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There Only Was One Choice

My all time favourite Chapin song. I love complex lyrics and they don't come any better than this.

I don't pretend to understand most of this song and recently asked for some help on the Harry bulletin board on the internet. I established that Harry looked on this piece as his scrapbook and that makes sense.

There are so many images, so many twists and turns, so many changes of tempo, that the scope of the song is truly awesome.

It must be autobiographical, it must tell us so much of Harry's life. It is just a monumental song. I can only suggest that you enjoy the sheer poetry of the lyrics and make your own interpretation. I hear something new everytime I play it. Listen and weep.

There's a kid out on my corner, hear him strumming like a fool
Shivering in his dungerees, but still he's going to school

His cheeks are made of peach fuzz -- his hopes may be the same 
But he's signed up as a soldier out to play the music game 

There are fake patches on his jacket -- he's used bleach to fade his jeans 
With a brand new stay pressed shirt -- and some creased and wrinkled dreams 
His face a blemish garden -- but his eyes are virgin clear 
His voice is Chicken Little's -- But he's hearing Paul Revere 

When he catches himself giggling -- he forces up a sneer 
Though he'd rather have a milk shake -- he keeps forcing down the beer 
Just another folkie -- late in coming down the pike 
Riding his guitar -- he left Kid brother with his bike 

And he's got Guthrie running in his bones 
He's the hobo kid who's left his home 
And his Beatles records and the Rolling Stones 
This boy is staying acoustic 
There's Seeger singing in his heart 
He hopes his songs will somehow start 
To heal the cracks that split apart 
America gone plastic 

And now there's Dylan dripping from his mouth 
He's hitching himself way down south 
To learn a little black and blues 
From old street men who paid their dues 
'Cause they knew they had nothing to lose 
They knew it 
So they just got to it 

With cracked old Gibsons and red clay shoes 
Playing 1-4-5 chords like good news 
And cursed with skin that calls for blood 
They put their face and feet in mud 
But oh they learned the music from way down there 
The real ones learn it somewhere 

Strum your guitar -- sing it kid 
Just write about your feelings -- not the things you never did  
Inexperience -- it once had cursed me 
But your youth is no handicap -- it's what makes you thirsty 

Hey, kid you know you can hear your footsteps as you're kicking up the dust 
And the rustling in the shadows tells you secrets you can trust 
The capturing of whispers is the way to write a song 
It's when you get to microphones the music can go wrong 

You can't see the audience with spotlights in your eyes 
Your feet can't feel the highway from where the Lear jet flies 
When you glide in silent splendor in your padded limousines 
Only you are crying there behind the silver screen 
Now you battle dragons -- but they'll all turn into frogs 
When you grab the wheel of fortune -- you get caught up in the cogs 

First your art turns into craft -- then the yahoos start to laugh 
Then you'll hear the jackals howl 'cause they love to watch the fall 
They're the lost ones out there feeding on the wounded and the bleeding 
They always are the first to see the cracks upon the walls 

When I started this song I was still thirty-three 
The age that Mozart died and sweet Jesus was set free 
Keats and Shelley too soon finished, Charley Parker would be 
And I fantasized some tragedy'd be soon curtailing me 

Well just today I had my birthday -- I made it thirty-four 
Mere mortal, not immortal, not star-crossed anymore 
I've got this problem with my aging I no longer can ignore 
A tame and toothless tabby can't produce a lion's roar 

And I can't help being frightened on these midnight afternoons 
When I ask the loaded questions -- Why does winter come so soon? 
And where are all the golden girls that I was singing for 
The daybreak chorus of my dreams serenades no more 

Yeah the minute man is going soft -- the mirror's on the shelf 
Only when the truth's up there -- can you fool yourself 
I am the aged jester -- who won't gracefully retire 
A clumsy clown without a net caught staggering on the high wire 

Yesterday's a collar that has settled round my waist 
Today keeps slipping by me, it leaves no aftertaste 
Tomorrow is a daydream, the future's never true 
Am I just a fading fire or a breeze passing through? 

Hello my Country 
I once came to tell everyone your story 
Your passion was my poetry 
And your past my most potent glory 
Your promise was my prayer 
Your hypocrisy my nightmare 
And your problems fill my present 
Are we both going somewhere? 

Step right up young lady -- Your two hundred birthdays make you old if not
senile 
And we see the symptoms there in your rigor mortis smile 
With your old folks eating dog food and your children eating paint 
While the pirates own the flag and sell us sermons on restraint 

And while blood's the only language that your deaf old ears can hear 
And still you will not answer with that message coming clear 
Does it mean there's no more ripples in your tired old glory stream 
And the buzzards own the carcass of your dream? 

B*U*Y Centennial 
Sell 'em pre-canned laughter 
American Perennial 
Sing happy ever after 

There's a Dance Band on the Titanic 
Singing Nearer My God to Thee 
And the iceberg's on the starboard bow 
Won't you dance with me 

Yes I read it in the New York Times 
That was on the stands today 
It said that dreams were out of fashion 
We'll hear no more empty promises 
There'll be no more wasted passions 
To clutter up our play 

It really was a good sign 
The words went on to say 
It shows that we are growing up 
In oh so many healthy ways 
And I told myself this is 
Exactly where I'm at 
But I don't much like thinking about that 

Harry -- are you really so naive 
You can honestly believe 
That the country's getting better  
When all you do is let her alone 
Harry -- Can you really be surprised 
when it's there before your eyes 
when you hold the knife that carves her 
you live the life that starves her to the bone 

Good dreams don't come cheap 
You've got to pay for them 
If you just dream when you're asleep 
There is no way for them 
to come alive 
to survive 

It's not enough to listen -- it's not enough to see 
When the hurricane is coming on it's not enough to flee 
It's not enough to be in love -- we hide behind that word 
It's not enough to be alive when your future's been deferred 

What I've run through my body, what I've run through my mind 
My breath's the only rhythm -- and the tempo is my time 
My enemy is hopelessness -- my ally honest doubt 
The answer is a question that I never will find out 

Is music propaganda -- should I boogie, Rock and Roll 
Or just an early warning system hitched up to my soul 
Am I observer or participant or huckster of belief 
Making too much of a life so mercifully brief? 

So I stride down sunny streets and the band plays back my song 
They're applauding at my shadow long after I am gone 
Should I hold this wistful notion that the journey is worthwhile 
Or tiptoe cross the chasm with a song and a smile 

Well I got up this morning -- I don't need to know no more 
It evaporated nightmares that had boiled the night before 
With every new day's dawning my kid climbs in my bed 
And tells the cynics of the board room your language is dead 

And as I wander with my music through the jungles of despair 
My kid will learn guitar and find his street corner somewhere 
There he'll make the silence listen to the dream behind the voice 
And show his minstrel Hamlet daddy that there only was one choice 

Strum your guitar -- sing it kid 
Just write about your feelings -- not the things you never did 
Inexperience -- it once had cursed me 
But your youth is no handicap -- it's what makes you thirsty, hey kid
        

Strum your guitar -- sing it kid 
Just write about your feelings -- not the things you never did 

Dance Band... 
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