The Passions of Great Fortune, by Roy Harper

The Passions of Great Fortune, by Roy Harper

Harper literally bares all in the form of lyrics, commentary and photos.

Roy Harper’s The Passions of Great Fortune is more than just a collection of the man’s lyrics and poetry—it’s an artist-led exploration through one of popular music’s most interesting and ultimately inscrutable characters as well as a photo journal of decades-long career that’s seen Harper create and curate a vast body of work and cultivate an impressive assemblage of famous friends.  Though many of them are more widely known than Harper, they all have in common a professional respect for the man’s personality and music, as evidenced by Kate Bush’s introduction to the book at hand. 


The book is organized to chronologically cover the entire Harper discography up to its 2003 publication; of course, the intervening years have only seen one new Harper release (the 2005 Death of God single), so it can still be considered an authoritative source for nearly all of Harper’s prolific words.  Each album cover is pictured, often with a general, small print statement at the bottom of the page in which Harper remarks generally on the album.   This format permeates the entire book—the lyrics to the songs themselves are all accompanied by some sort of commentary from Harper.  This can either take the form of long, in-depth and often illuminating explication, as in the case of epic songs like “One of Those Days in England” and “The Game,” but just as often the commentary is terse and/or opaque, as in the case of “Acapulco Gold,” whose epigraph coyly states “A bit further down, and a bit further up,” as if the song’s cannabis leaf photograph backdrop should suffice.


Speaking of the book’s photos, it’s nearly as much of a treasure for its photography as it is for the words.  Pictured within are Harper in as many different states of hirsute fashion as could possibly be imagined, and at least as many photos of women he encountered through the course of his career—often aesthetically accomplished but undeniably erotic.  We also get plenty of postcards from the 60’s and 70’s, featuring Harper’s legion of famous friends, including Keith Moon, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, David Gilmour, Ronnie Lane, John Paul Jones and Bill Bruford, all making it look like it was probably the best couple of decades during which anyone could hope to be a rock star.


To return to the book’s stated purpose, it’s fascinating how well it dually works as both an accompaniment to Harper’s albums but also stands on its own as a written work.  It’s probably not surprising, considering the poetic nature of Roy’s writing and the fact that some of his recordings feature spoken word tracks, but what is surprising is that some of the lyrics, like Lifemask’s “The Lord’s Prayer,” for example, may actually work better poetically than the recorded versions do, allowing more time to savor the depth of the imagery and allowing for visual reference of the lyric’s entirety.  When it comes to Harper’s commentary, the artist often provides helpful insight into the words’ meanings, but more often than not the full potential of the words is open-ended and ultimately up to the reader to decide.  In this way, the book is not unlike Harper’s famous live persona—always ready to ramble about social, religious or political themes for three times a song’s length, but ultimately saying far more with the music itself.  The Passions of Great Fortune is, like the man himself, an enlightening, frustrating, triumphant, tragic and always magnificent experience.