Harry Chapin: When In Doubt, Do Something

by Pete Crigler

harrychapin_dosomethingdoc_443Harry Chapin was one of the cheesiest, most pretentious singer/songwriters of the ‘70s but damn if he wasn’t one of my favorites. His song about the University of Texas sniper Charles Whitman is one of the best songs ever written. It’s high time that a full documentary has been made to honor his memory. 2021 will mark the 40th anniversary of his passing and this movie is the first full-length celebration of his talents. Unfortunately, it’s only half decent and I found myself thinking more and more about the VH1 Behind The Music that was made in the early 2000s.

This movie is flawed in so many ways. For one, it focuses way too much on his political activism and fight against hunger than what made him important and notable in the first place: the music. The film focuses on the music up until about 1974. With a montage of all the ways “Cat’s In The Cradle” has been used in media, it completely skips the Ugly Kid Joe version from 1993 that helped re-popularize the song with a new generation. The film overlooks his failed Broadway run with “The Night That Made America Famous” and his failing record sales in the years before his death. There’s very little music after those first three albums in the film, which is quite disappointing.

By focusing so much on his charitable work, it takes away from what made him notable: the songs. Yeah, he did a lot of work for charities – too much if you ask me; his touring and recording schedule suffered because of whatever various causes he was involved with. There’s barely any mention of the overwork that may have led to his premature death on the Long Island Expressway. I went into this film excited by the prospects of what a full picture it could paint of Chapin. I left disappointed and wanting to watch his Behind The Music again as that was a more comprehensive look at his decade or so plus career and not this overreaching and underwhelming film.

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