August 7, 2014 • 4:35 am

Harry Chapin lived only 39 years (1942-1981), and died under somewhat mysterious circumstances: it was in a car wreck in New York City, but that might have been preceded by a heart attack due to overwork.  I doubt that many of you who are under 40 have heard of him.  But Chapin produced two world-class songs (and here, of course, people will disagree): “Taxi,” and “Cat’s in the Cradle.

Both songs are impeccable, with great music combined with a real-life story that resonates with many. “Cat’s in the Cradle” is about a young man’s difficult relationship with his dad; and it recalls my own youth. My dad was a terrific guy, though somewhat emotionally reserved, and when I went home for visits I would squirm inside until sufficient time had passed that I could ask to borrow the car keys to visit my friends. That’s one line in the song.

“Taxi”, recorded in 1972, stands for all lost hopes, lost loves, smashed dreams, The One Who Got Away, and is partly based on Chapin’s real-life experience as a taxi driver.  The Wikipedia article gives the “plot,” but you should listen. The only part that’s hard to understand is the falsetto interpolation in the middle, which was actually sung by John Wallace, the male bass player, as he does here at 3:40.. The words are:

Baby’s so high, that she’s skying
Yes she’s flying, afraid to fall
I’ll tell you why baby’s crying
Cause she’s dying, aren’t we all…

From the Wikipedia article:

Chapin debuted the song on NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1972, which was followed by many calls and telegrams sent from viewers to NBC demanding that Chapin return to the show. It was the first time in the show’s history that host Johnny Carson brought a performer back the very next night for an encore performance

The original recording is here, but I always like live performances. This is one, and though it doesn’t come up to the quality of the recording, it’s pretty close.

This is an example of pop songwriting as it should be; it’s the seven-minute equivalent of a novel. It affects me in a particularly personal way, but maybe it will with you, too. It was also a favorite of my late best friend, Kenny.

Good lines:

Oh, I’ve got something inside me
To drive a princess blind
There’s a wild man, wizard
He’s hiding in me, illuminating my mind.
Oh, I’ve got something inside me
Not what my life’s about;
‘Cause I’ve been letting my outside tide me
Over ’til my time runs out.

Life is way too short.



27 thoughts on “Taxi

  1. “Cat’s in the Cradle“ is a great song. Thanks for the listen. Parents and children have a tendency to think they are not on the same wavelength, when in fact, they usually want the same thing.

  2. I have always loved “Taxi.” “Cat’s in the Cradle” is also terrific–I recall a friend of mine saying sadly that this is how he remembered his relationship with his dad. There are a few other songs of Chapin’s that I like but I agree, these are the best.

  3. “Cat’s in the Cradle” is the saddest song I know. I come close to tears every time I hear it. Luckily I have always had a great relationship with my father, and we have always made time for one another.

  4. “But another man never would have let her go…” Thanks a heap…been trying to forget that for oh so long.

  5. One of my favorite albums is Greatest Stories Live. 30,000 Pounds of Bananas is a fun track to listen to and it also has Taxi and Cat’s in the Cradle and others that are wonderful stories. A Better Place to Be is also a favorite song of his.

    1. I really like that one as well. The degree of nostalgia that it causes in me is nearly unbearable. If I ever found myself drunk and alone during the holidays and heard this song I’d be blubbering in no time. That happened once or twice in my younger days, but luckily it is very unlikely to ever happen again.

  6. I grew up in upstate NY, and made an annual trek (of a whole 45 minutes) to Saratoga Performing Arts Center annually to hear Harry Chapin in concert. He and his band used to drive up from Long Island for his concerts there. I think he was at his best in a live performance. He was one of my favorite singer-songwriters.

  7. I was fortunate enough to see Harry (just him, without the band) a couple of times in Tulsa, back in the late 70s. One time the venue was at Oral Roberts University (yeah, I know). Harry pointed this out before one of the alternate endings to “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” when he shouted out THIS ONE’S FOR YOU, ORAL!

  8. As kids we (sibblings and I) wore out my parent’s LP of “Verities and Balderdash” (actually we wore 2 copies) playing “Cat’s in the Cradle” and “30,000 lbs of Bananas”

    And I’m still a sight short of 40 (Though it must be said that my parents were relatively old when they started having children and I was close to a decade behind the oldest).

  9. Yeah, it’s a bit corny, but a great song nonetheless. Speaks of the all too human regrets of the past as well as melancholy associated with reflecting on the past.

  10. For some reason makes me muse on what my favorite “atheist” song is. Many would pick Lennon’s “Imagine,” but my personal fav would be Laura Nyro (her version) of “And when I die.”

  11. Harry’s concerts were just fun. Others have mentioned good songs he did, if you haven’t you should enjoy some of his storytelling in song called “Bluesman” the live version [watch?v=_wLtvgSxafQ]. He really was more appreciated in person than trying to make his music conform to industry standards. He was both playful and sad, and I really felt a deep sense of loss at his passing.

  12. I’m happy to say that I’m 30 and know exactly who Harry Chapin was – my favorite of his songs is Flowers are Red. When I took Psych 101 at Cornell in 2001, Jim Maas played that song for us at some point during the course. I believe he had known Chapin during his time at Cornell. That got me into more of his music, but I’ve always loved that song particularly as a statement on education and what it should be about. As a biology professor now, the principal still applies for me, no matter what I teach or how old the students are.

  13. Thank you for the Harry Chapin reminder. I had a hard time with his death. Probably because of the depth in his story telling.

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