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Meditations on Crime

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“When you look at the history of song, romantic love songs may be the dominant mode of songwriting, but second would probably be songs involving crime―murder ballads, political protest songs; crime is a major theme in all songwriting,” says Harper Simon.

He offers a new and expansive contribution to this legacy with Meditations on Crime, an ambitious multi-media project that includes an album he produced of musical collaborations with a sweeping range of contributors (Julia Holter, Gang Gang Dance, King Khan, the Sun Ra Arkestra) and a book he edited featuring essays by such notables as Miranda July, Hooman Majd, and Jerry Stahl, alongside artwork from giants like Cindy Sherman, Tracey Emin, Julian Schnabel, and Raymond Pettibon.

The genesis of Meditations on Crime came in 2016 as the confluence of several ideas. Simon was interested in collaborating with musicians he knew and admired, to create a vinyl LP with an accompanying book―"a beautiful physical object to stand outside the digital world.” Given what America was going through during that particular election year, though, he also thought it was a time that called for something more politically charged.

Meditations on Crime―if you get down to it, crime is politics and politics is crime, so crime can go a lot of different ways. It seemed to be a way of approaching the moment that was a little more subtle and left space to explore.”

The songs were developed in a variety of ways: Sometimes Simon sent his collaborators guitar tracks or demos he was working on and had them write over that, sometimes he collaborated on lyrics. On the Sun Ra Arkestra track, he composed melodic themes and went to the group’s home base of Philadelphia with the legendary producer Hal Willner, where they fleshed out two songs (Willner passed away in 2020 from Covid; “to have that creative moment with him makes it really touching for me,” says Simon.

As he reached out to more musicians (“I kind of just went with my gut, and one person led to the next”), Simon retained a consistent backing band for most of the tracks to keep some cohesion. He played most of the guitars, with Paz Lenchantin from the Pixies on bass and Carla Azar, who has played with everyone from Jack White to PJ Harvey to The Who, on drums, as well as members of Ariel Pink’s band and Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.

For the book, Simon points to “On Crime,” the essay by Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri, as a central piece. “It almost felt like an introduction because it was so philosophical,” he says. “It really set the tone and the book started to become less political and more interesting. Once that tone was set, you could go to this beautiful essay on war crimes by Janine di Giovanni, the famous foreign correspondent. You could see it go to a humorous piece by Jerry Stahl or an interview with Kenneth Anger. Wayne Kramer from the MC5 has a foundation called Jail Guitar Doors that brings musical instruments and songwriting to prisoners, and has spent time in prison himself, so I thought he would have an interesting perspective.”

352 pages. Paperback.

About the Author

Harper Simon is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer. Simon's talents have appeared on several studio albums, and he has been featured in films and television shows. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

In Jonah Freeman's art, architecture reflects dystopic visions, psychotic episodes, and the workings of drug-related subcultures. Freeman is best known for the maze-like installations he has created with artist Justin Lowe; their 2009's Black Acid Co-Optransformed Deitch Projects into an illicit laboratory/squatter's den. He has also worked in video; 2004's The Franklin Abrahamchronicles life in a futuristic mega-block of an apartment complex. His art has appeared in the Prague, Tirana, and Busan Biennials, and at museums including MoMA PS1 and the Wexner Center for the Arts. He lives in New York City.

Johan Kugelberg has more than 30 years of experience in the U.S. entertainment and art industries. From 1990 to 1994, he was the General Manager for Atlantic Records subsidiary Matador Records and a marketing and A&R executive for Def American Records from 1994 to 1997. He was the curator of the punk/rock sale at Christie’s in 2008, the first major auction sale devoted to punk. In addition, he has served as a curator and consultant in pop culture fields for auction houses including Christie’s and Phillips de Pury. As an archivist, he has created comprehensive collections in the fields of punk, hip hop, and counter culture, focusing on printed works, ephemera, photography, and book arts. Currently, he is the owner and curator of Boo-Hooray, an archival processing company and project space in Manhattan. To date, Boo-Hooray has placed more than 120 archives with museums and university libraries around the world. He lives in New York City.

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