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Music Rewind: The Activism & Storytelling Of Harry Chapin - Part 3

Updated on November 30, 2009

In 1973 a Roman Catholic Priest named Bill Ayers who was the host of a national music and religion radio show on ABC Radio met Harry and that meeting changed both of their lives forever. Harry Chapin and Bill Ayers formed W.H.Y. World Hunger Year which was a charitable organization whose sole goal was to educate the public in order to help end world hunger.
The organization was originally funded primarily from Harry Chapin's benefit concerts. In 1975, on Thanksgiving Day, Harry Chapin and Bill Ayers conducted a 24 hour nonstop hungerathons on WNEW-FM in New York City where Harry and Bill brought on politicians, celebrities and various experts to discuss the problem of poverty and hunger in the world.

Harry worked closely with leading politicians such as Senator Pat Leahy of the state of Vermont. He also managed to sit on a jet stuck on the ground in a snow storm between Buffalo and Washington with President Jimmy Carter. Harry presented his case against hunger and convinced President Carter to assist him in his program.

Harry's dedication to telling stories in his songs placed him head and shoulders above all other popular songwriters and lyricists in the 20th century. There were many great musicians in that century but no one was able to capture profoundly human stories and tell them in such a poignant heart-felt manner as Harry Chapin. Harry' lyrics stand the test of time and can truly be compared only to Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborator Tim Rice as the only contemporary popular lyricist who was in the same league.

Harry was able to create a visual scenario with his music. The metaphors, flourishes and details of the characters bring them to life and make them unforgettable. His most famous songs are all mini dramas that unfold in song: The life of a radio DJ who is wondering the United States going from station to station and finally ends up trying to get back with his wife and children to find that it's too late in WOLD; A coat cleaner from US Midwest who loved to sing opera while he worked and he was then convinced to hold a concert in Dayton, Ohio, but the critics savaged him and he never sang again.

Of course there are his two huge break-out hits, those songs that everyone has heard: The story of the two ex-lovers who meet after many years: now she is now a famous actress and he is driving her cab. How could anyone ever forget these lyrics:

It was raining hard in 'Frisco,
I needed one more fare to make my night.
A lady up ahead waved to flag me down,
She got in at the light.
Oh, where you going to, my lady blue,
It's a shame you ruined your gown in the rain.
She just looked out the window, and said
"Sixteen Parkside Lane".
Something about her was familiar
I could swear I'd seen her face before,
But she said, "I'm sure you're mistaken"
And she didn't say anything more.
It took a while, but she looked in the mirror,
And she glanced at the license for my name.
A smile seemed to come to her slowly,
It was a sad smile, just the same.
And she said, "How are you Harry?"
I said, "How are you Sue?
Through the too many miles
and the too little smiles
I still remember you."

Continued In Music Rewind: The Activism & Storytelling Of Harry Chapin - Part 4

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