One of the most rewarding things a person can do after a long, hard, stress filled day is to partake in a bit of ganja. It slowly lifts you up and makes everything better, as it melts away anxieties, and transitions a frantic mind into a calmer state. Making marijuana the perfect Yin to almost any Yang.
Ben Harper skillfully captures this transition in his classic song Burn One Down on his incredible ‘Fight For Your Mind’ album. It begins with the sober, soft echo of hand drums steadily building a beat until Harper’s guitar rings in notes reminiscent of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. The instruments stay there for a moment, setting a familiar worn out tone, which gives a low rise of anticipation for Harper’s conflicted voice.
The quiet, restrained passion held captive in his vocals is one of the most magnetizing qualities the artist holds. They smoothly float over, seeping into the listener, confiding in them a depth of emotion similar to being plunged into an icy ocean. (The cold is too shocking to feel entirely while warmth is an animalistic instinct thrashing wildly, and hope floats dubiously in the illusion of either reality, or dreams.) And this is exactly how he greets you in the first lines of Burn One Down, gently hitting high notes that are too soft to shock, but which captivate with an invitation to light one up and possibly make things better.
The song trudges on in this jaded manner until coming to the chorus for the first time, where Harper sings, “If you don’t like my fire / Then don’t come around / ‘Cause I’m gonna burn one down.” A full drum set then swings into play, along with a back-up guitar that transforms the song from tired to elated with the lyrical rallying cry of individuality. His lyrics only grow more meaningful in the first lines following the chorus, “My choice is what I choose to do / And if I’m causing no harm / It shouldn’t bother you.” They express (what should be) a golden rule of life. An interesting theory that heavily conflicts with modern religious and cultural values.
Burn One Down continues to progress in a mellow, positive manner which harmoniously embodies the essence of cannabis culture, until slowly fading out to the soft strumming of guitar and padding of drums. But before it does, the listener is privileged to one last bit of marijuana acumen when we’re told, “Herb the gift from the Earth / And what’s from the Earth / Is of the greatest worth.” A warning that tells us to appreciate and recognize mother nature’s offerings as the source of positive energy they are. An insurmountable task, still, for many.
After nearly 25 years, the relevance of his lyrics stands testament to the timelessness of the song. Showcasing it as an instant classic that epitomizes the cultural shift of the 60s, of love, of acceptance, and of peace. That calms and soothes the listener. This is why it was chosen as the first Terrific Tune Tuesday. It’s a song to lay back and share a spliff with a friend.