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In Days of Yore, When Dumbledore, Was a Pop Star

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So if you were a fan of Harry Potter or more precisely the films, you know Irish actor Richard Harris portrayed Professor Dumbledore in the first two films Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. But Harris died in 2002 and was replaced by another Irish actor Michael Gambon.

 An interesting aside, initially Harris was to be replaced by his lifetime friend, Peter O'Toole. Wildmen, Harris, O'Toole and Richard Burton were infamous in the the 60's and 70's for  tearing up Britain, Europe and North America during their prolonged alcohol and drug binges. (Richard Harris: Hellraiser Extraordinaire -  ) Harris gave up drugs in 1978 after a near fatal cocaine overdose and relinquished the booze three years later although he still engaged in an occasional pint of Guinness.... it being an undisputed fact, Guinness is a spirit of life not alcohol. 

Harris was an accomplished actor being nominated for Academy Awards (This Sporting Life, The Field) Golden Globes (The Field and winning for Camelot) and winning a Best Actor at Cannes for This Sporting Life. Beyond these films he is best know for the Brando version of Mutiny On The Bounty, A Man Called Horse, the quirky gunfighter English Bob in Clint Eastwood's western Unforgiven and Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator.

So, how is it this stage and screen star becomes the most unlikely of pop stars? Never underestimate the complete bizarreness and weird vibe of the 60s once they shake off the cloying mores and stifling norms of the previous decade. Kennedy's assassination is my personal cairn. Anyway, smoothly segueing back to Harris.... in 1967 he is chosen to play King Arthur in the musical film version of the 1960 Broadway play, Camelot. I find the movie atrocious; 3 hours of insipid drivel. Note, Vanessa Redgrave who plays Genevieve in her usual anorexic, seriously psychotic manner sings her own parts (for some undecipherable reason they update the names and Genevieve becomes Jenny, Lancelot equals Lance and while waiting for Arthur to morph into Art, I don't think it ever comes). While Redgrave is a great actress, she just can't sing and unsurprisingly this is the only singing role of her career. Her future companion and later husband, Franco Nero who plays Lancelot has all his vocals dubbed. So we can only guess how rotten he was. That leaves Harris.... wearing more eye-make-up than Mick Jagger at his feyest, Harris does an adequate job of Elizabethan thespian crooning, so much so that some tripping music exec, has the great idea, Richard Harris should release a solo album. Remember this is the same period when William “Capt. Kirk” Shatner releases The Transformed Man containing his versions of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Mr. Tambourine Man.... impossible to explain, they have to be heard. In 1968, as far as we know they weren't meant as parodies.  Tambourine Man: )

So a year after Camelot, Harris releases A Tramp Shining covering Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park and the rest is history. Imagine the mountains of coke, the barrels of Old Bushmills and chip-bowls of sugar-cubed acid that must have been mind-bogglingly consumed at those sessions. The only thing harder to imagine is this 7 1/2 minute overly orchestrated song, MacArthur Park becoming a hit (and 10 years later, it is again as Donna Summer turns it into a disco anthem). The weird thing is, along with it's follow up, The Yard Went On Forever, they are pretty good albums. Totally weird, stoned-till-you're-straight drugginess. Webb himself, plays piano and produces and he had Hal Blaine, session drummer extraordinaire join him along with Jim Horn (Rolling Stones) on sax and future Little Feat guitarist, Fred Tackett on the follow up album. Webb wrote all the songs on both albums. Webb is an exceptional writer, penning many of his most famous hits before he is twenty-five. Actually, if you want to hear the best versions of Galveston, Wichita Lineman, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, MacArthur Park and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress check out Webb's Ten Easy Pieces album from 1996. No shit, it's a great album!

HM

Richard Harris: MacArthur Park   

The Yard Went On Forever   

Jimmy Webb: Wichita Lineman  

MacArthur Park    

 
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