A good storyteller can tell the same tale to a room full of people and each person will hear and relate differently to the story. It helps if the storytellers is also a writer. And it’s an even more powerful moment when these stories come to us in the way of songs. This blog is not exactly about writing, or stories, or anything else in particular. This blog is about me, my life, and how I see the world. And I realized the other day, just how much I have changed in the way that I see the world.
Eight days before I was born, a tragedy happened on the Long Island Expressway. There was a car accident and one of the great singer/songwriter/storytellers was killed. Harry Chapin. Now, unless you happen to have grown up in a house where Harry’s music was prominent, or you’re older than I am, you may not know of this great man. People my age will remember a song by a group called “Ugly Kid Joe”, they covered Harry’s original “Cats in the Cradle.” People younger than me might know the song as well. But what you don’t know is that Harry wrote many more songs than just that one, and dozens upon dozens of them are popular, and famous. Those who had the privilege of knowing and seeing Harry in concert during the 1970’s were almost always universally touched by him, his music, and his stories.
I grew up, from the baby seat in the back of the station wagon, all the way to my own first car, and now living in New Zealand, I grew up listening to the music of Harry Chapin. I know the stories in the songs back to front. I know them up and down, and they are in my blood and in my mind and in my heart. Harry Chapin’s music reached deep into my heart, and his message of activism has stayed with me for as long as I can remember. He was not a wild activist against the government, or a radical in a balaclava. Harry fought against hunger. In 1975 Harry Chapin co-founded World Hunger Year, which is now known as WHYHunger in hopes of battling the rampant poverty and hunger issues that were covering the Unites States at that time. WHY is still doing work to this end, and they are always in need of help and donations.
But as valid and wonderful as Harry’s work against poverty and hunger are, and as heroic and awesome as WHY is, this post is not about that. Maybe my next post will be. This post, is about the stories that Harry told.
Like I said, I’ve grown up with these stories. I know them, and they know me. And over the years, my perception of the stories has changed. Markedly. From the tale of Mr Tanner, to the midnight watchmen, to Mail-Order Annie, in every stage of my life these songs have brought meaning, understanding, and peace. My perception of the world has been viewed through the Harry colored glasses so many times. From being the Shooting Star, and finally finding my Sunday Morning Sunshine. There is not a life experience that can’t be summed up in a Harry Chapin song.
It’s difficult to put into words how even just one song can take a common emotion and broadcast it all over. And how it can change over the years. Harry’s stories are vivid, you can’t listen to the songs and not see the story in your mind. Songs that I did not like when I was little are now becoming more meaningful to me in adulthood. Songs that are not considered to be his best have always been close to my heart. Sadly, not many are online, especially the ones that I would share with you. But there are some, youtube does have some videos of his music and images from his concerts. I encourage you all to take a break from your life and listen to this man sing. I’ll share a few with you, ones that have come to mean much more to me as I’ve grown up than they did when I was younger.
There are so many more songs and stories by harry chapin out there. And his music touched so many lives, so very many. I spent all day yesterday listening to his music, all day, and I not only felt better than I had when I woke up, but I felt like me again. I can’t really put it into words, the desire to help, the need to tell stories and have people listen to them and take something from them. The desire to be an inspiration, I blame it all on Harry Chapin.
If you like what you’ve listened to, and you want to learn more, either about the music, the man, or what is being done in his memory, I have some links for you.
I hope that you can find more about Harry Chapin, that his music touches you the way that it has so many others. Sit back, relax, listen, and enjoy.