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Short Stories - Harry Chapin Web Site
Memories of Harry Chapin
Several weeks before he was killed in a car crash on July 16, 1981, Chapin played York University. It was one of the best concerts I've ever seen. The audience's response was ecstatic.
Unfortunately Chapin was never fully appreciated or understood on this side of the Atlantic. His songs were sometimes dismissed as being middle of the road flights of fancy. In fact they are full of wry insight and a glorious cynicism which reflected Chapin's attitude to both society and the music industry.
He spearheaded a campaign against world hunger which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is one reason why his memory lives on. Another is his music which I've been playing this week to mark the anniversary of his death.
His first album was Heads And Tales; his last album was Sequel. In between were such delights as Dance Band On The Titantic and Short Stories from which the single WOLD was taken. This strangely disquieting ode to American radio is one of his best songs.
Chapin once said: "The problem is most of us are playing ostriches. I see my function as sensitising people to things that they already know."
He certainly did that both through his music and through his fund raising efforts.
"STORY OF A LIFE"
An Introduction to the Evening by Harry Belafonte
Audio Visual Presentation: Legacy
Remarks by Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records
TAXI performed by Tom Chapin with Stephen Chapin and John Wallace
SIX STRING ORCHESTRA performed by the Smothers Brothers
Remarks by Christopher Keene
A song performed by Graham Nash
Remarks by Pete Fornatale, WNEW-FM, New York
W.O.L.D performed by Richie Havens
Remarks by Dave Marsh, author and music critic.
A song performed by Pete Seeger
Remarks by Ralph Nader
AMERICA performed by Paul Simon
WHEN I LOOK UP performed by Dolores Hall
Reflections by Harry Belafonte
FLOWERS ARE RED performed by Bob McGrath and The Children to Children Choir.
TANGLED UP PUPPET performed by Terry Klausner
Remarks by Tom Chapin and Kenneth Burke
ONE LIGHT IN A DARK VALLEY performed by The Hooters
CAT'S IN THE CRADLE performed by Judy Collins
Remarks by Edward Vilella
SHE SINGS SONGS WITHOUT WORDS danced by Marcia Sussman and Paulo Manso de Sousa, members of The Miami Ballet. Sung by David Buskin and Choreographed by Edward Vilella
SHOOTING STAR performed by Pat Benatar
Audio Visual presentation: "W.H.Y"
Remarks by Bill Ayres, World Hunger Year
The Hunger Media Awards presented by Kenny Rogers
THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE performed by Peter, Paul and Mary
Remarks by Ken Kragen, USA for Africa/ Hands Across America
THE LAST STAND performed by John Wallace
Remarks by James Chapin
The Presentation of the Special Congressional Gold Medal by Senators Patrick Leahy and Thomas Harkin and Representatives Byron Dorgan and Benjamin Gilman
REMEMBER WHEN THE MUSIC performed by Bruce Springsteen
I said "Sure" - I've never seen a famous person that close before. So I went over there and the show was The Zinger and The Zinger' took place in a futuristic time. It was kind of futuristic rock 'n' roll. The character I played was Zepher and she was a kind of rough and tough, rock 'n' roll singer of the future. The problem was I hadn't really learned how to sing rock 'n' roll, so I was a little out of place.
I remember at rehearsals, they would come back, Harry and Steve and everybody, and they'd say, "You're doing really great, but you've got to rough it up a little. You gotta get this a little tougher." I said "okay, okay". So, Harry, I know you're listening and probably smiling, but I finally got it. We miss you!
Remember when the Music:
So we went out to California to mix and I'm standing on this balcony, third floor of a motel and I hear "Hey, hey". I look down and there's Harry and he starts talking to me. Talks to me for about forty minutes, standing down here, looking up. He was trying to get me to do something. And he said one thing that I always remember. He said, "Gee you know, I always play one night for me and one night for the other guy."
And later on, when I was trying to put my music to some pragmatic use, I remembered what he said. Not being bent on extremism, I wasn't as generous as he was. But he's probably laughing right now. Do this for you.
I remember when Sandy sent me this tape [Remember When the Music], I listened to it and said "Gee, this is a little on the corny side." Then I sat down and tried to think about what the song was about. And I guess there was a time when people felt that music provided you with a greater sense of unity, a greater sense of shared vision than it does today. My generation, we were going to be the generation that was gonna change the world. Somehow we were gonna make it a little less lonely, a little less hungry, a little more just place. But it seems that when that promise slipped through our hands, we didn't replace it with nothing but lost faith. And now we live in times that are pretty shattered. I've got my music, you've got your music, the guy down the street he's got his. And you sit back and say truthfully, "Well maybe all men are not brothers and maybe we won't know who or what we are to each other." But I think that Harry instinctively knew it was going to take a lot more than love to survive. That it was going to take a strong sense of purpose, of duty and a good clear eye on the dirty ways of the World.
So in keeping with his promise to himself, he reminds us of our promise to ourselves and that tonight, alongside Harry, it's that promise that his spirit would have us remember and honour and recommit to. So, do something and may his song be sung.
Springsteen took the stage near the end of what had already been an evening of moving testimonials and splendid music. Playing acoustic guitar and harmonica, he performed Chapin's Remember When the Music, a song Springsteen acknowledged as being "a little on the corny side." He cited a remark Chapin had made to him - "I play one night for me and one night for the other guy" - as part of the inspiration for his own antihunger work.
Earlier, Richie Havens had turned in a fine, bluesy reading of Chapin's W.O.L.D, and Judy Collins performed Cat's in the Cradle. Pete Seeger led a sing-along on If I Had a Hammer, and Chapin's brothers Tom and Steve, teamed up with Chapin's former guitarist, John Wallace on Taxi. The Hooters played a ringing rendition of One Light in a Dark Valley, which was written by Chapin's grandfather, the philosopher and literary critic Kenneth Burke. In an unannounced appearance, Paul Simon sang a pensive version of Simon and Garfunkel's America.
"Harry Chapin was the epitome of relentlessness in his fight against world hunger," said Kenny Rogers. And Springsteen challenged the audience to preserve the meaning of Chapin's life and work: "Do something and may his song be sung."#
The medal was presented to Harry's widow, Sandy, on December 7, 1987 at a Carnegie Hall tribute and benefit celebrating Harry's tireless efforts to bring about an end to world hunger. Harry's well documented humanitarianism, which included playing over half of his more than two hundred yearly concerts as benefits, and his relentless lobbying in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the hungry, are widely recognized as being responsible for the creation of the President's Commission on World Hunger in 1977 and as inspiring the music industry hunger alleviation projects USA for Africa, Live Aid and Hands Across America.
Though many have written and spoken eloquently about Harry and the legacy he has left us since his tragic death in 1981, perhaps the words which Senator Edward M Kennedy of Massachusetts wrote, in honor of Harry becoming only the 115th Congressional Gold Medal recipient since the first was awarded to George Washington in 1776, are the most poignant:
Harry Chapin was, and continues to be, an inspiration to us all.
He was not only a brilliant artist, but an extraordinary human being
with a social conscience as brilliant as his artistic talent. And so his
remarkable life and works brought a Joy to millions, and hope to
millions more. We cannot replace his great genius in the arts, but we
can carry on his great work of social justice, and in doing so, we know
that his memory will never die.
We echo those sentiments, and hope this wonderful collection of Harry's words and music will help to inspire us all to keep Harry's ideals, and music, always in our hearts. As Harry himself used to demand of us, let us keep moving "onward and upward" together.
Judy Collins: In Concert at
the Barbican Hall, London