by Mike Grayeb
been 29 years since Harry first sang the song that his brother Tom said,
put more fathers ill at ease than any other song in history."
in the Cradle" reached the top of the Billboard music charts in December
of 1974. It sold millions of copies and earned Harry a Grammy nomination
for Best Song.
bought the record for their parents, and wives played it for their husbands.
Ministers used the story in their sermons; and business leaders, school
teachers and newspaper columnists cited the song's lyrics on Father's
Day. Even pop culture television icons like "The Simpsons" and
"Saturday Night Live" have featured "Cat's in the
Cradle" in their storylines.
years, the song was covered by Judy Collins, the late Johnny Cash, the
rock group Ugly Kid Joe, and country singer Ricky Skaggs. This year, Darryl
McDaniels, a founding member of the legendary rap group Run-DMC, joined
singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan and recorded the song to tell his personal
story of adoption (see accompanying story).
So how did
"Cat's in the Cradle" come to be?
described a poem his wife Sandy had written about him not being around
enough for his newborn son Josh. But that was only part of the story behind
two sources of inspiration for the poem: the relationship between her
first husband and his father, and a country music song she'd heard
on the radio.
first husband, James Cashmore, was the only child of John Cashmore, who
was the longtime President of the Borough of Brooklyn, New York.
was a wonderful and interesting man; he was one of 11 children, and he
never went past the fifth grade in school," Sandy said. "He started an
office furniture company and built a successful business. Then he went
into politics and was Borough President of Brooklyn for 25 years."
his son to be a judge, which he considered to be the most honorable profession,
she said. "He was trying to engineer the kind of career for his son
that he couldn't have himself because of his lack of education."
went away to college, his father gave him a membership to the country
club, a baby blue car and plenty of credit cards, she said. "His
father had spoken to a Senator to get him into law school. His father
arranged for him to be sworn into the service the day he was supposed
to take the bar exams. In those days, if you were called into service
the day of the bar exam, you didn't have to take the bar exam-you
made James feel like his life was a fix," she said. "He wasn't the energetic,
charismatic person that his father was. By the time I met him, even though
he was an intelligent person and was accomplished at so many things, he
had no sense of himself."
their marriage Sandy and James lived temporarily with his parents while
they were apartment hunting in New York City. It was during this period
that the awkward relationship between father and son became even more
apparent to Sandy.
dinner, my father-in-law would speak to his son through me. Tell
Jimmy I'd like him to show up at the club on Tuesday, he'd say.' I just
thought it was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. It's not that
they weren't speaking. They were polite to each other, but they didn't
really communicate with each other."
after she and James were divorced, Sandy reflected on what she'd
seen. "It struck me in hindsight, and I realized that you have to
be in communication with your children from the time they're two
Sandy married Harry, she was writing poems and helping Harry to write
songs for the television show "Make a Wish" when a country music
song on the radio caught her attention.
was about a man and a woman sitting at their kitchen table and looking
out to the backyard. They had a swing set and a sandbox and bicycle in
the corner," she said. "They were talking about how it all went
by so fast and how they could have spent more time, and now the kids are
gone. That song put me in the mood for writing a lyric."
Sandy scratched out three verses about a child getting older, the story
of which Harry eventually used as the basis for "Cat's in the Cradle."
"He came home and I showed him the poem, and he sort of brushed it aside,"
year later, after Josh was born, Harry picked up the poem again. "He said,
Hey, this is great; I'm going to put some music to it,'" she recalled.
"I'm assuming he was looking at things differently after Josh was born,
but he didn't really talk about it to me."
To create the chorus, Harry reworked lines from various nursery rhymes and drew especially from the rhyme The Cat and the Fiddle:
exactly the right upbeat melody over a sad lyric, and it was very catchy
and repeatable so people could sing it," she said. "The other thing is
there is probably a twitch in people's brain from their childhood, a familiarity.
It was a happy combination of circumstances."
Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on March 7