On July 16th it will be forty years since the world lost Harry Chapin. For those too young to know who he was, simply search on iTunes and download an album or two.
At a time when singer-songwriters monopolized the airwaves of the better rock stations, Harry was the best. He was so good he even got radio stations to air seven minute songs. Now, while they may have seemed long to station managers and advertising executives, to those of us who loved a good story, those songs were Shakespeare on vinyl.
Whether listening to Harry sing in the comfort of your living room or while sitting outside on the rock at Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park you were transported to Frisco on a rainy night or a steep hill in Scranton, Pennsylvania. You could care less who was President or what party controlled Congress. You were listening to Harry tell stories and that’s all that mattered.
Harry sang about people, ordinary people. A tailor who dreamed about singing at Town Hall; a waitress who could recognize her own loneliness in others; a cabbie who fell short of his dreams. Harry sang about us. We saw ourselves in his cast of characters and, somehow, we were made better people because of it.
It’s useful to remember that the seventies weren’t exactly the golden age of America. Cities were burning down; we had hostages in Iran; we could only buy gasoline on certain days; and double digit inflation was the norm.
When Harry sang it was really a better place to be.