Harry Chapin, “Taxi”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

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John Lennon (and others before him) said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Kenny Chesney said, “Don’t Blink.” The passage of time is the subject of Harry Chapin’s 1972 hit “Taxi,” a song about turning dreams into reality before we wake up one day to find that years have disappeared.

From his first album Heads & Tales, “Taxi” established Chapin as a major writing talent and an idiosyncratic, but accomplished, vocalist. In the role of a taxi driver, Chapin sings about picking up a fare who turns out to be an old flame on a rainy night. He speaks of how the two ended their lusty relationship to go their separate ways in pursuit of youthful ambitions, but a decade or so later (as Chapin wasn’t yet 30 years old when he cut this) they turned out to not have found much success. Or did they?       

In a masterful bridge of sorts, Chapin captures the angst of what so many people with big dreams go  through when they realize the flame is still flickering, but they’ve been skating through life and settling for second best or less: 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/cNot what my life’s about/ ’Cause I’ve been letting my outside tide me/ Over ’til my time, runs out.

Following that passage, Chapin’s bass player sings in falsetto, 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. On Wikipedia these lines are attributed to the late poet Sylvia Plath, but no citation is noted, and an examination of Plath’s work finds no basis for this assertion. She died nearly a decade before this song was recorded and only Chapin’s name is on the copyright, so the claim is dubious at best. Anyone with any real knowledge of this is encouraged to leave a comment below to help set the record straight.

The song ends with the driver, who had wanted to be a pilot, justifying his life by saying that he still gets to fly when he’s stoned in his cab. And the woman, who had wanted to be an actress, now lives a relatively affluent life and gets to act like she’s satisfied with it. So in a sense, they both got what they wanted. Chapin picked up where “Taxi” leaves off in 1980 with the single “Sequel,” a song about a reunion of the man and woman set to a re-arrangement of essentially the same chord changes.

Clocking in at over six minutes, the cinematic “Taxi” was a longshot to get action as a radio single, but it did well on the charts and gave Chapin huge career momentum. Chapin, from a family of notable musicians who include daughter Jen Chapin, died in a car wreck in 1981. But he left an impressive body of work that includes “Taxi,” which many consider his finest song.

Read the lyrics. 

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