In 1979-1980, JB and Harley McLain (brothers) wrote, played and cut this album in Hollywood. It appropriated the “NPL” acronym, but replaced the Non-Partisan League with the Natural People’s League. Note the earthworms that make up the “NPL.” Photo by Darren King.
If you haven’t yet caught the passing of Harley McLain, here are some links on stories that The Bismarck Tribune, The Fargo Forum, and News Dakota have put together. Please take the time to read them. They are beautifully written. While I have only known Harley since 2012, it appears that the entire northern Great Plains has known him since at least the 1960s. This is testament to his beautiful soul.
I was thinking the other day about a photo of a younger Harley with his wife, Julie. In the photo Harley’s shirt read, “Question Authority.” He did that, of course. It made me think about how in Harley’s questioning of authority, he himself became his own author. In that, he believed in the state of North Dakota, and therefore the country and world (I’m convinced that he still does from the other side). He believed in it so much that he decided to speak up about a variety of issues, and with his particular charm and wit.
Tracy Potter, after hearing about Harley’s passing, remembered his good friend on Facebook. Tracy said,
Sad news today from Molly McLain. Her father, my friend, Harley McLain rejoined his beautiful wife Julie yesterday. Harley was a remarkable man, who had more influence on North Dakota with his guerrilla theatre approach to politics than many much more serious reformers. Out of his campaigns and legal action, North Dakota’s corrupt ballot structure (which Harley argued offended his “poetic sensibilities”) was ruled unconstitutional by Federal courts, giving us the modern, rotating ballot. Always fun, always interesting, and always the kindest, gentle heart. I’ll miss him.
Harley McLain, circa 2007. Photo by Logan Hanson.
Today and tomorrow and forever, we will continue recounting Harley stories and memories. They bring simultaneous tears and laughs. Harley impressed himself upon anyone who was within his range. Darren King, a slaying upright bassist and family friend of the McLain’s, said:
A couple of days ago North Dakota lost one of its great dreamers, political activists, songwriters, fathers, and forward thinkers. I look forward to jamming again someday Harley. Thanks for helping to raise me.
In conversations around the McLain family table last night, between JB McLain, Chris McLain, Molly McLain, Mira McLain, Matthew McLain, and Ben Simonson, we figured out that Harley, during his life, hung out with Allen Ginsberg, Hunter Thompson, potentially Keith Richards (happening into one another on some boat in the Mediterranean), and for a short time he lived down the street from one if not all of the Ramones. And these were just the individuals we pegged around the table last night. The list by no means is exhaustive.
The most important thing about Harley is that he would treat these individuals the same way he would treat anyone else: without pretension, with respect, and ready for insight and humor and give-and-take conversation. Harley loved people. He loved individuals. If you look at someone who knew Harley, you’re looking a bit at the man himself.
Bless you, Harley McLain. Thank you for the wonderful family you and Julie gave to North Dakota. And to use a bit of Scandinavian subtlety, I’m particularly fond of Molly.
From a sunny Valley City, North Dakota, Aaron L. Barth.