X: Harrow

Scratch the surface and see what turns up.

X: Harrow
The teeth of an iron drag harrow. Photo via Max Pixel.

Good morning. Today is décadi, the 20th of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate l'herse, a tool for busting up weeds and dirt clots to smooth plowed land.

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The first use of "harrow" as an adjective is credited to, who else, William Shakespeare. It appears twice in Hamlet, including in the opening scene, when Horatio sees the ghost and says "it harrows me with fear and wonder." This novel metaphorical use must have impressed the ghost, because it turns around and throws it back when using poetry to scare his son, Hamlet: "...would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood." This idea of a harrow disturbing the placidity of a soul, not soil, has far outstripped the farming usage. The adjective has frightened away the verb.

An unfortunate thing happened to music in the 1980s. I know, but I'm speaking specifically of a genre that stormed Italy called either Italo-Disco or Spaghetti Disco. By modern pop standards, the songs are slow, full of long instrumental pauses in the vocals, and defined more by the hairstyles and outfits of the performers than any genuinely moving music. As a photographer named Tom Borbey who lived through the craze put it, "Vision is far more developed in humans than hearing. People tend to buy and listen to what they like to see."

And while many musicians plied the trade throughout Italy and Germany — where the style of music became a hotbed in the wake of disco turning into toxic territory for US musicians — none tried harder to conquer the global market than Den Harrow.

His name sounds like the Italian word for money: denaro. He was the Harry Styles of his day. Den Harrow launched international hits called "Bad Boy," "Future Brain," and "Don't Break My Heart." He still performs frequently today. In fact, on some days, you can catch him on two continents at the exact same time.

Den Harrow's backstory was incredible. Born Manuel Stefano Curry in Boston, Massachusetts, Harrow immigrated to Italy at a young age and possessed the perfect trio of attributes for an Italo-Disco star: handsome, a decent singer, a jangly dancer, and able to speak Italian or English fluently.

He was also a model, and this strongly informed his live performances, which were much more about posing in JC Penny catalog positions while wearing eye-popping clothes than singing. In fact, it wasn't too hard to notice he lip synced his live performances in order to focus more on the posing. Here's a TV performance of "Future Brain":

I thought about popping an MP3 in here for you to enjoy while reading Den Harrow's story, but honestly, the music is so slow and dirge-like that you really need the uncanny visuals of him swiping around at the air to make it compelling on any level.

As with most pop stars in Europe to this day (and a fair number of American ones), the songs were written by someone else who carefully managed every aspect of the stage persona. In this case, the songwriter and producer was Miki Chieregato, who seemed to have enough of a finger on the Italian pulse to produce massive hit after massive hit throughout the decade.

One curious thing that die-hard Den Harrow-heads noticed was that with the later albums, his voice sounded like it was getting higher and higher.

His original recording output halted abruptly at the end of the decade, and Den Harrow was reduced, quickly, to small venue tours on old hits and a desperate attempt to return to his native U.S. to audition for a role on "Sunset Strip" that he did not get.

All would have receded into the dusty, cocaine-holed memories of Italo-Disco fans had it not been for the invention of Facebook. Remember the person I quoted above? Tom Borbey? He got himself a Facebook account in 2010 and, as we all regrettably did at that time, made as many connections from his past as he could. One of his friend connections was Den Harrow. And that's how Tom found out that Den Harrow – real real name Stefano Zandri – was still touring Europe while lip syncing to Tom's voice.

Tom asked him to stop. A war of words began and quickly escalated, culminating in this classic YouTube video that I really recommend you watch the entirety of if you have the time:

If you're done cringing, let's talk about Tom Hooker. Born in Connecticut to a wealthy beverage conglomerate family (I'm sorry, any deeper details on this appear to be carefully scrubbed and guarded), he was whisked away to Switzerland before his first birthday and raised to be a multilingual playboy, dabbling in art and music and acting. He gained some traction as a singer in the Italian Alps, which is how he met Chieregato, who was sitting on the perfect stage performer in Stefano Zandri but lacked a non-accented voice to give him.

At first, Tom had no problem with the callous business arrangement. He'd sing the songs, Zandri would do all the posing and thrusting on tour and on TV, and everyone made money. The first fissure came up when "Don't Break My Heart" threatened to become an actual breakthrough hit, and Hooker wondered if he might perform the song in one of his own sets. Team Den Harrow categorically refused, fearful of piercing the Den Harrow illusion (remember, this was all years before the Milli Vanilli scandal), so Hooker packed up and left for Las Vegas. The reason Den Harrow's voice started getting higher was because new singers were brought in for the final active years of the project.

The feud hardly stopped with the weird YouTube press conference. Hooker and Zandri held dueling tours and traded constant insults. This is how "Den Harrow" would be booked at a dive bar in Milan and a county fair in Sausalito on the same night. This conflict came to the attention of a documentary filmmaker named Jonny Sutak, who made an astounding film called Dons of Disco that you should absolutely watch if you want the blow-by-blow hilarity and high drama of what's gone on in the world of two Den Harrows.

The documentary was released four years ago, with only Hooker attending the premiere, Zandri being (I suppose) too busy putting the finishing touches on his counterpunching memoir that came out a year later.

You can follow Zandri's version of Den Harrow on Instagram, or you can keep track of all Tom Hooker's increasingly strange attempts to take back the music most everywhere else. Who's the real Den Harrow? The dispute may never die.


Today's card: Queen of clubs

Queen of clubs. From the Cartomancer Duality (light) deck by Alain Benoit.
From the Cartomancer Duality (light) deck by Alain Benoit.
Décadi: The outcome position, or what we should take away from this entire meditation. Queen: A card of abundance and increase. Clubs: A suit about the spiritual energy (the moods, the vibes) we get from the universe.

Click for a recap of the story so far...

We have a relationship in trouble (2♥) because you're feeling internal conflict (K♣) with someone in your social life (K♠) due to a shocking surprise (Joker). You're both influenced by something or someone else (Q cups). If you don't do anything, the relationship will fizzle to nothing (2♣). A confrontation is the next inevitable step (K♠), but beware (4♦) of another member of the social circle jumping in to stir up drama (4♥).

While it's hard to say exactly how this will turn out for the relationship in general – that would require a heart-suited card – pulling the companion suit and a positive card like the Queen certainly indicates that all of this drama will work out in the end if you are the one to take a step forward and resolve the issue.

Those results may not be immediate. This cartomancy deck gives to the Queen of clubs the "Mother of Time," who holds in her hands a cuckoo clock. The clock indicates a very obvious need for some time to pass before the benefits of this interaction will be clear, and keep in mind that cuckoos famously colonize other birds' nests by pushing the rightful eggs out to make room for their own. In other words, expect making this omelet to lead to a few broken eggs.

If I had to guess – and I suppose that is my self-appointed role here – there's a strong possibility that the King of spades who's been giving you bad vibes will eventually leave the group, and relief will come on the day after all the drama dust settles from that fallout. You'll have the favor of the Queen of cups, and that old two-of-hearts feeling about this activity that's such a regular part of your life will grow to a more positive space. The Queen of clubs is a much, much better outcome than the 2 of clubs. Take a deep breath, and make it happen.

Final Celtic cross: 2 hearts, King spades, Queen cups, 2 clubs, King clubs, Joker, King spades, 4 hearts, 4 diamonds, Queen clubs.

Something fun: A British kid's weird friend scares her to death (2mins)

You'll get it about halfway through.