A wonderful memoir of lifeCarolyn
Chicago River is for lovers of poetry put to music. Close your eyes and let the words and music wash over you.Esther
I had a dream about you last night! We were on vacation at some beach. I was walking along a path and saw you in the distance, sitting on some rocks with your guitar, singing. Lots of people standing around. My thought was, “Oh, there’s Lee. I’ll have to tell him I listened to his CD.”Tricia
I am a lyric guy, obviously, and yours did not disappoint. You are a great storyteller.Brian
As soon as my girlfriend saw the album in the house, she commandeered it and has been listening to it nonstop!Josh
I don’t know anyone in the world that does music like you. Fearless – as it should be.Corky
In my book you got Taylor Swift beatJoan
Raw in emotion and intentBobbie
Yeah I liked the chimes.Bill
I’m guessing Sondheim influenced some of your rhymes in these lyricsDeb
Wonderful memories, so glad you did thisPat
Run away with meHugh
Not Knowing (Intro) (2017) : A bit of noise.
Not knowing where I’m going, seems I’d rather look back.
Chicago River (2015) : The first writing exercise at the first-ever meeting of Words on Water, founded by Gwen Mayes, was to write about a place we lived near water. “Chicago River” grew out of that exercise.
From the twenty-first floor I look down upon the Chicago River. My apartment is white, all glass, no drapes framing steel and stone and terra cotta—and a January sky. My crummy job is just a couple blocks away along the river, seventh floor. The CEO’s a shark; he made me cut my hair. He thinks I’m going to find new clients. Ha! Hidden somewhere between towers a tiny wedge of the lake fades into Indiana from the green Chicago River. Green, not just on Saint Paddy’s Day. There’s a pool on the roof, Mac’s in the lobby. The doorman teases me. I take commuter trains to visit mom and dad. My mother wants me to move home. My boss thinks he’s my friend. We drink a lot of beer not only on Saint Paddy’s Day. From the twenty-first floor we look down upon the Chicago River— the green Chicago River. It isn’t a spring green—more of a slime green, project consultant green—kind of a mean green. (INSTRUMENTAL) My nephews visited. We threw big chunks of ice off of the State Street bridge and nuked that river. My nieces visited. They played house. From the twenty-first floor every night I look across the river. I rearrange the letters in the giant neon signs: PEPSI, PIPES; DELTA, DEALT. Another bridge goes up to let a tiny sailboat with a giant mast pass by. He's going somewhere. He's going somewhere.
To Be Afraid (2017) : I was so traumatized by my eighth-grade nun that I’ve forgotten her name. I very unfairly used the name of my seventh-grade nun in this song.
In Sister Thomas Mary's classroom I was never bored. We good kids learned to diagram dependent clauses, the rest to fear the Lord. Thunderstorms were just the best! Mom would sit me down. Our stoop faced west. We'd root for tree trunks cracked and great green gloom. We'd ooh and ahh, count thousands, from flash to boom. She never wanted me to be afraid of anything. When she'd leave to fix our dinner, my friends and I, the Saints and Sinners, would go get drunk on ozone, dodge raindrops, get blown away. I’d hope for meatloaf or macaroni. She never wanted me to be afraid of anything, not even thunder, not even lightning. On good-boy days we’d save our town by being extra pious, yelling "Jesus Mary Joseph, Save Us” after every thunder. On bad-boy days we’d hug tree trunks and dare Jesus to fry us. If sister'd seen she'd have Monsignor tear our heads asunder. Mom never wanted me to be afraid of anyone, not even priests, not even nuns. We’d pray for Wayne's house to be struck and Wayne the Pain to burn; ask Lucifer to flood room 7B; beg God to send a twister to suck Sister Thomas Mary up out of her convent, off to Missouri. Mom never wanted me to be afraid. And when I was, she took off work and took on Sister Thomas Mary. She took on Sister Thomas Mary! Who learned that day, in seventh grade, to be afraid.
Math Lab (2017) : My high school’s math lab was my safe haven.
My high school’s new: all brick and steel and glass weirdos walk into. At the center: the academics building. At its center: the math department. At its center: SIMILE: Math Lab. Math Lab! Like a radiation-shielded artificially enclosed lunar cavern: you can fly. Leave—they’ll scour you with regolith and suck your insides out; you’ll be freeze-dried. Smells of mimeos, new books, white paint, no windows, no cliques, no jocks, as far from locker rooms as I can get, just me and algebra and Russell’s paradox. No teens, sometimes a teacher seeking colored chalk who doesn’t want to talk. CHORUS: If you have problems, Math lab has solutions, techniques like substitution. Equations: solved. Contradictions: resolved. Theorems: proved (V equals four thirds pi r cubed). Zippers (like the one in the front of your pants) ripped? (coulda been bad, as bad as the dance) Binder-clipped. Ouch! (repeat SIMILE) No phones, no former friend, no freshman dance disaster, just abstract shapes in perfect plastic or polished plaster, where I can contemplate what it means to rotate a single-sided polygon embedded in Euclidean or non-, paraboloids, hyperboloids of one or two sheets, and future world-famous mathletes. (CHORUS)
I Love to See (1970) : This little ditty about life in the dorm is one of my earliest fragments, before I figured out how to write a whole song. In 2017 the University of Illinois put the sounds of the carillon in the math building, Altgeld Hall, online. I incorporated them into this recording. I love the juxtaposition of serious math and dorm silliness.
I love to see everybody stumbling ‘bout in the morning, shouting down the hall, talking about the ball they had last night. Water fight. What a byte.
City Cat (1977) : I wrote this when I lived in Chicago and would perform open mic at Somebody Else’s Troubles. Little did I know that I was a future cat fan.
City Cat she’s so cool City Cat ain’t no fool City Cat can be so cruel How’d you like to be like that City Cat? Kitty got jet-black fur Kitty move like a blur Kitty got such a sexy purr How’d you like to be like that City Cat? CHORUS: City Cat prowls in Hades City Cat growls at ladies City Cat howls and suffocates babies City Cat she’s so cool City Cat ain’t no fool City Cat can be so cruel How’d you like to be like that City Cat? Kitty got bright red claws Kitty got velvet paws Kitty ain’t got no fatal flaws How’d you like to be like that City Cat? (CHORUS) (INSTRUMENTAL) City Cat got to roam City Cat live alone Kitty can’t get no lovin’ at home I don’t want to be like that City Cat (let me tell ya) I don’t want to be like that City Cat City Cat chewing gum lappin’ up Coke and rum City Cat, where you comin’ from? How’d you get to be like that, City Cat? (please tell me) How’d you get to be like that, City Cat?
In and Out of Love (1989) : I think this was me trying to write a different love song. I’m not sure which of several friends’ love lives inspired it. With the decadence of a fade-out ending!
In and out of love Serious, mysterious love We’re in and out of love. This time I’m in but you’re out of love. Combing my house for every vestige of you Eliminating every trace Clearing your closet and your medicine shelf Leaving them empty just in case Knowing we’re always falling In and out of love Glorious, precarious love We’re in and out of love. This time I’m in but you’re out of love. Looking for every book that I would not buy Taking our favorite photo down Sorting the cereal and shampoo and wine Saving it all for our next round Knowing we’re always falling In and out of love We’re in; you’re out. You’re in; I’m out; I’m in; you’re out. We’re in; you’re out. I’m in; you’re out. You’re in; I’m out; I’m in; you’re out; we’re in; we’re in and out of love. Dangerous, delirious love Our lives are synchronizing less frequently. You love me intermittently. I promise I will love you when you love me, but only periodically.
Southern Indiana (1970 and 2013) : One day in college I was so frustrated at my inability to finish a song I decided to write a complete song, no matter how short, simple, and lousy, that very day. I looked to my roommate, recently engaged to be married, and wrote what I called “Gibson City Wedding Song,” but which everyone else called “Granny.” I hated it but my family loved it and forced me to play it for years. In 2013, when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, I added the “Southern Indiana” parts and don’t hate the combination nearly as much.
Granny’s sittin’ rockin’ and the cornfields are a poppin’ and I catch you looking over my way. Though your face is in the sunshine pretty soon it’ll be nighttime hey hey. Now the sun has done its sinkin’ and the stars are up there blinkin’ and I’m wonderin’ just what do I say? It’s sure a lovely evening for a stroll for miles around there ain’t another living soul. CHORUS: Here in southern Indiana we got hills and forests, and a lotta good hardworking people sleeping underneath a steeple. (I do.) We hate Indy we hate Gary and a farmer’s free to marry. We eat sugar-cream pie. We shoot hoops and we fry biscuits. Now I’m takin’ you out walkin’ and I don’t feel like just talkin’ so I’m sending my lips over your way. I can see your face a gettin’ red what color will it be your weddin’ day? By the window granny’s sittin’ and her hands are busy knittin’ but her eyes are lookin’ over our way. I’m a laughin’ you’re a blushin’ and your finger is a hushin’ me I’ll see you Sunday mornin’ gee it’s gonna be a lovely weddin’ day. (CHORUS) Granny’s sittin’ rockin’ and the cornfields are a poppin’ and I catch you looking over my way. I can see your face a gettin’ red what color will it be your weddin’ I’m a laughin’ you’re a blushin’ and your finger is a hushin’ see you Sunday mornin’ gee it’s gonna be a lovely weddin’ day.
Forget Cleveland (1994) : A Midwest guy is worried that his girlfriend will be so taken by her first business trip to the big city that she won’t come home to him. No idea what inspired this.
Forget Cleveland Forget August Forget him Forget what’s-his-name Forget sunsets on Lake Erie Forget sailing the Cuyahoga Forget that night Remember the guy who is always polite Maybe not Mister Excitement Who spends his day battling subroutines And sleeps in a condo he never cleans And doesn't make speeches but says what he means Forget Cleveland Forget August Forget suits Forget businessmen Forget banquets keynote speakers Forget fame Forget conferences Forget what’s-his-name Remember the guy who is always there I mean always here for you forget Cleveland Remember the guy who is boring but nice when you think about vows and veils and rice remember the guy with the brilliant advice: Forget Cleveland Analyze alibis Count the lies or try nice guys Forget Cleveland Forget big cities and vice-chairmen of subcommittees Remember Nebraska The Big Skies Us nice guys Forget Cleveland Forget August and that night and that orchestra your hotel your first flight the great view Forget what’s-his-name He's forgotten you Remember the guy who won’t leave you alone The boring guy bothering you on the phone Who'd never do what he did Who's always nice Who thinks a wife and kids and home would be paradise Forget Cleveland Forget Cleveland Remember Nebraska Forget Cleveland
Whoever Lives Here Now (1996) : Once I decided the theme of this album was “home / time & place,” I remembered this song from 1996, about being stuck in a detour near my ex’s old apartment. All I had was a lyric sheet with chords, so I had to reconstruct the melody. I was surprised by notes on the lyric sheet: “hurdy-gurdy in Cm” and “Look at Sean.” This suggests that Bob (hurdy-gurdy) and Sean (recorder) and I actually performed this nearly-forgotten piece.
I try to avoid this neighborhood. It’s evil; it’s haunted; it’s not good. But thanks to the County of DuPage where detours with detours are all the rage I sit here looking at holes in the ground, stuck on your street in this rush-hour race, watching the road crew just standing around taking up space next to your old place. Whoever lives here now keeps a bike on the balcony just like you. Whoever lives here now has a rusty old barbecue just like you. Whoever calls this work zone home owns a telephone. Whoever lives here probably will not disappear. Whoever lives here now seems to love plants too. Whoever lives here now has a brand-new view: The field where I crashed your stunt kite is now a giant Priced-Rite. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou. Twenty-four hour convenience for whomever lives here now. Whoever lives here now keeps their vertical blinds closed just like you. Whoever lives here now doesn’t wash windows just like you. Whoever calls this work zone home owns a telephone. Whoever lives here probably will not disappear. Whoever lives here now isn’t you. Whoever lives here now is probably that beer-gut standing around taking up space next to your old place.
I’d Rather Live in Chicago (1977) : I love living in the heart of the big city but Fate wants me to reside in suburbia. I love walking to the library and grocery store but Fate wants me to drive there.
I wanna look like a lumberjack in my red plaid flannel shirt, but I don’t wanna chop down trees; those blisters and callouses hurt. I wanna look like a lumberjack in my stocking cap and jeans, but I don’t wanna live in no lumber camp barracks; those men are mean. I might like to live in the North country and be free and philosophize, but I’d rather live in Chicago where it’s civilized. I wanna look like a Tahitian man with my deep, dark, golden tan, but I don’t want eat no bananas and guavas and paint like Gauguin. I wanna look like a Tahitian child stark naked to the core, but I don’t wanna step on sea urchins and Portuguese Men-of-War. I might like to live on a South Sea isle and watch the sun god rise, but I’d rather live in Chicago where it’s civilized. I wanna look like a college student and plan a panty raid, but I don’t wanna bring back the 60s, all-nighters, term papers, and grades. I didn’t mind living in a dorm with seven hundred guys, and fourteen million dollars-worth of stereo hi-fi’s with Dolby-A and -B and decibels unequalized, but I’d rather live in Chicago where it’s civilized. I wanna look like a businessman in my three-piece suit and tie, but I don’t want no martini-wheeling-and-dealing; I’d rather die. I might like to live in suburbia suffering sub-prime rate deflation. But I’d rather live in high style and sophistication in the skyscraper city that’s still second best in the nation: no flannel, no fauna, no finals, no stock fluctuation. Yeah, I’d rather live in the utmost, on lovely Lake Michigan’s left coast. Yeah, I’d rather live in Chicago, that outpost of civilization.
Exit 27 (2013) : I wrote this on one of many long drives from Indiana to Maryland, thinking about superhighways and EXIT signs and trucks.
I used to drive this interstate and dream about a decent bed. I’d do my best to stay awake and chuckle at a sign that said: No food No lodging No Attractions Exit 27 1 mile No food No lodging No Attractions Exit 27 I stopped to help someone in need, but couldn’t fix your frozen line. Offered a ride and you agreed. We turned off at that sorry sign: No food No lodging No Attractions Exit 27 1 mile No food No lodging No Attractions Exit 27 We got into a sweet routine. Each Friday I’d get off at three. I didn’t think; I should have seen you needed more than feeding me fried chicken apple pie clean sheets a soft warm body mutual attraction exit twenty-seven heaven fried biscuits sausages a pile of sheets and pillows animal attraction exit twenty-seven heaven I always hoped, I even prayed, we’d fix it, give it one more shot. I never thought I’d see the day when exit twenty-seven’s got No food No lodging No Attractions Exit 27 1 mile No food No lodging No Attractions Exit 27 Diesel
I’m Here You’re There (1999) : Definitely inspired by my husband Bob’s many trips. But as I often say, my songs are inspired by facets of my life but are not my diary: considerations like rhythm and rhyme and making things interesting trump truth.
CHORUS: It’s not that I don’t miss you, it’s not that I don’t care, it’s not that I don’t love you, it’s only that I’m here; you’re there. It’s not that I think sometimes we’re not the perfect pair; it’s not that I’m not coupled, it’s only that I’m here; you’re there. I’m here with the rush-hour jerks on the Eisenhower. You’re there eating croissant and climbing the Eiffel Tower. You're all high style and glitz; my life's the pits. (CHORUS) You're there, trying hard to forget about Februaries. I'm here in a blizzard enjoying obituaries. I lose all my files while you cruise the Greek Isles on a yacht. (CHORUS) (INSTRUMENTAL) I'm here on the couch in the den playing some new CD. You're here on the couch in the den reading world history. The czars, guitars, the Doors, world wars the Blitz. (CHORUS)
Stay Outta My Space (2017) : The gym is a pain in so many ways. This started as an essay but morphed into a song. At one point it was all sung but I replaced the most boring sung parts with spoken word. At one point the young women were an old guy’s stereotype but my friend Carrie suggested I could do better, so I rewrote them and the narrator.
CHORUS: Stay outta my space. if you're a member of the human race, stay outta my space. Unless you're someone I might care to embrace stay outta my space. Unless we're running to first or second base stay outta my space. I don't wanna see the pores on your face. I don't wanna watch 'em open and close. Though there are just a few, I don't wanna count the hairs in your nose. Eww! I'm at the gym, approaching seven treadmills. one and seven are occupied by people thinking, "Stay outta my space." While I'm choosing, a big guy passes me. If he takes three, I'll take five; the four of us'll be two treadmill apart. If he takes five, I'll take three; the four of us'll be two treadmills apart. But he is a greedy. He takes four. The greedy bastard! So everybody who's already there is three treadmills apart, but what about me? What can I do? No matter which I take, I'm next to someone. My workout's ruined. I take three. The greedy guy give me a dirty look: Stay outta my space! I hope he hates the hairs in my nose. I hope that my deodorant fails. I hope that his doesn't. (CHORUS) I don't wanna one-on-one interface. I don't want to smell these people's colognes. And lest you misconstrue, I don't wanna smell type two pheromones. Eww! Three girls, in neon sports bras (chatting, chatting, chatting), About their kids, About their jobs, The books they're reading, Next year's elections -- They approach the treadmills. One takes two; the others five and six and keep on chatting. Not about boys. (They keep on chatting.) Not about clothes. (Chatting, chatting, chatting) I try to ignore them; (The keep on chatting.) And focus on FOXNews: (Chatting, chatting, chatting) Trump good. (They keep on chatting.) Hillary bad.
Paradise (2017) : I wrote this while working out in the pool at our resort in Cancun, which is nothing like the place described in the song.
CHORUS: The water’s cold. The palm tree’s dead. That isn’t dirt, it’s mold. That millipede has reached my bed. The sun has never shone. The fish last night was mostly bone. There’s no convenient place to charge my phone. Their promises of paradise were somewhat overblown. Their promises of paradise were somewhat overblown. We always loved this beach. Everybody got along—more or less. From physicists to farmers, politicians to the press, from football fans to operaphiles, from stars to their chauffeurs, even chiropractors, even used car sales managers. It wasn't perfect, but we were making progress. And now new management has promised paradise. For free. We bought it—and now we pay the price. They're piling up our sand dollars; we got what we deserved. For example, lately I've observed: (CHORUS)
Float Little Snowflake (1979) : I didn’t play this much until recently. I think I considered it way uncool. But now I’m so old I’m beyond cool. This was my mother-in-law Tutu’s (Hawaiian for “grandparent”) second-favorite song of mine. I sang it at her funeral.
CHORUS: Float little snowflake Float by my window so I can see I know the last place you want to be is on the ground Float while you can little snowflake You’ve got to do what you’ve gotta do Life can be fun if you want it to so stick around Maybe you’ll land in a treetop and look so pretty painters will paint you and poets gush Maybe you’ll land on a sidewalk and scare old ladies amaze new babies with your cold touch (CHORUS) Maybe you’ll land in my backyard live in a snowball If you’re good packing you’ll fly again Please cream my dumb little brother not another window Help ambush buses and mailmen (CHORUS) Maybe you’ll land in a mud puddle melt right away All little snowflakes must melt someday
Joan Bone (1978) : I don’t know why I wrote a song about my thin sister-in-law Joan and her sisters. I don’t know why anyone outside my immediate family would like it, but people do. It was Tutu’s favorite song of mine—she made me promise to sing it at her funeral.
CHORUS: Joan Bone on the phone If it ain’t busy, she ain’t home Joan Bone, monotone She’s permanently tuned to the dial tone Her sister Judy lives in Phoenix, Arizona with a dozen lovely children to discuss “The second from the youngest had the flu last week and Thursday number seven missed her bus” The wires overloaded periodically Ma Bell of Illinois was going into debt until the FCC OK’d a special satellite in a stationary orbit over Joliet (CHORUS) Her sister Jeannie lives beneath a water tower In case of flood, tornado, hurricane, or war if her telephone should ever lose its power she’ll climb up there and they’ll communicate by semaphore (CHORUS)
Assisted Living (2017) : Tutu lived to be 100 years old. Whereas I usually feel free to invent things, every detail of this is true.
Every picture’s crooked. Her favorite kitty photo’s lost. Her last lei is turning brown in my mother-in-law’s assisted-living facility. Cable’s on the fritz. Her oxygen tank’s beeping while we're playing ukuleles in my mother-in-law’s assisted-living facility. Ninety-nine, one hundred: will she make it to Thanksgiving? Where will Christmas be this year? In my mother-in-law’s assisted-living facility? She thinks she baked us cookies. She’s planning her next cruise. When we’re alone she tells me dying one inch at a time is for the birds.
Not Knowing (1972) : How strange that at age 21 I was waxing nostalgic about childhood.
Not knowing where I’m going, seems I’d rather look back. Every year we slept out running around the tent in the dark without any clothes on. Three times around. Every night we stayed out for hours taking a leak on Mildred’s flowers. Mary’s too. “Hey you! What are you kids doing out this late?” Can’t you see we’re running straight for home! Didn’t seem so great then, but I always had at least one friend. Sometimes two. Once three. Don’t know what my life holds for me, but I do know what it used to be. Not knowing where I’m going, seems I’d rather— Once we all went skinny-dipping at night in Mike’s pool. What a fright when Gigi came out too to tell us it was getting dark. Mike said we knew. We’d be in soon. Please go away! Please go away, Gigi. Please go away. Don’t know what Who’s Who will have to say but I do remember yesterday and it didn’t seem so great at the time but every year we made a trip to Riverview. Sometimes two. Once three. Not knowing where I’m going, seems I’d rather look at the past, not the future. Taking a look at the past, forgetting all about the future, and trying to get those trunks back on before Gigi sees everything. Please go away! Please go away, Gigi. Please go away.
I Gotta Have My Key (1979) : I’m a serious homebody. I’d be happy never to leave this house.
The only thing I care about’s the key to my back door. Before I go out, that’s the only thing I spend time looking for. Though I can leave umbrellas, wallets, gloves, and combs at home; without that key I’d never, ever, roam. CHORUS: I gotta have my key ‘cause I’m a crybaby. I gotta know I can come home whenever I start to go crazy. I don’t think I could venture out into the cold, cruel world without that piece of golden metal in my palm, with fingers curled. And if I lost it I would offer everything I own. I don’t think I could face the world alone. (CHORUS)