Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

The Sweet Salvation That A Little Old Knife Can Bring

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Thursday, January 22, 2015

I don’t recollect exactly what year it was when I first heard the song “Woman Child” by the late singer/songwriter artist/musician Harry Chapin. I do recollect, however, that a young lady then near my age, was a fan of his, and it was through hearing some of his music she was playing that I learned of him.

It was perhaps his 1978 album “Living Room Suite” which I had seen her playing, but it was his second album “Sniper and Other Love Songs,” released in October 1972, which I subsequently purchased, which so powerfully affected me.

Chapin died tragically in July 1981, aged 38, and though the exact cause of his death was undetermined, he was thought to have suffered cardiac arrest while driving, which was explained as the likely cause of his wreck. The truck driver into whose path he swerved, along with the assistance of a passer-by, rescued him from his burning 1975-model Volkswagen Rabbit, and he was subsequently flown to a nearby hospital where a team of perhaps 10 or more worked fruitlessly for nearly a half-hour to save his life.

Chapin’s artistic creative style might be considered similar, somewhat, to that of a troubadour or wandering minstrel, because each and every song on that album – and indeed, every song of his – was a well-crafted, and expertly told story. The stories weren’t from a fantastic, idealistic fantasy life, but were from everyone’s work-a-day life. The struggles, trials, tribulations, joys, victories and crushing blows of unjust defeats in life were all subjects in his songs. From “W – O – L – D,” to one of his best-known “Cat’s In The Cradle,” Chapin’s gift of lyric and music made each song a veritable raconteur’s masterpiece.

As many older older teens are, at that time in my life, there were many impressions being made upon my mind and heart. My story was only beginning to be written in earnest. It was as if each day of my life was a veritable book of new and fresh beginnings, upon which it’s empty pages life was being written.

But it was one song in particular of all Chapin’s songs from that album which became indelibly etched into my memory.

“Woman Child” tells the story of a young girl who, as every young boy and girl does, seeks the intimately affectionate touch of another.

“Woman child, your eyes are wild.
“The rain runs down your hair.
“Woman child, mercy mild.
“What will you tell your teddy bear?”

Albeit, there were unexpected consequences.

Aren’t there are almost always unintended repercussions?

Chapin tells the story of a young girl’s unplanned pregnancy in artfully poignant terms. The questioning, the shame, fear, the doubt, the denial, including… “the sweet salvation that a little old knife can bring.”

In 1972, the year “Sniper and Other Love Songs” was released, the United States’ laws concerning abortion were in their infancy. Roe v. Wade was initially argued December 1971, re-argued October 1972, with a decision rendered January 1973. And female birth control pills weren’t available in all 50 states until after March 1972, following the Eisenstadt v. Baird decision which was also rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States. And it was only 6 years earlier, in June 1965, that Griswold v. Connecticut was decided, which found a “right to privacy” existed under the United States Constitution.

It was in this sociological caldron that Chapin conceived and birthed “Woman Child,” a sweet-yet-sadly dark song with semi-spooky overtones, which directly avoids making judgements, saving it’s lyric story for descriptive observations such as “I turned you on to my solid body my electric Gibson guitar,” “mama’s little angel’s been defiled,” and “what will you tell your teddy bear?” But perhaps the most grotesquely macabre and stinging, telling twist of a phrase is “the sweet salvation that little old knife can bring.”

As an expert raconteur, Chapin expertly weaves the story’s elements, first from the perspective of the young girl in the second person, then her lover, and finally, the abortionist. And in this work, as with his others, he casts neither moralizing judgment, indictment, nor praise. He simply tells the story from the perspective of the involved parties. And, it is that style for which some castigate him. Yet it remains the genius for which he may best be remembered.

Woman Child
by Harry Chapin

Dripping streetlights, and
darkened buildings
head hung down low.

As she’s walking
She can’t help wondering,
Does her mama know?
Where will she go?

Woman child, your eyes are wild.
The rain runs down your hair.
Woman child, mercy mild.
What will you tell your teddy bear?

I turned you on to my solid body,
my electric Gibson guitar.
My clever fingers, they searched
and found out exactly where you are.
You went too far.

Woman child, your eyes are wild.
The rain runs down your hair.
Woman child, mercy mild.
What will you tell your teddy bear?

It was an early morning phone call.
What news have I received?
A halting voice is telling me,
what we have both conceived,
asking how the dilemma,
how can it be relieved?

“I will give you money, Honey.
I’ll set up a time.
You got to go there on your own babe,
’cause I don’t know that it’s mine.”

Oh woman child,
Mama’s little angel’s been defiled.
Took a taxi to the clinic
where they do the modern thing.
The white coat doctor
laid her out said,

“You won’t feel a thing.
You got the sweet salvation
that little old knife can bring.
You don’t have to worry ’bout no offspring.”

Woman child, your eyes are wild.
The rain runs down your hair.
Woman child, mercy mild.
What will you tell your teddy bear?

“That’s that.
Go Home and take a nap.
It’s just a two hundred dollar mishap.
It don’t mean a thing.
It’s all over now.
You can tell your singer to sing.”

Lyrics from “Woman Child”
ASCAP Work ID: 530177729
ISWC: T0702025840

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