30,000 Pounds of Bananas

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"30,000 Pounds Of Bananas," sometimes spelled "Thirty Thousand Pounds Of Bananas," is a folk rock song by Harry Chapin from his 1974 album, Verities & Balderdash. The song became more popular in its live extended recording from Chapin's 1976 concert album, Greatest Stories Live that started the phrase "Harry, it sucks." The song is based on an actual truck accident that occurred in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1965.[1][2][3]

The incident[edit]

On March 18, 1965, a 35-year-old truck driver, Eugene P. Sesky, was on his way to deliver a load of bananas to Scranton, Pennsylvania.[1][4][5] Sesky, an employee of Fred Carpentier—operator of a small truck line in Scranton—was returning from the boat piers at Weehawken, New Jersey, where he had picked up his load. The load was destined for the locations in the "wholesale block" on the western edge of Lackawanna Avenue in Scranton—either the local A&P Warehouse[1] or to Halem Hazzouri Bananas, the premier banana seller in the area at the time. Sesky was driving a 1950s Brockway diesel truck tractor with a 35 ft (11 m) semi-trailer and was headed down Rt. 307 when he suddenly lost control. That section of Rt. 307 contains a "two-mile" descent extending from Lake Scranton to the bottom of Moosic Street that includes a drop in elevation of more than 500 ft (150 m) in less than 1.5 mi (2.4 km). Sesky was unable to control the truck's speed down the hill due to a mechanical failure, variously attributed to the truck's brake system[1][4] or its clutch.[3] As a result, the truck cruised into Scranton at approximately 90 mph (140 km/h), sideswiping a number of cars before it crashed into a house[1] at the southwest corner of Moosic St and S. Irving Ave (41°24′00″N 75°39′18″W / 41.4000°N 75.6550°W / 41.4000; -75.6550Coordinates: 41°24′00″N 75°39′18″W / 41.4000°N 75.6550°W / 41.4000; -75.6550),[3] close to the bottom of the hill. Witnesses reported that Sesky did everything possible to avoid pedestrians and other motorists,[3] including climbing out onto the truck's running board to try to warn people,[1] and some have suggested that he may have deliberately flipped the truck over to avoid striking either bystanders or an automotive service station[6] on Moosic Street that could have exploded in flames, causing a greater loss of life. Sesky was thrown from the truck and killed[1] and bananas were spilled and strewn when the rig came to rest; 15 others were injured but only Sesky died. The road was closed for cleanup[4] as Johnson's Towing Company helped out in the recovery. Trucks over 21,000 lb (9.5 t) are no longer allowed to travel that route (they must use Interstate 380 via Dunmore.)

The song[edit]

The song portrays a fictional account of the incident played in the form of a country song. With each verse, the song gets faster to, as Chapin explained, "build up intensity and excitement."[citation needed] During the chorus, Chapin sings the phrase "thirty-thousand pounds" followed by Big John Wallace singing the bass line "of bananas." During concerts, the audience was encouraged to shout this refrain.

The content[edit]

A young truck driver is driving "just after dark" during his "second job" to deliver a load of bananas to Scranton, which is described as a "coal-scarred city where children play without despair in back-yard slag piles," the population of which consumes about 30,000 pounds (14 tonnes) of bananas daily. While approaching Scranton, he passes a sign he "should have seen" reading: "Shift to low gear or fifty-dollar fine, my friend," because he is too busy thinking about seeing his wife after his trip. He begins to travel down the "two-mile drop" road to the bottom of the hill. Suddenly, the truck begins to go faster down the hill, and the driver tries to apply the brakes, only to discover that they are not working. He says, "Christ!" who ironically is "the only Man who could save him now" as the load of bananas push against the truck causing it to pick up speed. Cruising into Scranton at "about ninety miles an hour," he almost strikes a passing bus. The driver then prays twice to God to make the event all a dream before he "sideswiped nineteen neat-parked cars / Clipped off thirteen telephone poles / Hit two houses, bruised eight trees / And Blue-Crossed seven people." He is killed and decapitated in the accident, and 400 yards (370 metres) of the hill is smeared with his load of bananas.[1]

The song's epilogue tells the story how Chapin first heard of the event aboard a Greyhound bus coming out of Scranton some months later. An old man sitting next to Chapin implores him to imagine "30,000 pounds of mashed bananas."

Many details in the song correspond closely to the actual incident,[6] but others are invented or fictionalized. In particular, Sesky was not actually decapitated in the accident.[1]

Alternate endings[edit]

In the live performance from the album Greatest Stories Live, Chapin sings two alternate endings to the song he originally had in mind, explaining to the audience that the rest of the band was less than enthusiastic about them, with his brothers Tom and Steve each offering the summary dismissal, "Harry, it sucks!" The first alternate ending uses Yes! We Have No Bananas as the punchline of the song.

The second ending is described by Chapin as a "country-western" ending about "motherhood", because the song "already had a truck." It deals with a young mother crying while watching her child sleeping. The woman is presumably the truck driver's widow and, because of her sorrow over the accident, "though she lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania / she never, ever eats bananas." During concerts, Chapin divided the audience during this ending, usually turning it into a contest between men and women with regard to singing skill. The second alternate ending has everyone sing "of Bananas!" in harmony, swelling to a climax and cutting off.

A third alternate ending surfaced later, in which Chapin would often introduce with a monologue about Donny and Marie Osmond, and the technical definition of the word "sucks". The third alternate ending is a parody of a Chiquita banana commercial, done in "Jimmy Buffett style," with the participation of the whole band. The ending is cut short by Big John singing the first verse of "Taxi" in the form of an upbeat disco style that concludes with Chapin telling him "it sucks."

The Bottom Line CD features the four endings along with "Final Concert." Other recorded examples of the song with all four endings include performances at Knoxville Memorial Stadium on March 7, 1979; the Coffee Break Concert broadcast on WMMS Cleveland on December 5, 1979; and the Boston University concert on April 1, 1981.

"Harry, it sucks" became a popular catchphrase among Chapin's fans, to the point where T-shirts sporting the phrase would be offered at his concerts.

Controversy[edit]

Chapin wrote and composed "30,000 Pounds Of Bananas" less than ten years after Sesky's death in the crash. Sesky left behind a widow and children when he died. After being criticized for the song, Chapin said that he would donate proceeds from its royalties to them, but they received no money.[5] Instead, Chapin donated proceeds from the royalties to his campaign against hunger.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lynott, Jerry (July 8, 2001). "It wasn't just about 30,000 pounds of bananas: Real accident 36 years ago in Scranton took the life of a truck driver, injured several other people and became the basis for a popular song". Times Leader. Wilkes Barre, PA. Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  2. ^ "Whizzo World Blog: Harry Chapin's 30,000 Pounds of Bananas". Whizzo.blogspot.com. 2006-07-17. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d Buynovsky, Sarah (March 18, 2015). "The ‘Banana Truck’ Crash: 50 Years Later". wnep.com. Retrieved 2016-06-05. 
  4. ^ a b c Carden, Terry (March 19, 1965). "1 Killed and 15 Injured in Runaway Accident". The Scranton Times. Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  5. ^ a b "Grit in the Gears: Fruit". Gritinthegears.blogspot.com. 2007-07-24. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  6. ^ a b Suwak, Jeff. "30,000 Pounds Of Bananas by Harry Chapin in Moosic Street, Scranton, Pennsylvania". Songplaces.com. Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  7. ^ "Organizations". Harry Chapin Music. Retrieved 15 April 2014.