Photo of Harry CHAPIN

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STATEMENT: Writing blog posts is easy.

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Well, not easy… no, not easy at all. I’ve written 130 posts in the past 2 and a half years, and not one was a simple, mindless endeavour, even if you think my compositions about baginas or castration are mindless!

Dogy Balls

I only write about matters that interest me – if the subject doesn’t catch my intrigue, the words will NOT come –  while at the same time, quarrying a nugget or two in the slag pile that somehow, hopefully, will be meaningful to you in your life.

My ego doesn’t fare well if no one reads a word I publish … yes, I NEED YOU!

But when I compare the mental effort and time it takes to write a blog entry versus piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that makes up a musical song, it just seems easy.

Writing blogs and composing music are comparable to the striking differences in playing guitar and playing piano. If you’ve tried both, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

Writing a blog post – like playing guitar – is a singular, one-tracked effort. Putting one word after another is a focussed undertaking where your total concentration goes into moving forward in a single direction.

It’s kind of like becoming a killer kisser. Your entirety is devoted to the touch, taste … all of those sensations that cook up into making one other set of soft, sweet lips happy and well looked after.

But writing a song? Whole different breed of animal.

Songsmithing is a complex of musical melody, harmony and lyrics which is more like combining the left and right hand in piano. Songwriting is a boudoir threesome (like I would know!); there are parts running off in all directions. It’s pleasurable for sure (again, like I would know!), but it makes your head spin.

Sorry Ladies, but I've just GOTTA finish writing this song ... the BIG MALE FAIL

“Sorry Ladies, but I’ve just GOTTA finish writing this song” … the BIG MALE FAIL!

 

There are two independent thoughts running side-by-side inside your head and fingertips. Through exhaustive practice, you learn to separate them sufficiently to then weave them back together in a cohesive whole that makes a deliciously fragrant sonata.

If I want to write songs that are meaningful to me and – just like my blog writing – hopefully contain a snippet of something that has meaning for you too, the formulas that commercialized music depend on just don’t work very well.

Which, happily for you, brings me to the point of today’s sermon … avoiding the cliche in songwriting.

Songwriting cliche threatens to swallow us whole in today’s musical marketplace and it drives me crazy sometimes.

Don’t you – maybe even occasionally – ask yourself when listening to a song on the radio, “Who the hell let that DOG out?”. The music, the lyrics are a dog’s breakfast and still it smuggled itself past a recording studio, a bunch of music-studio talking heads, and a radio station programmer. ARGGGGG!

But there are and always have been exceptions.

One of my lifelong songwriting heroes – I have many musical heroes, but probably none as emotionally resonant – has been Harry Chapin.

Harry perished in an auto accident in the late 1970’s while only 39 years old. You might know Harry for his powerfully evocative song: Cats in the Cradle.

But Cats in the Cradle was just a miniscule sample of Harry’s ability. Harry didn’t write or sing cliches and I loved him for it.

Harry was a husband, father, writer, singer, a supporter of social causes, and most impressively, a funny and talented storyteller.

Today, 33 years after his death, I still think about him from time to time – I miss Harry like a treasured friend or brother who left behind a huge hole in my existence in his wake.

Harry had the ability to find a tiny fragment of the joy or sorrow in the life of a common man (woman) and magnify it into an opus that pierced directly into our hearts.

Over and over, Chapin sketched universal human stories in just a few short verses and choruses.

It’s an amazing skill akin to Ernest Hemingway’s famous brief 6-word story:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

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A few examples of Harry’s songs and the stories they told:

  • Mr. Tanner, the drycleaner, who tried opera-style singing at Carnegie Hall, just once, and was cruelly rejected by the reviewers.
  • the lonely midnight watchman in A Better Place to Be who desperately craves the love of someone, and discovers that he isn’t alone in his struggle to be held dear by others.
  • the former lovers who accidentally meet in a Taxi, and sadly realize that their young dreams weren’t fulfilled in the way they hoped.
  • the aging FM disc jockey who’s life lies in crumbles from chasing fame and fortune in WOLD
  • the truck driver rushing to get home to his “warm-breathed lover” after a long road trip in 30,000 Pounds of Bananas.

He told us stories, and like Steinbeck or Austen, his yarns entered our hearts and made us weep or smile with the fortunes of the characters he forged in his mind.

Harry Chapin, so long gone now, was a musical and storytelling saint, an inspiration to anyone who longs to tell a story.

Who of us doesn’t love a story from the sweet, innocent nights where we lay in our comfy beds listening to Daddy’s voice reading from a book, to sitting in concert halls where Stuart McLean or Garrison Keillor recite homespun yarns to us?

That was Harry … Master Storyteller. I miss you Harry… and…

I’m gonna write a blog post about you because it’s so much easier than composing a song. But one day …

 

 

 

HarryChapin

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