Sympathy for the Prolific Rocker of Harry Arader

St. Louis’s own Harry Arader. (Courtesy Harry Arader)


Is there any reason to update what your heart holds dear?

Chuck Reinhart posed that question in a nostalgic song he titled after a grocery store of his childhood, Midget’s. No one knows the music of Chuck Reinhart, except his friends, like me, and a few people who have attended open mic nights in St. Louis. The CD of his demos that Chuck gave me twenty-five years ago is now one of the many things my heart holds dear that it is grudging about updating.

I have been pondering the enduring love for music and the reluctance to update our passions of the heart. These reflections were prompted by listening to new music by a new friend, Harry Arader (pronounced “a raider”)—who must now be characterized as a St. Louis songwriter, although he grew up in a Quaker town in New York, has lived in seven states as well as in Japan and China, and only moved to St. Louis in 2012. I came to this music through the man. The students in my Citizen Scientist course at Washington University in St. Louis asked to meet and read the work of a biotech entrepreneur, and a friend of mine working with Harry as a consultant to commercialize his bioscience intellectual property recommended him.

Harry surprised me when he told my class he was a musician at heart and fell into his biotech career while trying to make it as a musician in New York. He was driving a taxi in the city to pay the bills. One day, a fare left a book about the human genome behind in a cab, and the abandoned book ended up at the cab stand. Harry read that book and decided there was going to be a lucrative future in exploiting this new knowledge—and he was going to be a part of it. After earning a prestigious MBA degree (the Wharton School, 1983), Harry worked in the corporate pharmaceutical sector before moving on to nurturing biotech start-ups. The BioGenerator at Cortex attracted him to St. Louis as a place where he could lend his hard-won entrepreneurial wisdom to many more opportunities than he would have been able to do his own.

In his newly adopted city of St. Louis, living at a somewhat more leisurely pace, Harry went back to who he is and really always has been: the guy with a song in his heart taking fares because music did not pay the bills, a musician and a songwriter. At his home in the Central West End, he developed skills in a different kind of technology— music recording technology—and set about writing, recording, and releasing his own records. In 2023, he recorded and released (on all the standard streaming media) three rock records: Neo-Mysterioso, A Better Day, and Drop the Masks.

Is there any reason to update what your heart holds dear? That was what I kept asking myself as I listened to Harry’s music. Though this is genuinely personal and, as such, original music, anyone who loves rock music of the 1960s and 1970s (into the early 1980s) will understand that Harry has not updated what his heart holds dear very much. If you wish more records sounded like the Moody Blues, Jefferson Starship, or John Cale of the early 1970s, you should be listening to Harry Arader. The grooves, chord progressions, harmonic intervals, and guitar licks all would sound at home on album-oriented rock. As I typed that line, I spot-checked in on KSHE-95 where I heard “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who; other than the madcap drumming of Keith Moon, which has few parallels anywhere, all these sounds are evoked somewhere in Harry’s music.

His music would sound preserved in amber were it not for the vocals and lyrics. The vocal delivery and words are personal and unique to one particular person trying to sing what he has to say in all earnestness. The voice seized my attention before the lyrics because Harry sings in a rock baritone, which a few singers from the 1990s ruined for me by constricting their throats and trying to project over a loud rock band. But Harry is not trying to project over a rock band, he is a fairly sedate one-man studio project, and he does not constrict his throat when he sings. His is the droll rock baritone of (again) John Cale, Leo Kottke, or even (updating comparisons dangerously late into the 1980s, here) Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds. Not that Harry tries to sing like any of these singers. In fact, his vocal delivery is deeply personal and completely unaffected—as are his lyrics. I hear one person trying to put his feelings and thoughts before us as clearly and openly as he can.

One thing Harry sings speaks to my concerns about updating what your heart holds dear:


Memories bring me low.

They only teach what I already know.


Maybe dwelling on what the heart holds dear is to stagnate? When Chuck Reinhart asked if there is any reason to update what our heart holds dear, maybe he was not asking the rhetorical question I have always heard. Maybe he was waiting for an answer.

It means something about this music that Harry turned seventy years old in this one year when he recorded and released three records. This puts him in a category (that my heart holds increasingly dear) of the prolific aging rocker. As first recording technology and then the means of (digital) distribution became more accessible and eventually ubiquitous, something that was once very expensive and complicated—recording and releasing your own music—became as cheap and easy as picking up a telephone. We all know that this has enabled a generation (or two) of self-produced overnight sensations among the young, but fewer people may appreciate that it also is creating burgeoning musical archives among the aging.

It is a dynamic I know intimately myself, as a prolific aging rocker who had something of a recording and touring career in the 1990s, when Harry was evolving from Big Pharma exec to serial biotech entrepreneur. Just about everyone except the Rolling Stones and Wilco lose their audience as they age, but most of us feel like we become steadily better writers and performers the longer we keep at it, developing our chops, seasoning ideas, working past awkwardness and insufficiently digested influences. At the same time, it keeps getting easier and easier to record and release the music we make. So, we now have a vast and constantly growing amount of really good rock music with little hope of ever finding an audience, though it is available to all.

We should all find solace in the idea of the long tail, an image drawn from graphing the number of listens for an extensive catalog of publicly available music. The original data came from updating a jukebox with a fixed number of slots for physical records into a digital jukebox with endless options. No matter how many options you provide, there always is a steep drop in the number of listens once you get past the Stones and the Wilcos. But, no matter how many options you provide to listeners, once that steep drop has hit a plateau near the bottom, it just continues to lengthen. The long tail just gets longer and longer. There are at least a few listeners out there for all of us.