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Keeping the Change - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Keeping the Change
When we left the restaurant after Eleanor's birthday dinner the other night, I told her that I'd continued our special-occasion tradition of paying-forward to the server.  I wound up phrasing it in the manner of a famed song lyric:

And I handed her [amount] for a [somewhat lower amount] tab and I said, "Victoria, keep the change."

Those words come from the Harry Chapin song "Taxi," and I was vaguely aware of why they were close to the top of my mind: I'd seen memorial posts on social media in the past week, since last Saturday was the 35th anniversary of his sudden and tragic death at the age of 38.

When news of that death originally reached me, living in Ithaca a month before beginning law school, I was still working for the Syracuse Post-Standard, covering news from that region. In the summers, with Cornell quieted down, that meant covering a lot of festivals and sleeping in at routine city council meetings and taking pictures of cows in Mecklenburg.  This news got sent my way, though, because Harry had attended Cornell in the 1960s.  I'm not sure how many people knew that- the Cornell Sun review of his last concert on campus barely mentions it and leaves out his class year, as Sunstyle would have mandated- but I knew.

Harry's was the first concert I ever attended that wasn't held in an auditorium of one of my own schools. It wasn't in Ithaca but down the road in Binghamton, where I went with my sister to the county arena to hear it.  He told stories of the connections in his music to the travels he had made- the same ones I had- between his downstate home and Cornell. The steep hills coming into Scranton, Pennsylvania helped inspire his arena-favorite song "30,000 Pounds of Bananas," and the bus's ride through the small village of Candor brought "The Mayor of Candor Lied." 

His music was always more story than song, and thus was more suited to the concert hall rather than the 3:05 formats of FM radio as it became increasingly short and structured through the 70s.  His sudden death on the Long Island Expressway in 1981- on his way to a free concert in my home town's central park- brought back all of those stories I'd heard on albums and in that one concert venue....

which, together with the Cornell connection, meant that I got to write his obituary.


I've tried to find a copy- I may stop in Syracuse next time I'm passing through to find a library archive- but I remember having a hard time finding anyone in town who remembered him more than a decade after he'd been there as a student.  There was one fraternity he'd roomed in where I think I found someone, and one of the older bars had someone toss off  a quote, maybe. But mostly I wrote about the songs and stories as I remembered them, and got to share them with thousands of readers, many of whom probably didn't even know who he was.

My memories of him didn't carry that well through my ensuing years of moves, and radio stations are still light on replaying anything other than "Taxi" and "Cat's in the Cradle," but I still remember many of the stories that I heard him telling in verse.  After tossing off the reference to "keep the change" the other night, I wanted to hear some others, so after bringing Emily to and then home from my Rochester office at the end of the day yesterday (more about that soon), I tried Youtubing a specific song or two. Then I saw an entire live performance in the list- the preview pane showed Harry on the guitar, but the clip itself begins, strangely enough, with Chevy Chase of all people bopping around the stage and goofing on him.  This was 1978, at the height of Chevy's comic popularity after just leaving SNL; he may have been an opening act for the night. After a song or two, though, the show settles in, and it's just Harry- no brothers or band on hand, as they were when the Cornell reviewer saw him in 1980 and I did in late '77- and he uses the show to try out some new songs, to do some solo arrangements of some others like WOLD, and gets in his usual audience participation bits to great effect....

including the one that made me stop the show before I cried.


Harry asks for volunteers to sing the lower parts in a song called "Mr. Tanner"- a song about singing, and about the hopes and dreams it can channel and cancel- and he seems to be having trouble finding the necessary guys.  But then he's joined onstage by a little girl-

(you can also see her at about 1:03 of the embed below)

-who, if I'm not mistaken, is Harry's daughter Jen. I haven't confirmed it, but she'd be about the right age. She's now an awesome musician in her own right, and I must make it to one of her shows sometime in this lifetime. Because, as one of the songs in that concert sadly reminds us:

The one thing we know
Is that time, time, time goes too fast.
4 comments or Leave a comment
greenquotebook From: greenquotebook Date: July 23rd, 2016 08:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm pretty sure that is Jen. I'll verify it with James if you'd like. I saw her perform live during the few short months I worked for Oxygen Media. What a voice she has...
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: July 23rd, 2016 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. She's doing a show on Long Island in a couple of weeks and I've been feeling a road trip coming on...
greenquotebook From: greenquotebook Date: July 24th, 2016 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Next time I speak to James, I'll ask him and get back to you. If you have the chance to see Jen, take it. You won't regret it. :)
warriorsavant From: warriorsavant Date: July 23rd, 2016 10:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Taxi is one of the most haunting songs ever. A tip of the hat to the late Mr. Chapin, and to you for posting this.

BTW, I slightly knew one of his sisters - the nearest connection I have to musical fame.
4 comments or Leave a comment