Friday, November 18, 2005

Harry Chapin Had a Way With Words

When I was in high school visiting my sister in Rochester, I stumbled upon this CD-- Harry Chapin Greatest Stories Live. I knew of Chapin's work due to his hit Cats In the Cradle which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I decided to give the CD a listen to see if Chapin's other songs were as cleverly written.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that his other songs weren't just as clever-- they were actually, in many cases, even moreso than Cats In the Cradle.

I get on these binges where I basically just devour an artist's entire catalog. I went on such a binge when I first "discovered" Chapin's work and I found myself continually more impressed as I devoured more and more of his material. While some groups appeal to me due to their superior musicianship (old school Chicago, Toto, Dream Theater, Genesis, Marillion), other groups and musicians appeal to my sense of strong lyrical craft (Ben Folds, Billy Joel, Elton John, Fish, Jim Steinman)-- Chapin's work falls into the latter category.

And as I find myself re-discovering Chapin's work, I notice I'm falling in love with this music for the first time all over again.

The Mercenaries

It's a slow motion night
In the hot city lights
Past time when the good folks
Are snoring in bed
On a loose-jointed cruise
To recolor your blues
With illegal notions alive,
Alive in your head

You are back from some war
That you've been fighting for
Some old blue blood bastard
In a dark pinstripe suit
and the word from your loins
Has your mind in your groin
And your back pocket burning with blood
Blood money loot

So, you walk past the glow
Of the flicker-picture shows
Where the raincoat men wait
For a child to come by
And the women in doorways
Who have nothing to say
'Cause your money is talking
To the ones that you would try

She owns the block
With the dead pawnshop clock
She's the answer to dreams
That you pay to come true
She's got no heart of gold
But that's not what she's sold
She just sees herself doing what she
What she has to do

And she's all that you're hoping
As her coat falls open
Give her bread she leads you
To a bed on the floor
Where for ten million years
And through ten billion tears
The armies of bootmen have marched
Back from their wars

She's in that state of grace
Before time finds her face
With a mind of old wisdoms
And a body still young
And she tastes as sweet
As a child's chocolate treat
Before the butts and the whiskey
Had wasted the taste of your tongue

Play the music again
Of the grey-stubble men
That groaning blue symphony
Moans evermore
And you watch as she fakes it
And of course you just take it
She's better than others
You never paid money for

You've used up your booty
The girl's done her duty
The turnstile has turned
And you learn you are done
You're back on the street
Joining fresh marching feet
You see more soldiers coming
And your girl chooses one

And you're back in your army
Back shedding red blood
And you dream of the girl
As you sleep in the mud
And you know you'd swap with her
If the deal could be made
'Cause you'd rather be working at love
Love as your trade

Sometimes I find myself wondering what songs Harry left unwritten at the time of his death. I wonder what kind of songs he might have written if he were still alive today. I somehow see him as leading the charge of US musicians participating in events like Live Aid, Farm Aid, the Concert for NY, Live 8, and I even see him being the first to sign up for the benefit concert to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

I love Harry. I saw him live less than a year before his death and it was a truly great night. My favorite Harry song is "Dreams Go By" which opens Greatest Stories LIve. It makes me both happy and sad everytime I hear it. If you only buy one Chapin album this one is it.