Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Songs With Stories: Cat's In The Cradle

I have a whole playlist on my mp3 player called ‘Songs With Stories’, for as long as I can remember I’ve collected songs which I think tell some sort of story. Sometimes it’s really obvious either from the title or you can tell straight away from the words; others you have to listen to a little closer, sometimes I know there’s a story there but I’m not entirely sure what it is.
My Songs With Stories playlist originally started when I was looking for music to write to for NaNoWriMo, I’d started off with a bunch of gentle instrumental pieces or easy listening stuff like Enya and Hayley Westenra but found I was putting more and more songs in which told some sort of story so decided they needed a playlist of their own. It’s great for listening to when you want to write something but don’t know exactly what you want to write about (in fact, one of the stories I’ve been researching for the last six or seven years in the hope that one day I’ll know enough about the topic to actually write a story).
Walking Tara the other morning, Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin came on my mp3 player. I’ve got it on the Shrek the Third soundtrack but I can’t say it’s one I’ve listened to a massive number of times (since I reset my Zen, all of my track plays have been reset as well so I can only hazard a guess and say I’ve probably listened to it about a handful of times). During my first year of Uni I only had a handful of CDs in my room; two Enya, a Disney songs three CD set and the first two Shrek soundtracks. Whenever I listen to the first Shrek soundtracks or an Enya CD I can picture sitting in my room with my little CD player that even if you selected random, didn’t really play randomly just played the same supposedly random order each time.
But I’ve not played the Shrek the Third soundtrack as much, so I’m still discovering the songs on it. Which is how I came to discover Cat’s in the Cradle during our walk. It’s actually the second time I’ve heard it, the first being on a day when my Zen screen wasn’t working, so I’m glad that it’s come around to play again so quickly so I could find out exactly what the song was!
The song is peppered with references to children’s games and nursery rhymes and that was what I found myself listening to first, picking out the references to cat’s cradle and little boy blue among others. But the main story in the song is of a man and his son; beginning with his son’s birth and early years but the father is always away for his significant milestones. Next is his son’s tenth birthday, when he gives his son a ball, but doesn’t have the time to play with it, so his son plays without him and tells his father that he wants to be just like him. Later when his son is older, the father asks to spend time with him when he’s visiting from college, but the kid has other plans and just wants to borrow the car. It ends with the father calling his son, who now has a family of his own, wanting to arrange time together, but the son is too busy and the father realises that he’s turned out just like him.
As with most ‘Songs With Stories’ there’s a story behind the story in the song. Harry Chapin actually wrote the song using a poem his wife wrote about her previous husband and his relationship with his father. According to Wikipedia, Chapin was quoted as saying that the song was also about his relationship with his own son and that it ‘scared him to death’. It’s a sad thought really when you realise that Chapin died of a heart attack/car crash at the age of just 45.
It’s a really beautiful song though, one which I’m going to have to add on to the Songs With Stories playlist.


  1. Aww Cait, I love that song. I love Harry Chapin-sadly all too forgotten/little known here. Check out his song W.O.L.D too, if you haven't heard it; great song/story about a faded radio DJ on the road

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll have to check that one out as well. :-)


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