"Do Something" Means
The Beat of a
with Jim Chapin
to Make a
Message as Key
Freedom of Choice
in the Cradle...
LUNCH for WHY
Howard Fields and
Al Stewart in
Benefit KIDS Can
Make a Difference
Readers Share Thoughts
in Second Annual
to read previous
issues of Circle!
of Harry Chapin
by Steve Stout
Freedom of Choice
Editors Note: The following article was originally published
in The News
Toronto, Ontario in April, 1978, and is reprinted with the permission
of the author.
Harry Chapin is hardly your average folkie; he's not your average rocker
either. Most artists today (in 1978) deny any socio-political overtones
in their music or lifestyles. "We just wanna rock 'n' roll man and
have a good time...it's a great way to meet the ladies ya know!?!"
is the usual response to 'what are you trying to say?'
The second greatest let down(s) of the sixties and seventies, after watching
the youth majority of America re-elect Richard Nixon to the highest office
in the land for four more years, had to be that Bob Dylan wasn't political,
and The Beatles couldn't do much more for world peace than Let It Be,
...Harry Chapin seems to be the only active superstar in the seventies
with any kind of conscience. He's been panned by John Rockwell of the
New York Times, and ignored by Rolling Stone for nearly
four years with the exception of the ignoble dedication to the 'worst-song
of the year award' which was called the Harry Chapin Award. It is good
to note that ninety-eight percent of all performers today do not use the
narrative ballad form which Chapin has mastered. The Times of London,
England recently picked Dance Band On the Titanic as the best album
of the year.
Chapin takes his early experiences as a filmmaker, (He was nominated for
an academy award for his Legendary Champions of 1969, which also
won the New York Film Fest) and translates his ability to evoke images
Chapin was tired when I sat down with him three hours before the show
at Guelph University. He had played Hamilton and London on the early part
of the weekend and flown to Washington between dates to meet with Jimmy
Carter, seven senators and eight congressmen to come to an agreement on
the final resolution for the Presidential Commission on Domestic and International
Hunger. Chapin has been active in this cause for over four years, and
this particular battle has been waged for eight months. Up until now there
has been no cohesive programme in America to cope with hunger, and although
there is enough food to feed everyone on this continent five times, people
everywhere are starving.
In the world this is tragic; in North America it is just plain stupid.
The first year of Chapin's programme will combine and evaluate the present
work underway against hunger, both domestic and international. The second
year will be spent disseminating the information so that people will understand
and come to terms with the problem and implement recommendations politically
to bring an end to this unnecessary anachronism of civilization. All of
this work will be done in the current presidential term to avoid further
delays. The resolution went before both Houses in the States and passed
Congress by a vote of 364 to 38 and was passed unanimously in the Senate.
The presidential resolution is being drafted this week and should be signed
within two weeks.
"Riding A Dinosaur Into Disaster"
"We live in a participatory democracy and we've forgotten how to
participate. In the sixties I used to shoot my big mouth off about successful
people not taking a more active role in the problems of society, so when
I became successful I had to put up or shut up..."
(...and Harry isn't likely to shut up while such a large percent of the
population go to bed undernourished.)
"The problem is you cannot have meaningful family planning when half
your children are dying before they are six years old.
"The music from '61 to '67 was close to the lifestyle; now, (1978),
it's adjunct to the lifestyle. Today is very stimulating because music
is coming out of a real torpor. I don't think there is much of a world
in the future. Everyone with children has a responsibility to change that.
I think our present lifestyle is a lie. We simply waste too much, and
we are going to go through a massive depression. People in power today
are uniquely bereft of vision; they just don't have any answers. It's
partly the responsibility of the voters; the people who as Eric Hoffer
says, 'don't want freedom of choice so much as freedom from choice."
Chapin is also in conversation with such people as Ralph Nader in the
work for the Consumer Bill which comes up again for the fourth vote since
1971. Chapin is lobbying against the Commerce Department which has a budget
of one billion seven hundred million dollars and is supposedly worried
about a $15 million budget for the Consumer Bill.
Chapin refers to himself as a "theoretical pessimist and an actual
"I assume we are going to be able to do something because any other
assumption is unconscionable. You can't act like there's no hope or you
might as well commit suicide."
For starters he suggests you read Food First, by Francis Walter
Penny and Diet for a Small Planet and Global Reach by Joe
Collins, as well as How The Other Half Dies by Susan Brown, and
the works of Jim Hightower. After the reading, Chapin makes the following
suggestions, especially to anyone eighteen or nineteen years old:
"First of all realize that your own personal, social, economic, political
and emotional well-being is based on the fact that you are not going to
hide from these situations but run towards them. There are tremendous
opportunities in public service, even in terms of money-making. If you're
willing for three or four years after graduating to work in public service
for little money or no pay at all, you'll end up after three or four years
at being offered much more high-paying jobs because you'll have met a
lot of people in power; you'll have had a chance to grow and show what
you can effectively do.
"If you get an offer at fifteen or even twenty thousand dollars (1978
dollars) but in a giant corporation, you're built into a situation with
staged promotions; you're in a context where you can't really grow and
find out. Volunteer in politics or Hunger, or the consumer movement, or
the energy movement, or ecology.
"The most important lesson is, money is not anything it's just a
"Howard Hughes was a man worth over two billion dollars but in the
last ten years of his life he was the most miniscule man I've ever conceived
of. The bottom line is if you're an enlightened, self-interested person
you DO get involved in things like this; if you don't you're just plain
"The world is totally available to self-starter, and if you need
to be surrounded by a cocoon they'll find a big multi-national corporation
that will put you in their cocoon and you'll float along on their track
and you'll never really develop. You'll find when you're 50, 60 or 70
if the world is still around, that you've never really done anything.
You've just been a cog in a gigantic wheel that would have been there
if you were or not. The only time when you get some enjoyment or worth
will be when you go skiing or whatever you do and you won't enjoy your
job or your lifestyle as you should.
"One thing you know is that you spend your life at a process working
at the thing you choose, not the goal but the thing, and if you don't
choose a process that is inherently rewarding and makes you grow, then
you're an idiot, because supposedly if your goal is to be president of
General Motors and you have to do horrible unconscionable things for thirty
years to get there... Mankind has the unique ability to adapt to any situation
within seventy-two hours. If you've ever been on vacation for a week,
you feel like you've been there for your whole life. So even if you do
reach your goal only for seventy-two hours will the orgasm last. At that
point you're again at the norm and you've spent thirty years of your life
to get that seventy-two hour orgasm. So you'd better goddamn well pick
something that you deeply care about that gives you rewards as you go
"Pete Seeger once said, 'I'm not sure my participation in a benefit
cause, march, or demonstration has been effective, but I can tell you
one thing, being involved in these kinds of issues means that you're involved
with the good people with the live hearts, live eyes, and live heads.'
"I recommend strongly to anybody that they get involved with the
good people on issues in which you can invest passion, and which will
indeed enrich your life, because I guarantee you that the people in power,
all around the world, in almost every political system in the world, are
running out of ideas, out of space, running out of vision, and it's up
to us to come up with a new vision.
"This is not surprising. All the way through human history this process
has occurred. We are at a time when we need rebirth, or we will just be
riding a dinosaur into disaster.
"Thank you very much", he said, and the interview was over.
of Harry Chapin by Steve Stout
for the Next Issue of Circle! on September 7