Uber (nod to Harry Chapin)

About 23 years ago I started a poetry writing group in Chicago, where every week we invented an assignment for ourselves. On one occasion we decided to riff off pop songs (I interspersed Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” with my own lines), and on another we wrote our own songs (I composed a diatribe against Bill Gates called “Gates of Hell” that included a rousing chorus we sang in the coffeeshop — this was before Gates woke up and found philanthropy). Today I found a shirt from Southport Lanes, signed by the poetry group and other friends during my birthday party there in 1998.

While I haven’t been writing as much poetry, this weekend I drafted a song to follow Harry Chapin’s “TaxiandSequel“. 

Uber

… from the journey ‘tween heaven and hell,
With half the time thinking of what might have been,
And half thinking, just as well.

I took an Uber to Montauk that morning
To stay there a week or two
Before heading farther east out from JFK
For a Paris rendezvous

When the car hit the Long Island Expressway
And passed an exit sign in Jericho
I said to the driver in a voice hardly mine
There’s a place where I have to go

It took a while before he looked in the mirror
And to hear me, he turned down his song
Then he turned his car into the driveway
Past the gate and the fine-trimmed lawn

I walked among the stones that morning
Bowed back, in search of your name
A smile then came to me slowly
It was a sad smile just the same

And I said, How are you, Harry?
He’d have said, How are you, Sue?
Through the too many miles, and the too little smiles
I still remember you

You see, I was gonna be an actress
And he was gonna learn to fly
I took off to find the footlights
And he took off to find the sky

Don’t ask me if think often of him
Or whether I started to cry
Don’t ask me if I thought of what might have been
Better let sleeping dogs lie

I looked on the ground for some meaning
Blinking to heaven, then down to earth
He had left a six-line message
What one man’s life could be worth

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Oh, I’ve got much more inside me
Beyond your spots gone blind
There’s a whole world living in me
Illuminating my mind

Oh, I’ve got much more inside me
And what my life’s about
It’s outside song and story
Writing, ’til my time, runs out

Now that you’re gone for as long as
You were here forty years
I’ll tell your songs were as wrong as
A dear old friend’s tears

There was not much more for us to talk about
No address to forward his letters to
So I lifted my fingers from the place where they rest
And brushed my dress of the morning dew

As I 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

You see, I was going to be an actress
And he was going to learn to fly
He took off for the footlights
And I took off… well, did I –

And here, I’m acting happy
With some part of my story told
And Harry, he’s flying on the airwaves
Staying young, while I grow old

Oh, the years fly by, and I grow… old…

While this is a reasonable draft borrowing extensively from Harry’s own words, it feels unfinished to me. One of the virtues of Harry Chapin’s lyrics is how effectively he tugs on the heartstrings with direct turns of phrase. Although some music critics feel he can get too melodramatic, I find his tone perfect in these two songs. I haven’t done them justice yet.

I also need to work out the chords. There are at least four patterns (which I call Verse A, Verse B, Bridge, and Interelude), as well as the Intro and Outro. 

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