His life as a notable singer would only last ten years before it would end on a long Island expressway on July 16, 1981 but for those who loved the music of Harry Chapin his words will forever live on in our hearts and minds.
To me Harry Chapin was more than a musician. He was the consummate storyteller putting to music the lives and dreams of ordinary people in ordinary every day situations. Much of his music was based on and around his own life. His “Taxi” song while it may not have been completely biographical was at least based on the fact that Harry himself once drove a taxi to make ends meet. His “I wanna sing a love song” is the story of how he met his wife Sandy. While his famous “Cats in the Cradle” was taken from a poem his wife wrote.
The man had the ability to make us laugh with songs like “Six String Orchestra” and “30,000 pounds of Bananas” and feel what it was like to dream with such songs as “Mr. Tanner” I can honestly say that there were few songs this man ever did that I did not like.
But there was much more to Harry Chapin than his music. He was in many ways both a very simple ordinary man with ordinary dreams and failings, and in many respects a complicated man with a belief that the common people could change and create a better world. In some ways this man, even to his own family would be a bit bigger than life. As his brother Tom once put it. “Two is company, Harry is a crowd.”
Loud and brash Harry and his brothers started their music careers in high school forming their own band. After school Harry seemed to try a variety of things including the military and film making before settling back down into music. Fame when it hit, seemed to take him by surprise and Harry suffered from the same problems that many on the road musicians do and that was from the women who sought time with those whose reached stardom.
Though he loved his wife and family there were many problems at home caused by his skirt chasing which Harry himself seemed unable to control. However, Sandy stood by him, giving her best to her marriage and urging Harry himself to find something other than fame he could be proud of. He did.
Harry became a fighter against world hunger. More than half his 2000 concerts were dedicated to this cause and he would bully politicians, businessmen, and other performers, to join together to help stop hunger in the world. Especially in the United States. He once said that people starving in America was an obscenity.
Despite a lucrative music career Harry would die leaving little behind. He believed that money was for people so he gave it away to charities, foundations, and those in need. Many of his family have carried on his passion for this kind of work, and that even more than the beautiful music he made is what Harry Chapin should be remembered for.