Last Tuesday my calendar reminded me that on that day in 1981 folk singer Harry Chapin died. If you’re not familiar with him, his most famous songs were “Cats in the Cradle,” and “Taxi.”
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, I bartered baby-sitting services for a scruffy acoustic guitar. I spent the next few years trying to learn to play. In 1972, Chapin released his first album. His was the sound I wanted to mimic. I practiced until my fingers were battered and bruised but I never did develop the calluses I needed, nor did I learn to play. Chapin and other folk musicians, like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, soothed my teenage angst and inspired me to care about the world around me.
Their music told stories much the same way country music does today. The best songs are beautiful and make me happy. Songs with a hard beat and vulgarity are just noise.
I have always loved singing. As a child, my dad played piano and we would sing. Daddy’s favorite was Al Jolson’s recording of “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.” My favorite was the sheet music for Debbie Reynolds’s version of “Tammy.” In kindergarten, when asked to sing a song I belted out Eddie Green’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” In those days, I was labeled precocious. Looking back at that child, I come up with a few terms not nearly as flattering. Starting in second grade, I served as song leader for Girl Scout Troop No. 128...