When I was a kid car trips from Queen’s New York to Grandma’s house in Rhode Island during the summer meant listening to albums on the tape deck in my dad’s car. And the album I remember best was Harry Chapin Anthology. We must have listened to that album on every trip we took, or at least that’s the way I remember it. I probably know every line by heart and I remember singing along to the songs with my mom.
Not everyone in the family was a fan. I remember my brother didn’t think much of “Cat’s in the Cradle,” he wanted my dad to skip it because “it didn’t make any sense.” After all the narrator says that his “boy was just like him,” but at the end of the song the son won’t make time for his father because he is taking care of his sick kid so he isn’t falling into the same pattern as the father. Indeed the son may have been able to break the pattern by being more present for his own child’s life. And my brother felt like that deserved mentioning. I love the song and feel like I know what Harry meant, that the song is about the relationship between a father and his son and “the boy was just like him” because the son was unwilling to make time for the relationship when he was an adult just like the father was unwilling when the son was younger.
When I became a teenager and started listening to my own music on my walkman during family car trips, Harry was left behind and I didn’t really think much about his music until I was in college. During that time I sometimes had fun downloading songs with peer-to-peer programs like Kazaa and trying to make complete albums that way. One of the albums I assembled was Harry Chapin Anthology and the CD has been a staple on my car trips as an adult ever since. And, I sing all the songs to my 4-month-old Henry. And Harry Chapin himself ended up as a character in a time travel story I wrote last year and hope to get published one of these days. My wife and I went to a tribute concert Harry’s brother Steve gave along with two of Harry’s other band mates Howard Fields and Big John Wallace. My wife and I were the youngest people there. I’ll never forget a woman turning to us when we walked in the theater and saying, “What are you doing here you’re both too young to like this music.” Yes, I’ve even made my wife a fan too. We put the CD in sing along. One of her favorites is “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” and for obvious reasons we always play the song when we’re anywhere near Scranton, Pennsylvania.
And it’s 30,000 Pounds of Bananas that I want to talk about in this post. You see one of Harry’s great talents, which I have realized since I started to listen to his other albums, was that at his concerts he liked to switch his songs up a little bit. Whether it was changing the opening lines of “I Want to Learn a Love Song” or having the road crew and the cello player each sing a verse of “Circle.” The point is his concerts were a different experience than the albums; there was an element of not knowing what to expect.
And the live version of 30,000 Pounds of Banana’s was no exception. On the Greatest Stories Live album there is a 12 minute version of the normally 6 minute song. What is the extra 6 minutes all about? Well, Harry starts to tell the audience that when he wrote the song he didn’t know how to end it so he’d come up with an ending and he’d play it for his band and they’d say, “Harry, it Sucks!” and he’d try a different style and they’d say the same thing. And he plays all the different alternate endings and yes, they all suck. But it’s a lot of fun to hear them and yes I know it’s all just for fun, I don’t believe for a second any of them were ever real endings. But, this extended track is very famous in its own right. It was so popular that at Harry’s concerts they started selling tee-shirts that said “Harry, it Sucks!”
Unfortunately Harry’s story has a tragic ending he was killed in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway in 1981. He was taken long before his time. Rest in peace Harry!