Roy Harper epitomised the Sixties.
Looking back to the 1950s, life was extremely drab and conforming. I think of it as being in black and white. It was only towards the end, with the advent of Rock ‘n’ Roll that things started to wake up. But Rock ‘n’ Roll was visceral. It took the intellectual rebellion of the Beat Generation to come up with a real philosophy. There we had it – Zen, dope, sex, Jazz, poetry and the road. A different way of living.
In the sixties the visceral Rock joined with the philosophy of Beat, along with a sacrament or two of psychedelic awakening, to create that unique 60s revolution.
Unfortunately the people who were leading the movement tended to be the musicians and most of them were not equipped to articulate any sound philosophy or direction. But Roy was. He epitomised what the sixties was all about.
It was the civil rights movement and anti-war movement (aimed at Vietnam) that galvanised the youth. It opened our eyes to the fact that our society was not being run for the right reasons and our politicians and businesses were not leading us down the right path. The greed, selfishness and violence were self-evident.
The youth of the day had absorbed the message from Beat poetry that there was a superior, less hypocritical, more fun, and more fulfilling way of living. It couldn’t be just paying lip-service in church, trying to make lots of money, working in a boring career and being a cog in a machine to service a wealthy elite, that, if you played all your cards right, you could join (the carrot). It could be creative, inspirational, individual and fulfilling.
So when Roy, who was steeped in Beat Generation philosophy, and had lived it while on the road, came along with songs like Circle and then the majestic McGoohan’s Blues and I Hate The Whiteman, he had distilled all the elements, made it a British version, and put in words what was in our heads. He was the genuine article.
I think Roy shamelessly rejected the whole aim of Western society with barbed poetry aimed at its warmongering ways, destruction of our natural way of life, its warped values and plastic universe. He wanted something better based on sharing, community, fun, love and fellowship. He hankered after that nomadic hunter-gatherer society with the freedom and closeness to nature that we had lost.
I don’t think that anybody else, apart, maybe, from sixties Dylan, ever got closer. Roy was full on with an intensity and fury that some found hard to take. As a musician he was excellent; as a poet he was outstanding; as a social commentator he was in a class of his own and as an example of what the sixties was all about he was unparalleled. That early Harper was an idealist, an optimist and really thought that by pointing out the gaping problems in society we could build a better world – like so many of us back then. He believed that our little band of freaks was pointing at a better way.
Perhaps it was just a pipe dream?