Harry Chapin Inspiration for ‘Taxi’

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81Gd3K9ctQL._SL1416_One song that has endured since the 1981 auto accident death of its writer, ’70s folk-rock troubadour Harry Chapin, is “Taxi,” the tale of a cabbie who picks up a fare, and then partway through the ride he and she both realize that they used to be lovers. Although the story told in the song is largely fictional, Chapin was inspired to write it by both a real-life woman and driving a taxi.

The former lover whose spirit he put into the song, Clare Alden MacIntyre-Ross, died on March 9, 2016. The romance of Harry and Clare gives his composition an interesting real-life backbone. The two met when they were summer camp counselors, and dated for two years after. She lived in the prosperous New York City suburb of Scarsdale, the daughter of the city’s onetime mayor, Malcolm MacIntyre, who also was the president of Eastern Air Lines and served as under secretary of the Air Force under President Eisenhower. Harry was a kid from a middle class family in Brooklyn that his girlfriend’s father did not fully approve of. He wouldn’t allow her to ride the subway, so she would take taxis to meet Chapin during their time together.

Fast forward to years later after Chapin has dropped out of his studies at the Air Force Academy and then Cornell University, and is working in film while also scuffling as a musical artist. He has driven a cab during lean work times, and had gone to get his license again. And thought about what it would be like if he were to pick up the frequently taxi-riding Clare. As songwriters do, Harry changed the setting to San Francisco and adjusted the characters to underscore the song’s point about how lost opportunities can haunt us.

This ad for the song appeared in the March 18, 1972 issue of Record World

Tom Chapin, Harry’s singer-songwriter brother, says, “I wouldn’t call Clare the love of his life, but she was certainly an early, formative love.” When Harry debuted the song on The Tonight Show in 1972, it prompted so many calls and telegrams from viewers that for the first time in the show’s history host Johnny Carson brought a performer back the very next night for an encore performance. The single eventually reached #24 and spent 16 weeks on the charts. Chapin took up his scenario and characters’ meeting again in his 1980 song “Sequel.”

Chapin was born on December 7, 1942, one year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He passed on July 16, 1981, at just 38 years old. In his brief but impactful life he co-founder World Hunger Year, which has become WhyHunger.org, to mobilize artists and their fans to raise funds, build awareness and spark action.

Related: The Midnight Special – Solo artists edition

Chapin’s recordings are available here.

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13 Comments so far

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  1. Paul
    #1 Paul 10 February, 2017, 16:25

    The music Harry Chapin did was a ticket to immortality. In my belief everyone owes God a miracle because of the miracle called life and everyone has a particular positive talent, Harry’s was to get people to think. That’s what his music does.

    Reply this comment
    • mack
      mack 10 March, 2019, 12:16

      Frodo,dude. You got your hobbits confused me thinks. And Harry was no where near middle earth.

      Reply this comment
    • Mickey
      Mickey 17 July, 2020, 11:04

      Are you kidding? Gollum saved middle earth by jumping into the pit of fire, my precious.

      Reply this comment
    • Jerry
      Jerry 17 July, 2021, 09:51

      Absolutely true.. At 79 yrs old, I’m still missing him and continue to be saddened by his passing .
      Every time I hear his music I shed a tear.

      Reply this comment
    • Maddog
      Maddog 10 December, 2022, 15:47

      He didn’t “pass” in his 30’s, he was killed by a drunk driver.

      Reply this comment
      • CamiSu
        CamiSu 19 July, 2023, 17:17

        No, the semi driver that hit him could not avoid him when his Rabbit had mechanical problems on the LIE on his way to a concert. My brothers drove for him when they were teens. He was not the best driver in the world, but he was a wonderful human being.

        Reply this comment
  2. Ed Sullivan
    #2 Ed Sullivan 7 December, 2018, 16:00

    I ran sound for some of Harry’s concerts back in the 70s. He was one hell of a nice guy, but a terrible driver.

    Reply this comment
    • CamiSu
      CamiSu 19 July, 2023, 17:23

      Yeah. I once missed the train needed to take into the city, and on our way back from Cold Spring Harbor, my mother saw him heading west and asked him to drop me at Penn Station. I don’t remember which kids were in the car but I was riding shotgun and was a wee bit nervous.

      Reply this comment
  3. Kimmy T
    #3 Kimmy T 8 December, 2021, 03:01

    I was in boot camp in the Navy when I heard he died. Still cant believe its been 40 years! I haven’t heard this in years, but it is on my playlist now!

    Reply this comment
  4. Brian G
    #4 Brian G 8 December, 2021, 16:44

    He played at my high school in 1973. I still have the year book with a picture from that night. It was John F Kennedy high school in Somers NY.

    Reply this comment
  5. Rick
    #5 Rick 10 March, 2022, 13:18

    Thanks for this fascinating piece. I’d always wondered about the inspiration for this touching song. Keep up the great work, Best Classic Bands!

    Reply this comment
  6. Decon Blue
    #6 Decon Blue 8 December, 2022, 03:26

    Fascinating song writer Taxi , W O L D, 30,000 Pounds of Bananas, just to name a few

    Reply this comment
  7. 122intheshade
    #7 122intheshade 16 July, 2023, 22:38

    He had the gift of storytelling. And a sense of humor and a bottomless well of irony. Check out the classic “Dance Band on the Titanic”.

    Reply this comment

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