40 years ago today (16 Jul 1981), Harry Chapin died. On his way to a gig, actually.
Those who know his music know it well, he wasn’t an artist you liked casually. If you liked him, you loved him. I’m 55 now, and mostly known for being a metal head (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc), but I will always have a strong draw to Harry Chapin.
That’s because I was introduced to his music back around the age of 7 or 8 when he was hitting his prime. My parents split up not long after that, but one of the few memories I have of my entire family as a unit (basically both parents) was listening to Harry Chapin tunes at home. His 1976 album “Greatest Hits Live” is one I still enjoy to this day. It’s where I first found out about his song “30,000 pounds of Bananas” – and one of the first songs I ever heard something like “it sucks” in the lyrics. :)
Some of my favorites of his are Taxi, and its sequel, “Sequel”, WOLD, I Wanna Learn a Love Song, Flowers are Red, and Circle. Thing is, there’s so many more, I could write forever about Chapin. His songs weren’t just “My girl took my truck” kind of stories, they were good life stories. For example, the song “I Wanna Learn a Love Song” is autobiographical. It’s how he met his wife. If you pay attention to the lyrics, it’s a great story, I think. But that’s not the only one – most of his songs are like that. It’s probably why I’ve seen him referred to as a great American storyteller.
But the ties to my full family unit are strong, and it’s for that reason which I had such a huge problem with his signature track – Cats in the Cradle. Everyone knows that. It’s his most well known track. The problem is as I said before, my parents split, and the song was a dagger in the heart. It took me well over 25 years, probably till I became a parent myself, before I could listen to it. I’d skip the song when I had control (record or CD or something), and it came on the radio, I’d hear the first note, and go NOPE! It’s a song about a father who does poorly by his child, and I’ve lived through that, so I didn’t want to be “entertained” by the tale. So I would skip it. Now that my kids are 16 & 12, I’m good with the song, but I wasn’t for a very long time.
Given he was one of my earliest artists I was exposed too, I attribute a lot of what I know about music to him. For example, the song WOLD is about being a radio DJ. One line of lyric is “I am the morning DJ on WOLD”. When he played it live, the last verse of the song, he would change the WOLD lyric to the call letters for some station where he was playing. I always wanted to see him live and hear him say “I am the morning DJ at WMMR”. It never happened.
Thing is in 1981, my mom was going to take me to a Chapin concert, it was to be my first ever concert. Now the gig he was on the way to wasn’t mine, but obviously, mine was cancelled along with the rest of that tour. I know the rest of his band continues to play together, once things are moving again, I should explore if they’re still touring. I wouldn’t mind seeing that and maybe hear them sing my station’s name.
I’ll probably get emotional seeing that band live, as I was supposed to, couldn’t.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to hit 16 Parkside Lane…