Roy Harper’s epic songs
Roy has written a number of epic songs; songs of length that grapple with the big topics of life – the purpose of life, human history, the nature of human society and what we are doing to the planet. I know of no other poet/musician who has attempted to deal with such broad canvasses, such deep philosophy or fundamental issues. Dylan is the only one for me who has come near. Not only that, but Roy has managed to create accessible musical opuses of great artistic beauty in the process. With songs such as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, ‘McGoohan’s Blues’, ‘Me and My Woman’, ‘The Game’ and ‘One of Those Days in England’ he dealt with the major philosophical questions poetically while also producing outstanding musical compositions.
I think one of Roy’s first attempts at an epic song was to be found on ‘Come Out Fighting Ghenghis Smith’.
‘Circle’ was an attempt to analyse that difficult period of time in adolescence when one is changing from a child into an adult and discovering oneself in the process. It is such a difficult age. There are so many expectations. Life is still such an unknown.
Family are protective but you want your freedom, to break out and be yourself. It is a period fraught with doubt and fear. The big world outside is exciting, full of opportunity and possibility, but also full of pitfalls and danger. Parents want security for you but that seems bland and boring. You look at their lives and are not impressed. You want adventure, excitement and to discover all there is to know, to feel and experience.
It is a time to break away and develop – to find yourself, but also a difficult transition when one is trying to understand the feelings one is beset with as well as to develop a philosophy of life. As if that is not hard enough you are struggling to deal with love, relationships and how one was going to make a living in the future. All that when one’s brain was in meltdown and rewiring into that of an adult. It couldn’t be worse timing.
Roy expressed it so well.
Well I was eighteen when that album came out and I was going through that trauma. I played that album constantly, absorbing the lyrics and identifying with every word. It expressed everything that I was struggling with – perfectly.
‘Look at the literature under his arm, he is doing his best to impress you
Man of the world and his own daydream hero he desperately tries to convert you
But his thoughts they are changing – and as he looks at himself
He looks at himself
Oh where am I going and what am I doing? My head is so big and so weary
It’s no good me trying to be all the things that I’m not I’m me and I’m me only
And I’ve been so greedy, I’ve always wanted to be
And never just been.’
Roy seemed to be describing the battles I was facing on a daily
basis. I was up all night gabbling away with my friends about life, the universe, infinity and purpose. My parents and lecturers wanted me to study for a career while I was obsessed with my girlfriend, gigs, literature, my mates, purpose, music, my motorbike and craved to be out on the road going places, meeting people and experiencing adventure. I had a head full of Kerouac and Harper and I was bursting with energy.
‘It’s about time you pulled your socks up, me lad
Otherwise you’ll get a rude awakening’
Well I guess I’ve had a few rude awakenings but I also had more than my share of freedom, fun and adventure on the way.
Thanks Roy. That was epic.