Chapin's Ever-Widening Circle
by Bill Hornung
Tom Chapin's seemingly never-routine world recently found him as a presidential candidate, the recording artist of an old train story and the informal adviser to an up-and-coming musical trio.
And in great Chapin tradition, each of his new roles has involved a circle that somehow ties all the pieces together.
Recently film director Jonathan Demme called Tom and asked if he'd like to be a presidential candidate. "I told him I don't own a suit," Chapin replied with a joke to Demme's offer for a cameo role in the recent movie blockbuster The Manchurian Candidate.
Tom spent a day in Amelia Island, Georgia shooting several scenes complete with a make-believe wife, two children, five Secret Service agents and a gaggle of reporters. Tom's role as Vice Presidential Candidate Edward Nelson eventually got cut to about a five-second scene towards the end of the movie.
"It was one of those delicious little moments that don't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it was a lot of fun," he said. The movie did prompt one life-altering change Tom shaved off his mustache after more than 30 years.
"My wife has never seen me without a mustache," he said. I'm really enjoying having a face."
Demme and Chapin are New York neighbors. Demme has attended several of Tom's concerts and the two have met at other functions.
Cultivating the New Chapin Generation
Closer to his musical roots, Tom helped "The Chapin Sisters" produce a special 10-song CD called The Chapin Sisters Sing The Chapin Brothers, new renditions of some of Tom and Harry's songs. The CD is now available through Tom's site (www.tomchapin.com). The CD expands on an earlier-released version that featured seven songs that was available during the recent Chapin Family shows.
"I'm prejudiced, but they sing so beautifully," Tom said about the trio made up of daughters Abigail, Lily and Jessica. The CD was produced with Chapin fans in mind and won't be offered broadly. "It was so much fun putting it together," Tom said. Tom and musical partner Jon Cobert produced and played most of the instruments on the album.
The "Sisters" have moved to Los Angeles to put their career into high gear. "This is the moment if you're going to try it," Tom told the trio. The trio's performances have been well received, and several original songs are being greeted with rave reviews. Jonathan Craven (Jessica's brother) has been extremely helpful, Tom said, and has recruited Michael Fitzpatrick, a well-connected studio musician and engineer to help produce their next album of new music.
Some sample songs are posted at www.thechapinsisters.com. A more complete profile of "The Chapin Sisters" will be featured in a later issue of Circle!.
"It's neat to see this next generation with Jen on East Coast and the three sisters on the West Coast. It was the Chapin brothers before but it's the Chapin sisters now!"
Riding A Special Train
Another project brought Tom back together with Steve Goodman, the late singer and songwriter who was a good friend of the Chapin brothers. Tom recorded the audio version of a new children's book based on Goodman's song The City of New Orleans.
The book and tape also are available through Tom's site. Tom narrates the story and sings the song as part of the recording.
Meeting Goodman for the first time nearly 40 years ago was part of a life-changing evening for Harry, Tom recalled. Tom and Harry went to a show at the Bitter End featuring Kris Kristofferson and Carly Simon. "I believe the show was a seminal moment for Harry," Tom said. "Harry watched Kris who isn't a great singer, but a great songwriter and raconteur. After watching Kris, I remember Harry saying... 'I can do this'."
During the show, Kristofferson brought Goodman on stage by saying "I was in Chicago last night and met this guy that sang the best damn train song I've ever heard."
Goodman amazed the crowd, including Tom and Harry, because of his heartfelt songs and strong performing skills. Goodman was followed by John Prine that evening. Tom recalls Goodman and Prine both signed record deals not long after those performances.
Over the years, Goodman became a good friend who participated in many benefit concerts. Tom vividly recalls the first time he learned that Goodman had cancer was the same year Harry died. Tom was preparing to do a concert with Goodman and Pete Seeger when Goodman fell ill and was rushed to the Sloan-Kettering Institute. Goodman had been diagnosed with leukemia in the late 1960s, but continued to perform until his death in September 1984.
"Talk about circles... there is a great connection here that I've been able to be part of this beautiful book."
Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on December 7