Lion of the Blogosphere

Harry Chapin – Taxi (live)

This is a pretty good live rendition by Harry Chapin of his song “Taxi.”

The song has some autobiographical facts from Harry’s life mixed in. His name in the song (as in many of his songs) is his real name, Harry. Chapin did have a girlfriend named Sue at Cornell, and he was also a taxi driver for a few months (back in a time when white Americans still drove taxis).

So Harry is driving his taxi and he picks up a woman who turns out to be his ex-girlfriend, Sue. Sue, initially, either pretends not to recognize him or is too uncaring about a taxi driver to pay attention to him. In either case, it’s a snub.

Their relationship ended because Sue presumably moved to Los Angeles to become an actress (although now she’s in San Francisco) and Harry was going to “learn to fly,” which I presume means he wanted to become a pilot, but that obviously never happened, and now he has a loser job as a taxi driver.

The second snub is when “she said we must get together,” but it’s said in a way that means she’s just being polite and has no interest in seeing a loser who drives a cab for a living.

Sue, although apparently not an actress, has more economic resources than Harry based on various hints dropped in the song [as expounded below and in the comments, probably because she married a rich husband]. At the end, for the $2.50 fare, she gives him a $20 bill and tells him to keep the change. Remember that there has been more than 400% inflation since 1972, so that’s like giving him a hundred dollar bill for a $12.50 fare (which is a typical fare for a ride from one location in Manhattan to another and I assume that “Frisco” has similar rates).

Receiving such a huge tip from your ex-girlfriend is emasculating, and that was especially true in 1972 when social customs were more strongly oriented towards the man being the provider and not the woman. Either she’s saying “look how much more successful I am than you,” or she pities him and wants him to have some extra money, but women aren’t romantically interested in men they pity.

Instead of doing the manly thing and returning the tip, Harry puts the bill in his shirt because he needs the money.

Also, the song tells us that Sue is also not happy with her life. The song does not explain why, but maybe it’s because she left a wonderful relationship with Harry in order to try to become an actress? The modern feminist would see that line of reasoning as being Harry’s male-chauvinistic ego. That’s why I like the songs of the 1970s, because they are less politically correct.

Harry sees that she’s not happy because he’s very intuitive, but Sue refuses to admit it. Thus he’s able to cleverly and ironically observe that they both got what they wanted: he’s “flying” in his taxi, and she’s acting happy. These are the kind of deep lyrics you get when Ivy League caliber people write songs.

Harry Chapin also went to Brooklyn Tech High School, back in the late 1950s when Brooklyn Tech was still academically equivalent to Stuyvesant (it no longer is) and the vast majority of students in attendance were smart working-class and middle-class Jews. Although Harry came from a Protestant family, which was rare in New York City public schools where everyone who was white was either Jewish or Catholic.

* * *

Glengarry writes:

Hm. Failed actress in a new town, careless with money. Would it be unkind to speculate that her secret is, she’s an escort?

Maybe that.

Or maybe she’s married to someone rich, but that didn’t make her happy because she failed in her dream to be an actress, and she married for the wrong reason (money, not love). That would give Harry a reason to feel that she would have been happier with him, whom she would have loved because he was Harry the sensitive singer-song writer, even though he didn’t have any money.

And he drives her to a “handsome home” with a gate and “fine trimmed lawns” which sounds more like a place where you live when you are married rather than a place where a prostitute would live. Although maybe she’s like a Holly Golightly.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

January 18, 2017 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Music videos

49 Responses

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  1. I see a little bit of this in the way La La Land ends.

    Sgt. Joe Friday

    January 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm

  2. Hm. Failed actress in a new town, careless with money. Would it be unkind to speculate that her secret is, she’s an escort?

    Glengarry

    January 18, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    • Driving her somewhere nice might be to her home, or it could just be to her next assignation. But today I’m feeling naively optimistic about humanity, so I’ll leave this hypothesis as a mere speculation.

      Glengarry

      January 19, 2017 at 3:48 am

    • My impression from the song is that she just got married and had kids

      Mike Street Station

      January 19, 2017 at 6:29 am

  3. It may not be his best work (that would be his cover of “Common People” alongside Joe Jackson) , but his cover of “Taxi” is definitely Shatner’s most impassioned work:

    PerezHBD

    January 18, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    • That’s hilarious! And the thing is, I can’t tell if it’s an intentional parody or if Shatner unironically thinks he’s reinterpreting the song.

      And would anyone even care about Shatner if he hadn’t played Captain Kirk in that TV series?

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 18, 2017 at 2:50 pm

      • If I were to be a one hit wonder I would rather it be in television than in the movies. Due to reruns and nostalgia, one could star in one good TV series and milk it for cash and celebrity for decades where even Academy Award winners in the movies can slip into the memory hole and not do anything important again. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Adam West never had to worry about a payday again after their brief turn in television. Contrast this with, say, Adrien Brody. He won an academy award at a young age in the Pianist in 2002 and has never done anything significant since. And I’ll bet his paychecks since haven’t been that impressive (for Hollywood, that is).

        Daniel

        January 18, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      • “.. would anyone even care about Shatner if he hadn’t played Captain Kirk in that TV series?”

        That’s the height of silliness. Shatner is a national treasure, espscially because he can laugh at himself. See the episide of the Larry Sanders Show where Shandling and his staff make fun of him in a speaker-phone call while Shatner tries to talk about his various non-Star Trek projects. My dream gokf foursome: Shatner, George Orwell, and Jill St. John.

        marty

        January 18, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      • I agree that Shatner has a great self-deprecating sense of humor about his career. Unlike the guy who played Jean Luc Picard.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        January 18, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      • Shatner is just as self-aware as he needs to be. His Twitter feed (possibly not written by him) is extremely complicated. Shatner reminds me of Gary Shteyngart and of Lion as being very self-aware liberal intellectuals from, respectively, Canada, Russia, and (I think) Manhattan. Also, Shatner was really good as Alyosha in the Brothers Karamazov. Smarter than most presidents and senators and Oscar winners, for sure.

        howitzer daniel

        January 18, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      • ” Adam West never had to worry about a payday again”

        Back in the early 80s I tended bar at a social event and Adam West sat at the bar alone as I poured him stiff drinks all night long while he complained about the crappy roles he was getting at that time. We got on. Whether he did or didn’t have to worry about a payday again I can report that playing dumb roles is not satisfying for some actors. Many men crave having something to strive for, actors included. BTW – tending bar can be a lot of fun.

        Curle

        January 19, 2017 at 1:05 am

      • @Daniel: Due to reruns and nostalgia, one could star in one good TV series and milk it for cash and celebrity for decades

        And even become huge in Germany like David Hasselhoff!

        E. Rekshun

        January 19, 2017 at 4:53 am

      • @Lion 5:21

        Not sure if serious, but Patrick Stewart has a great sense of humor.

        ScarletNumber

        January 20, 2017 at 5:44 pm

  4. Also, in the early 80’s he had a small hit with Sequel, which further told the story of the two people in Taxi. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bD8sZFe9zxw

    momomoliere

    January 18, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    • “Sequel” shows that although Harry claimed to view Sue with pity in the original song, he really didn’t enjoy the way she made him feel like a loser, so when he became successful he went to great trouble to seek her out so he could wave his wallet and pointedly leave it to his fans’ imagination about whether or not he boned her.

      Richard

      January 18, 2017 at 5:37 pm

      • Not a fan of the sequel. It takes away some of the mystery of the first song, without adding much insight.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        January 18, 2017 at 8:48 pm

      • “Taxi” is about the honesty and confusion of a chance encounter, while “Sequel” is about scripting a scene in your life for your own emotional benefit.

        Richard

        January 19, 2017 at 11:57 am

      • Harry has become self-actualized by the time he planned out what to do in Sequel.

        momomoliere

        January 19, 2017 at 3:52 pm

  5. Anthony Weiner attended Brooklyn Tech. Another reason for Brooklyn Techies to feel inferior to Stuyvesant alumni.

    On the plus side, though. I’ll bet Brooklyn Tech is far less Asian than Stuyvesant, so at least it approximates a normal high school social experience.

    Lion, do you think that if Stuyvesant had the demographics in your day that it has today (70% Asian) you would have attended, or would you rather have just toughed it out in some Guido school in Staten Island?

    Daniel

    January 18, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    • Today there’s a new restricted entrance public school in Staten Island that has a lot of Russian kids.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 18, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    • “Another reason for Brooklyn Techies to feel inferior to Stuyvesant alumni.”

      I wouldn’t jump the gun there regarding inferiority. Weiner appears to have big equipment which goes a long way with many women. I know a guy who appears hopeless on the outside but attracts a lot of hot women. The inexplicable only makes sense once you learn about his hidden secret. The women who say it doesn’t matter are lying.

      Curle

      January 19, 2017 at 1:14 am

  6. She’s obviously “acting happy” in her marriage because she married for money. One of the not-so-subtle nods to feminism ubiquitous in most 70’s music.

    culdesachero

    January 18, 2017 at 3:48 pm

  7. Jeez, I’m surprised the dating veterans here haven’t chimed in with their stories of old flames who married up but nevertheless ended up miserable. Could it be that money is all-important after all?

    mel belli

    January 18, 2017 at 4:12 pm

  8. “…and Harry was going to “learn to fly,” which I presume means he wanted to become a pilot, but that obviously never happened…”

    Oh, dear. Poor, naive Lion. It was 1972. “I was gonna learn to fly” is almost certainly a drug reference.

    Gerald

    January 18, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    • No way!

      So now that I think about it, “flying in my taxi” is a double entendre for indicating that he’s driving fast, or that he’s driving stoned. However, I still believe that the song means he initially dreamed of becoming a pilot. Young people imagine doing important things when they grow older, they don’t imagine becoming a druggie.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 18, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      • “he initially dreamed of becoming a pilot.” Here, you are correct. In the last verse he explains that he now flies ‘when he is stoned’. I.E. he failed in his dreams and now he’s a loser druggy driving a cab. She “acts” out being a happy wife, he “flies” when he gets high. I listened to this song a thousand times on local classic rock stations growing up. How I long for the days when song writers tried to employ irony.

        culdesachero

        January 18, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    • Right after undergrad, “I was gonna learn to fly” as a pilot in the USMC until I failed the eye test. I ended up accepting a software job w/ a large government defense contractor.

      E. Rekshun

      January 19, 2017 at 4:59 am

  9. Excellent analysis of this early ’70s hit!

    That’s why I like the songs of the 1970s, because they are less politically correct.

    Not only that, many of the artists from the ’70s were true singer-songwriters, played an instrument, and recorded w/o the aid of electronic voice trickery. Oh, and they weren’t always pretty.

    These are the kind of deep lyrics you get when Ivy League caliber people write songs.

    Not quite as profound as Chapin’s lyrics, but Huey Lewis had a few fun hits in the mid-80s and, while he did not graduate, also attended Cornell and scores a perfect 800 on the math SAT. I saw Huey Lewis in 1986 at the old Boston Harden.

    which sounds more like a place where you live when you are married rather than a place where a prostitute would live. Although maybe she’s like a Holly Golightly.

    Sue is probably a kept woman married to a wealthy older guy and tipped Harry out of her allowance.

    E. Rekshun

    January 18, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    • Huey Lewis and the News: technically proficient 80s pop-rock with a fifties edge to it. Good stuff (although a little boring), but not deep like Harry Chapin’s folk rock.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 18, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      • You want deep. Try James Taylor singing about the day he learned his girlfriend from the mental institution committed suicide.

        “But I always thought that I’d see you again . . . ”

        http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=james+taylor&view=detail&mid=E8BEB4A0146043B415F8E8BEB4A0146043B415F8&FORM=VIRE

        Curle

        January 19, 2017 at 1:21 am

      • @Curle: That gave me goosebumps.

        Here’s two more emotional ones – from 1971 – Neil Young and just his guitar & harmonica, Old Man and Heart of Gold.

        While Tayor never graduated from college and struggled as a young adult with depression and drug abuse, Taylor’s father was a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and later a professor at UNC School of Medicine. Neither Taylor nor Young graduated from college but they’re both in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. These long-haired, White male early ’70s singer-songwriter musicians were talented!

        E. Rekshun

        January 19, 2017 at 11:10 am

      • And Neil Young didn’t succeed based on his looks, either.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        January 19, 2017 at 11:58 am

      • It’s impressive how he can play the harmonica and the guitar at the same time.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        January 19, 2017 at 12:04 pm

      • For some deep stuff, why not Lou Reed? Jew. New Yorker. In the 70s, when NYC was interesting.

        Glengarry

        January 19, 2017 at 3:54 pm

  10. If you want to learn how to play the drums, get some of the old instruction books by Harry Chapin’s father, Jim Chapin. Will get you down on those snare drum rudiments that are the basis for all good drumming. Most drummers suck because they never learned the basics. The drums are the easiest instrument to approach but one of the most difficult to get good or excellent at.

    Daniel

    January 18, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    • I recently read that Ringo Starr is the world’s riches drummer, followed by Phil Collins.

      E. Rekshun

      January 19, 2017 at 5:01 am

  11. I’m surprised you explicated such a well-known song (and without mentioning Sylvia Plath which is the most unusual part of it.) Maybe do the same for “Lyin Eyes” which describes an equivilent woman to the point of extreme banality:

    onetwothree

    January 18, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    • Well known to people in their fifties, I bet that college students today never heard it.

      (Love Don Henley’s white man’s afro in the Eagles video.)

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 18, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    • >>…which describes an equivilent woman to the point of extreme banality:

      Well, most women are banal. It’s refreshing to hear songs/movies/art that treat of women in practice rather than in theory.

      Daniel

      January 19, 2017 at 12:56 am

    • Yes, I was going to mention this Glenn Frey/Eagles hit, but Frey merely attended Oakland Community College (Oakland County, MI).

      E. Rekshun

      January 19, 2017 at 5:04 am

  12. Interesting that Chapin went to Brooklyn Tech (as did one or two (?) of Bill DeBlasio’s kids as well). You are right in that Tech and Bronx Science (my own alma mater) held their own and then some with Stuyvesant back in those days, but have fallen far behind now. Hardly any of Science’s students now come from The Bronx, with large numbers coming from Queens. In fact, there are bus services for those students to save them from the arduous subway trip, and even transportation scholarships to defray the costs for poorer students. I think it’s just a matter of time before the school itself is moved to Queens for the convenience of its students.

    sestamibi

    January 18, 2017 at 8:20 pm

  13. If you want deeper songs these days, you gotta go with the country chicks, like the great Miranda Lambert.

    peterike

    January 19, 2017 at 10:45 am

  14. “I agree that Shatner has a great self-deprecating sense of humor about his career. Unlike the guy who played Jean Luc Picard”

    That’s not fair. Unlike William Shatner, Patrick Stewart is an actor with a serious reputation. In spite of that he is quite funny and gives good interviews. I heard him on a radio programme once where the interviewer said ‘it’s funny how you never seemed to visit any boring planets’ and Patrick Stewart replied ‘well we did, they just never show those episodes’. If you get interviwed enough on a subject I suppose you will build up a repetoire of lines like that.

    prolier than thou

    January 19, 2017 at 11:50 am

  15. The moral of the story- ‘she’s acting happy’- closing verse seems hackneyed. He also finishes ‘Cats in the Cradle’ with the ham-handed, spell-out-the-meaning of the song closing ‘he grown up just like me, my boy is just like me’.

    I think a lot of 70’s songs have that tendency to commit the supposed middle-brow, Victorian sin of overtly spelling out the moral to be imparted. Which is kind of odd for a guy like Chapin who, as you pointed out, was Ivy-League educated and one would assume probably aware of the modernist high-brow standard that you aren’t supposed to spell out the meaning. Maybe it was just too much to resist for the young singer-songwriters of the 70’s, who had enormous cultural relevance with their young audience, to avoid making sure their audience got the message they wanted to convey.

    trey

    January 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    • The whole point of the song was that the boy wanted to be just like his dad, and then at the end he was.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 19, 2017 at 12:47 pm

      • OK, you may have a point. I actually just listened to the end verse before I posted and forgot that the end verse was also an ironic observation that echoes a somewhat innocent description stated at the beginning. Kind of clever but I do think the over-all overtly message-y statement of the song would be dismissed by modernist critics (of which there were many I’m sure at Cornell when Chapin was there) as too ham-handed.

        But anyways, I think I’m about the same age as you and I remember how Cats in the Cradle was an absolute obsession with me and my peers when it first came out. Maybe I was a little harsh in judging it because of a backlash against its extreme popularity. It’s a good song and the message, though maybe a bit overly blatant, is worthwhile.

        Let me add this observation. Maybe the reason Victorian lit got the reputation for being overly blatant with its ‘the moral of this story’ aspect for the same reason some 70’s youth music purveyors did: they both were at their times at the center of their cultures and couldn’t resist the temptation to use that power to try to have as much impact on the moral values of their audience as possible, even if it meant being perceived as preachy.

        trey

        January 19, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    • And many of those 70’s songs as you described became hits by building an inevitable momentum by popular demand, climbing the charts in an unexpected way as they spread like a virus across the nation. Sequel did this as well as Tainted Love by Soft Cell. Another over the top song that was released in the 70’s and became a large hit in the 80’s was this over the top, spell it out, touch on abortion hit—-

      momomoliere

      January 19, 2017 at 3:56 pm

  16. Harry Chapin was a hack compared to Don McLean. This song is probably in the top 3 most important 70’s songs. It summarizes the loss of innocence in America and is notable for it’s critical attitude towards the hippy 60’s including the Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Byrds as well as it’s anti-Marxist/ pro-American attitude.

    culdesachero

    February 3, 2017 at 8:26 pm


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