The Guardians opens with a story from the July 24, 2008, edition of the Riverdale Press that begins, “An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night as it pulled into the station on West 254th Street.” Sarah Manguso writes: “The train’s engineer told the police that the man was alone and that he jumped. The police officers pulled the body from the track and found no identification. The train’s 425 passengers were transferred to another train and delayed about twenty minutes.”
The Guardians is an elegy for Manguso’s friend Harris, two years after he escaped from a psychiatric hospital and jumped under that train. The narrative contemplates with unrelenting clarity their crowded postcollege apartment, Manguso’s fellowship year in Rome, Harris’s death and the year that followed—the year of mourning and the year of Manguso’s marriage. As Harris is revealed both to the reader and to the narrator, the book becomes a monument to their intimacy and inability to express their love to each other properly, and to the reverberating effects of Harris’s presence in and absence from Manguso’s life. There is grief in the book but also humor, as Manguso marvels at the unexpected details that constitute a friendship. The Guardians explores the insufficiency of explanation and the necessity of the imagination in making sense of anything.
I’m glad you’ll get to hear a snippet of our singalong at Spring Hill — those days seem impossibly happy now. Do you know Harris and Mark Yokoyama played my wedding song? Later that night the electricity went out and we had no music; Harris stepped in and kept the party going with his fiddling. –Michelle Tsai
Javier Garcia recorded this on his video camera. Michelle posted a shorter, cleaner version on flickr.
Who else was at Spring Hill? And what year was this?
In the Summer of 1995, Harris studied in Poland and then traveled though Eastern Europe with friends. I remember he called me from a payphone in Istanbul with a view of Hajia Sofia. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and at 5am and he prefaced the conversation with “Hey Michelle! Do you know that Tom Waites song “Phone call from Istanbul?”
Claude Cahn was one of the friends Harris met and traveled with that summer and he sent me the following music on audio cassette. The majority is not of Harris playing, but I wanted to put the entire recording here anyway. I also have some of the DATs he recorded that summer and his notebook from the trip that I will get on line as I come to them.
Here is the note from Claude: We were together at the Kuprivshtica festival, which is where I met him — Christina Crowder had appropriated him from somewhere. She had taken the bus from Hungary, while I had flown, because through some weird fluke Balkan Air had a special to Sofia which was cheaper than the bus (why do I remember all this?). We then went as a big Americo-Bulgar train to Veliko Trnovo, where we did some drinking and some busking (more of the former) and some listening to the earliest Bulgarian hip-hop. One of the guys we were with, who I remember only as “Vladi-Badi” (his first name was Vladimir, was a producer of Bulgarian rap). The other guy we were with was a great guitar songster type called Harry Zachariev, who had been in Syria and elsewhere working as a musician. He is the person singing on the recordings with Harris. Harry I heard died a few years ago, I think as a result of recurring hard drugs issues. Harry’s girlfriend was with us too, but I don’t remember her name. Then I was with Harris in Istanbul and we went hunting (and found) disused synagogues in an old Jewish neighborhood.
Anyway, I’ll send you the stuff. It is not much, but there is at least one gem on it (Track 1. Harris playing along to a really bawdy Bulgarian song being sung by Harry Zacharaiev).
And now for some R-rated tracks:
01 Bawdy Song #1
02 Bawdy Song #2 (All the Animals Are F*cking?)
03 Explaining Lyrics (Dirty and Not Dirty)
04 Makedonsko Devojcke
05 Say the Words to the Russian Song
06 Festival Music A
07 Festival Music A
08 Festival Music A
09 Festival Music A
10 Festival Music B
11 Festival Music C
12 Festival Music C
13 Festival Music D
14 Festival Music D
15 Festival Music E
16 Festival Music E
17 Festival Music F
18 Festival Music G
19 Festival Music H
20 Festival Music I
21 Festival Music J
22 Festival Music J
23 Festival Music J
24 Festival Music K
25 Festival Music L
26 Festival Music L
And Harris, himself, kept a notebook. Here is an excerpt:
Tuesday, August 8th
…Met Harry and Juli! Americans left. I hung with Harry, Juli, Nikki (who lives next door to my place) and Irene (Harry’s girlfriend) until 6am.
Wednesday, August 9th
Wet to record store with Harry, bought tape, CD. Had lunch with his friend, “S—-” (illegible). Went to his recording studio, “Studio-x.” Met Vladi. Saw his software. Heard rap music produced at Studio-x. Evening: Called parents at Sheraton. Pizza (good) for dinner. Met Harry and Juli at Palace of Culture (this time with my violin). Jammed until 3am.
Thursday, August 10th
Tried to be a tourist. Saw Nevsky Church, Mosque, Museum of History. Sitting on strut (?) reading guidebook, met Christina. She came with me to Studio. Met Go-Yo. Eventually we all went out. Up until 5am. She crashed at my place (she was quite drunk).
Friday, August 11th
I am now on a train to Koprivshtitsa . I am alone because the others had to stay to collect their things. I will meet Christina, Harry, Irene and Vladi there.
On train to Istanbul
Much of what I did in Koprivshtitsa is recorded in the small notebook and documented on two DAT tapes (which I have yet to unearth – m). Here are some details:
Friday, August 11th
Arrived in Koprivshtitsa. Crowded! Walked around town. Went up to hotel to try to drop my packs. They wouldn’t let me and couldn’t help me find a room. Outside, I met Cecelia and friend. Discovered she knows Christina and that she was meeting Claude in town at 7:30. I went to town and met Claude (called out “Claude” to a geeky-looking American guy). Met up with Cecelia, went to her room in a village house. Dropped my stuff there. Went to a park in town with Claude, Cecelia and ( ) [sic – m]. There was a group of musicians sitting around a table and they suddenly began to play. I recorded some of this. People were dancing too. We went back to the stage in town and found Christina, Harry and Vladi. Christina was drunk. She told me that I sucked and that my playing was too “classical” and that I had to come to E. Europe to live and learn the music. We jammed (Harry, Claude, me) but Christina was really unable to play. [she doesn’t remember anything from that night but she got a lot of scratched and bruises from falling over]. Cecelia played some rockin’ Hungarian and Irish music on fiddle. Eventually went to a different pub with Cecelia. The same band was playing (minus gadulka). Recorded and photographed. Cecelia danced.
Saturday, August 12th
I climbed up the hill to the festival proper and… oh my god! It was packed. I almost couldn’t move. There were thousands of people and everywhere there was music. Along the path there were stands with people selling food, drinks, hats, trinkets, and of course, musical instruments. Old people were walking around in their regional costumes. Children were dancing and playing. It is pretty well-documented on tape and in the small notebook. We found Irene and Nikki from Sofia. Christina, Vladi and I got a much better room in a lovely village house. Heard Irish music on the way down hill with Christina. That night we had a long jam session with Christina, Harry, Claude, Cecelia. People even listened to us. Met Svetlio (now I know all the Studio-x-ers). Zurna players were playing in the street at 3am. I taped them.
Sunday, August 13th
More festival. Left my tape recorder on for a while and walked around. Met Harry and Irene. Harry helped me look for a gadulka. We didn’t find anything inexpensive. Finally went down the hill with Christina after buying slippers and rosewater for relatives. Sad because the festival was over.
I bought a zurna. Svethio asked a zurna player to show me his moves. He was a yuppie from near Macadonia. I got to play a nice one. The guy wanted $100 so I left and then Harry bought one at the “Bulgarian price” ($30) and sold it to me. The trick was good except that I didn’t get exactly the one I wanted. No matter. Harry looks out.
Harry, Irene, Christina, Claude and I got on a train to Veliko Tarnovo. Vladi and the Hungarians (whom he called fondly “Majarbi” [??? -m]) were to follow the next day. They wanted to see Koprivshtitsa.
On the train we jammed some more. Christina taught me some Irish tunes. I wrote out lyrics to “Sittin’ on top of the world” for Harry and he wrote lyrics to
(Makedonsko Devojcke) for me.
In Veliko Tarnovo, Harry found his friend, Nikki and Nikki put up in his house. Nikki’s house is a squat right neat the river in Veliko Tarnovo. It has a great view and enough floor space for us. Nikki is a big guy. The kind of guy that you’re glad is on your side. He’s a real sweetie with a psychotic little dog. Unfortunately he doesn’t speak English.
There we played some more…
Monday, August 14th
We went to a terrace cafe in Veliko Tarnovo with a great view. I took a picture of Harry and Irene there. We chilled for a long time. It seems to be the Bulgarian way.
We were going to busk but when we went back to Nikki’s place (without him), we couldn’t find where he hid the key (he had given instructions to Harry). So instead we went to the castle and climbed around the walls. It’s another great view from there. On the top is a very strange church with socialist realist religious art! I bought a photo on the way out. In the evening, we chilled some more in a different cafe. Then we played music at Nikki’s. I recorded some, I think (check the small notebook). I tried Christina’s gaïda and regretted not getting one in Kop.
Vladi had missed all his meetings with us but at midnight, Christina decided to go again to the meeting place (near the post office). She found him there with the Hungarians and she brought them to Nikki’s. We played music. It must have been strange for Nikki to suddenly have three more people show up at his doorstep but he put them up without a word. We slept like sardines: five side-by-side on the floor.
Tuesday, August 15th
Chilled in the same terrace cafe. We played on the street for a while while Vladi went with the Hungarians to see the town. Then we chilled some more. Then we changed cafes and chilled. Vladi met us there. I debated whether to go with Harry, Irene, and Vladi to the Black Sea coast. Vladi really wanted me to go but I think Irene was sick of us. I decided to go with Christina and Claude back to Sofia so I could get to Istanbul in time to see it for a few days. So we all said goodbye in the train station.
[I have not yet located this small notebook he mentions. I will keep looking -m]
Once upon a time – sometime around 1993 – Harris said to me, “Michelle, you should really learn Photoshop.” And I (who was at that point mostly computer illiterate) looked at him dumbly and asked “Why?”
Jumping ahead to 1996, I was working in Photoshop daily as a website designer in Los Angeles and my boss turned me on to this really cool company in NY. I emailed it to Harris with a note that he should submit his resume there when he graduated. He responded via email, “Why?” and promptly lost the information. Roughly six months later, Harris was working there anyway.
My friend, Paul, who never met Harris but was a frequent visitor to Jazz Central Station back in those days, wrote the following on his blog in a tribute to Harris:
In addition to composing and performing music, Harris was also a software engineer. One really cool thing he did was coming up with the The Hidden Chair. At Jazz Central Station (a really good music BBS I used to visit), there was a drawing of a chair that was part of the graphic in the left nav without any indication that it was a link of any sort. It totally just blended into a larger graphic. Clicking this chair took you to a hidden discussion board that became an integral part of the core of the community. As somebody on a bulletin board said upon learning of Harris’ passing:
I was thinking about The Chair yesterday, I really was. That was a cool concept that was pulled off so successfully. Harris didn’t tell anyone about it, he just let users find it and have fun. Well it was a gift he gave us.
N2K Inc., New York, NY 8/1996 – 3/1998 Technical Project Manager
Redesigned high-profile music web site, jazzcentralstation.com. Directed site development from concept to launch as lead technologist in a team with marketing, design, and editorial staff. Managed a group of four programmers and HTML writers. Designed database schema and information architecture. Dramatically reduced labor-intensiveness of site production by creating web-based authoring tools. Created and nurtured heavily trafficked (> 500 posts/day) message board community.