It’s funny. Here it is–The year 2000. this December, I’ll turn 26. I’ve known Harry Chapin’s music for about 21 or so of those years. Only within the last year have I realized that the Chapin Brothers have touched my family’s life in one way or another since the mid-60’s.
Ask anyone that knows me, and they’ll tell you that I was a Music-fan by the time I was born! While recently cleaning out boxes of old school papers from my early grade school years, I came across some writing/drawing assignments. While most kids were into sports and cars and action-figures and the like, it was plain to see that I was really into only two things–both of which I happily have continued interest in today–Trains and music. What 5 year old kid would draw a component-by-component picture of his home built stereo system, and write about it as if it were God’s gift to youth? Yep, that was me.
One thing stood out about these drawings. Next to the speakers and record players and radios, there was always one thing that kept appearing–a poorly-drawn 5-year-old representation of the “Greatest Stories-LIVE!” Album.
I don’t know how I can explain it. Wouldn’t a 5 year old kid in 1979 be listening to Mister Rogers or Sesame Street or Magic Garden Records? What would draw a 5 year old kid to stories about Night Watchmen, aspiring opera singers, has-been disk jockeys, and a truck driver that takes himself out by careening into a Pennsylvania coal town? I guess the music struck a chord with me, because there was NO WAY that I could have known what these songs meant.
“Harry, WHAT sucks?”
1981 turned out to be a rough year for me. In April, my grandfather passed away–only a few months after he retired. For the next few months, I would find release by cranking up my stereo system. It was a tough thing, but life began to get back to normal by the summertime. Then, it all started over for me again.
My grandfather had been buried in the Huntington Rural Cemetery near the highest point on the hill. One Sunday, when we had gone to water the flowers, my Dad took me by the hand and walked with me about 50 feet or so up the hill to this newly placed boulder-turned-gravestone. I was told it was Harry Chapin. It was a hard thing to understand, since I had just heard the guys voice that morning. Once it hit me, it REALLY hurt. My grandfather and my favorite singer–within a few months. I’m sure that somewhere, tucked away in the Chapin Archives, is a letter from a young boy that was placed on Harry’s Stone that summer. (It would really be something to actually see that letter that I wrote today!)
Well, the years rolled by, and my musical tasted broadened. I won’t say that I abandoned Harry, but there was just so much that I was taking in. I became a record collector, and eventually got into radio by the 1990’s. (A side-note: you would swear that Harry worked as a DJ for the inspiration of W*O*L*D. After realizing that radio is anything BUT glamour, the song turns into a biography of 99% of radio people that I have known.)
While cleaning out an old radio station record room one day, I came across an old promo copy of “Greatest Stories-LIVE” that was surplus to the station, so it came home with me.
Now in my late teens, I was able to understand the meanings in Harry’s music, as well as the cuts by Tom and Steve. The songs were heartbreaking, joyous, dark, yet sometimes brightly optimistic. A CD copy of the album was quickly purchased, and I fell in love all over again….
It was by this time now, that some memories started popping into my mind. Didn’t I have a 45 when I was young that was called “Old Time Movies” by someone calling themselves The Chapin Brothers? Didn’t I once see an album by the same guys in my uncles home a few years back? Could these have been THE Chapin Brothers, as in Tom, Steve, and Harry?
I would come to learn that these WERE indeed the guys, but had given up hope of finding the album again. My uncle had gone through a tough divorce, and most of his stuff had been left behind. So, all hope was lost of me finding that LP again.
Jump to this year, and I purchase the “Story of a Life” Box Set. I hadn’t known it existed until I picked it up for the first time in the record store. 2 minutes later, I owned it. As I flipped through the pages, I came across the photo of the old “Chapin Music” LP cover, and decided to start up my search for the album. I tried all the regular collecting routes, including Goldmine, Ebay, etc., but to no avail.
I had gone to visit my family in Vermont this past summer, and asked my uncle if he had gotten his records out of my aunts house when he left. “Some” was his reply. “What are you looking for?” A smile crossed my face when he said that he did indeed get that album out. “That album has a LOT of memories for me”, he said. That kicked off a conversation between him, my father, and myself that would give me an actual connection to the man I had listened to for almost 2 decades now.
My uncle’s connections to the album are a little more than just “Buying” it. He had attended Plattsburg State University, and had gone to school there with Tom, or “Tommy” as he had said. O.K., that was pretty cool, but it got better. Back in the 70’s, he used to play pool with Harry Chapin. I don’t know how often this happened, or exactly when, but it sounded good to me. After all, my family was born and raised in Huntington, NY, so why couldn’t this happen?
Those were some VERY cool things to know, but my Dad hit me with a big one. In reality, it’s not that earth-shattering to very many people but myself, but it would hit home everything I had ever read about Harry Chapin.
For almost 20 years, until the late 80’s, my dad had worked as a truck-driver/manager for a mason supply in Huntington. He had made deliveries to some well-known people, although no names cross my mind right now. Most of them were decent people, but he was the delivery guy, so it would be a quick “Put the stuff over there” and a payment and tip. Back in 1978 or 1979, he had made a delivery to Huntington Bay. That delivery was made to Harry’s home.
What makes the story special to me is the fact that Harry actually helped my Dad unload the materials that he was delivering. They chatted and unloaded, and then my father went on his way. Most of his customers wouldn’t have gone that far, but there was Harry going the route of the “common man”. Don’t ask me why, but I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything.
After writing all of this, I realize that I don’t really know how to bring it to and end, but I guess that was the point of “Circle”. All of these memories that I have tie into each other in some way or another, and they all come full circle to when I was that 5 year old kid listening to “30,000 pounds…” just because I liked the music.
As cliche-sounding as it is, it’s so true. Harry never really died. I know I’m just one of millions that Harry touched in some way, but, from what I’ve read and what I’ve been told, that “one-guy-out-of-a-million” was just as important to Harry as the next one was.
People like that live forever through the memories that they’ve provided–no matter how small.
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