Ben Harper Offers A 'Lifeline'

Ben Harper was one of more than 30 musical guests to visit the Bryant Park Project — one of the first and one of the best. Harper gave us advice and played "Fight Outta You" from his album Lifeline.

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(Soundbite of song "Power of Love")

ALISON STEWART, host:

Jacob, what is wrong with you?

JACOB GANZ: Oh, this one - this one's on Dan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GANZ: This one's completely on Dan Pashman.

STEWART: It is our last day, and you and Pashman are playing Huey Lewis and the News on the return?

GANZ: Uh, no comment?

STEWART: No comment. Just like a New York journalist. Hey, welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We are on digital, FM, Sirius Satellite Radio, and online at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Alison Stewart. I take no responsibility for this music. And on this last day of the BPP, we are bringing you some new stories, but we're also revisiting some of our favorite guests.

Could you please turn this off? I'm going to give people some nice ear sorbet to get that out of their heads.

Since day one, music has been a big part of the BPP. We've had more than 30 musical guests perform in the past year. And one of the first, and one of the best, a lot of people say, is Ben Harper. He didn't just perform. He actually gave Luke Burbank and me a pep talk, as we embarked on this big NPR experiment. But we began by talking about Ben's latest album, "Lifeline," which was recorded in just one week. He told us about the importance of embracing imperfection.

(Soundbite of reverse playback)

(Soundbite of NPR's The Bryant Park Project, October 3, 2007)

STEWART: Did you go back and do things again or was it just that first take was the thing?

Mr. BEN HARPER (Musician): No. Oh, and every once in awhile we'd do two takes, but usually it was the first thing, which enabled us to do - record and mix it in a week.

STEWART: All right...

Mr. HARPER: If we started doing - if we went two and three takes down the line, it would have been a different kind of a session, and it'd be a different-sounding record.

STEWART: What do you mean a different kind of session?

Mr. HARPER: Well, it's just a different kind of session. It's going to - the record is going to have a different feel.

LUKE BURBANK: Are you OK with there being certain little imperfections, because that's sort of part of the thing?

Mr. HARPER: Yes. Yeah. We all had to embrace that and know - and be brave enough to say that's what's going to give it its strongest voice, is knowing that the rawness is the part of its essence.

STEWART: Was that hard to do, to embrace that?

Mr. HARPER: It's been a growth. I don't look back on my own work, but I think if I did, I'd see myself letting go up to this point, and finally truly letting go more so than I ever have, as far as my being inhibited by my definition of perfection.

BURBANK: Is that a confidence thing, too?

Mr. HARPER: Yeah. It is.

BURBANK: Because this is a fairly new radio show, and every time we mess up, we look at each other and go gulp. Maybe if we'd been doing it 10 years and people know that we're legit, maybe - is that part of it for you?

Mr. HARPER: No, I was not worried about the legitimacy issue, nor should you guys be, because you're behind the mike.

BURBANK: Thank you, Ben Harper.

Mr. HARPER: And you know what? It's your gig, and that's why you're talking and other people are listening.

STEWART: We hope.

Mr. HARPER: No. That's just - that's it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARPER: And at a certain point, you have to embrace that and own it. There's no room for false modesty. It's more irritating than overconfidence. There's never enough people with good ears in your media - in your profession. So, I'm excited that you're out there and doing it, and NPR, what a great, great - I mean, it's NPR, man. You guys got the gig.

BURBANK: Yeah, we did.

STEWART: Tell me about it.

BURBANK: This is pretty sweet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARPER: I mean, that's significant.

BURBANK: All the tote bags you can eat. It's pretty, pretty awesome.

Mr. HARPER: You guys got tote bags coming out of the woodworks here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: You need a water bottle? We can help you out.

BURBANK: We got tote bags and tote bags, man. We'll get you one, too.

Mr. HARPER: No, but you know what I mean...

BURBANK: Yeah.

Mr. HARPER: I mean, you know. (Whistling the Morning Edition theme) I mean, you know what I mean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARPER: It's NPR, for crying out loud.

STEWART: Well, all of Ben Harper fans are saying, you two be quiet.

BURBANK: Yeah, seriously.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Let Ben Harper play.

(Soundbite of song "Fight Outta You")

Mr. HARPER: (Singing) They'll look you in the eyes and stone you, then turn and disown you. Don't you let 'em take the fight out of you. They'll walk all over your name until they find someone else to blame. Don't let it take the fight outta you.

Secrets hide their lies inside hidden alibis. Don't you let it take the fight outta you. They put the world on a hook. It's worse every time I look. Don't let 'em take the fight outta you.

I would rather take a punch than not give you a shot. I'd rather find out who you are than who you're not. Should've known better than to mistake business for love. Should've known better than to mistake a fist for a glove.

It will be in your honor 'til you're not needed any longer. Don't let 'em take the fight outta you. Don't believe the headlines. Check it for yourself sometimes. Don't let 'em take the fight outta you.

The lies you live become you. The love you lose it numbs you. Don't let it take the fight outta you. They'll say that you've arrived. That's just a high-class bribe. Don't let it take the fight outta you.

I would rather take your punch than not give you a shot. Rather find out who you are than who you're not. Should've known better than to mistake business for love. Should've known better than to mistake a fist for a glove.

There's always someone younger, someone with more hunger. Don't let 'em take the fight outta you. They'll say your one and only will just straight up leave you lonely. Don't let 'em take the fight outta you.

Like a transplant patient waiting for a donor, Don't let 'em take the fight outta you. Like a half-empty balloon after a party in the corner, Don't let it take the fight outta you.

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New Songs from the Unstoppable Ben Harper

View video of Harper's performance at The Bryant Park Project on the show's blog.

Ben Harper i i

hide captionBen Harper recorded his new album in seven days.

James Green/Getty Images Entertainment
Ben Harper

Ben Harper recorded his new album in seven days.

James Green/Getty Images Entertainment

After spending nine months traveling and performing around the world, playing shows almost every night, most people would be ready for a break. But after their last tour, Ben Harper and his bandmates in The Innocent Criminals went straight to the studio. They emerged seven days later, having recorded Lifeline, an album of songs written during the tour's sound checks.

Harper recently sat down with The Bryant Park Project to play some music, talk about his live cover of "Purple Rain" and discuss the process of making a CD in a single week.

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