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Short Stories - Harry Chapin Web Site
HARRY YOU TALK TOO MUCH
But at the Rainbow, London, last Wednesday, a disturbing tendency to talk far too much between songs, to virtually lecture the audience on his admirable new cause (world hunger) and a trend towards maudlin new songs about his children marred Chapin's hitherto articulate material.
On stage, he resembles a camp fire entertainer who looks and dresses as if he's entertaining the troops; but his songs are much too personalised, invariably aimed at real people who have marked his life, for him to be considered extrovert.
A song about his daughter Jenny, another called "Poor Damned Fool"- mocking his wife's former husband for not realising her worth- and " We Grew Up A Little Bit' relating to marriage prove the point -Harry finds it hard to get away from sentimentality to make his marks.
As if to demonstrate his self-consciousness, Chapin seemed to feel it necessary to explain his raison d'Ítre for every song with a long preamble. Occasionally, of course, this is fine- but overdone, it tends to be a bore. The songs should stand up on their own.
His solo acoustic opening was less compulsive, than the segment with the band, in which the songs from the excellent last album, " Dance Band On The Titanic," came over with a style that had been missing earlier. Brother Steve Chapin's keyboard work, especially, was a delight, richly filling out the sound.
There was far too much backchat with members of the band, but no denying the competence of the individual players. "Bluesman", "Country Dreams" and "Mr. Tanner, the cleverly-conceived song about music critics were the only songs vying with Harry's golden oldies.
Summing up: it's impossible not to warm to Chapin, but there seemed
real dangers last week that the man may stray too far from making the
incisive points that have marked his best works. Let's hope not.
Some people have the gift of artfulness: visual words and sensory sounds, when intimately bound, can successfully influence people. Psychic transportation inducement of manic moods, and even profound revelations can be attained from just one good song. This is the magic of music.
What sifts the grain from the chaff is, of course, a matter of individual interpretation, assuming there is something left open to interpretation. Some things don't even offer that much. But, the surest way to end an argument of any kind is simply to look at your opponent with hard, determined eyes and say (firmly) "That's a matter of opinion." Cop-out that it is you'll find people (unless you're messing with someone like Silverton) back down.
Good music has all the emotional and transcendental qualities of a good fight, bad music is the junk that doesn't even urge you to argue. Bad art of any type is too general and too uninvolved, be it audio or visual.
This is why I can't understand how Harry Chapin came to be a household name. His stories are weak presentations of general living, with no beginning, climax, or ending, or solution. He offers nothing to chew on, nothing to think about, nothing topical, but he does have the ability to maintain a story line in song form, held together by cute little rhymes.
I've dealt with this as Chapin has been built as a 'storyteller' true enough, but it depends on what kind of reading you like. I'd prefer to learn from a story or at least to have my imagination stimulated.
The music doesn't aid the limp tales, it doesn't seem to be written to correspond with the specific lyrics. Music and lyrics are supposed to be blended to complement one another - to create an event which is memorable, even enlightening, certainly moving.
Chapin's album didn't even leave me cold. His voice is feeble and emotionally vacant, and any story told in droning monotone makes that story incredibly boring. None of the tracks held my attention with any number of listens, not even when I followed the songs with the lyric sheet.
In addition to the failing singing (and it's really not too easy to force yourself to listen to apathy) the fact that the music is unsuitable only serves to divide any trace of attention span even more drastically. The over abundance and overly diversified number of additional musicians (Chapin himself is said to play guitar) is very effective in dispersing, thoroughly, any specific train of thought.
In a way, this album is like throwing a party for all your friends who happen to be loyal members of various rivalling cliques. This could tempt passion, could evoke worthwhile slashing verbals or even some bloodshed, or it could go the other idealistic way with people homogenising and emerging palsy-walsy, but realistically, as illustrated by the album, it just doesn't work. It falters along hesitantly, under the pretention of having a good time.
I honestly think Chapin would be better off to let his publisher sell
his work to artists who could bring it alive effectively.
But, and I am taking my courage in both hands here, I really cannot see why.
I found his songs for the most part either twee or tedious as they tend to be lengthy narratives.
Harry Chapin, who appeared with brother Tom, is best known on this side of the Atlantic for his 1974 hit about the morning DJ "W.O.L.D"
If you can remember how moderate that was you will have some idea how unremarkable the rest of his repertoire was.
He described his latest single "Flowers Are Red" as his most important new song in 18 months.
It's about a little schoolboy painting flowers all colours of the rainbow, only to be told by a po-faced teacher: "Flowers are red young man, green leaves are green. There's no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen."
It may be social comment, but it goes drearily on and on and the tune is too sickly to be true. I cannot see this rocketing up the charts.
Brother Tom sang an inspired version of Tom Lehrer's wickedly hilarious song about the little girl who makes an Irish stew out of her baby brother. All deliciously evil relish of the original was gone.
Harry was an ebullient chap, full of chat and four-letter words and even more irritating fidgety than Michael Parkinson.
He and Tom, who accompanied themselves on guitar, ended the concert by getting everyone to join in "All my life's a Circle".
Then they bounded, waving, through the audience to make their departure.
It was all very cosy and I know their fans enjoyed it. They certainly got value for money as the concert was a long one.
Too long for me, though and I cannot see Mr Chapin augmenting his
following here when we've got such superior home-grown talent of similar
style- Croydon's Ralph McTell for one.
At the beginning of the show Harry explained that brother Steve was busy in the States mixing the next Chapin album and that he (Harry) had taken advantage of a gap in the schedule to fly over to Ireland for a couple of concerts sans band: "this is a chance for you to hear these songs as I first wrote 'em." Brother Tom came on after the second song to add harmonies and guitar fills and ended up as an equal partner.
It must have been irritating for dyed-in-the-wool Chapin fans, their ears pricked for the melodramatic narrative songs in which their hero specialises. By the end of the concert some were shouting for Harry to get on with it, and there were some walk-outs. But the vast majority of the paying customers accepted the Chapins' relaxed use of the two-voice, two-guitar set-up and the concert achieved an unusual intimacy in the large, grubby boxing stadium.
For some reason Harry Chapin has struck a chord in Ireland and is much more popular here, proportionately, than in Britain. He's released a special single for the Irish market, Flowers Are Red, and, like other favourites such as Cats In The Cradle, Circle and "W.O.L.D, it got a tumultuous reception.
The Chapins have a well worked-out routine of intros and ad-libs, which they used word for word the following night on a live TV spot. Tom had most of the Stadium audience participating in sing-alongs, and got them to jangle bunches of keys in time with the music.
The part of the show that got most applause was when Harry walked
away from the mike and stood at the front of the stage, hands in his
pockets and his frame twisting dramatically in the spotlight as he
belted out the tale of Mail Order Annie. The fact that a good
portion of the thousand-strong audience had to strain to even hear his
hoarse voice, let alone digest the music and lyrics was not as important
as the fact that it was a bravura 'moment', full of good old show-biz