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Bargain Bin Babylon: Eddie Harris: The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit

Bargain Bin Babylon: Eddie Harris: The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit

This massive “fuck you” to the label putting out his music on record is conclusive proof no one at Atlantic was bothering to listen.

What does the existence of this album, The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit, released on Atlantic, a prominent and well-respected major label, say about the state of the record industry in the mid-‘70s? Was there so much money floating around that label execs didn’t even bother to listen to the product they churned out at a furious rate? Did anyone even care? It’s clear Eddie Harris doesn’t give a fuck and is willing to go a long way just to see what he can get away with on record. In this, The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit is a brilliantly subversive, if ultimately unlistenable, commentary on the record industry at its most bloated and irrelevant, proving that a bankable performer could literally take an aural shit on record and get it released without a second thought from label execs.

After a string of great to excellent jazz records aimed at the turned-on late-‘60s audience released on Atlantic, Harris proved to be a fairly mainstream jazz artist, able to reach listeners in both jazz and rock camps. Following the release of his landmark Montreux performance with Les McCann, 1969’s best-selling Swiss Movement, Harris turned out a string of top-notch jazz albums featuring his electrified, effects-laden sax work, a sound ideally suited to the more rock oriented audiences to whom Atlantic succeeded in marketing his albums.

But by the mid-‘70s, he seemed to be tiring of the whole major label routine and the growing trend of less than sophisticated audiences coming to see him perform. Pushing his luck, Harris began delivering mediocre releases like 1974’s I Need Some Money, its title an open admission to playing the system rather than focusing on any sort of artistic integrity. By the time he released 1975’s The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit, his fourth release for the label that year, Harris was clearly well beyond giving a fuck. Instead of laying down more half-assed, increasingly mediocre “jazz,” Harris assembled a series of live raps that plays more like a third-rate party record in a sub-Richard Pryor mode.

Scatological, lowbrow, obstinate and monotone to the point of being utterly lifeless, The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit is Harris’ “fuck you” to not only the record company but also the listening public at large. Throughout, it’s clear he could not possibly care less about the audience for whom he is performing (more often than not the subject of his low-key scorn and derision), the music or his record label. From extended raps on farting in public (“Singing And Straining”), the best ways to jerk-off (“What I’m Thinking About Before I Start Playing”) and the reason why he can say “fuck” as much as he wants (“Are There Any Questions”), Harris’ humor is amusingly self-aware at its best and tiringly juvenile at its worst.

Opening rap “People Getting Ready to Go See Eddie Harris” turns into a sort of meta- commentary on the evening’s performance (“What the fuck am I doing here? Who in the hell is that on the stage? When is Eddie Harris gonna come on?”) as Harris narrates the theoretical preparatory stories of his audience members, exposing their inner thoughts, prurient motives for going out (for the men, namely pussy) and questionable predilections (more than a few drug references). Clearly playing to an audience of heads, Harris knows what to say to get the audience going. Lethargically pandering, he plays to the era’s expectations of drug and sex-related humor, all cut through with a torrent of expletives.

While much of it is lazy, there are moments of sly wit that temporarily redeem this slab of knowing vinyl-plated excrement. “Some of the music we play is really not geared for your bumpin’ enjoyment; it’s geared for you to think. So for those of you who don’t think too much, I’m just tellin’ you about that shit before we drop it on ya,” he states dryly, clearly tired of the types of clientele his performances have begun to attract in the wake of his higher profile success.

Similarly, “The Next Band,” one of the more amusing cuts, finds Harris delivering a protracted complaint about having been requested to announce the next band coming through the club the following week (bottom line: he doesn’t give a fuck who the next band is, let alone if the club burns down). It’s also one of the few tracks to feature any sort of music, devolving into a slow, soulful groove that shows Harris to still be a performer in fine form (when he wants to be).

Harris saves his most searing vitriol for his label on the closing track “Eddie Atlantic.” Before easing into a funky groove to close out the album, Harris flatly states, “Eddie Harris records for Atlantic Records, so if you don’t have any of my records, go over to your friend’s house and take ‘em. People walk up to me and say, ‘I bought your album, I’m making you rich!’ I said, ‘Do you see my motherfuckin’ name? Is my name Eddie Atlantic?” That he managed to get this massive “fuck you” to the label putting out his music on record is conclusive proof no one at Atlantic was bothering to listen to the product they were releasing at the time. Ornery, subversive and ultimately exhausting, The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit is a bizarre pseudo-comedy record from an aging jazz musician seemingly at odds with everyone.

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