half life 2

The soul-shaking sound of metal crashing, blood dripping and tears flowing…

The answer to whom has been the greatest songwriting influence for me was savagely swept from this earth, violently and tragically 39 years ago.

Harry Chapin… 39 years old…. writer of musical stories like TAXI, CATS IN THE CRADLE, COREY’S COMING, BETTER PLACE TO BE, I WANNA LEARN A LOVE SONG and dozens of other amazingly emotional and vivid tales.

On the afternoon of July 16, 1981, Chapin was killed in a freeway collision with a truck while on his way to perform at a free concert in East Meadow, New York.

Almost half of Harry’s concerts were benefits to raise money for social and environmental causes… Harry wasn’t interested in saving money. He always said, “Money is for people”, so he gave it away.

I was fortunate to have sat and listened to an Ontario Place (Toronto) under-the-stars concert of Harry’s, way back in about 1976 or ’77. He was enthusiastic and ebullient, mesmerizing and spellbinding.

Today when I sit to begin a songwriting session, I almost always ask myself… “how would Harry look at this – how would he inject this story with warmth and life and love.” Of course, it’s a rarity that I ever come remotely close to achieving any of what he was able to accomplish before he turned 40.

But that doesn’t deter me from trying, and as it really should, it inspires me.

Of course, writing songs about artists that have come to tragic ends is not new at all. Don McLean captured the premature deaths of a number of musicians in his song American Pie.

Following here is my ode to the too-short life and personal impact of Harry Chapin…

Harry Chapin.jpg

ONLY HALF A LIFETIME

by Larry Green

Alarm rang one summer’s morn
Thirty years ago erstwhile
The radio sang your voice again
gentle words that draw my smile
but this early candle’s flame gone numb
with breath caught short
when I heard them say
you’d played your final strum

The early clubs and roads on buses
your musical best friends
Your east coast Beach Boys
played concert halls and sang the gems
songs of cats and taxis rose the charts
guitar and cello sweet breezes
mixed falsettos filled the heavens
in starry summer parks

CHORUS

Your mischief smile has left me full
lit stages and the showtimes
like a jealous lover I glance your way
still learning from your stories now
though it took you only half a lifetime

*********************

Years slid by, I heard more tales
Sagas of a mail-order bride unfold
Wistful railyard yarns and a man who
sang bass while cleaning clothes
this magic muse you held inside
where lives emerged
from inner eddies
dark shadows on the road

Wet snow weighed heavy
burden on my windshield
you sang those first few strains
chalky road blurred with truth revealed
my eyes welled up, my gut cried out
your voice deepset with father’s pain
broken lives you wrote so dear
as if it was my private shame

BRIDGE
Seconds too short
metal screams too loud
tales saturate sanguine into the ground

CHORUS

Your mischief smile has left me full
lit stages and the showtimes
like a jealous lover I glance your way
still yearning for your stories now
though it took you only half a lifetime

*****************

POST-CHORUS

The stage gone black, Taxi meter expired
shadow embers smoulder dim
“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…”

Harry Chapin2.jpg