remarkable bluesy, soul rock album. Rooted in the sounds of Mississippi John Hurt, tracing the ascendancy of Motown and the short lived, but legendary Jimi Hendrix, Ben Harper and the songs he wrote and perform on Fight for Your Mind are classics.
I once lived with five girls during one year at Michigan State. At one point one of the girl roommates was having issues with her boyfriend, so I bought her Fight for Your Mind to help remedy the situation. Her boyfriend Brad thanked me later. Ben Harper’s Fight for Your Mind is a soundtrack for just about any situation, and as Kyle said it during high school, “He’s good. You’ll like him.” Almost 20 years later, he was right. That day marked my embarkation aboard a lifelong voyage with Ben Harper.
Thank you Kyle, good call.
Written by Allen Byrne
OurVinyl | Contributor
Ben Harper’s Fight for Your Mind:
Ground on Down
Another Lonely Day
Please Me Like You Want To
Gold to Me
Burn One Down
Excuse Me Mr.
Fight for Your Mind
Give a Man a Home
By My Side
Power of the Gospel
God Fearing Man
One Road to Freedom
The set-list from Ben Harper, March 17, 1998 @ Calvin College Fine Arts Center – Grand Rapids, MI:
Ground On Down
Burn One Down>
Gold To Me>
Fight For Your Mind
Roses From My Friends
Glory & Consequence
Waiting On An Angel
By My Side
Shall Not Walk Alone