Song and Dance Man Lost to Time

by Kevin Hopkins ’22

Source: Los Angeles Times

Published Dec. 5th, 2021

Nearly forty years ago, Harry Chapin’s life was cut tragically short when his 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit was crushed from behind by a tractor trailer, ending the brief, yet considerable career of one of America’s most formidable musicians. In the years that followed, Chapin’s legacy has been slowly forgotten by the progress of time, and little is remembered beyond his most famous song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” leaving behind a vast quantity of songs to the ether of the past.

Chapin, son of legendary drummer Jim Chapin, grew up in a family of modest means in the tri-state, performing at local shows with his younger brothers, Tom and Steve, throughout the early 1960s. Following a brief stint in college, a successful academy nomination for a documentary in 1968, and a quick marriage to Sandra Gaston, Chapin once again started to focus on music with a greater zeal than ever before. 

Heads & Tales, a simple nine track album, became Chapins first true success in the music industry, selling millions of copies, and spawning the infamous Taxi single, a bitter love story between a Hollywood actress and her long lost love. With nothing flashy or gody on the 45 minute album, Chapin relied on the beauty of his voice and his ability to construct complex stories through song.
Albums like Short Stories, which included the successful WOLD and Mr. Tanner, and Verities and Balderdash, further showed the might of Chapin’s story writing ability as he became one of the best selling artists of the 1970s. 

Verities and Balderdash, arguably his finest work, produced epic tales relating to the bonds between father and son (Cats in the Cradle), car crashes that deposited 30,000 pounds of Bananas (30,000 Pounds of Bananas), and the love between strangers in difficult situations (“What Made America Famous?”).

In the peak of his career, Chapin directed his focus on trying to alleviate world hunger. Performing thousands of charitable concerts and participating in the United States Presidential Commission on Hunger, Chapin attempted to better the lives of millions. Chapin attempts to better the world and continues on with the Harry Chapin Foundation. 

Chapin’s sudden death in the early 1980s came as a shock to millions of loyal fans. For his valiant efforts to change the world for the better, Chapin was posthumously awarded the congressional Gold Medal for his efforts in 1987. 

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