Sam Harris, free at last!

  • by David R. Guarino
  • Tuesday August 12, 2008
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Sam Harris with his partner, Danny Jacobson, and their<br>son Cooper Atticus Harris-Jacobson. Photo: Courtesy the subjects
Sam Harris with his partner, Danny Jacobson, and their
son Cooper Atticus Harris-Jacobson. Photo: Courtesy the subjects

If living well is truly the best revenge, actor/singer Sam Harris has the concept down pat. The Tony-nominated, inaugural Star Search winner continues to mount new challenges as he celebrates the recent release of his eighth studio album, Free, which imparts powerful messages of anti-war sentiment, personal validation, grief, the love of one man for another, parenthood and release from dysfunctional relationships. The underlying themes of freedom are buoyed by Harris' powerful voice and strident, passionate delivery.

Free would seem to be, in many ways, a musical collage of valuable lessons the 45-year-old Sands Springs, Oklahoma native has mastered in the course of a life and career that has been faced with more than its share of darkness.

At 22, Harris exploded on the scene in 1983 as the first winner of the Ed McMahon talent contest, Star Search. A contract with Motown Records ensued, as did fame, success, and Harris' continuing struggles with alcoholism, depression and what he refers to as "bad behavior."

But giving up was not an option for the resilient Harris, who never gave up on himself or his talent. It is no surprise that in 2004, he claimed victory over the disease that once threatened to rob him of everything he had worked so hard to achieve. Harris' triumph over his personal demons is inspiring. He has performed on Broadway, television (CBS' The Class ), film, and is currently in negotiations to star in his own talk show.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the effervescent Harris, who recently adopted a son, Cooper Atticus Harris-Jacobson, with his partner of 13 years, producer Danny Jacobson.

David Guarino: Sam, I've had an opportunity to listen to your new CD, Free, and I have to tell you I was blown away by it.

Sam Harris: Wow, thank you!

I remember your very first albums on Motown Records back in the 1980s, and I must say, those were really wonderful collections as well. Your music always has depth and feeling; I guess a better word might be soul.

Thank you. That's always been my goal.

What was the inspiration for recording this album?

Well, I had been writing, and I had these songs that I had been working on that I knew I wanted to record at some point. But I hadn't done a pop record in a really long time, and I looked at the songs I was writing wait, I'll back up. Actually, what happened was that my webmaster guy, Michael Agostino, introduced me to the song "Free," which I did not write. And I fell in love with it. I took another look at the songs I had been writing, and I recognized that each of them were sort of a different definition of the word free. They were different chapters of a life, whether it's political freedom or spiritual freedom or freedom from a relationship, and I recognized that the best song really made me see what they all had in common. And that's what inspired it. It became this collection of experiences; transitions, basically.

And your life has gone through many transitions

Ain't it the truth!

Your story is an inspiring one, and offers hope to many people out there. It seems to me that one of the most difficult things a person can do in their life is to continue to find ways to make it better, even in the worst of times.

I agree totally. I know that a lot of my strength comes from hearing about the struggles that other people have had in their lives.

You've publicly discussed your personal struggle with alcoholism in the earlier years of your career. What was the most valuable lesson you have taken away from the experience?

Through my acknowledgement of my alcoholism, the greatest lesson I learned is that I don't have to do everything myself. I get to surrender to somebody who knows more than I do. Strength comes from the great surrender. It's admitting that I don't have strength, that I don't have power. From powerlessness comes great power.

Flashing back to 1983, when you won first prize on Star Search, you were probably a very different person at that time, were you not?

I'll say! What's in common is that I'm no less driven, no less inspired. But I do not have the same desperate need for approval that I had then. [At that time,] I would do anything to make you like me. I wanted so desperately for you to love what I did and who I am, and I would be so hurt, on a deep, personal level, if something I did or created or sang was not accepted with complete, open arms. I never really enjoyed the good things that happened, and if something didn't meet my expectations, I would be devastated. So I never really enjoyed anything. The big difference is today, while I still want to be loved, my life is so full. And I have a sense of peace and serenity, confidence and trust. Now I can stay in action in my life without expectation.

Sam, I'm fascinated by the fact that you got a contract with Motown Records. Several years ago I interviewed Martha Reeves, who told me some disturbing things about the artists of Motown being treated in a sub-standard way: not being paid for work done; creative accounting on the part of Motown management; the list goes on. I was wondering if things had changed by the time you got there?

No! I think that by the time I got there, new laws were put in place that didn't allow them to do as much. But it isn't only Motown if you look at many of the major labels, they are dropping like flies. People can make records without them now. They can also distribute them, and now we have the Internet, and the truth is, nobody ever receives money from them anyway. You never get money from a record company, you get promotion from a record company, and hopefully you make money on the road.

Tell me about all the wonderful things that have been happening recently. I know you and Danny recently adopted a baby boy.

Really, my life is so overwhelming. It's truly an embarrassment of riches right now. With a new CD, a talk show, a baby, a long-term relationship; you know, all these great things. Yet I am so exhausted, sleep deprived from Cooper, trying to do too much. It's easy for me to whine and say, "Oh, if you only knew what I am going through. What am I going to do?"