One of the byproducts of listening to 70s stations is the appearance of a Harry Chapin song every now and then. Running into a Harry Chapin song is like running into a pastor you try to avoid because they can’t resist giving you a parable … and said parable always makes you feel either terribly depressed or very guilty.
Maybe it’s a lapse in taste, maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, or maybe it’s just the fact that Chapin is a great songwriter / storyteller (or all of the above), but I’ve been listening to a lot of Chapin these days. The above song is about an aging DJ who chose a radio career over family and as that part of his life is fading, he finds he doesn’t have a family to fall back on. This could be a metaphor for any career that routinely chews idealistic people up and spits them out … from academia to journalism … and the emptiness that such an endeavor often leads to, admittedly unfairly.
Back to Chapin, the man led a very interesting life to say the least. He started out by going to the Air Force Academy … dropped out … became an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker .. before turning to music professionally. Unlike a lot of peers in the 1970s, he dove head first into activism (especially for world hunger) and seemed to perform more free concerts than paying gigs … even at the height of his popularity when he could’ve commanded top dollar for every gig he performed. He has been credited as the inspiration for Band Aid, USA for Africa, Live Aid, Farm Aid, and every major benefit concert of the 1980s. The man was the definition of the word mensch and he left the world too soon in 1981 when he was killed in a car accident on the L.I.E.
If you want to know more, you’re encouraged to check out the terrific VH1 documentary below. One of the more interesting things Chapin did (not mentioned in the documentary) is that when he signed his recording contract with Elektra Records (despite a much bigger offer from Columbia Records), he only took a small advance in exchange for free recording time throughout the entire time of his contract. This was incredibly shrewd, because most artists who record for major labels find themselves in massive debt when the label charges back astronomical costs for recording time that are never recouped … so much so that no matter how many records the artist sells, they are always in debt to the label.