Taxi

If it weren’t for two of my dear High School friends, I may not have this story to tell about singer, songwriter, Harry Chapin. But it was their invitation to go see him perform in our High School auditorium during our senior year that endeared me to his music. Harry, with just an acoustic guitar, gravelly voice and a love of story songs, sat on the edge of the stage playing simple renditions of his songs. When I heard him perform Taxi, I was smitten.

Seven notes; four major scale, and three minor scale, combine in a sequence that repeat throughout the song. I have often wondered how a simple sequence of notes could touch so deeply. And what about their relationship to the lyrics? Melody, through the relationship of the notes, turns sound into emotive expression.

Music, so primary to life, was perhaps our first language. Besides the music that we humans create and express, the world itself is forever humming away. Even the wind makes music.

The seven notes that start Taxi create a pulse between the major and minor chords, shifting the feeling back and forth from the bright, happy feel of the major chord, seamlessly into the sadness of the minor 7th. Bittersweet is what I hear, and indeed, permeates Harry’s tale of unexpectedly meeting his long ago lover.

It was raining hard in ‘Frisco,
I needed one more fare to make my night.
A lady up ahead waved to flag me down,
She got in at the light.

Oh, where you going to, my lady blue,
It’s a shame you ruined your gown in the rain.
She just looked out the window, and said
“Sixteen Parkside Lane”.

Something about her was familiar
I could swear I’d seen her face before,
But she said, “I’m sure you’re mistaken”
And she didn’t say anything more.

It took a while, but she looked in the mirror,
And she glanced at the license for my name.
A smile seemed to come to her slowly,
It was a sad smile, just the same.
And she said, “How are you Harry?”
I said, “How are you Sue?
Through the too many miles
and the too little smiles
I still remember you.”

The first verse indicates the necessity of the ride and “one more fare.” Mobility then is the theme, with the vehicle in this case being the work of a taxi driver. Lady blue herself, seems a mix of bittersweet, beautifully dressed in a gown now ruined in the rain. She doesn’t notice Harry, but he recognizes her. At first she denies any connection, but when she sees his reflection in the mirror, she smiles, but again, it’s sad.

It was somewhere in a fairy tale,
I used to take her home in my car.
We learned about love in the back of the Dodge,
The lesson hadn’t gone too far.
You see, she was gonna be an actress,
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off to find the sky.

“NYC Taxi in motion” by The Wordsmith – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A fairy tale, yes. We’re now in a story where the significance changes from my personal past, to the mythological, where what matters to soul and one’s fate is now in play. The memories of the past may have happened, but the story moves us outside of time and into Kairos, or eternal time.

The lyric tells us of where the relationship diverges, through dreams and desires for what one wants to be. By necessity one must follow their path, in Harry’s case it’s through “flying,” an action or movement of oneself, which mythologically may be understood as transcendence. But Sue also seeks a form of transcendence by abandoning or transcending her identity through acting.

From here, the song moves to an interlude where Harry reflects on something deeply personal and I think quite profound.

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 ’till my time, runs out.

The drive perhaps leads him to know a part of himself that is autonomous and essential, which keep him “driving the princess blind.” Sue, and other feminine figures in his life, cannot see. Can they not see him, and does he not relate enough to know what they see? Is he trying to make sense of what it is that drives him so?

Harry’s fate may be foretold here I think. In the 70’s he became more and more involved in political action and humanitarian causes. He worked endlessly to raise money for food banks, giving away most of his fortune that came from the success of his music. But, as friends recall, he was often away from his family, and had trouble keeping a band together because he wanted to donate most of the proceeds to causes.

Next, we hear the beautiful high voice of John Wallace, in falsetto, singing these lines:

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.

Seeing the feminine figure as the one flying too high, Harry now brings death into the story. As if he is not afraid of his fate, he is compelled to live life frantically to serve what calls him.

There was not much more for us to talk about,
Whatever we had once was gone.
So I turned my cab into the driveway,
Past the gate and the fine trimmed lawns.
And she said we must get together,
But I knew it’d never be arranged.
And she handed me twenty dollars,
For a two fifty fare, she said
“Harry, keep the change.”
Well another man might have been angry,
And another man might have been hurt,
But another man never would have let her go…
I stashed the bill in my shirt.

He’s willing to let go of her – again, is it blindness or resignation to whatever fate has in store for him that harbors no remorse for the loss, gladly “keeping the change” that comes from their encounter?

And she walked away in silence,
It’s strange, how you never know,
But we’d both gotten what we’d asked for,
Such a long, long time ago.

There is acceptance here, which I think can only come as one feels their calling in a very intense way. The last verse reiterates the calling with the acknowledgement that their youthful dreams have been fulfilled.

You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off for the sky.
And here, she’s acting happy,
Inside her handsome home.
And me, I’m flying in my taxi,
Taking tips, and getting stoned,
I go flying so high, when I’m stoned.

Harry’s astrological birth chart is visually stunning. You can see it here, along with a bio of his life. I would love to know what any astrologers out there reading this might think about his chart.

On July 16, 1981, as I was working at Suffolk Life Newspapers on Long Island, in NY, it was announced over the radio that Harry had died on the Long Island Expressway in an accident. That night, I had plans to drive with some friends into Queens to watch the NY Mets play baseball. We drove by the scene where the accident had taken place. The 18-wheeler truck that rammed into Harry’s blue VW Rabbit, exploding the gas tank, was gone, but the skid marks and burnt grass were impossible to miss. Some think he may have had a heart attack which caused his car to veer in front of the truck.  It is a scene etched into my memory, as much as is Harry’s song and the legacy of his charities. He was post humously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his works.

…and in the end

“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” Lennon/McCartney

These thoughts touch upon my belief about beliefs; the nature of belief, and aim at peering into what, rather than how, or why, we have and hold them, near and dear to our hearts, as endings are sometimes necessary ideas along the way.

Along with the plot, characters and theme, stories too are snapshots; they begin, and at some point end. Endings invite reflections; of mortality, the nature of limits imposed upon us by time and other constraints, and also to openings through the movement of the story. We may ask, what happened, what did the story mean, did I like the story, who wrote it, did it end well?

But we might also ask, who am I in the story, and who am I not?

Stories tell us something and we in turn, tell them back, to each other and to ourselves. In many ways we live storied lives, in which we may sense an overarching theme, a calling, purpose or meta-pattern of our life.

We can also find the underpinnings, the ground of our life, as it presents itself in the minutia and detail of each day, each moment. We hear it in the question, “what happened?” We answer in story form, no matter how far or close our answer is to the truth. Truth, always slightly out of reach, no matter how much we desire, eludes us in spite of the hints of its existence we glimpse along the way. We experience A-ha moments, symbols, intuition, beauty, love, hate – and we may say, as I often do, “Oh truth, I know you’re out there. How I long for you, reveal to me your mysteries.”

Por los caminos de Málaga – Flickr: Endrino

But perhaps it’s the mixing of the particulars of what we do know, with a desire for a more unifying view of all that is, that begets our fall into a mythology of Endings, both of our personal existence and the story of the world. The plot of our life story drives us to our beliefs, our cosmology and affinity for the myths we live by. Perhaps we fall into belief too by design and the intentionality of the gods great scheming, which like gravity, maintain their hold on us, insisting that we too, have a part in the play.

Embedded in our telling though, is more than truth in the sense of some all-encompassing knowing. Embedded in our telling is revelation of the particular way we have of making sense of the world. By that I am suggesting that we each carry with us a certain intentionality that we are more or less aware of. The lovely Hawthorn tree in my front yard, from its seedling birth, to now, intends to be a Hawthorn, not an Oak, Maple, or Prairie Fire. We are, like them, limited by nature, historical and geographical circumstances, and yet contain a certain intentionality, ever sculpting and refining as we move toward our unique character and fate. Caught in the middle of absolutes we call predestination and free will, we float between these two absolutes, perhaps tempted to take sides.

The end of a story told then, might move us deeper into our own story. The unique and particular story living through each of us, with its own plots, characters, place and time, where we can sense intentionality wanting something from us. This wanting is, as James Hillman reflects in Healing Fiction, the play between desire, love, and soul. Soul as mediatrix,* an enlivening of events into experience for soulmaking, as Hillman sees in the dynamic of the story of Eros and Psyche.

“Does not this want of the soul reflect the essential nature of Eros whose mother was Penia (poverty, neediness, want)? And is it not this want which is present each time we are in love, whether in the transference of therapy or in the love that develops while engaged with a piece of imaginative work, a poem or novel?”

The endless desires of Eros is for Psyche, or soul. Eros leads to Psyche.

Hillman is speaking here of a patient in therapeutic engagement:

“Our example shows that he did not first love soul and then move his love to the world as a moral  duty: to do unto others. Nor was it that soul first loved him so that he could return this love to the world. The love itself changed its nature, as in the myth of Eros and Psyche. Now it was no longer his loving the soul or caring for it in Sorge, as an Ich vis-a-vis a Du. Now Psyche and Eros had come together indistinguishably: when he was with psyche, there was love that included him as one of its images and expanded “out” of its own accord into fellow feeling. Through feeling the importance of his psychic persons, he felt loved by them. There was no longer some one, a subject, loving some one else, an object.”

Hillman later quotes a dialogue of a patient using active imagination:

“It is not a question of giving space to others, or feeling their space, your patients, but of perceiving the exact place where they each are at, where they move within, what part of the house is theirs, accurately and small. Place qualifies space. The canvas is made of small soft brush strokes, the sculpture of chipping, the symphony of tiny notes. Molecules, each at an exact place. Each image is a placing. You can’t move small enough.”

As E.F. Schumacher says, “small is beautiful.” We live both in and out of the particulars of our circumstances, feet on the ground, and with every step a movement into an engagement with the images and particulars, the details that make up each moment. Love them and you may come to love others and the things in the world and see with soul, a mediation that brings love and engagement to all we encounter.

Orazio Gentileschi exposed the erotic vulnerability of the male figure in his Cupid and Psyche (1628–30)

“The soul wants many things – to be loved, to be heard, to be named and seen, to be taught, to be let out, out in the street, out of the prisons of psychological systems, out of the fiction of interiority which forces it to project itself to gain outer recognition. We know too it has a vital interest in the life and behavior of its keeper on whom it depends; but this interest is not in the life and behavior as such, to help it or cure it. Rather it seems to be an interest in life for soul’s sake. It seems to ask that our sense of first importance shift from life to soul, that life be given value in terms of soul and in preference to a soul valued in terms of life. Thus, it does not brook neglect in life – this above all; and so it is like the ancient gods who considered impiety to consist in one great sin, neglect.”

He is suggesting, and I would agree, that one way in which the world as a whole, and we as individuals, suffer, is through neglect of the small, the minutia of each moment. To live in want with an acceptance of what he refers to as the soul’s inferiority, may help us to recognize the spiritual drive away from soul towards perfection, insisting rather, that we either fix an idealized vision of the world into perfection, or have no world at all. That is very much a current running through our cultural mythology: apocalyptic, dire, either-or, nuclear-powered, climate-changing destruction which is hard not to believe in. It fuels both hope and hopelessness, moving our sights away from soul, replaced by a vision of the future shaped by our idealized beliefs.

“No psychological act can fully satisfy, no interpretation truly click like a key in a lock, no relationship of souls complete the lack and failure that reflects the essence of psyche. Imperfection is in its essence, and we are complete only by being in want. There will always be a mistake which is precisely what gives value to psychotherapeutic courage.”

Yes, the courage to live in the mess of our lives, the wounds that never quite heal, the others we can’t always help, the horrors taking place daily on the world stage, and to live with the intentionality of our unique character and calling.

All quotes from Hillman, James (2012-02-14). Healing Fiction. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

*My term, not Hillman’s, used here specifically for its feminine, but not necessarily religious connotation.

Remembering James Hillman

Well, it was two years ago today, October 27th, 2011, that James passed on. It was only in his passing that I am continually reminded of the gifts I received from him. Not from knowing him personally, although I was fortunate to have met him once, and will never forget that moment, the face-to-face, the silent stare – and being struck by deep love and kinship for his feisty way of seeing through ideas, the fearless invitation to rebel against conventional ways of understanding life and especially for his attention to language.

I have received many gifts from the years spent absorbing his ideas – lifesaving for me. From his deep love and appreciation of language, I have come to know that there are words for at least some of what is hidden in the world, and life brings us time, beauty and other gifts to share our expressions with each other.

I owe so much to this man…thank you James.

Here’s to James and his work, and to all who continue to be touched by his life and work.

James Hillman

An excerpt from an interview with Scott London on calling:

” I think the first step is the realization that each of us has such a thing. And then we must look back over our lives and look at some of the accidents and curiosities and oddities and troubles and sicknesses and begin to see more in those things than we saw before. It raises questions, so that when peculiar little accidents happen, you ask whether there is something else at work in your life. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve an out-of-body experience during surgery, or the sort of high-level magic that the new age hopes to press on us. It’s more a sensitivity, such as a person living in a tribal culture would have: the concept that there are other forces at work. A more reverential way of living.” 

On New Age vs. Science:

“Well, some reviewers have a scientistic ax to grind. To them, my book had to be either science or new age mush. It’s very hard in our adversarial society to find a third view. Take journalism, where everything is always presented as one person against another: “Now we’re going to hear the opposing view.” There is never a third view.

My book is about a third view. It says, yes, there’s genetics. Yes, there are chromosomes. Yes, there’s biology. Yes, there are environment, sociology, parenting, economics, class, and all of that. But there is something else, as well. So if you come at my book from the side of science, you see it as “new age.” If you come at the book from the side of the new age, you say it doesn’t go far enough — it’s too rational.”

And the best for last:

“I think it’s the pursuit that screws up happiness.”

http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/hillman.html

…and if that is still not enough AND especially if you’re old enough to begin to wonder about aging:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ja02wofquG8

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