I was one of those lucky people to have met Harry Chapin and spoken with him on numerous occasions. It’s been forever since I heard Harry’s voice and yet I can still close my eyes and hear him speak, see him laugh that hearty laugh of his…some people just stay with you forever…
I have been a musician for well over 35 years and I play many of Harry’s songs. I loved watching his hands roll up the neck and his fingers pick the strings. I learned alot about strumming and picking just from watching Harry all those times. I was introduced to his music by my best friend who sat me down in her room, turned the lights down low and put on Sniper…then Better place. I had never been moved by anyone before or since as I was that day.
I saw Harry at a concert at Queens college, NY back in 1973…It was a small affair, maybe 100 people and my friend and I just started dancing on the seats, in the aisles and catcalling whenever Harry was in the middle of songs. It was quite a performance we put on to say the least, but we had a blast and I think Harry did too.
The following week Harry was doing a small get together at Bryant Park behind the 42nd street library in NYC. I was in school just blocks away and took the afternoon off to walk over and listen. There was maybe 20 of us to start and we all sat in a circle around Harry. I was right next to him and he gave me the eye.. he leaned in and said “I know you from somewhere?”…I mumbled “Queens college maybe?”….to which his response was..”OH THAT WAS YOU!!”. At that moment if a hole could have opened up I wished it would…he then said “Don’t be embarrassed, it’s rare I get that kind of reception.”
After that at any and every concert I went to if I walked up to the stage he waved and said hi. At his concerts in Huntington High School we’d all line up afterwards to shake hands or talk and he never forgot my face…pretty amazing after all the thousands of people he met over the years. I was lucky enough to see one concert with Harry and Steve Goodman who I have loved and miss as well since his death due to cancer.
I had 3rd row seats to see Harry, Tom and Pete Seeger in Long Island…I had since left Art school and was working on improving my skills. I drew a portrait of Harry in graphite pencil and decided to give it to him at the concert. I met everyone afterward had them autograph my copy of Harry’s book and then finally I gave Harry the picture. He was stunned and so pleased. He (of course) gave me a kiss and a hug..…I was thrilled that he liked it so much.
About 2 or 3 weeks later I received a thank you letter telling me it was hanging up behind his desk in his office. Oh I was so excited and over the years I’ve often thought about that picture and wondered where it is now.
The day Harry died is an odd one for me and I’m sure that connections to people who are important in your life exist at deeper levels than we can explain. My husband and I were planning to go to the concert he was scheduled to do in the Park that night on Long Island. I was sitting in my office overlooking a huge clock from the library on 6th avenue in Greenwich Village. All of a sudden for absolutely no reason whatsoever at exactly 12:30 I burst into tears and cried uncontrollably…..I was absolutely inconsolable……at exactly 1:05 I looked up at the clock and stopped crying……it was like the faucet was turned off and a great peace came over me.
I could not understand what was wrong with me and the psychologist I was working for as a receptionist at the time thought I’d lost my marbles for sure. I was stunned by the intensity of the outburst and thoroughly confused at what was inside of me to make this happen. When I got home that evening I was preparing to leave for the train station to meet my husband and go off to the concert when a friend called and asked me if I’d heard…she told me the news and I flew off the phone and turned on the TV.
What shocked me more than the news itself was the time of day when the accident occurred…..exactly the time of my emotional outburst. I mourned for days following and tried to go to the church for the services but couldn’t get off from work. To this day I still listen and alternately laugh and cry.
I play Harry’s CD’s for my children. I teach music part time in a small school and I even use one or two of his and many of Tom Chapin’s songs in my classes. His music, his life, his charm all impacted me tremendously. I hope by passing his music down to the next generation I can keep alive some of that spirit Harry gave to us.
Oh and just as an aside of how we are all connected…a few years ago after my husband and I had moved out of NY to Florida we were sitting around with some friends we had met. We were exchanging stories about different concerts and such and I told the story of the Queens college concert. My friend’s husband stared at me and said you’re kidding…I said no why? He said to me “I worked the lights at that concert…I can’t believe that was you”…”Oh it was”, I answered. He said that after the concert Harry came up to him and said “You did good with the lights and those girls in the audience… there’s always one in a bunch!”….
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