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.

Remembering Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger2 - 6-16-07 Photo by Anthony Pepitone.jpgI was saddened to hear of Pete’s passing today at the age of 94, but grateful, not only for having seen Pete perform, but for his service to the community that enriched so many lives, and particularly for his contribution to help clean up the Hudson river.

While still living in New York, I had a few opportunities to attend Pete’s concerts playing and singing alongside Arlo Guthrie. Through songs and stories, their performances were always spirited with a love of music and their sharing that love with us. The more Pete could get the audience to participate, the more excited he would get. It would have been a challenge even for the most hardened among us to not feel some enthusiasm witnessing his raw, energetic presence.

Through and beyond the music, Pete had a vision of peace and opportunity for all. Making good use of the time in which he was banned from commercial television, he shared his love of music with school children, encouraging them to sing along. Even after financial success, he kept to a simple life living on a 17 acre farm in upstate New York. Up until the last few days of his life, friends say he still chopped his own wood as he had done most of his adult life.
Here is an excerpt of what I wrote about Pete back in the summer:

Recently, watching a documentary, titled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007), I was struck by the life of this man; one of music, authenticity, energy, controversy, along with contributions to the community that I was unaware of. I have always been a fan of his live performances with Arlo Guthrie, and am thankful to have seen them perform together a few times in 70’s, and the 80’s in small venues on Long Island where I lived at the time. Through interviews, the movie showed Pete’s efforts towards making a more peaceful world both in the way he lived his life and in local causes he embraced.

Bear Mtn Bridge.jpgOne of Pete’s legacies was his initiation of a successful community based effort to clean up the Hudson river in NY by raising awareness of the issue and funding for a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning up the river and advocating for corporate responsibility for damages done and better stewardship in the future.

There are many others, alive and dead, famous or not, that have dedicated their lives to working for peace. I applaud Pete for working at the local level to make a difference to the local and not so local community.

A petition for a Nobel Prize for Pete Seeger:

http://www.nobelprize4pete.org/

Duende

Browsing the WordPress reader I was pleased to be reminded of Duende by blogger Jaq who has a great blog at Ars, Arte et Labore.

Jaq links to a lecture on Duende by 20th century Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca:

“In his brilliant lecture entitled “The Theory and Play of Duende” Federico García Lorca attempts to shed some light on the haunting and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art.”

I am not familiar with Lorca, but enjoyed reading his lecture on the Duende so much that I thought I would post the links here and say a little bit about Duende.

Lorca begins the lecture by quoting Manuel Torre:

And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that.”

Duende is associated with dark spaces, dark sounds, tragedy, wounds that never completely heal and only appears where there is the possibility of death alongside life:

“When the Muse sees death appear she closes the door, or builds a plinth, or displays an urn and writes an epitaph with her waxen hand, but afterwards she returns to tending her laurel in a silence that shivers between two breezes. Beneath the broken arch of the ode, she binds, in funereal harmony, the precise flowers painted by fifteenth century Italians and calls up Lucretius’ faithful cockerel, by whom unforeseen shadows are dispelled.

When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!

The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.

With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work.

Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’”

Storyteller Michael Meade, who I first heard speak and tell stories at conferences with James Hillman and Robert Bly, works with at risk youth by connecting them back to myth, ritual and story in their own lives. He has written some very good books and has lived an interesting life that includes spending time in a military prison for declining the opportunity to fight in the Vietnam war. He writes of Duende:

File:Archway in Paigah tombs.JPG

“Duende is power, not simply work and not only thought, but a struggle with spirit in the blood. Not a question simply of talent given or skill earned, but an issue of genius entering life at the moment of birth and continuing to whisper dark notes to the mind and the heart. More a matter of true living style, of style written in the soul and born anew each time the self is willing to die again. Duende is the power that compels us to sing the song within despite and because we are torn apart by living. It is a sacrifice growing within, a tragedy pursed at the edge of knowing, a little dance with death that make life more than simple possibility.”

Duende helps me understand (on a good day anyway), that there’s value in the wound when we can make room for the gifts that come out of woundedness that is suffered both from personal tragedy and as a condition of life. The suffering that birth exposes us to along with life’s tragic experiences that are common to all although dark in nature, create an opening and a space. The darkness, when experienced through woundedness makes an opening that is the space in which creative energy wells up from the chthonic depths deep within the earth.

“Duende is the wound-womb we cannot hide and only suffer more each time we try to cover it over. The wound burdened with its songs and mysteries, always on the verge of reopening, perpetuating the specifics of sorrow, drawing us to its dark waters, creating out of painful necessity all the arts of healing.”

“The real dilemmas of life are never solved; the darkness between notes is never relieved, for each art and each life arises from that ancient ground- the mud of all creation, inviting us into the fervid dance that eschews progress in favor of being. The deeper song of life and death intoned again through us; the requirement that those who receive the gift of breath fashion the world over again.” 

A link to Jaq’s blog:

http://supersededotcom.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/the-theory-and-play-of-duende-federico-garcia-lorca/#comment-936

And to the Lorca lecture:

http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Spanish/LorcaDuende.htm

Photo from Wiki Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Archway_in_Paigah_tombs.JPG

Muir of Ord

This weekend I won’t have much time to write. I’ll be off enjoying a weekend of pipes, drums and good friends.

“There’s an African proverb: “When death finds you, may it find you alive.” Alive means living your own damn life, not the life that your parents wanted, or the life some cultural group or political party wanted, but the life that your own soul wants to live. That’s the way to evaluate whether you are an authentic person or not.” Michael Meade

Droid_01-10-2010 033What feels authentic for me is doing the things that I love. One of those things, which took root around the age of four, was the desire to drum. As a child I quietly obsessed over drumming, doing everything I could to learn by proxy, because in the 1960’s the idea of a girl playing the drums did not sit right with my parents, especially if the girl was me.

Except for my dear Grandpa, I was pretty much discouraged from playing drums until Karen Carpenter came on the scene and my parents had to concede that just maybe it would be okay for me to take up drumming. By this time I had already made a drum kit in the basement using cardboard boxes and my dad’s table saw blades for cymbals. I was ready to be taken seriously.

243Through the years, I have been drumming on and off on a casual basis, jamming with friends, occasionally playing out at parties and public venues.

For the last five years I have been playing side drum in a bag pipe band. It’s a very technically demanding sport and you must be able to endure the kilt, the pipes, marching in long parades and a lot of memorization of scores. We get to play some pretty amazing gigs – college graduations, fairs, memorials, parades and even once played for Billy Ray Cyrus’s television show “Surprise Homecoming.”

So, I am off this weekend to play once again with the Oregon Defense Force Pipe band at the Portland Highland games and then again on Sunday at the Salem Art Fair. Happy weekend everyone!

Here is the band at a recent gig at the Newport Celtic Festival:

…and one more featuring me along with my Pipe Major playing my 2/4 competition score, Muir of Ord:

Below is a photo of us during the recording of “Surprise Homecoming.”

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