Listening to Harry Chapin

Recently, friends lent us a 2-CD Harry Chapin album. I had never heard his stuff before. Having listened to about half of the songs by now, I had a few thoughts about them:
  • Both I and my wife – who listened to the song independently – felt that there were many similarities between our relationship and the one described in ‘Shooting Star’.
  • I was listening to Chapin’s most well-known song, ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’, while I happened to be driving down a street in my neighborhood where many commuters live. By ‘commuters’, I mean people who live in Israel and work in the States. There are many people in the neighborhood who work ‘in the U.S.’ – many telecommuting, and many actually traveling back and forth. There happen to be a number of telecommuters on my street, Rechov Yissachar, and a high concentration of commuters on Rechov Yosef. I thought it would have been appropriate for that street to be called Rechov Zevulun, to follow the pattern of the verse (Devarim 33:18), “Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out, and, Issachar, in thy tents.” In any event, I thought it poignant that a song about an absentee father came on as I was driving down that street. People sacrifice a lot to live here.

  • Finally, the song that our friends wanted us to hear, given our educational philosophy, was ‘Flowers are Red’. It describes how a child ‘learned’ to draw flowers in the ‘proper’ way – red petals, green leaves – though he originally saw many colors. The teacher’s refrain is:

Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

And the boy’s refrain, until he learns the teacher’s way, is:

There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one

I liked the song a lot, but kept thinking that it sounded very familiar, until it dawned on me. The tune was recycled by Uncle Moishy, who set it to words that at the same time captures and perverts the message of the original lyrics. In this version, the teacher’s refrain is:

Listen, talmidim, very closely to what I have to say:
If you learn some Torah and review it with a friend,
You’ll be a talmid chacham one day

And the student’s refrain is:

But there’s so much to learn Rebbi,
All the sefarim in the library
It’ll take so long to learn every one
I’m afraid I’ll never be a talmid chacham

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