While some of you may already be familiar with Harry Chapin, I'm sure that many of you will not have heard him. He was a singer-songwriter in the 1970's, most famous for what became known as his "story songs." Sad, melancholy tales of real life, defeat, missed opportunities and regret. (Yay!) His biggest hit, and the one that everyone actually KNOWS him for was "Cats in the Cradle." He had others, but that was what really put him on the map. It was also the first song I ever learned how to sing, the only song I really sing well (hey, I've been singin' it for 35 years now!), and to date the only song I've ever sung in front of a large group of people. (To a great deal of applause I might add. LOL)
When my wife introduced my brother-in-law to our music collection she described Chapin as "[my] favorite artist." I'd never really though of him that way up until that point. I have far too broad a taste in music to really pick any ONE band or person as my favorite. But if I HAD to name someone, I supposed it would be Harry. To really describe how I really feel about him, however, I have to say a lot more than just that he's my favorite artist... He's one of my heroes.
That's an odd way to descibe a musician, but to understand it you have to understand how active Harry was in various political causes, and political activism, most prominently in fighting wolrd hunger. He felt that poverty and hunger in THIS country were "insulting" to America and established "World Hunger Year" in 1975, a charity that remains active to this day. In addition to this, over a large portion of career over half of his concerts were done as benefits. He gave a away more money than anyone else at the time, and very few have even come close in the many years since. It was his generosity, political activism, world outlook and pure artistic integrity and freedom that elevates him from merely my favorite artist to my hero. When he died in 1981, though I was only seven years old, I was keenly aware of what the world had lost that day. He remains one of only about two famous people that I cried at hearing of their passing, and it is only these two that I still find difficult to talk about today. (If you're wondering, the other is Jim Henson.) In 1987, on what would have been his 45th birthday,Hharry Chapin was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his campaigning on social issues, the single highest honor that can be bestowed on a Civilian by our government.
I guess he was more than just MY hero.
Politically, it should be pretty obvious that he was a Liberal Democrat, and he wrote several pieces that dealt directly with the political issues of the (racism, sexism, poverty, intoelrance, exploitation, freedom, etc...) but if there was ever a song that summed up the Liberal Philosophy (and liberal FRUSTRATION) perfectly, albeit in a completely allegorical way, it's THE ROCK.
Here's a youtube video for it. Think Global Warming, or just about ANY issue that Liberals have to swim upstream agaist the status quo on, and TELL ME this isn't how you feel:
Another great one, which deals in non-conformity and arguably strays into neural diversity three decades before that term even exsisted, is FLOWER ARE RED:
Finally one of the greatest inditements of sexism that I've ever come accross: WHY DID THE LITTLE GIRLS? (Remember, this was in the late 1970's.)
For a sampling of his less political stuff, his 'story songs,' here are some more links to YouTube:
A Better Place to Be
Cats in the Cradle
...and what just might be my favorite SONG of all time: SNIPER.
There are many, MANY others. He was a musician that defied genre, broke convention, and wrote amazing stories. What's more, he was a PERSON who accomplished more that most can even dream to and yet still died, at a tragically young age, with his life's work left largely unfinished.