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Sunday, 17 July 2016

HARRY CHAPIN - 7 DEC 1942 - 16 JUL 1981

On the early afternoon of Thursday, July 16, 1981, Harry Chapin was driving on the Long Island Expressway on his way to appear at a concert scheduled for later that evening in East Meadow, New York. In a not entirely clear sequence of events, his car and a tractor-trailer collided. Chapin was killed. He was 38 years old.

He was buried in Huntington Rural Cemetery, New York and his tombstone reads:

Harry Chapin
1942 - 1981

"Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man's life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world"

I was and still am very fond of Harry Chapin's songs. He was an exemplary singer-songwriter, a storyteller who could break your heart, lift your spirit or kick your ass as he shared his emotions, his passions and his commitments to a better world. He was different to other songwriters. He was a craftsman. Listen to his greatest work - Taxi, Sequel, W.O.L.D., Cats in the Cradle, Circle, Dance Band on the Titanic and he is making mini movies. He draws us in. He makes us think. Above and beyond anything else, his songs are reflections of the human condition, songs to make you laugh (Six String Orchestra), smile (Dancing Boy), cry (Mr Tanner) and just meditate on what life is all about (Story of a Life).

Harry Chapin was a humanitarian, a social activist with the elimination of poverty and hunger in his sights. He performed at many benefit concerts. He co-founded World Hunger Year, a non-profit venture that aimed to encourage grassroots solutions to inspire self-reliance and community empowerment in encouraging and developing campaigns for more affordable and nutritious food globally.

But its is as a songwriter and singer that I remember him 35 years after his death. I have been playing the albums over the past few days and his genuis shines through in production, arrangements, musicianship and, of course, in the lyrics.

Many years ago, I was at a business management workshop and one of our jolly exercises was the challenge to come up with words we would like on our gravestones. Without hesitation, because a couple of lines from Chapin's Story of a Life were embedded in my head, I chose:

"Sometimes words can serve me well
and sometimes words can go to hell
for all that they do."

Here's a YouTube link to Harry Chapin singing the sublime Story of a Life.

RIP Harry Chapin.

Scroll down to the previous post for a little more reflection on Harry Chapin.

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