PS: @JUNE 2020 – Post Script form the new editor – Bob Marr is the original creator of this website back in 1997…..we owe him thanks!
Harry Chapin was the best story teller I’ve ever heard. He’d write about common, everyday people and, in many cases, put them in situations I’d faced before, and, or since. I first started listening to his stuff, it wasn’t called “stuff” back then, in 1977. I don’t remember who pointed me in his direction, but many thanks!
I saw him in concert in 1981 at the Front Row Theater in Cleveland. It was shortly before he lost his life in July of that year. I remember everything surrounding the news on that Thursday, as if he were a president, or worse yet, a family member. How can a person be that close to someone he’d never met? Was it his real-life stories, the magnetism he demonstrated at the concert or other things important in his life? Probably a combination of the first two. It wasn’t until recently that I woke up to understand the meaning of the “other things”.
Oh yea, the concert! He was two hours late! When he finally arrived, he was telling us what had happened. It seems he was stuck in the airport, in Philadelphia I think, because the local airline groomers were on strike. (The groomers were the folks that cleaned the planes between flights.) Harry was standing at the boarding gate, listening to the agent’s attempt to explain why he was being forced to dissatisfy 5,000 fans in Cleveland. When he’d heard enough, he boisterously stated “hell, give me a broom. I’ll groom the f…..ng plane!”
Sitting in the first row of the theater were three nuns. I really felt embarrassed for them, but when I looked their way, I saw they were rolling with laughter! Anybody else would have gotten a ruler across the knuckles, but not Harry. That set the stage for one fine evening!
Harry did all his good tunes, non-stop for nearly 3 hours! The revolving stage in the small house made it the perfect setting for the kind of relationship Harry wanted, or demanded with his fans, close! He wanted us to feel the intended emotion that was nurtured into each of his stories. It was truly like a Living Room Suite, as if he were sitting right there on my couch, as had happened many times before, and a few times since. (Remember what John Joseph said about reality?)
I’d swear I could smell the bananas as the truck missed the turn over there in Scranton. (I sung the low part, so there were 4,999 munchkins and 2 trolls!) We all felt bad for Mr. Tanner, although I can’t help but think that if Harry had been his manager, he would have told the cleaner “you didn’t want it bad enough!” Then came Cat’s in the Cradle. A great song, but it’s always been kind of painful. Reminds me of someone I shave every morning!
You could probably count on one hand, the number of dry eyes in the place when Better Place To Be came around. (I’ve heard that song a thousand times, and it still has the same effect.) In the end, Harry walked off the stage, leaving us to think about the emotional roller coaster he’d just taken us on. I remember it as being a kind of low feeling. I needed more! We all needed more!
Those of us who had ’em, whipped out our Bics, more than likely Zippos at that time, and coaxed him back on stage. He and the group gave us a few more more tunes, including the famous finishing number. You guessed it, Circle. We all had a great time singing our parts, Harry, Big John, Steve, Tom, Yvonne, the Mormon Tubercular Choir and the entranced crowd. We all joined in, all except for Howie! (How come you never sang, Howie?)
Now the night felt complete! People were smiling from ear to ear as we walked out. On the long drive home, I remember occasionally hearing the rest of the people in the car talking. Seems I was spending most of the time reliving all the emotions I had felt that night. (I consider this a gift. I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want. Like John Joseph, I suppose. I wonder if this is abnormal.)
It was Thursday, July 16th, 1981, just a few months after the concert. I had just gotten my ears lowered and was on my way home, with WMMS, The Home Of The Buzzard, tuned in on the radio. They were playing Cat’s. Then came Taxi. When Better Place To Be came on, I knew something was wrong! No one, ever, played Better Place To Be on the radio! It was even my favorite version off Greatest Stories Live. When I was almost home, the song ended, and the hammer fell. The greatest story-teller, maybe even the greatest humanitarian to ever live, was gone.
This can’t be happening!!, I remember thinking. I sat in the car and cried, and reflected on where Harry had taken me in the five short years since I’d met him. When I finally felt somewhat composed, I walked in the house and into the kitchen where Sandy, my wife, was. I sat down and put my head in my hands. When she asked “what’s wrong”, the whole thing started again. There I was, a 33 year macho old man, crying like a baby over the loss of a person I had, in reality, never met. Thank you Harry, for helping me believe that reality, is just a word.
I’ve continued to listen to Harry throughout the years, although not as I had before. Not until a few months ago, that is, when I got my new car, complete with a 312.5 watt, butt kickin’ CD player. I loaded up 12 of my favorite CDs and found I kept going back to Chapin. (You always return to your roots.)
The music continues to be great but, the other messages included on some CDs have really started gnawing at me. As a result, I’ve done a lot of soul searching lately, and determined it’s time for me to get involved. Once again, Harry has taught me something meaningful. Thanks again ole friend.
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