Of course, you may never have heard of him. Few people outside the discrete subculture of dance music have. But for the past 35 years of his Zelig-like career, Harvey has shown an uncanny knack for stumbling into all the interesting rooms at all the right moments, a result of socializing for a living and a near pathological pursuit of adventure (not coincidentally, his favorite stories are about pirates and Vikings and old-timey gentlemen explorers; he’s recently finished one about the cannibal sailors of the whaling ship Essex). “I’ve done most of the life-threatening things I’ve wanted to do,” he says. There’s no dark secret thing I’ve thought I might like and haven’t tried. You know how Scientologists grab onto that machine and get you to confess? I’ve decided you couldn’t get me with one of those, because I have no guilt. I’ve deeply looked into myself, and I have no guilt.” Presumably, then, it’s just the sunshine that keeps Harvey’s sunglasses on throughout our first meeting. He has never sent an email and doesn’t drive a car. His nimbus of brown curls is like a child’s, and when he laughs, which is often, the battle scars on his face from decades of late nights and cigarettes crinkle into familiar positions of joy. Everything essential to Harvey’s life can be found within a few blocks of here: his kid, the apartment he shares with his girl, his friends, the studio, the beach. “I haven’t had to sweat it for so long, I think sweating it might be beyond me,” he says at one point. But all this emphatic grooviness is hard to corroborate when the man hasn’t even shown his eyes yet. If it’s not bogus, what conspiracy of nature and nurture could possibly create such a specimen?
When Harvey was growing up in England in the late ’70s, punk and disco were ascendant, born out of a wobbly political climate and thriving youth culture. At age 14, he was already making the scene, drumming for a group called Ersatz, getting spins on John Peel and being babied by his twenty-something bandmates’ girlfriends. His hometown of Cambridge is a proper university city, but Harvey didn’t need to matriculate to get an education. He stole records from the university libraries, crashed its fancypants May Balls, sneaked into art classes and lectures and jammed in the orchestra pit with his friends. In interviews, Harvey’s fond of crediting this youthful swagger to the atom bomb, or at least its cultural fallout. “That was the big bang that kicked off youth culture as we know it, the beginning of my culture,” he says. “Suddenly kids had disposable incomes, you could be stylish and listen to rock and roll.” His was the generation that defined what we now consider to be the rites of adolescence. “By the time the ’70s rolled around, I was influenced by all of it: punk rock, oil embargos, change of government, disco, the important things.”