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

Updated on November 30, 2009

That famous song, of course, is Taxi. There was another great hit, and this was a song penned by his wife Sandy: The story of how a father who has no time for his son then gets old and finds the son has no time for the father, and of course that is Cat's in the Cradle.

I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then dad
You know we'll have a good time then

There are many other songs from the Wistful Dreams Go By to the sad songs such as Better Place to Be, and Let Time Go Lightly and the truly lunatic songs like 30,000 Lbs of Bananas: allegedly a true story about a fully loaded tractor trailer truck that lost its brakes on the steep hill coming down into Scranton, Pennsylvania and scattered its full load of 30,000 lbs of bananas all over the Interstate.

Harry Chapin wrote more than 100 songs and was a major singer songwriter of his decade, and in the last half decade of his life raised more than 3 million dollars for hunger projects. His wife Sandy had at one point stated that Harry supported 17 relatives, 7 foundations, 14 associations and 82 charities. He was never interested in earning money for himself as one of his favourite sayings was "money is for people" therefore he gave almost every cent he ever earned away to good works.

He left very little money behind as on July 16, 1981, in the early afternoon on the Long Island Expressway, he was driving in his Volkswagen Rabbit, unfortunately with a driver's license that had been suspended due to many traffic violations, As he neared Exit 40 at Jericho Harry put on his emergency flashers in traffic. He slowed down then suddenly veered into another lane, veered again in the opposite direction and ended up directly in the lane of a speeding tractor trailer truck owned by a supermarket company. The truck collided with Chapin's 1975 Rabbit, the Rabbit's fuel tank exploded, the car burst into flames and once a police helicopter arrived, ten doctors spent more than half an hour in trying to revive him... but Harry Chapin was gone.

Harry Chapin was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal post-humously for his tireless campaign to fight hunger around the world. He was one of the prime inspirations for the international hunger projects Hands Across America and USA for Africa which were set up by Harry Chapin's manager Ken Kragen. Cat's in the Cradle was listed as the 186th greatest song of the century by the RIAA and almost three decades after his death activists who are still fighting Harry's fight against world hunger still all owe him a profound debt of gratitude. For it was Harry Chapin who got the ball rolling for the raising of untold millions of dollars by USA for Africa through the Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie collaboration on We are the World.

His epitaph on his grave stone in Huntington, New York are some lyrics from his I Wonder What Would Happen to this World song and they read:

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.

Well almost three decades after Harry was taken from us, we know what one man's life was worth. Thousands if not millions of children in Third World countries around the planet may very well owe their life to Harry Chapin and the projects he initiated.

Therefore his true greatest epitaph can be taken from another song of that era, unfortunately one that Harry Chapin did not pen himself but his life is vivid demonstration that it is true:

Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked 'round and he's gone.

Yes, only the good die young. Rest in peace, Harry Chapin.

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