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The first time I heard a Harry Chapin song was 1973, in the back of a school van headed for a high school music competition… so what song do you suppose it was? “Mr. Tanner”, of course. Instant empathy! You know, I really didn’t mind getting a less than perfect rating that day… or since.

I found “Greatest Stories Live” a couple years later. First Chapin album I ever owned, and I bought it because of “Mr. Tanner”. But then I discovered other Chapin songs… and other Chapin albums… and discovered all these wonderful souls that populated Harry’s music.

Then I went off to college, 450 miles from my VERY small town home, without my friends, and found out through Harry that I wasn’t the only one who ever felt alone. After all, “Anywhere’s a better place to be”.

I got the chance to see Harry, twice, during my college years. Once was in St. Louis with the band, and again in Terre Haute where he and Tom were doing one of his many benefits. I learned how inspired, and inspiring, Harry really was. Here was a man who knew, really KNEW, just who he was, what he was, what he believed in… and dedicated his whole being to those things.

I quit college after a couple of years of bouncing from major to major, because I couldn’t seem to find anything that filled me with that kind of intensity that Harry had, that kind that I wanted…

I went back home, to small town Iowa, in the spring of 1981. Harry was going to play Des Moines, and I had front row seats. It was all I talked about for a couple of weeks… and then my father handed me the newspaper one morning and quietly said, “Your singer friend died…”

My “singer friend…”? I didn’t know who he was talking about. I wasn’t “friends” with Harry. I’d seen him in concert, and “met” him, like he met so many other people, people who’d wanted an autograph after the show. Said a few words, then thanks, and good bye. My “singer friend…”? I didn’t know who…

Then I looked at the paper.

Harry’s picture was on the bottom of the front page, and there was a story/obituary inside. I read it, quietly, scarcely believing what was written there.

My singer friend was gone.

My father probably thought that I was at least personally acquainted with Harry, after they way I’d been talking about the upcoming show. I wasn’t, but somehow my father’s words did describe how I felt about Harry… how a lot of people felt (and still feel) about Harry.

Any of us who got to see him, whether on stage, or up close after a show, thought of Harry as a friend… simply because he made us feel that way.

He still does… every time I listen to his music, or watch the video of his concert, or just remember all the things in my own “Story of a Life” that somehow have a Chapin song attached.

And you know… my life may not always have the intensity that Harry’s did, that intensity that Harry always shared with all of us. But I can say that I’ve had moments in my life that felt that way. And I’ll have more. And as long as I can sing a few off key bars of “Mr. Tanner”, I’m sure I’ll feel the spirit and joy that “my singer friend” gave to me.

Thanks, Harry… from one of your many friends.

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