June 16, 2021
Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley recalls his love for Harry Chapin songs and the storytelling aspect of his music. He compares his sad songs to the sad stories of his clients throughout his career.
The article, Sad Stories Sometimes Told, Sometimes Forgotten, was published in the June 12 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.
Last Saturday was a perfect summer day and I spent the afternoon working on my deck while I listened to some of my favorite Harry Chapin tunes. I admit I had heard them so many times that I knew the words and sang along. Harry was a musical storyteller like none other.
In May 1974, I attended my first Harry Chapin concert at the Midland Theater in Kansas City. We sat in the second row and enjoyed every minute of the show.
I was initially drawn to him after watching him perform his most well-known song, “Taxi,” on late night television. Taxi was the story of two people who had unsuccessfully attempted romance but met several years later when he picked up the lady in his taxi. The setting was in San Francisco and if you have heard the song, it was raining hard in Frisco.
Harry died in 1981 in a traffic accident in New York. I was able to attend another concert at the Uptown Theater before he died. I have most of his songs on my iPod.
Some of his songs were fun, such as “30,000 Pounds of Banana,” about a truck crashing on the hill leading into Scranton, Pennsylvania. “Yes, there are no bananas.” Yet, most of his songs were stories full of sadness.
While singing and listening to my favorite songs I had an epiphany, an experience of a sudden and striking realization. Harry was a superb storyteller. My epiphany was that the stories of my clients, like Harry’s songs, were also filled with sadness. The only difference is that Harry’s characters were fictional, and my clients are not.
His stories were of the taxi driver who had dreams of being a pilot who picked up his old girlfriend on a rainy night in Frisco so he could transport her to the mansion she now lived in. She had wanted to be an actress and he wanted to learn to fly. Years ago, she took off for the footlights and he took off for the sky. Sadly, their dreams never came true. She is in her handsome home acting happy and he is flying in his taxi, taking tips and getting stoned.
Mr. Tanner was a cleaner from a small town in the Midwest who had a beautiful baritone voice “who sang while hanging clothes; he practiced scales while pressing tails and sang at local shows.” He sang in a concert hall in New York, but the reviews were not kind. “Full-time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.” “He returned to his shop and sang when it was dark and closed. Music was his life, but it was not his livelihood. It may him feel happy and he sang from his heart and sang from his soul. It just made him whole.”
“A Better Place to Be” is the story of a midnight watchman and a barmaid who “had known all about loneliness and living all alone.”
And many will remember “Cat’s in the Cradle,” the story of a man who neglected his son while he was growing up, and then his son as an adult had no time for his father. “And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me. He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”
As I sang along with Harry on my deck, hoping no one would hear me, I reflected on the many sad stories in my long career. No one sang songs about my sad stories. A 5-year-old boy who had the life crushed out of him by a heavy flagpole placed on some concrete blocks just feet from a playground where he played. A mother of four who had a stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down that would have been prevented had a radiologist correctly read a CT scan on two occasions in the space of nine months.