The Athlete and the Aesthete
The rules of the prize match are simple: No direct strikes to the face. No gloves are worn.
Jake Harman stares across the mat at his foe, a jacked-up Marine sergeant who looks like he could vaporize a village by flexing his atomic biceps. The combatants lock eyes, and Harman unloads with a melon-crushing slap to the back of the head.
It's a favorite tactic of Harman's. Not only does it hurt like hell, it lowers his opponent's buzz-cut head. Harman has the advantage he needs. He chops at the sergeant's tree-trunk-size leg with a precise kick. The Marine's balance is now supported by one leg, and a hasty retreat gets the bad one out of striking distance. But Harman targets the wounded limb again, and this kick creates a snapping sound that forces the Marine into a humble submission.
No Semper Fi for you.
The $500 prize goes to Harman, money he will spend not on Creatine but on music-making equipment and photography supplies.
Fighting on military bases is not the easiest way to make a buck, but it will produce cash faster than an ATM machine if you know how to whup some ass. Besides, it's much more profitable than the $34 Harman can get at the blood bank.
Plenty of artists claim that their blood and sweat go into their work. In Jake Harman's case, the cliche is true.
It is February 4, and there is a free art and music exhibition at Arizona State University's Memorial Union. The show is called "(r)evolutions," and features photographs of the people and equipment associated with Tempe's underground music culture. A comment book by the door is filling with positive responses from students and faculty who have been admiring the artist's work since it went up on February 1.
"You can't tell the difference between his work and that of a professional photographer," says Frank Hoy, a professor of photo journalism at ASU, of the poster-size photos of Tempe ravers on exhibit. "It's good to see someone that age on fire. His shots are top drawer."
Jaws drop when people learn it's the thick-necked guy with Popeye arms named Jake Harman who is responsible for the pictures and music that make up this event. Fair or not, Harman is a former varsity wrestler at ASU, and jocks fall into the meathead stereotype of someone who couldn't spell "camera" or "computer," much less operate either.
Harman's eye for detail is only part of the reason his beat-up camera--held together by tape--produces such interesting results.
When he's shooting, he sets the camera for a 60-second exposure and flashes a strobe light at his subject, which can be anything from a breakdancer to a turntable. Occasionally he'll hold a colored gel in front of the strobe, the color depending on the mood of the music being broadcast. If it's wild and wicked, he uses a red gel. A cooler, more mellow sound gets a blue one. This technique results in tripped-out pictures with ghostly, multiple images.
Right now Harman couldn't care less that he's proved to all of the "artists" from class that his diploma as a photography major isn't printed on a jockstrap. He wants this night's exhibit to resemble a jazz show, with five musicians working toward a seamless flow of sounds. Instead of a saxophone giving way to a trumpet, beats generated by Harman's computer will mesh with keyboard, turntable, guitar and bass.
But as he sets up for the music portion of his exhibition, that Murphy bastard is imposing his cruel law.
Computers crash, speakers don't arrive, rain falls on graffiti artist Frank Gonzalez, better known as Zeroh. Harman and Zeroh spent most of the morning assembling a giant plywood wall just outside for Zeroh to spray paint. The artwork is to be an advertisement for the show, since graffiti art is part of the underground scene Harman is celebrating.
The artist in Harman seems powerless to confront these gremlins. It's the warrior who will grapple with the problems.
"When something went wrong, coach would always say, 'What are you going to do, sit on the curb and cry? You've got to find a way to win,'" Harman explains. "So my motto for the show is, 'Make it work.'"
Simply reaching this point is a triumph in itself. Production costs have been fished out of Harman's shallow pockets, and he isn't charging admission. Blowing up and mounting the photos under glass, printing fliers and other expenses have forced him to sell a computer and put the quality of the show over the quality of his meals.
Rice and barbecue sauce can be a tasty dinner if dreams of a successful exhibition are dessert. And being a starving artist is easy--perhaps even rewarding--when you're used to struggling.
"I had a tough time growing up," Harman says. "I wouldn't wish my life on anybody. Not even my worst enemy."
He was born in Japan to a white father in the military and a Japanese mother. When he was 4 years old, the family moved to the outskirts of Anaheim, California, in the type of neighborhood where there were more hoods than neighbors. On a recent trip home, a memento from high school gave him reason to reflect.
"I was looking at my football team picture, and I realized that I was the only guy who was able to escape," he explains. "Most of those guys are dead or in jail. The rest are married with kids, working in dead-end jobs. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but thank God I made it out of there."
Going home is less painful than it used to be. Harman had a stormy relationship with his father growing up. He is reluctant to reveal details because "things are getting better between us. We're not the best of friends, but we're kind of reintroducing ourselves to each other."
Harman's parents had always seen art as a hobby, not something to print on a business card. The only adult in the family who encouraged his artistic bent was his American grandfather, a professional photographer who gladly shared his talents with his grandson. Young Jake was grateful to find a medium where he could creatively express himself, and developed a bond with his grandfather that filled a void in his life.
As a tribute to his greatest artistic influence and male role model, Harman shot black-and-white photos of his grandfather as his health steadily failed: Jake mopping the brow of his incapacitated hero with a washcloth. An old man with a plastic tube inserted in his nose, taking his final breaths. A recliner empty except for the crossword puzzle and reading glasses resting on the arm. A pair of slippers in eternal wait for the one pair of feet that match their indentations.
Not everyone was enamored of his camerawork.
"My uncles were pissed," he explains. "They thought I was being disrespectful, and they tried to get me to stop taking the pictures."
He says his grandmother told his uncles his grandfather would have wanted the photos made.
"Those pictures are going to be my next art show," Harman says.
Harman might have the soul of an artist, but it's hammerlocked inside the body of a wrestler. He has no tattoos or piercings. Aside from his warrior physique, his only distinguishing features are his "trophy ears," as thick and tough as cafeteria steaks.
"We're supposed to wear headgear during practice," Harman says. "But coach has a lot more to worry about than a bunch of pretty ears."
One of the concerns ASU wrestling coach Lee Roy Smith had was whether he should let Harman join his program as a walk-on. Harman transferred to ASU after graduating from Cerritos Junior College in Long Beach, California, where he excelled as a wrestler.
But ASU is a wrestling powerhouse. Big fish in juco ponds can easily find themselves organizing the equipment room instead of on the mat, representing a school vying for national titles.
"I told him that he would have an uphill battle, that it would be a real challenge," Smith says. "If he wanted to accept that challenge, then I'd give him a shot."
Harman fought to prove to his coach and teammates that he was worthy of the Sun Devil uniform. At first he was penciled in to add depth to an already crowded weight class, but his passion for the sport gave coach Smith other ideas.
"We had some injuries and problems in the weight class above him, so we built him up to 190," says Smith.
The only advantage this gave Harman was a psychological one. He would chow down on hoagies in front of drooling opponents who had to starve themselves to make weight requirements. Despite being undersize, Harman managed to compile a respectable .500 record against some truly intimidating specimens.
"He was always at a height and leverage disadvantage, but he compensated with a fierce desire to compete," Smith says. "His desire to be a part of our team means a lot when you're trying to develop a top-rated program."
The skills and intangibles Harman brought to the squad were rewarded with a partial scholarship. Former walk-on Aaron Simpson became one of ASU's best wrestlers before graduating in the spring of '98. He is now an assistant coach and still winces at memories of competing against Harman.
"I hated going up against him," Simpson says. "His intensity was unparalleled. I didn't want him to get the best of me, so we never half-assed it. Because of him, I was able to raise my own level of intensity."
Wrestling, school and his job as a bouncer at a nightclub monopolized most of Harman's time.
But the artist inside proved irrepressible. Harman would sing the national anthem before matches, then wrestle. For a photography class, he did a story-board presentation of the lifestyle of a wrestler--studying on the road, trying to make weight requirements, getting stitched up on the sidelines.
"Jake always had a fire in his belly that made him work harder than anybody in the class," says photography teacher Eric Kronengold. "I was able to show him more techniques than usual because he could take on a lot at once. He's really quite talented. I'd put money on him making a successful career in photography."
Another art teacher encouraged Harman's musical interest. 3D instructor Brad Nelson let Harman bring tapes he'd made on the computer to play in class. When Nelson saw students bobbing heads to the beats, he asked Harman to perform at Nelson's master's thesis show. The show was an exhibit of the functional furniture Nelson had created around the rave culture. Nelson believes that Harman's music helped make the presentation a success.
"There was an article in Java plugging the show, and it mentioned that there would be music there," Nelson says. "A bunch of breakdancers showed up, and it really set the mood. After that, almost everybody doing their thesis show had music involved in some way."
Harman credits the wrestling program--and especially Lee Roy Smith--for what he has accomplished on and off the mat. As a college wrestler, Smith himself was a national champion. But his toughest challenge may have been getting the hyperactive Harman to focus his energies in one area.
"This is Jake in a nutshell," Smith says, grabbing half a dozen baseball caps off a hat rack. He puts on each hat with all the brims pointing in different directions.
"My job was this," Smith says, taking off all the hats except for the one facing forward.
Harman got his degree last fall, and he is trying in some way to distance himself from the persona that thrived on violence. Yet he still considers the team his family, and the lessons learned on the mat will never be forgotten. He still works out with the team on occasion.
"Coach once told us that our wrestling meets should be a celebration, not a stressful event," Harman explains. "With all the hard work we do to prepare, we should celebrate by dismantling our opponent. The values and properties of wrestling are what I'm bringing to this show--a solid work ethic, perseverance, discipline.
"I wouldn't have the drive or confidence to do this if it wasn't for what I learned. I want this show to be a celebration."
Harman has been into music since he was 6 years old, sneaking out of Sunday school to play "Jingle Bells" on the church organ. As a teenager, he was the lead singer of a rock 'n' roll band that played in front of crowded bars.
At ASU, he hooked up with wrestling teammates Quinn Foster and David Douglas to form a hip-hop group called 3rdRail. Harman produced the tracks on his computer, and Foster and Douglas rapped over the beats when they did shows at BoJo's, a bar with a hip-hop night.
Making the computer-generated music is a process that Harman is still perfecting. He has no use for instruction manuals and prefers to learn by trial and error. As more computer programs become available, he's on a quest to absorb as much as he can.
"It's weird because the more advanced the technology gets, the more human it sounds," Harman says.
Harman sits in front of the computer in his room, downloading the song in his head into a program called Buzz. He has chosen the opening bass line from Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" as a building block. That intro loops through the speakers, and Harman verbally tests a beat.
Bom, ts ts, bom ts ts. Ba bom bom . . .
The keyboard is his instrument, translating his unintelligible noises into electronic harmony. After some minor adjustments to get the beats to flow smoothly, Harman's newest creation rattles walls and pisses off neighbors.
Only a bed and a pile of clothes are proof that these quarters are a bedroom. A thin strip of stained carpet is all that holds back the technological empire threatening to take over the room. Besides the computer, Harman has a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, a turntable, a "piece of shit" Gemini mixer, an effects processor, a 16-channel Ramsa mixer, and various effects pedals.
"The best thing about all this equipment is it gives me total autonomy," says Harman. "I don't have to worry about a bunch of lazy band members never wanting to practice. I have an entire orchestra at my finger tips."
But producing music over the computer and then handing the tape over to Foster and Douglas left Harman feeling isolated.
"Playing in the hip-hop crew was fun, but there was no alteration of the music. I couldn't get a reaction from the crowd and then change the mood of the music to suit them," Harman says.
The chance to expand his music came when a promoter named T.J. asked 3rdRail to perform at a rave titled "Get the Hell Out of Dodge." Harman was a rookie to the rave scene, and he wondered if his music would fit.
"I think T.J. had a hard time filling out the bill because they weren't paying the DJs," Harman says. "But it seemed like it was going to be a music fest, so we figured, 'Why not do it?'"
Fear replaced his bravado when he took the stage at Dodge. Mainstream culture might view the hard-core ravers as a bit odd with their baggy jeans, spiked hair and penchant for sucking on pacifiers. But in blue jeans and a wrestling sweat shirt, it was Harman who was dressed like the freak at Dodge.
Fear turned to panic when Harman realized 3rdRail would follow Lego, the DJ who had provided the venue for the show.
"Lego was up there rocking the fucking house. The crowd was just wild," Harman says. "I'm setting up my computer, just hoping I have something to match the energy he's created. I was scared out of my mind."
At the end of his set, Lego dropped a simple beat for Jake to build up from. The crowd breathed as one impatient mass while Harman waited for his computer to boot up. He knew that if it didn't, 3rdRail would be the one booted.
"All of a sudden you hear BOOM, tsk, BOOM BOOM, tsk. Everyone in the crowd started nodding their heads and digging the beats. It was the most successful feeling when it all worked.
"I don't see the rave scene as my niche, but there are people within that scene that are like me. It's a network," Harman says.
One performer that Harman has met through his networking is Radar, a DJ in the internationally known crew Bombshelter DJs. In the past two years, Radar has won several awards, including a New Times Music Award for Best Club DJ.
"The thing that's so cool about Radar is he's so big, but so humble," Harman says. "He'll drop some names, but it's not like he's bragging. He's living it. There are a lot of DJs with no skills who say, 'Yeah, I can outscratch you.' The same is true in wrestling. The guys who talk the most shit are the ones who always get throttled."
Radar's resume reads like a table of contents for Source magazine. He's performed on the same bills as such bands as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Notorious B.I.G. and the Wu Tang Clan. He's earned an internship for the Beastie Boys' label, and he was the DJ for the Dallas Cowboys' private party after Super Bowl XXX. He is only 21, and the world is his turntable.
The two met one night when Radar was performing at Nita's Hideaway, a bar the Bombshelter DJs turned into their own showcase.
"We love to convert people who aren't into our kind of music," Radar says. "One night, there were a bunch of bikers that came in. They wound up staying the whole night. They left saying, 'This was fucking cool.'"
Harman had admired Radar's skills on the turntable before, so he brought along a Walkman and a tape of his own work for Radar to hear. He approached Radar during a break and gave him the gear. Talented DJs like Radar are used to having no-name hopefuls drop a tape on them for feedback. He politely told Harman he'd listen to it later and put the Walkman aside. A determined Harman picked up the Walkman, put the earphones on Radar's head and pressed play.
"I said to him, 'You made this on your computer?' It was really similar to the type of stuff I like to do," Radar recalls.
Now they are working together, first for Harman's art and music exhibition. They have plans to burn a CD. A room in Radar's house has been converted into a music studio with enough equipment to keep the duo productive. He has a bookcase containing more vinyl records than most music stores, and another giant pile stacked against the wall. On the same wall is a picture Harman shot of Radar, working behind the turntable.
"A good day for us is when we get to wear socks all day," Harman says. "If we don't have to put on shoes and go anywhere, then we probably got a lot of work done."
The show at Memorial Union is under way, and Harman's best-laid plans continue to be waylaid. The sound guy never does show up, so Jake and the other performers are relying on two weak speakers that buzz like plastic kazoos if the volume is turned up. The crowd of 100 or so doesn't seem bothered by the sound problem. After all, the show is free and there are cake, soda and Blow Pops, compliments of the house.
But Harman cares. This show is his baby, and he thinks it's so ugly he doesn't know which end to slap.
"This is going horrible," he says.
Midsong, Harman decides to put the speakers on wooden podiums to bring them to ear level. Now the volume needn't be so high, and the sound is much cleaner.
Meanwhile, the audience has its choice of entertainers to watch. Radar's hands blur across the turntable like a hip-hop superhero. Mike Ricci alternates between playing the bass and generating various techno sounds with a sampler and two CD turntables. Dan Salas, the guitar player from Harman's high school band, has driven in from California to add his skills. And Chris Gough of the Dennis Rowland Band has given up a paying gig to play keyboard.
Satisfied--but not delighted--with the sound, Harman strums the computer, overseeing the musical circus.
Someone in the crowd has brought a microphone, and asks Harman if he can plug in. Harman agrees, and the newcomer starts freestyling rap lyrics over the beats. This fires up the crowd and further camouflages the lack of quality sound. The mike is passed around like a joint as different members of the audience hit rhymes.
"I've never seen an art gallery with music before," says ASU senior Steve Lee, one of the rappers at the show. "I'm glad I came to this thing. It's cool."
Photography teacher Eric Kronengold didn't know what to expect. As one of the oldest heads in the room, Kronengold admits he was afraid he wouldn't cotton to the type of crowd that would be there. But he leaves with an appreciation for his former student's artwork and the culture he is celebrating.
"I expected to see something good, but I'm just overwhelmed," says Kronengold. "[Harman] could probably make a coffee-table book of the content of his work for this generation. I'm an outsider to this type of culture, but it's a wholesome atmosphere. I like the energy, and the music is positive."
At 9 p.m., the 90-minute show comes to an uneventful close. Dr. Dre doesn't bum rush Harman with a blunt in one hand and a record contract in the other. Annie Leibovitz isn't there trying to woo photography secrets, either.
However, Harman has accomplished what he set out to do. He has brought the underground culture into a mainstream setting. Insiders saw a growing appreciation for their milieu, and outsiders got a peek at a rave new world.
The toughest critic in the room is Harman, who seems a bit dazed as he breaks down his equipment. He has spent almost three months obsessing over the show, and suddenly it's over.
"I wasn't pleased at all with the sound," he says. "Luckily, I was working with veterans. I seem to be the most displeased person in the room, so I guess it was okay. As long as everyone had a good time."
"The show turned out really well," says Veronica Fallis, chair of the gallery for the Memorial Union. "Usually these things are quiet, maybe with a little piano music to set the mood. We've never had a show as big as this."
Once his work comes off the walls, Harman will start thinking of a way to turn his passion for art into steady employment. He believes his skills as a photographer might be the easiest to market, but he's reluctant to limit himself to a specific field.
His career as a warrior is over, so Harman is donning all the caps that his coach asked him to drop. Photographer, music producer, filmmaker--Harman dreams of working for some multimedia company that needs a professional dabbler.
"I'm going to be doing that stuff anyway, so I might as well get paid for it."
Contact Matthew Doig at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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