Music Monday: Harry Chapin on Writing, Performing, and Making a Fool of Yourself

Harry Chapin is one of the all-time great singer-songwriters who died way too young. One of my first blog posts five years ago ever was about Harry, and it remains one of my favorite posts. If you don’t know much about Harry, that post can get you up to speed.

It was my future wife who introduced me to the music of Harry, and we were lucky enough to see him in concert. The highlight of the show, at least for my wife, was getting a kiss from Harry after the performance. If cell phones were around back then, I’m sure that moment would still be her profile picture on social media 40 years later.

I’m writing about Harry again because I came across a set of videos of intimate performances Harry gave at the Soundstage. One of the videos was a brief Q&A session Harry had with the audience.

In the video, Harry talks about how much of him is in the songs, the importance of taking risks, and his love of writing and performing. I think one of the interesting items to note during the interview is catchi!ng a couple of the band members smoking on stage. I don’t think you’d see this today!

And if you don’t know any of Harry’s music, here are some of his classics, from his performance at the PBS Soundstage in 1975. By the way, many of Harry’s songs are referred to as stories, and they tend to be a bit longer than traditional songs.

Heres the one that got things started, Taxi:

Mail Order Annie:

Showing some of his humor in Six-String Orchestra:

the classic Mr. Tanner, including band intros:

and I’ll close with another one of his most well-known songs, Cat’s in the Cradle:

But perhaps even better than Harry’s music was his commitment to social causes, particularly World Hunger. He was known for playing “one night for himself, and one night for the other guy”, giving half of his concert proceeds to causes that were important to him.

We need more people like Harry, and as Bruce Springsteen says in a tribute concert to Harry, “Do something, and may his song be sung.”

*image from Ultimate Classic Rock

24 thoughts on “Music Monday: Harry Chapin on Writing, Performing, and Making a Fool of Yourself

  1. Harry was one of the first performers I heard who told stories through his music. He did not fit the mainstream music industry at all.

    Your mention of the band members smoking on stage made me remember something similar. We have a semiprofessional baseball team in our area called the Humboldt Crabs—don’t you love that name? They are made up of mostly college players who are playing a couple of months after their college season ends. They mostly play similar teams, but occasionally some of the players on the other teams are former professional players still playing for the love of the competition. (Cue your post from yesterday.) The funny part that I remembered was there was a former major leaguer (He mostly played in the minors, but got a cup of coffee on a big league team) who used to smoke a cigarette in the on deck circle. It seemed so absurd it was funny.

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      1. I’m sure some of these guys still smoke, but not in public. I think I read something recently about baseball players sitting in the locker room, during games, drinking beer…

        and love the crabs name…

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  2. Interesting post, Jim. Cats in the Cradle is the song that immediately came to mind when Harry’s name popped up. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy in the video interview.

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  3. Ahh! “Mail order Annie” 🙂
    You will get a laught out of this. I have always liked the song “Cat in the cradle” . One time Tippy mentioned it on his blog and I said that was my favorite Cat Stevens song! Yeah, you can imagine the fun that he and Colin had with that! ☺

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    1. I could see the mix-up; all those white male singer songwriters start to blend together – Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, James Taylor, Don McLean, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg, Steve Forbert.. 🙂

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