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.

The Next Chapter

To practice the living of one’s life as “storied,” it may first be necessary to experience the idea as a meaningful one. The beauty of stories, their telling and living is an art coming from more than the deciphering of meanings, moral lessons, endings, or truth – as influential as those things may be. As I hope to show, they’re not the whole story. All stories, and especially the story we tell ourselves, need a willing participation, an immersion into deeply lived characters, especially to see our life in story form.

Stories speak to the heart and soul through the primary language of symbol and image, and what Hillman, Jung and others referred to as personifications, meaning the voicing of archetypal qualities speaking through and around us.

Whether we see or believe in it or not, personifying goes on in and all around us. It is human nature to experience the world through the animating vehicles of voice and sound and through the physical senses of hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and seeing. But we moderns are not all comfortable with the notion that something other than “me” speaks through me. Sounds too much like possession which we associate with evil powers. We counter that fear by believing that we are the god; the sole voice and agent of our being. We’re carrying a lot of weight around with that belief. Perhaps that is why we seem desperate at times for ideas about, and ways to move beyond, this world. We are perhaps uninitiated, yet to be born.

Guatamalan masks

Persona to the Greeks referred to the voicings that came through the masks used in drama. These voices were known as the powers that be, the gods that transcend us, or speak through animals and natural powers like the wind and the sea. They enter us through sacred feasting of sacrifice and communion, where they then speak through us, giving us a bit of their power. For us moderns, especially those who believe we come into this world as a blank sheet of paper, an open book waiting to be written on, this idea may seem archaic, animistic, distasteful, unscientific, ridiculous, or just unnecessary. We tend towards notions of purity and innocence, blank slates, especially in our young and the vulnerable we care for.

Although we fear going backwards in time to a world we moderns view as less “enlightened,” favoring the idea that we need to progress, I believe the fear is unwarranted. Our hostility towards the idea of animistic and superstitious thinking has thoroughly landed us in yet another fantasy we refer to as “reality,” which does us a disservice by dividing all our experience of the world into either the real or unreal (imaginary) – categories that more often than not shrink our view of the world while burdening us with the hubris of believing we know more than we do. If ever we were to regain a sense of the world as being alive, it would not come about by a fall backwards in time, which is impossible, but through regaining an acute sensitivity and embodiment of human experience in this world through a deeper, more expansive imagination.

The Little Lame Prince and His Traveling Cloak

If some affinity with the natural world is not regained, our modern conviction that we now live in “reality,” freed from superstitions of an animistic past, renders the soul meaningless, if not incomprehensible, cutting us off from experiencing the aliveness of the world, oneself and others. The consciousness that imagines itself to live in “reality” is slowly imprisoning itself, alienated to a dead hostile world that we have either lost, killed, or must fix, or transcend altogether. Nature, as other – cute, innocent and cuddly, is outside of us, especially our human nature. The jungle once outside, has shifted to inside of us and we live forever taming something we can’t quite rein in without a continuum of sensory overload, medication, busyness, hope, purpose, work, shopping, meditation or worship of one kind or another. The bear in the woods is now our friend, the one in our dream, if we dream at all, wants to kill us.

It is common, especially in the west, to think of babies and children as innocent and untouched by the harshness of life. It is this idea that Hillman says leads us to placing undue blame and focus on family and society for who we are. Perhaps as an inverse reaction to the Christian notion of Original Sin, we go full circle in rebellion against its claim of an indebtedness we no longer feel or acknowledge. The burden of history as solid and real facts is just too great. Guilt is a sin.

But not all cultures imagine our entrance into this world in the same way. For other cultures, in other times and place, we come into this world from another world beyond us – a world that includes the ancestors, angels and other powers who already know us. Our birth then, is a “sleep and forgetting,” as Norman O. Brown puts it. Our initiation marks the beginning of a remembrence of who we are.

Persons, or personifying are very primary ways to experience the world and make sense of it all. We do this naturally, through the telling of stories within the family circle, watching movies and television, fantasy, imaginary friends, or enjoying a good book. We look to the characters to re-member ourselves, finding our unique character through attraction and repulsion to them. But in making hard and fast distinctions between the story we tell ourselves as the one and only real story, to stories we deem as fiction, we obligate ourselves to think of truth as something fully comprehensible by us. Here is where we may lose the beauty of story by failing to understand its ability to move us through many levels and layers through which we receive the gift of a multi-dimensional experience.

File:Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 01.djvuAt another level, what is personified in us, is an expression of ideas and feelings, bits and parts that speak and live through us, that in varying degrees we are aware of as not entirely ours. Some, if not most of these parts, as Jung pointed out, are very collective in nature; ideas and feelings shared in the culture, or our cultural past, but whose source goes far beyond that. I take Jung’s idea of Individuation to mean coming to over time, an acceptance and appreciation of the fathomless dimensions of the possibilities of what he called the Self. I believe we are each a unique expression of that totality without being the totality ourselves.

If we accept and expect that our thinking and feeling comes through imagination then the way we tell and hear stories also matters. Do we fear the loss of what we keep calling reality? Don’t the many revisions of your life show the shedding of your snake’s skin, and yet, not bring you any closer to total comprehension of truth of the nature of world? Perhaps through awareness of the many revisions we have already made in our reimagining of the world, we allow ourselves to live each vision more fully immersed and alive in acceptance of our very human nature, which begins with a fantasy, a dream, an idea, a story.

Then we may ask, what is it that makes our sense of reality ring true? If we listen to ourselves and others with an ear for story, rich and layered, we may bend ourselves, inclined to listen to the voices of the powers that be.

Addendum:
If you’ve made it this far, I apologize for the lengthiness. The last several years I have been giving much thought to how it is we perceive and define the nature of the world, ourselves and others through image, story and language. If many of the ideas here seem repetitive, perhaps there is something at root trying to take shape. Repetition is not only compulsive habit, but may allow us to see the same things in a new way. I want to state clearly that all I am ever capable of saying or knowing, comes through my own limitations and expansions. I say this perhaps to ward off the notion that I am somehow above the ideas I am writing about. Much credit goes to many who touch me, that I am most grateful to and hope to honor here. The ideas then, although I take responsibility for, are both from and for them, including the ancestors, angels and all the invisibles who have graced me with their presence, some of whom I hope have enjoyed these glimpses at the shared and vibrant mystery of our existence. DK