Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.%TThe attitude of music lovers toward singer-song-writer Harry Chapin is distinct and unshakable; they either love him or hate him - sort of like George Allen or the Equal Rights Amendment.
Both sides have valid reasons for their stands. For the pro-Chapin faction it is the commonly shared experience of his songs, with lyrics and story lines that make people sit up in recognition and say, "You know? He's right." Sometimes they even feel the shame at faults ranging from dehumanized personal relationships to sexism and anger. For them, Harry Chapin is the American Jacques Brel, a weaver of reasoned stories and a spellbinding performer to boot.
The anti-Chapin forces acceptsome of the same qualities in a different context. To them, Chapin belabors the obvious in ridiculously cliched, maudlin and overly sentimental fables that tend to run along similar melodic tracks. His detractors say he unwittingly describes his own voice in his song "Mr. Tanner," as lacking the "color and tonal consideration to make it consistently interesting."
So who is right? Both sides, to some degree. And that's why critics are occasionally allowed to waffle and avoid the issue. In fact, many of Chapin's songs are extremely good , even memorable. But some are equally fatuous and empty. Either way, his set at Merriweather Post Pavilion could stand to be less than 160 minutes long.