Let’s face it, Harry Chapin could be a bit of a noodge. Bruce Springsteen admits that he sometimes tried to hide when he saw the activist-songwriter coming his way, just to avoid a 30-minute conversation about the state of the world. But Chapin said one thing Bruce never forgot, Springsteen told a packed crowd at Carnegie Hall last week. “He said, ‘I play one night for me and one night for the other guy.’ ” Few in the music business could match that record, but few could resist the call to play one night for Chapin, who died in a car crash six years ago. Harry Belafonte hosted the benefit to fight world hunger on what would have been Chapin’s 45th birthday. Kenny Rogers flew in from the Coast. Richie Havens, Pat Benatar, Judy Collins, the Hooters, Pete Seeger, Graham Nash, Peter, Paul and Mary—none of them would have missed it for “We Are the World.” Without Chapin’s example, says old friend Ken Kragen, who organized that historic sing-along as well as Hands Across America, the big-ticket benefits of the ’80s might never have happened. “I felt like Harry had crawled into my body and was making me do it,” Kragen says of those ground-breaking efforts.
Throughout the evening Harry Chapin’s music—”Taxi,” “Circle,” “Cat’s in the Cradle”—was interspersed with anecdotes of the man. Kenny Rogers recalled handing over $1 million for Chapin’s World Hunger foundation, thinking that would buy him a little gratitude—and a little peace. “It’s only a drop in the bucket,” said Chapin, urging him to do more. “There was no saying no to Chapin,” says Rogers. “No meant maybe, and maybe meant yes.” Pat Benatar, whom Chapin discovered in a Long Island nightclub, gave an emotional rendition of “Shooting Star.” “Harry always told me, ‘Ya gotta rough it up a little,’ ” she said. “Well, Harry, I hope you’re listening, because I think I finally got it.”
Capitol Hill finally got it, too, voting this year to award Chapin the Congressional Gold Medal for his efforts to raise money and awareness to combat world hunger. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont presented the award to Harry’s widow, Sandy, who helps to make sure Harry’s charities—and his message—survive and prosper. It seems to be working. Paul Simon, when asked why he had come, answered, “I’m doing a concert Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and I didn’t want to feel like I don’t have time for anybody else.” One for me. One for the other guy. One for all.