Don’t quite know what brings me here .. now. But I’ll tell you my story anyway. Thinkin’ ’bout it, it’s kinda ironic. I’ve been sittin’ and talkin’ with a wonderful lady. And I’m dreaming about what our life could be. Yeah, I’ve had a bit to drink. But I feel like I’m among friends that’ll listen to what I have to say and pretend they’re interested. So …
My first memories of Harry Chapin are from high school. I worked as a parking lot attendant at the Valley Forge Music Fair (waving flashlights at cars for hours in miserable weather). We could catch some shows, if conditions were right, and it must have been “Cats” that made me decide to take up management on their offer of a free show.
And it was that first show that struck me. I was on the cusp – starting on the road from childhood to adulthood and switching from top 40 to progressive rock (WYSP to WIOQ/WMMR for detail-oriented readers).
But Harry’s tunes struck a chord. Never been one for self-analyzation, so I don’t know why. Just know that, at a show, I felt different – more at home. The experiencing of life seemed more important. It made the good times more enjoyable. I also got the feeling that the bad times should also be savored. But, at16, I didn’t understand the meaning of the idea that had taken root.
He always ended those shows asking people to stop by the booth and donate to his fight against hunger saying that was where he’d be, starting 5 minutes from NOW. And that’s where he was, ’til the last donor left. Being a high-schooler (and, therefore, dirt-poor), I didn’t feel I could contribute to the fight against world hunger. Which meant that I didn’t think I could get special attention. But I had to express my thanks for the shared experience of the show. So, I stopped by the booth and waited ’til the crowd died down and thanked him for what he’d given me. And every time, I left feeling like I’d talked with a friend – not the superficial thanks that I got from most of the “stars” I met.
But my fondest memory was of the show he (and Tom And Steve) gave in Atlanta in late ’75 (early ’76?). I was a freshman at Georgia Tech at the time and planned on catching the show. I was at the pool one morning, very early. And I saw the most beautiful woman swimming laps. In retrospect, I don’t know how I managed (I was and still am VERY shy where the opposite sex is concerned), but I talked to her. Moira was a graduate student. She’d never heard of Harry Chapin, but she said “Yes” when I asked!
The details of the pre-show activities are fuzzy (though I do recall that she DID disapprove of my smoking after dinner) though the memory is one I’ll always cherish (Thank you Moira, wherever you might be).
But the memories of the concert are clearer than my memories of today’s lunch.
We had seats on the side, halfway back. Moira suggested that we move down to the un-occupied seats third or fourth row in the center. We did. And then the show started.
I don’t know if everybody else’s tickets were comps (complimentary – like I got at Music Fair) or if they just weren’t fans. Or maybe it was one of those times when the planets align … or whatever. But … they’d play the first chords of a song. And that was enough for me to recognize they were about to play one of my favorites. I’d express my appreciation by standing and/or clapping and/or yelling and/or … And then I’d look around. Seems like they were playing only for me – no one else seemed to know what song had started (by the way – I never got one wrong). Certainly, no one else was as excited as I was. I sure got a lot of looks (I now realize that they could be called condescending smirks). But it didn’t matter – Harry KNEW I was there and had crafted a show just for me.
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. So too in this case. The band took their break (if you’ve never been to one of Harry’s shows – or a Grateful Dead show – there was no opening act. Harry played a full first set, took a break and then played a full second set).
Being an 18 year-old, from a state with a 21 year-old drinking age, in a state allowing 18 year-olds to purchase alcohol, you can guess what my thought was at intermission. But something (Moira?) made me pause. Seemed odd, Moira and I talked about it – there was no security around the stage.
The memory’s like a dream – I took her hand and we walked to the front of the stage, climbed the steps that lead up onto the stage, crossed the stage floor and into the backstage maze. It took a moment or two, but we followed the sound of voices and found everybody.
It was unreal – we, effectively, had backstage passes! And no one else followed our lead!
I stammered and gushed – how often does one get to talk to an idol?
Moira didn’t have that handicap. But, the universe plays tricks. Turns out she did her undergraduate work at (forgive my memory – she went to the same school Harry did. I think that was Cornell). Moira and Harry sat and chatted like long lost friends. I got to join in occasionally, because I was with Moira. It was incredible – watching the two of them exchanging memories. Kind of weird too: I’m the Harry fan; she doesn’t know him; but she’s the one who gets to chat with him!
But it was a great experience – I’m backstage with the band, drinking their beer (a belated thank you), talking with everybody, being treated like one of the family.
If they didn’t have to put on a second set, I’d bet we’d have been there all night.
But it was incredibly cool. Moira and I head back across stage to our usurped seats, saying good-bye to the band as we go.
“So that’s [my] story, I’m glad you came tonight”
“And I confess I get to missing the old man a bit”
“Yes there’s one other reason I guess I could admit”
[Wish me luck with my new Corey]
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