One of my favorite activities is watching documentaries or biopics about my favorite musicians. This pastime is occasionally broadened to include study of other influential public figures. I do this because I am interested in the workings of people’s minds and emotions, the nature of creativity and the creative process, of fame and adulation, the burden of other people’s emotional projections, which is suffered by many great artists, the workings of media and technology, and so on! The biggest reason, for me, is that I like to emulate the good qualities of the people I study. This study, akin to method acting, is a burning passion for me, like many things in my life.
I first heard Harry Chapin when I was 11 or 12 years old, in the early 70s. I heard him a lot in my teens; he was part of the soundtrack of my life, absorbed subliminally and deeply. Then high school was over, and I forgot about him. Maybe I had heard that he died in a car crash in 1981, but if I did, it didn’t affect me much.
He came back into my attention recently, when I heard a song that he wrote called “The Parade’s Still Passing By”, which was a tribute to Phil Ochs. That led to me watching the documentary Harry Chapin: Behind The Music.
While many people loved him, American rock critics hated him, because they didn’t know how to pigeonhole him. He was a fellow who apparently didn’t like categories, and liked to color outside of the lines. He had visited Africa in 1968 to film footage for a documentary about hunger. From this experience, he then committed himself to ending world hunger. Partly for that reason, he kept singing about, and lobbying for social responsibility throughout the 70s, when that topic had become unfashionable.
Harry Chapin was a master story teller. He also had a beautiful gift for including other people in everything he did. He inspired trust, confidence, and the desire to sing in people.
He was honest, and kind. In an interview he once said “I don’t care what part of the political spectrum you come from, I like to hear the truth.” He also said that as a successful musician, he considered himself to have a responsibility to stand up for the needs of people less fortunate.
I richly enjoyed this concert video: Harry Chapin, Recorded Live: 10/21/1978 – Capitol Theatre (Passaic, NJ)
Here is one of my favorite Harry Chapin songs. You can tell that I grew up in the Hippy era of “free schools”. The juxtaposition present in this song is exactly what I experienced growing up. I still see it every day.
And here are the words…
Flowers Are Red: Harry Chapin
“The little boy went first day of school, he got some crayons and started to draw. He put colors all over the paper, for colors was what he saw. And the teacher said “What you doin’ young man?” ”I’m paintin’ flowers”, he said. She said “It’s not the time for art young man, and anyway flowers are green and red. There’s a time for everything, young man, and a way it should be done. You’ve got to show concern for everyone else, for you’re not the only one.” And she said… ”Flowers are red, young man, green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”
But the little boy said… “There are so many colors in the rainbow, So many colors in the morning sun, So many colors in a flower, and I see every one.”
The teacher said “You’re sassy, there’s ways that things should be. And you’ll paint flowers the way they are, so repeat after me…..” And she said… ”Flowers are red, young man, green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.” But the little boy said…
“There are so many colors in the rainbow, So many colors in the morning sun, So many colors in a flower, and I see every one”
The teacher put him in a corner, she said “It’s for your own good. And you won’t come out ’til you get it right and are responding like you should.”
Well finally he got lonely, frightened thoughts filled his head, and he went up to the teacher, and this is what he said.
And he said ”Flowers are red, green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.” Time went by like it always does, and they moved to another town, and the little boy went to another school, and this is what he found. The teacher there was smiling, she said “Painting should be fun, and there are so many colors in a flower, so let’s use every one.” But that little boy painted flowers in neat rows of green and red. And when the teacher asked him why, this is what he said: And he said ”Flowers are red, green leaves are green, there’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”