Mike Adams

I became a big fan of Ben Harper when I first heard his 2003 album Diamonds on the Inside. And who wouldn’t be inspired by lyrics like the following found in the song “Blessed to be a Witness”:

Corcovado (mountain) parted the sky
And through the darkness
On us he shined
Crucified in stone
Still his blood is my own
Glory behold all my eyes have seen

I am blessed to be a witness

Anyone hoping that Ben Harper would use his immense musical talent to spread the Good News of the Gospel Jesus Christ must have been as excited as I was when recorded There Will be Light in 2004. This brilliant gospel album featured The Blind Boys of Alabama and songs like “Pictures of Jesus” and “Mother Pray.” These inspirational gems will long be burned in my memory – not to mention stored in my IPOD.

Around that time, I was beginning to think it was too good to be true. Artists so versatile, so talented, so hip, and yet so unabashedly Christian are hard to come by. And then it happened. In 2006, Ben Harper released the album Both Sides of the Gun featuring the song “Black Rain.” As soon as I heard the songs’ lyrics about Hurricane Katrina, I began to regret my purchase:

You left them swimming for their lives
Down in New Orleans
Can’t afford a gallon of gasoline
With your useless degrees
And your contrary statistics
This government business
Is straight up sadistic

Harper wrote nothing at all racist in the opening verse of “Black Rain.” But I was annoyed nonetheless. Certainly, he was too intelligent to believe that those left behind in Katrina – both black and white – were helpless people who had made good decisions but just “(Couldn’t) afford a gallon of gasoline.” And his business about “This government business” seemed to miss the point that black dependency is caused, not remedied, by government intervention. Nonetheless, I kept listening:

You don’t fight for us
But expect us to die for you
You have no sympathy for us
Still I cry for you
You may kill the revolutionary
But the revolution you can never bury

Nor was there anything at all racist in the second verse of “Black Rain.” The jab at the Iraq War was a bit annoying. So was the idea that there is still a meaningful civil rights movement decades after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonetheless, I kept listening:

Don’t you dare speak to us
Like we work for you
Selling false hope like some new dope
We’re addicted to
I’m not a desperate man
But these are desperate times at hand
This generation is beyond your command


Mike Adams

Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and author of Letters to a Young Progressive: How To Avoid Wasting Your Life Protesting Things You Don't Understand.