The Greatest Song of the Twentieth Century

Harry Chapin – There Only Was One Choice

There’s a kid out on my corner — hear him strumming like a fool Shivering in his dungarees — 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 cog 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 America 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.

Copyright © Harry Chapin

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