By Ellie Schank
Jen Chapin and her guitarist Jamie Fox will be a headlining act for the July 6 Will Read and Sing for Food show benefiting the Jasper Arts Center.
Chapin is the daughter of singer, songwriter and activist Harry Chapin and has made a living similar to him.
She currently lives in New York City and is on the WhyHunger Board of Directors, an organization co-founded by her father aiming to combat world hunger.
I know this isn’t your first time coming to Dubois County. How did you first wind up playing a show around here?
“I think the very first time was maybe in 2007 and we played in Ferdinand down the road. It was officially a house concert… that was a really special and memorable event. Then (I) came back through contacts made around that time and played the Ferdinand Folk Festival; that is where I met Scott (Saalman). He was always encouraging me to come and play in the WRASFF series, and that was always a question of budget and benefit. It turned out there was one trip where the other concerts I had were enough to supplement that and it was such a wonderful experience. I always thought and hoped we would come back.”
What do you like or dislike about playing in a smaller, more rural community like Jasper?
“I have only positive feelings about playing in the smaller rural communities. Probably if I looked over my tour history I’ve played more small communities than bigger ones. So much of shows is the promotion to get people out to a show when they’ve got a million things competing for their time. It’s word of mouth, it’s people deciding that something is connected to their friends, to their family, and there’s a context for it. So if you’re playing in a place like Jasper, Ferdinand you can tell word gets around and whether or not there’s media coverage, which is also hard to get sometimes in the bigger cities (although I’ve certainly got my share over the years). It’s just we’ve had a lot of memorable shows in small towns where you could feel that people spread the word and decided together that they were going to come out.”
What sort of work do you do with WhyHunger?
My role is as a volunteer when I have time, at my convenience. There’s a combination of grunt work, just promoting a fundraiser, making sure that you spread the word online, sometimes putting out mail, participating in board meetings and helping to stay abreast of the issue and stay on top of policies and programs. The organization was founded basically around my kitchen table, it’s always been part of my life. I feel like whatever I give to the organization I get back many times.
One thing we see is that people who work in food –– whether it’s seasonal farm workers in the fields, people who are butchering and packing meat products … whether it’s people in the back of restaurant kitchens –– these people who provide our food are most often the people who are suffering from hunger themselves. We don’t tend to respect and give them the paycheck that honors their indispensable labor. So that’s one of the things that WhyHunger is pushing for and amplifying the voices of people working in food who are often women, often people of color and often immigrants. It’s about listening and finding out what works and make a solution more powerful and scaling them up.
Who inspired you to begin a career in music?
So many people. I don’t know if I’d be a musician without not just my dad being a singer-songwriter but my mother who is not a musician but a poet, the lyricist who wrote my dad’s most famous song “Cat’s in the Cradle.” My grandfather was a jazz drummer who played up until the very end of his life, my uncles always supported me and gave me opportunities since I was a young teenager to get on stage. I’ve been very privileged to be part of a community around New York City of jazz musicians with an infinite curiosity with instrumental music, music from the world, music from Africa, from south Asia and from the Middle East that’s always been a big inspiration to me as well.
How does it feel to have a family of famous musicians?
It’s the only reality that I’ve known. I don’t have anything to compare it to. I just have great respect. People like to attach some mystical power and put themselves on the other side of music making like ‘oh I cant do that, I can’t make a song, I cant sing a note’ but you know in the end it is a job. It’s a beautiful job that gets you amazing opportunities for collaboration and the act of working is playing music. Then there’s the other stuff, the incessant self-promotion … then there’s finding new places to perform and making connections. I admire watching my relatives handle the challenge and adapt in this constantly shifting terrain. We really support each other and look out for each other. It’s just like any other family business. It gets passed down.
What sort of message would you like to convey to your listeners in Dubois County on July 6?
I guess the biggest message is that live music is alive. Just that there’s a spontaneous communication that happens between the people on the stage and the people off the stage and it’s a beautiful thing. They’ll get to hear Jamie and me trying to create many varied moods and dynamics. Some of it will be really intense, dense and maybe loud and some of it will be spacious, intimate and quiet. We try to bring all the world into our little songs. We do it for our selfish reasons because it’s fun and we make a few dollars here and there, but we’re all connected, we have so many ways to see each other and listen to each other.
What are your favorite songs to perform live? Will you play them at WRASFF?
I think we’ll do at least one of my dad’s songs — it just kind of sings itself, it’s so beautifully constructed and dramatic in a quiet way. It’s called “Tangled up Puppet.” It’s a song between a parent and a daughter. It goes beyond gender to adolescence, just to the push and pull between the kid and a parent of that age. There’s one that’s really fun and also about parenting that I wrote when my older son was a toddler. It’s called “Go Away.” It’s in some ways irreverent. …
What sort of advice would you give to young difference makers and performers?
The key is to find what really is meaningful to you, what issues really inflame your passions. Then you gotta do some research, you gotta look at facts and not just opinions. WhyHunger can be a resource… we work with a lot of organizations that deal with the introspection of a lot of elements of hunger and poverty. If people are connected to those issues they can check our website or just get in touch. Again it’s correlation with making art or music that you have to be yourself. A lot of things out there need citizens involved, but people have to find the one that’s natural and automatic for them.
Latest Herald Column By SCOTT SAALMAN
Brynne called to tell me that my book, “Nose Hairs Gone Wild,” arrived from Amazon.
“You downloaded it?”
“No, it’s a real book.”
“That’s impossible,” I said.
“I have it.”
What part of “that’s impossible” did Brynne not understand? I explained, “There are no hard copies in existence that Amazon could’ve possibly sent you.”
“Well I have one at my house now.”
In 2012, I self-published my first collection of humor essays, “Nose Hairs Gone Wild.” I don’t mean to brag, but it sold out — all 200 copies! — two printings! Contrary to what you are probably imagining, I’m not writing this column aboard my yacht, comparing notes with my yacht guest John Grisham. Not even from my dinghy (I assume it’s OK to use this word in a family newspaper). Not even from my kayak (can’t afford one of those either), though my book sales have pushed me closer to buying that starter oar.
There was no way Brynne could’ve received a hard copy. First, Amazon would have had to order it from me. Second, there was no copy to provide.
A download was possible, though. “Nose Hairs” exists as an e-book, currently ranking #2,826,385 on Amazon’s best sellers list. I don’t know if there is a #2,826,386. I hope there is—for my ego’s sake. If so, it likely has some inane title like “Ear Hairs Gone Wild.” Talk about a terrible title.
“Seriously,” Brynne said. “It’s even a signed copy.”
“A what? A signed copy?”
Now, I was really confused. While 200 copies is an incredible amount of books to sell, I can pretty well recall all the names of my book buyers. I know for certain that I never signed a book for anyone named Brynne.
“Not Brynne. You signed the book I have for a Bob.”
A Bob book for Brynne. I didn’t like where this was headed. I’m no Sherlock Holmes but maybe, just maybe, Brynne’s mysterious copy of “Nose Hairs Gone Wild” had been pre-owned. By. Someone. NAMED. BOB!
I tried to remember the Bobs who bought my book way back. Ego aside, I felt sorry for this Bob guy. Apparently times had been so tough on him that he had to resell my book on Amazon just to get by. By then, he probably had eaten his dog before finally having to let go of his cherished, signed Scott Saalman book.
“My buddy Bob” — that’s probably how I signed it. And I likely meant it, for I recall truly appreciating the $15 anyone paid to purchase it — I had a yacht to buy.
My buddy Bob.
The only potential Bob I could come up with was a former coworker, Bob Schneider. I’m pretty sure he bought “Nose Hairs.” But since then, he became a CEO so I don’t think he has been hurting bad enough to pawn my book.
“I’ll text a photo to you,” Brynne said.
Sure enough. Her picture showed a page inscribed with the following: “Thanks, Bob, for running my Swing Shift Kiss piece on your show! Cheers — Scott Saalman (2013)”
My heart sank.
Bob. As in Bob Edwards. As in Bob Edwards of National Public Radio fame. Bob hosted Morning Edition for 24 years before losing the job. He then joined Sirius/XM satellite radio for his own show, furthering his reputation as one of the top radio journalists/interviewers out there.
Bob was a huge hero of mine. A man of integrity and truth. He received almost every broadcasting award imaginable. He’s the reason I kept re-upping my annual subscription to Sirius/XM.
The greatest moment of my writing career occurred when Bob ran one of my essays on his satellite show. The piece had been published in an anthology called “This I Believe: On Love.” The story was about my parents’ amazing long-term relationship. My voice, the story of my parents, was beamed to potentially millions of listeners. In appreciation, I sent Bob a signed copy of Nose Hairs (not that he asked) at no charge (not that he would’ve paid). Hence, the heartfelt inscription in Brynne’s new used book of mine.
I bet Bob figured the odds were greatly in his favor that I would never know about his betrayal.
It hurt a bit, this betrayal by a hero. I think it stung even worse than had Brynne’s book actually contained an inscription to my mother. Mom never won a Peabody.
In 2015, Bob’s satellite show was not renewed. Since then, other than reading a recent memoir of his (a library copy), I haven’t heard anything about Bob.
What about Bob? Google searches failed to show any current activity, putting this whole Brynne/Bob book thing in a much clearer perspective.
Obviously, out of sheer desperation, Bob had to get what he could out of my book. I hope its “resell” value helped Bob get by another day. I truly hope he didn’t really have to eat his dog.
In hindsight now, I feel bad borrowing his book from the library. Maybe I should go ahead and buy it from Amazon, give Bob a boost, bring this whole thing full circle. It’s the least I can do for my hero. I wonder if he would sign it.
Will Read and Sing for Food will benefit Strings, Inc. at 7 p.m., on Wednesday, June 14, at Hedinger Beverage Distributing, 950 S. St. Charles Street. $10 admission. Free beverages.
Scott Saalman’s latest Herald column.
“TENSION!” the crazed spinning class instructor yells, his code word for turning the yellow resistance knob just below my knees to the right to make it even harder to pedal. I hate this guy. I really do.
Spin class. I don’t belong here. I belong in something easier. Is there a coasting class? That’s the best thing about riding a bike — coasting. You can’t even coast on a spin bike. What madman designed this thing?
Ten seconds later, he shouts it again. “TENSION!” Every time he says this, I get tense. My fellow spinners obey, adding another full turn. I pretend to follow suit, applying a fake twist just in case anyone is monitoring my movement. It’s an Oscar winning performance. That’s the best thing about spin class: We are on the honor system when it comes to increasing . . .
I see a roomful of hands once again go to the resistance knob, they twist clockwise. I do another air twist — fake a grunt for good measure.
The instructor has to yell because of the blood-pumping beats of music bouncing between the walls. It is death metal music, the genre I credit to any group louder than the Eagles. The band’s name is likely Megadeth Spin or Alice in Bike Chains.
“BREATHE!” he shouts, then gives us tips on how to breathe, assigning a certain amount of time to the inhale, then the exhale. I try to focus on his breathing instructions but can’t do it right. I can’t synchronize with the others. I hate group breathing. I inhale, but feel nothing. I fake the exhale since nothing has been inhaled. Apparently I haven’t breathed right in years. How am I even still alive?
“TENSION!” the instructor yells. To his credit, he does twist his own knob every time he tells us to twist ours — he walks the talk like a true leader — yet he never seems fazed by the added resistance, which should now make his legs feel like they are encased in concrete; it only makes him seem more determined; he savors the burn; his legs are a cartoonish blur as he pedals harder and harder, entranced, as if in a personal battle to see who will break first, man or machine, a regular John Henry of the gym. I hate him. Did I tell you this already? His eyes are closed. I should just sneak out. His eyes open as if reading my mind. He’s a demon, I tell you. A madman.
“TENSION!” He grits and growls as he encourages us onward — “PUSH AND PULL, PUSH AND PULL, AYEEEEAH!” The more he gets into the workout, the harder he is to understand, as if he’s speaking in tongues or calling an auction. The front of my shirt is drenched with sweat. I am sweating more than Meat Loaf in concert. The instructor keeps pedaling like a bat out of hell.
In the past, at the gym, I would hear the spin class music blaring from the mysterious spin class room as I messed with some weight machines and the treadmill on the other side of the building, the walls thumping with electronica like the rebirth of Studio 54. I imagined spinners snorting blow, their faces lit up with disco ball glow. It sounded like a dance party in there. Only recently, bored with my own workout, did I dare open myself up for a new challenge. I stepped outside my comfort zone, entered the spin room, thinking, “Once. I’ll just do it once just to say I did it.”
The instructor never seems happy with the status quo. He’s always changing his mind, switching up our body positions, pedal speeds and resistances. It’s like he’s declared jihad on our quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Sometimes, instead of “TENSION!” he shouts for us to “HOVER!” That’s when you barely raise your butt off the bike seat and really lean in on the handlebars. How I hate the hover. You can’t fake a hover. I am very self-conscious when it comes to the hover. I’m not sure I hover right. I just don’t like my butt hovering in that jockey-like position. It’s just asking for trouble. A dog’s dream!
“HOVER!” When he hovers, no part of his body seems to be touching the bike, as if he’s levitating in some Zen-jockey way.
As soon as I get comfortable hovering, he yells for us to “SIT!” Then, as soon as I savor sitting, he demands that we “HOVER!” Then “SIT!” Then “HOVER!” Then “SIT!” Barely three seconds between positions. He obviously is oblivious to the discomfort his indecisiveness is creating for our bodies. No clear-thinking human being would do this to another human being.
“PUSH AND PULL!”
I barter with God to get me through this. Then, miraculously, our 45 minutes are up. We towel off our face sweat, wipe down our bikes, share our indoor cycling survivor smiles. I forget the promises made to God, remaining the wretch I had been before the class. The instructor praises us for our endurance, encourages us to return. I hate him. I can’t wait to see him next week.