Remembrances of Harry Chapin, Part I

Harry Chapin at Veterans Memorial Auditorium

Image via Wikipedia

IW: My older brother had introduced me to folk music: Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, Cat Stevens & Harry Chapin.  This happened in the way all little brothers get things from their older brothers.  I heard this wonderful music coming from the stereo in my brother’s room, and I wanted to be just like him.  I don’t remember my brother ever listening to Dylan, CSN, or the Dead, all of whom I deeply fell for later on.  Though I do remember him listening to Cheech and Chong records.

Even more so, I got tag-a-long benefits from my brother’s musical tastes.  When my parents took my brother to see Chapin perform at the Huntington Arts Festival that Harry and Sandy were spearheading, I got to go too.

Now I am not using their first names to claim any familiarity with the Chapins.  The closest I ever got was the autograph I still have on a Huntington Arts Festival  program.  But Harry wanted you to call him Harry.  He practically insisted on it. As in the audience participation line from his true story, famously awful country song “30,000 lbs of Bananas”.  Harry turned his struggle to find an appropriate ending for the song into an opportunity for storytelling.  As he went through his various failed attempts, the audience joins in from the refrain from the band in response to his request for feedback: 

“Harry, it sucks!”

When my wife decided to buy me a Harry Chapin t-shirt, she opted not to buy the t-shirt with that tagline.  Chapin’s wife Sandy sold the  t-shirts at her Native American crafts shop.  There was a counter in the back of the shop with Harry’s music and  memorabilia.  The Huntington NY shop recently closed.

Instead I dug out of my drawer the t-shirt with the tagline from his second best known song that became more identified with Harry.   Harry’s best known song, of course, was “Cat’s in the Cradle” with the lyrics written by Sandy.  I have seen 2 different versions of why this poem was written.  One as a reminiscence of Sandy about her first husband’s relationship with his father.  Wikipedia claims that the lyrics of “I Wanna Learn a Love Song”  record the story of their romance.  The second theory about “Cats in the Cradle”  is that Sandy wrote it as a warning to harry about his relationship with their own children.  Similar to the way Robert Hunter would send messages to the other members of the Dead through his lyrics. . . .

One Response

  1. […] IW: . . . .  Harry’s second most famous song is “Taxi”.  It contained the painful audience participation that adorns the other t-shirt in Sandy’ shop.  The phrase ends an encounter between Harry the taxi-driver and a now-married ex-girlfriend, neither of whom seem happy with their life choices: […]

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