Monday, February 21, 2011

As Dreams Go By

When Casey, our family dog, started to age, he had trouble getting around.

He was fond of sitting on my parents’ bed and since the climb was difficult for him, my mother would get behind him and give him a push.

“It’s tough to get old, sweetheart,” she’d say affectionately.

I’m appreciating those words more and more lately. For example, a woman greeted me at my gym on Sunday saying that she hadn’t seen me in a long time and asking me how I was doing.

We chatted briefly and then went our separate ways and I still have no idea who she is or how she knows me.

Should I be worried about this?

I like to listen to Jonathan Schwartz’ radio show on WNYC on the weekends. He plays a lot of tunes from the American Songbook—music from my parents’ day as I often say—but he also slips in songs from my day. This happened recently when he played a Harry Chapin song called “"W*O*L*D."

The song tells the story of an aging DJ trying to get back with his ex-wife. He’s bouncing all over the map to work at different radio stations, fighting to stay young in a business that does not forgive aging.

I hadn’t heard this song in years. It seemed like it was all over airwaves one minute and the next minute it’s an oldie.

I thought the song came out in the Eighties but a little net research told me that the song was released in 1974. I started feeling pretty “O*L*D” myself, but, hey, I was only off by a decade. You don’t have to make a federal case out of it. What’s your name again? Get off my lawn…

The song was Chapin’s only UK hit and it was said to be very popular with disc jockeys, who gave it lots of airplay. No surprise there.

"Where Were You When...?"

I actually remember what I was doing the day Harry Chapin died. It was July 16, 1981 (wow!) and I was working out at a gym on Ovington Avenue in Bay Ridge.

A bunch of us noticed that the radio, which was tuned to WNEW-FM, was playing one Harry Chapin song after another. (Schwartz was a deejay there, by the way.)

We wondered why Chapin was getting this special treatment and then it slowly dawned on us what was going on. Radio stations rarely play a block of a singer’s recordings unless something major happens. And, more often that not, it’s because they’re dead.

When the DJ finally came on we learned that Chapin had been killed in a car accident on the LIE. He was on his way to perform at a free concert and had suffered a heart attack, though it’s unclear whether it happened before or after the accident. He was 39 years old.

Chapin had other hits, of course, including “Taxi” and “Cats in the Cradle.” My favorite Chapin song, however, was a tune called “Dreams Go By,” which I don’t think ever got the airplay it really deserved.

The song has a deceptively bouncy melody and it describes how reality eventually—and inevitably—overtakes our dreams. And like so many other things in my life, the song takes on a special significance now that I’m older.

We hear about a young couple who gradually surrender their fantasies of being artists and instead go to school, get jobs, and have kids. By the end of the song, the two young people are now grandparents.

As the chorus tells us:
"And so you and I
We watch our dreams go by
We watch our sweet dreams fly
Far away

I’ve seen a lot of dreams go by myself. And while I haven’t given up on all of them, I must say that it really is tough to get old, sweetheart.


Ron said...

What a wonderful post, Rob!

Yes, I too remember Harry Chapin. Whenever I hear Cats In Cradle, I'm instantly transported back to the time when I first moved to NYC in the 70's.

It's funny, because I don't know whether some of my dreams have gone by or they've just shifted into other dreams as I've grown.

I'm going to go over to You Tube now and see if I can find some of these other Chapin songs you mentioned. Thanks for sharing!

Rob K said...

I should have included the You Tube links, Ron. "Cats in the Cradle" was said to be his biggest hit. My sister saw him in concert and she said that when he got to the last line in "Taxi" the entire audience all sang "Harry, keep the change!"

Annie said...

What a wonderful post, I have been a fan of Harry since the early 70s.I was also lucky enough to have seen him in concert a number of times. My first couple of shows my dad took me because i did not have a license at the time.All his shows were "sing alongs". At one of his shows in Hampton N.H. I purchased a concert program and a harry it "sucks" tshirt (all proceeds going to his world hunger program) He signed my program and then kissed my cheek. To this day it is still one of my best memories. I remember when ever one of his albums came out i would pick it up that day put it on my recored player and not leave my room for hrs. So many of his songs were so moving and so touching. "As yrs go by" was always one of my favorite songs. To this day Harry will always be one of the biggest influences to me not only as a great musician and a wonderful "Story Teller" but also as a kind and generous human being.I could go on for hrs about harry but i won't,but to any harry fan there is a wonderful 3cd set called "Story of a life" it has many great songs and also a little book about Harry his song his life . Got it a few yrs back you may be able to find it some where on line or a music store. Also i'd like to give a shout out to harrys band, his brothers, "big" John Wallace, and my teenage crush Howie Fields. Thanks for all the tunes Harry. A fan for always and ever Annie.

tattytiara said...

For me one of the toughest parts of getting old is hearing old music. Not because I'm nostalgic, and not because it seems like yesterday it was popular, but because geeze god if I listened to that in the eighties, why are we still playing it now? Honestly ever since malls started playing music I remember being on the top forty, malls and elevators have become torture chambers.

Nancy Heller said...

Thank you for remembering Harry. He actually died of bleeding into his chest from a lacerated aorta (a result of the truck-car collision between his Volkswagen Rabbit and a tractor-trailer).

The LI concert was scheduled for later that day (I was supposed to give him a cassette tape of a song we'd worked on together, which he wanted to share with Pete Seeger).

Dreams Go By remains one of his great songs - the counterpoint of the bouncy score to the serious lyrics mean more and more to me as I get older - and time's thickening collar gathers 'round my waist. But that was Harry's genius - saying what we knew all along, even if we didn't know it yet.

Rob K said...

Wow! Thank you all for such wonderful comments and stories. Sometimes you think you're the only one who remembers a particular artist, but then you find out you're in such great company!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I remember Harry Chapin too, and loved the way he told a story in his songs. As I get older, I feel now more than ever, I've got one shot at this, and certain dreams, I am going to fulfill, no matter what. Some are easier than others to accomplish, but what always goes through my head is, what do I have to lose? Great post.

Rob K said...

Thanks--and great attitude! What do you have to lose?