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