Harry Chapin Remembered 4-29-2005
Celebrating Harry With the Chapin Family at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
It was an invigorating and refreshing evening of optimism on Friday night at the Performing Arts Center as many talented members of the Chapin family performed a show titled “Harry Chapin: a Celebration in Song.” It was much more than a musical medley of the singer’s hits but a deeply affecting reminder of one of our time’s most thoroughly decent men and generous artists. Harry Chapin, on the surface was famous over a decade for his musical narratives that are often called folk songs even though that term doesn’t quite fit for him. A man of tremendous energy, endless political optimism and great courage his life was cut short by an auto accident in 1981. His music, once decried as didactic and downbeat continues to gain stature in the history of American pop but his reputation as a sterling human being is chiseled in stone. The songs have worn well and lesser known tunes seem to have ripened into genuine beauties, the kind of sweet message songs that just seem so common sense and close to the heart they never stop making the listener feel better. Of course, the goal of Harry Chapin’s life was to make the planet a better place and on this night it was more than evident that he succeeded beyond his dreams.
It was Harry’s good fortune that his family is so very talented and dedicated to his music and causes. Because his two brothers are accomplished artists, because his daughter is a fine singer in her own right and because his nieces, the excellent Chapin Sisters comprise a most formidable musical juggernaut this evening was truly special.
It should also be mentioned early on that Big John Wallace, constant bass-man and anointed member of the Chapin musical family was on stage and in tip-top shape. From the bright tones of “Sunday Morning Sunshine” to the bittersweet finale of “Circle” the Chapins played and sang inspired music, not all of it Harry’s but all pure Chapin vintages. The audience at Cerritos was one of the most intensely connected ever and often sang verses like they had been rehearsed. They asked for and got the ones everyone remembers like “WOLD,” “Taxi” “Mr. Tanner” and the masterpiece “Cats in the Cradle.” Certainly hankies had to be produced but much of the emotion came from insight and not schmaltz. Case in point was the ensemble doing “The Story of a Life” that had plenty of sentimental punch. There were moments to cherish in songs lesser known but powerful this quarter century later. The singing of “Tangled Up Puppet” by daughter Jennifer was simply superb with lyrics about the spaces between parents and teenagers that certainly mean a lot more today. The silky “And I Feel Like I Need You Again” by neice Abigail produced genuine goosebumps. There were lighter moments as in the lovely ladies lilting “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend,” a ripe “Thirty-thousand lbs. of Bananas” and many stories that showed Harry to be fully human but uncommonly brave and wise. “All My Life’s a Circle” is a wonderful song and the family handled it with love and good humor, allowing each musician to take a round. Yet the lyrics at the heart of the song said made a statement that seemed so perfect for this show “It seems like I’ve been here before/ I can’t remember when/ But I have this funny feeling/ That we’ll all be together again.” Harry Chapin took the spotlight that shone on his music and turned it around to illuminate the serious problems of poverty and hunger. His music and his foundation World HungerYear live on to better humankind. See www.worldhungeryear.org