Mister Tanner was a cleaner from a town in the Midwest.
And of all the cleaning shops around he'd made his the best.
But he also was a baritone who sang while hanging clothes.
He practiced scales while pressing tails and sang at local shows.
His friends and neighbors praised the voice that poured out from his throat.
They said that he should use his gift instead of cleaning coats.

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
And it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.

His friends kept working on him to try music out full time.
A big debut and rave reviews, a great career to climb.
Finally they got to him, he would take the fling.
A concert agent in New York agreed to have him sing.
And there were plane tickets, phone calls, money spent to rent the hall.
It took most of his savings but he gladly used them all.

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
And it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.

The evening came, he took the stage, his face set in a smile.
And in the half filled hall the critics sat watching on the aisle.
But the concert was a blur to him, spatters of applause.
He did not know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws.
But the critics were concise, it only took four lines.
But no one could accuse them of being over kind.

Mr. Martin Tanner, Baritone, of Dayton, Ohio made his
Town Hall debut last night. He came well prepared, but unfortunately
His presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards.
His voice lacks the range of tonal color necessary to make it
Consistently interesting.

Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.
He came home to Dayton and was questioned by his friends.
Then he smiled and just said nothing and he never sang again,
Excepting very late at night when the shop was dark and closed.
He sang softly to himself as he sorted through the clothes.

Music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
And it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.

Lyrics submitted by kevin

"Mr. Tanner" as written by Harry F. Chapin

Lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Mr. Tanner song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentI think it's about the risk of judging your own music, or of listening to those who make their living by criticizing others (i.e. professional critics).

    Whenever I record a track, I usually hate it for about a year after I record it, then love it for a few months, then can get some kind of reasonable judgement on it. And I know that every performance, what I hear is mostly the flaws, just like Mr. Tanner. It's difficult to believe that there's actually signal beyond the noise when only the noise jumps out at you.. but it's important not to let these things stand in the way of continuing towards something that will make you happy. Mr. Tanner goes home to Dayton, and he never sings again.. even though singing 'made him feel so happy, and it made him feel so good' - because of his own perceptions of his inability ('he only heard the flaws') and the opinions of some critics who are criticizing his first attempts as a professional musician ('full time consideration of another endevor might be in order..')

    I will also say that music is far too important to be left to the professionals.
    SMUSER26982on May 30, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAlthough Mr. Tanner did not make his living singing, he basically lived to sing. In his small town apparently he was considered great, compared to the other local talent ( A case of a big fish in a small pond). After he was goaded into having professionals in the big city critique his performance, he was brought back down to earth in a rather cruel way. He thus felt that if the public thought he was not professional enough, he would no longer sing for them. He would sing for himself when he was alone, for the pure joy of singing.

    I live in Hollywood and have a few friends that are professional musicians. Some are famous, others are session, or studio musicians, or back up musicians (some famous, some not). I was a musician myself but realized early on that I did not have the passion, fire, drive, and belief in myself to make it. Fortunately I realized what was lacking and saved myself from a career of either being told "no" or getting really bad and/or low or no pay gigs and the heartbreak that goes with it.

    I used to see the "big fishes" come into town looking to grab the world by the tail. Some make it. Some get famous, some just eke out a living playing dives, doing sound tracks, playing small parties and get togethers and so on and others wind up with real jobs and are musicians at night or on the weekends. Some give up on music completely, some get jobs in the music industry (just inches from fame) and many go back home (or elsewhere if they are too embarrassed to go home) beaten, or broken, or jaded, or with their tails between their legs. Some go home and never speak of the experience.

    This song covers many of the emotions musicians, singers, actors (or any kind of artist or performer) faces everyday. They are braver souls than I. I could not put myself before the public and be faced with their judgment of me (even though I am a harsh self critic) plus I know no one wants to pay to see or hear anything I have to say.

    I truly miss Harry Chapin and wonder what he would have written and if he would have gained a large following. I often wonder why his brothers and band members did not keep performing. I am sure many people would have gone to the shows (even though no one could replace Harry).
    robertbb99on May 10, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General Commentim usually into APC/tool and harder stuff, but i find this song to be, AMAZING... really it is.... its just so reallife, and i can relate so much, about "music was his life, it was not his livelyhood"
    Jondude11on April 25, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHarry was asked if this was a real event. he said the song came from a review he read in the New York Times, and just imagined what came before and what came after.
    Binkyon April 20, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentVery lovely high music.
    hulelamon July 27, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is obviously about a musician who doesn't know nor care how well he performs because he just loves doing it.
    Armoon May 06, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit's self explanatory
    Music was his life it was not his lively hood and made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good
    He sang from his heart and he sang from his soul, he did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole
    He didn't want the life of a singer, he just wanted to sing
    iawindtalkeron June 18, 2009   Link

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