Theater Review - Rumors of Kodac Harrison's retirement have been greatly exaggerated. Thankfully.
Atlanta poet/musician marks career transition with album and performance
Kodac Harrison's right hand shakes as he switches one painting for another on the brick wall of 7 Stages' lobby. "There's too much white here," he remarks as he tweaks the color arrangement of his 15 canvases, which evoke the swirling, spattered style of Jackson Pollock. Harrison seems relaxed and enthusiastic about his coming show In Too Deep..., a combination of album release party, art opening, and multimedia performance. Harrison's anticipation for the event doesn't cause the tremor in his hand. In a way, the tremor is the cause of the event.
"It's not a retirement party," says Harrison, a popular local spoken word poet and singer/songwriter of rootsy folk music he calls "beatnik blues." "I've been calling it that to get people's attention. I'm not retiring, I'm retiring my guitar. And I'm not really doing that, either."
Harrison, 62, has what's called an Essential Tremor, which causes his right hand to tremble uncontrollably, and hinders his ability to play guitar. "I can still play a bit, but I can't do all the things I could do 15 years ago," he says. "My right hand is my shaking hand, and it's my picking hand. So I can't do picking, but I can do strumming."
Harrison's Essential Tremor first manifested when he was a boy growing up in Jackson, Ga. "I had trouble building models and got bad grades in handwriting. One year I broke my arm and had to write with my left hand, and that was the only time I got A's in writing," he says. The tremor abated as he grew up, and as a Georgia Tech student he considered playing guitar as his career, but it returned in his late 40s and early 50s. Part of the motivation behind In Too Deep... was to go public with his condition. "I decided it would be better not to try and hide it. People might think 'He's drunk,' so might as well tell them what it is."
In Too Deep... is also the title of Harrison's latest album, a 20-year retrospective of his work from 1984, the year of his first recording, through 2004. "They're not necessarily my best songs, but they're my favorites. Some have only been available on vinyl, some from CDs no longer in print," says Harrison. Spoken word has become an increasingly prominent part of Harrison's art in recent years, but his favorite recorded poems came after the 2004 cutoff, and aren't on the album.
Harrison describes the 7 Stages performance as "an abstract painting of music, dance, and spoken word." He'll perform solo versions of some of his songs and spoken word pieces. Blake Dalton, Maryn Mills, and Erin Weller will perform dance interpretation of prerecorded versions of the songs, many of which will feature projected photographs. "I like to say that the dancers take the place of the band, but they're more visual than a band."
While Harrison still plans to play guitar and write music in the future, In Too Deep... marks a transition away from live musical performance. A frequent pick for best spoken word poet in Creative Loafing's annual "Best of Atlanta" issue, Harrison has hosted weekly poetry readings at Java Monkey for more than 10 years. Currently he's writing a book about the true stories behind the verses of his songs and poems. His tremor can interfere with his writing, however.
"I can't take a notebook around because writing is such a pain in the ass. I've been typing for a year, but sometimes my hand will jump off and hit the wrong key." An errant strike on a Control key caused him to lose a 52,000-word manuscript, although he was able to recover all but 4,000 words with the help of friends. "After that, I got an old keyboard and popped out the Control and other keys so I can't hit them," he says, proving that he can find a creative solution to a creative problem.