I didn’t get enough of Harry a few days ago, so It’s another Harry kind of day.
First off, I’m not really a “fan” type. I don’t go crazy wild at the thought of seeing one of my musical “heroes” live for instance. I’ve never liked crowds and being part of a screaming mindless mass at a concert was never all that appealing. And for whatever reason, being part of a shared-group-experience because of some group-shared-vibe (like maybe a Dead concert) is even more of a turn-off.
However, seeing a live performance, in general is great, the more so, the more personal experience it seems to be. And with Harry…that’s what you always got. But before I delve into some memories in that area, I’ll try to explain “Why Harry?”.
Harry was a one-hit wonder for me with his WOLD that was around my Junior year in High School (74-ish). Sometime in the first half of my Senior year…Cat’s in the Cradle started playing on the radio…and I remember Bob Hudson loving/singing it…and I loved it too. By mid 75…Cat’s in the Cradle is a #1 and some FM stations are playing Taxi a lot. My best friend Lynne Taylor and I spent a lot of time in her VW bug traveling to places where the radio reception wasn’t that good and we would sing songs whether the radio was on or off. WOLD, Cats in the Cradle and Taxi were in our repertoire as well as songs like “Long Tall Glasses” and “One Tin Soldier”, “Seasons in the Sun”, “Mandy”, “Someone Saved my Life Tonight”…among many others.
A few months later, I’m at RPI and Lynne and I are writing long letters and/or talking at least once a week. One Sunday night…she’s super excited on the phone and says…”You got to go buy the album!!!”. It takes a couple of questions and answers later…to figure out…she means Harry Chapin’s first album “Heads and Tales”. Turns out, there is a part to Taxi that we never heard on the radio. It’s the middle bridge part, and it’s awesome. Starts with “Oh, I’ve got something inside me…” continues through “Baby, so high that she’s flying…” and ends with…”Cause she’s dying, aren’t we all”.
The rest of the album is only fair but a couple of gems (Dogtown, Greyhound) and I buy Verities and Balderdash and the whole album is great. After that, Sniper and Other Love Songs, followed by Short Stories and finally Portrait Gallery. All Great. I’m a fan for life. It combined two of my great loves…Reading and Music, because most of Harry’s songs tell a story, or paint a portrait and are not just “another love song” or catchy rock song. You actually listened to the lyrics. Without being insulting Harry was the O’Henry of music. Often a twist ending…but not always one you saw coming, and the song still worked even after you heard it…because it was unique and interesting.
I got lucky, I got to see Harry in concert 3 times. The 2nd time I traveled to the Poughkeepsie area to see him perform in the Chapel at Vassar College. He performed without his band (just Harry and his guitar). He sat on the alter and it was a charity event (Don McLean performed as well)…and he killed. He performed WOLD and did the “echo” on the ‘d’ part that was hysterical (as well as the do-wop part after “heard but never seen”). And he did a poor-imitation (still great though) of John Wallace’s part in Taxi.
As great as Harry’s performance was…Don McLean had the best song of the night with an acapella rendition of “Love Hurts” (by a one-hit-wonder group Nazareth)…that literally brought a tear of wonder/joy to my eye (it was that beautiful).
Back to “Why Harry?” – After seeing him live, I became even a bigger fan. Harry had two things going for him. 1. He spent most of his fame trying to do good through his charity organizations. 2. He didn’t seem to confuse fame with talent. He wasn’t the most talented of musicians and he was never a superstar but he was a 3-Hit wonder…and he knew how to entertain. And he seemed to love what he did. Also, since his songs were personal…there is an evolution there…that seemed to show that he became a better person as he got older.
On July 16th, 1981 – Harry died of a heart attack while driving on the Long Island expressway. It wasn’t national news like when John Lennon was shot 7 months earlier. I learned about it from one of my friends that called me that had just heard it on the radio. I believe I called Lynne to tell her. I don’t remember what I said. I do remember that at least 5 people called me that day to offer condolences.
I’ve been saddened by other events (especially ones that seem tragic and/or stupid)…but Harry’s death was like losing a friend. I was sad in a selfish kind of way because he was done sharing his stories with me. I still miss that.
So Why Harry Chapin? – Because it always felt personal…like he was telling stories and singing songs just for me. Yep, I still miss that.