A bittersweet memory for me was the night I saw Harry Chapin. I had worked with Harry’s brother Tom on several occasions since he showed up a lot at the university shows. As much as I liked listening to and working with Tom, I was thrilled to work that one time with Harry.
It was at R.I.T. in the ice arena while I was still a student there. The venue was way too big for Harry, although it was set up as a half hall and it was pretty full. Once again I was on monitors, and once again it was just me and the performer. You see Harry didn’t have his band that night, it was “An evening with Harry Chapin” event. I don’t recall if this show was before or after the Loudon Wainwright show but a very similar thing happened.
Harry spoke to me several times during the show. I think he was a little uncomfortable with the huge stage, huge stack of speakers, huge hall, and just him, his acoustic guitar two stage monitors and two microphones. My guess is that since I was the only face he could see (due to the lights) he relieved the tension by conversing with me. My expectations of Harry were high dating back to my High School days, and he didn’t let me down.
His renderings of “Cat’s Cradle”, “W.O.L.D.” and “Taxi” were flawless. He was very loose that night and fooled around on some of the songs by pretending to be the absent orchestra, mimicking them with his voice at the appropriate breaks between the lyrics. The song I heard for the first time that night was “30,000 pounds of bananas.” I haven’t heard it since, and after 20 years I can still replay it in my head on demand. The song is a humorous rendition of a truck driver with a load of bananas, in a hurry to get back to his sweetheart, driving down a steep hill near Scranton Pennsylvania. He loses control of the truck crashing it at the bottom. It sounds morbid, but the way it builds and builds as he picks up speed, and the way Harry’s words make light of the situation make you actually laugh as this poor slob is on his way to his fate, and Harry is on his way to a crescendo.
Harry died in 1981 in a traffic accident on his way to perform in a benefit; no bananas were involved to my knowledge. Harry raised millions of dollars for world hunger before he died, and his work continues through the Harry Chapin Foundation.
Rest in Peace Harry
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