I'M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY
Several of my Facebook friends posted the link to “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin today, Father’s Day. I hope they posted the song as a heads-up to dads (and moms) that today is to be enjoyed…that our children will be grown up and gone before we know it…so live in the moment. I really hope none of them posted the song because it reminded them of their own fathers.
“Cat’s in the Cradle” is Harry’s iconic song. While I appreciate the song for its message and melody, I’m more of a “W*O*L*D,” “Taxi” or even “Mr. Tanner” fan. Harry Chapin was an amazing storyteller. Above all else, he was a humanitarian who put his money where his mouth was. Before Bono…there was Harry.
Throughout the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet many entertainers…but Harry was the first. On May 16, 1978, my friend, Gary, and I sat on the floor near the stage at the Wright State University Fieldhouse in Dayton, Ohio. Harry was as much fun to watch as he was to listen to. He was so at ease, joking around with the audience. You knew right away he was in his element. And the audience loved him, joining in on such classics as “30,000 pounds of bananas.”
Harry put on quite a show, and I didn’t think the night could get any better. After his encore, he announced he would be available in the lobby to sign autographs. I shot up from the floor. My head snapped to the left and I looked at Gary. He laughed…he knew I was gone.
Despite stinging pains from my feet having fallen asleep, I walked as fast as I could out to the lobby. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone walking equally fast. “Oh, no, you don’t,” I thought to myself, and stepped it up. I glanced over to see who was trying to overtake me and I thought my heart would stop – it was Harry.
I kept pace with him and when he got to an empty concession stand he slid over the counter and then faced me. I handed him my program, trying desperately to think of something cool and nonchalant to say. I didn’t have a chance.
He signed his name and handed the program back to me. As he did, he leaned over the counter and said, “Thank you for coming to the show.” And then he kissed me.
On. The. Lips.
I floated away from the counter in a daze and managed to find Gary in the crowd.
“He kissed me!” I practically screamed.
“Wow! I bet you’ll never wash that cheek again!”
“Cheek, hell! Right on the lips!”
The next time I saw Harry was July 13, 1978. It was at the West High School Auditorium in Anchorage, Alaska. This time I was nearly in the back row, and while the show was good…it just wasn’t the same. That connection at the first show made all the difference in the world.
A little more than three years later, on July 16, 1981, Harry died in a car wreck on the Long Island Expressway. He left behind a treasury of songs that will live on for a long, long time. He left behind a legacy of his work with fighting hunger and poverty. And he left behind a precious memory…of a 20-year-old girl who walked on air for days after the show and told everyone she could corner – “I kissed Harry Chapin!”
And I still have the autographed program.