The Cat’s In the Cradle and the Silver Spoon
December 7, 2021
On December 7, 1974, Singer Songwriter Harry Chapin was, arguably, at the apex of his career. He turned 32 years old that day, his album Verities and Balderdash had been released in late August and was performing well on the charts. Two weeks later, his single Cat’s In The Cradle would claim the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
If he were still alive, Harry Forster Chapin would be celebrating his 79th birthday. Born in New York City, the second of four sons, Chapin’s first exposure to music was trumpet lessons, encouraged no doubt by his father, Jim Chapin, a renowned percussionist. His younger brothers, Tom and Steve, formed a musical group as teenagers and Harry would perform with them.
But music, it seems, was not the direction he went… at least not at first. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:
“He originally intended to be a documentary film-maker and took a job with The Big Fights, a company run by Bill Cayton that owned a large library of classic boxing films. Chapin directed Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for a documentary Academy Award. In 1971, he began focusing on music. With John Wallace, Tim Scott, and Ron Palmer, Chapin started playing in various nightclubs in New York City.”
Having a father in the music business probably helped his career along. He became the prize in a bidding war between two high powered executives at Columbia and Elektra records. The result being a multi-million dollar contract with Elektra which, at the time, was one of the biggest ever signed.
On his debut album was the song Taxi – a wistful story of a chance encounter with an old girlfriend the taxi driver picks up one night. That song catapulted Chapin to fame. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“When asked if the song was true, Chapin said ‘It’s emotionally true, if not literally true. I’ve been in the film business on and off for a lot of years, and wasn’t doing well at one point. So I went out and got a hack license for bread, and during the month that I was waiting for it to come through, I heard an old girlfriend of mine had gotten married and instead of becoming an actress she married a rich guy. I envisioned some night I’d be driving a cab in the big city streets and this lady would get in the back, and I’d turn and look at her and she’d look at me and know we both sold out our dreams.’ Billboard ranked ‘Taxi’ as the 85th song of the year. ‘Taxi’ also earned Chapin a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist of the Year.”
By 1974, Chapin had a string of memorable songs and a reputation as a talented songwriter. Cat’s In the Cradle – his most successful recording – is a poignant and memorable song about a man who has a son, but no time to spend with his child. We follow the man through the stages of life and, at the end of the story, we learn that his son has followed in his father’s footsteps, never finding the time for his family either.
Sadly, Chapin lost his life in a horrific auto accident on July 16, 1981. He was on his way to play, for free, at a benefit concert.
In addition to his music, Chapin championed a number of social issues. In 1987, on what would have been his 45th birthday, Chapin was recognized for his work on behalf of fighting world hunger and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. That award is given to individuals “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”
A few years back, the organizers of a class reunion for my high school sent out a questionnaire as a way of engaging classmates. One of the questions was ‘which song from high school best represents our experience?’
I did not hesitate a moment and wrote Cats In The Cradle. When the list came out at the reunion, I was pleased to see that many of my classmates felt the same way.
Perhaps, that song is Chapin’s most enduring contribution to people everywhere – a reminder that life holds no guarantees and can be over in an instant. The best any of us can do is pause every once in a while and give our time to those we love and value.
Time, after all, is the true currency for all. But it cannot be earned or purchased. It cannot be borrowed. It can only be spent. Chapin seemed to understand this and did so very much with his allotted 38 years.
The lyrics for Cats In The Cradle:
A child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad,
You know I’m gonna be like you”
Chorus: And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then,
You know we’ll have a good time then.
My son turned ten just the other day
He said “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on lets play
Can you teach me to throw? ” I said, “Not today,
I got a lot to do” He said “that’s okay”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m going to be like him”
Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please? “
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said “I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But It’s sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It’s been sure nice talking to you…….. “
And as I hung up the phone it had occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me……….