Sequel ~ Harry Chapin

harry_chapinHarry Chapin was an American singer, songwriter, and humanitarian. He recorded several hit records, campaigned to end hunger, was an Academy Award nominated film maker and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Chapin’s first formal introduction to music was while singing in the Brooklyn Boys Choir. It was here that Harry met Big John Wallace, a tenor with a five-octave range, who would later become his bass player and background singer. He began performing with his brothers while a teenager, with their father occasionally joining them on drums.

He originally intended to be a documentary film-maker, and directed Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for a documentary Academy Award. In 1971, he decided to focus on music. With Big John Wallace, Tim Scott and Ron Palmer, Chapin started playing in various local nightclubs in New York City.

On Thursday, July 16, 1981, just after noon, Chapin was driving on the Long Island Expressway, in the left hand fast lane, at about 65 miles (105 km) an hour on the way to his concert. For some reason, either because of engine failure or some physical problem (thought to be a possible heart attack) he put on his emergency flashers near Exit 40 in Jericho, NY. He then slowed to about 15 miles (24 km) an hour and veered into the center lane nearly colliding with another car. He swerved left, then to the right again, ending up directly in front of a tractor-trailer truck. The truck could not brake in time and rammed the rear of Harry’s blue 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, rupturing the gas tank and causing it to burst into flames.

The driver of the truck, and another passer-by were able to get Harry out of the burning car through the window and by cutting the seat belts, before the car was completely engulfed in flames. He was taken by police helicopter to the hospital where ten doctors tried for 30 minutes to revive him. A spokesman for the Nassau County Medical Center said Chapin had suffered a heart attack and “died of cardiac arrest” but there was no way of knowing whether it occurred before or after the accident. In an interview years after his death, Chapin’s daughter said “My dad didn’t really sleep, and he ate badly and had a totally insane schedule.”

Even though Harry’s driver’s license had been revoked at the time of the accident, for a long string of traffic violations, his wife Sandy did win a $12 million decision in a negligence lawsuit against the truck’s owners.

Chapin was interred in the Huntington Rural Cemetery, Huntington, New York. His epitaph is taken from his song “I Wonder What Would Happen to this World.” It is:

Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world

Sequel

In 1980, Chapin wrote a successor to the song, titled “Sequel”  from the album of the same name. Written in the same style as “Taxi”, it continues the story of Harry and Sue with them meeting again ten years later. [Listen to the original song here]

In the song, Harry, now a successful musician, decides to take a taxi to Sue’s 16 Parkside Lane address only to discover that she no longer lives there. He later finds her at a rundown apartment where she once again recognizes him:

And she said, “How are you Harry?
Haven’t we played this scene before?”
I said, “It’s so good to see you, Sue
Had to play it out just once more.

Sue has nothing, but is happy with herself. The song, like “Taxi”, once again ends with them saying goodbye. The song ends with:

I guess it’s a sequel to our story
From the journey ‘tween heaven and hell
With half the time thinking of what might have been
and half thinkin’ just as well.
I guess only time will tell.

So here she’s actin’ happy inside her handsome home
And me, I’m flyin’ in my taxi, takin’ tips and gettin’ stoned.

I got into town a little early.
Had eight hours to kill before the show.
First I thought about heading up north of the bay
Then I knew where I had to go.

I thought about taking a limousine
Or at least a fancy car.
But I ended up taking a taxi
‘Cause that’s how I got this far.

You see, ten years ago it was the front seat
Drivin’ stoned and feelin’ no pain.
Now here I am straight and sittin’ in the back
Hitting Sixteen Parkside Lane.

The driveway was the same as I remembered
And a butler came and answered the door.
He just shook his head when I asked for her
And said “She doesn’t live here anymore.”

But he offered to give me the address
That they were forwarding her letters to.
I just took it and returned to the cabbie
And said “I got one more fare for you.”

And so we rolled back into the city
Up to a five-story old brownstone
I rang the bell that had her name on the mailbox.
The buzzer said somebody’s home.

And the look on her face as she opened the door
Was like an old joke told by a friend.
It’d taken ten more years but she’d found her smile
And I watched the corners start to bend.

And she said, “How are you Harry?
Haven’t we played this scene before?”
I said “It’s so good to see you, Sue
Had to play it out just once more.”
Play it out just once more”.

She said “I’ve heard you flying high on my radio”
I answered “It’s not all it seems”
That’s when she laughed and she said, “It’s better sometimes
When we don’t get to touch our dreams.”

That’s when I asked her where was that actress
She said “That was somebody else”
And then I asked her why she looked so happy now
She said “I finally like myself; at last I like myself.”

So we talked all through that afternoon
Talking about where we’d been
We talked of the tiny difference
Between ending and starting to begin.
We talked because talking tells you things
Like what you really are thinking about.
But sometimes you can’t find what you’re feeling
Till all the words run out.

So I asked her to come to the concert.
She said “No, I work at night.”
I said, “We’ve gotten too damn good at leaving, Sue”
She said, “Harry, you’re right.”

Don’t ask me if I made love to her
Or which one of us started to cry
Don’t ask me why she wouldn’t take the money that I left
If I answered at all I’d lie.

So I thought about her as I sang that night
And how the circle keeps rolling around.
How I act as I’m facing the footlights
And how she’s flying with both feet on the ground.

I guess it’s a sequel to our story
From the journey ‘tween heaven and hell
With half the time thinking of what might have been
and half thinkin’ just as well.

I guess only time will tell.

  • Audio from the 1980 album, Sequel:
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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

One thought on “Sequel ~ Harry Chapin

  1. Thanks for the remembrance of Harry Chapin. I remember the day he died. Cats In The Craddle is my favorite Chapin song. Recently ran across a Johnny Cash cover of that song. Had praise from the country legend.

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