“My mom said it reminded her of Hamilton or Sondheim.”
“This one will be promoted to the CD changer in the trunk of my car.”
“I admire the craft.”
“Unmistakable Lee Chapman style.”
“Just thrilled with your latest production.”
“I love your music, art and poetry. It touched me.”
“The lyrics are very Lee.”
“I loved that it brought back many memories for me.”
” It’s like the most well-produced off-Broadway production of someone’s lost diary.”
“We loved your new CD, for the poetic words the very nice music, and the exceptional arrangements.”
– Guy and Nelson
“Kept me giggling throughout.”
– Steve (Tired Old Queen at the Movies)
“I share your frustration that such a brilliant mathematician threw his life away.”
“Oh my dear Lee Chapman
though you are not a ‘rap-man’
A genius you still are and you very clearly rate
The words just flow from you infinate
You could have written Hamilton the hit
but my dear Lee Chapman
you are a little late!”
What on odd assortment of men: the “greatness” of each is compromised in some way. And none of my heroes is here—no Einstein, Stravinsky, Picasso, Joni Mitchell, or Stephen Sondheim.
Stream the full album here
or selected songs with commentary and lyrics below:
All songs: Unless otherwise noted: Words, Music, Vocals, Guitar, Arrangements: Lee Chapman
Tommy Was My First Best Friend (1979) : A very personal song with true details.
Guitar: Ahren; Clarinet: Seth Kibel; Upright Bass: Mark Schatz; Drums: Ele Rubenstein; Trombone: Mike Noonan; Trumpet: Tim Stanley
Arrangement, recording, mix: Ahren
Tommy was my first best friend. He was a year older and lorded it over me. He was ahead in school he thought he was cool he made me mad sometimes but usually we had lots of fun. He tried to educate me especially about next year’s nun: weighs a ton carries a gun. Nonetheless Tommy was my first best, Tommy was my first best, Tommy was my first best friend. I’ll never forget the acrobatic spectacles we put on on his swing set My tricks were the warm-up act For the finale he’d do his I’ll never forget the fantastic shows we put on in the playhouse Tommy taught me all I know about show biz Tommy was my first best friend. I’ll never forget the day total artistic inspiration struck me in his sandbox We had these triangular two-by-four scraps of wood we were using for building blocks Before that day was over the world had another Mies I’d created my first architectural masterpiece But I kept it to myself that I was the better builder ‘cause I was too polite to denigrate my elder and Tommy was my first best, Tommy was my first best, Tommy was my first best friend. We’d hop on our bicycles ride to Sunkist and buy popsicles Use the handlebars to split ‘em on the creases and make fun of me when I got three pieces We’d ride home single-handed balancing precariously with sticky strawberry goo melting messily But we really just wanted the sticks to use we’d dry ‘em overnight behind Tom’s garage next morning we’d make bi-planes with Elmer’s glue and paint made-up insignia on the fuselage We went into mass production when I got my mom to buy us two hundred sticks but we experienced a significant reduction in quality and it really got boring it got boring quick Tommy was my first Tommy was the best Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy was my first best friend He was a year older…
You’re My Type (2017) : To me a truly great man must be nice, hot, and smart.
Guitar: Lee; Recording, Mix: Ryan
You could be greedy but you're nice you never grab the biggest slice You could be ugly but you're hot Like any crew-cut astronaut You could be stupid but you're smart You know The Yeomen of the Guard by heart Types of personalities Form a perfect cube Of eight possibilities Two by two by two. But Only / one / will do That's why / I / chose you You're my type You could be nasty but you're nice You never criticize me twice You could be ugly but you're cute In Speedos or a three-piece suit You could be stupid but you're smart You've even heard of people like Descartes Types of personalities… You could be bossy but you're nice You only offer good advice You could be ugly but you're fine On any scale you’d be a nine You could be stupid but you're smart You love both French Baroque and modern art Types of personalities…
Good for Me (2008) : The real Lee worships Mozart, Bach and Debussy, and can appreciate Wagner. / I played this at an Indiana University Musicology party once. They loved it.
Guitar: Lee; Recording, mix: Tom
Used to listen to music that was good for me: Mozart, harpsichords, Wagner, oboes, Debussy. Now I’m probably as good as I’m going to be. So it’s bye bye Bach; now I listen mindlessly. I’m gonna listen to music I like. I’m gonna listen to music that’s fun. I’m gonna listen to music that ain’t mentally straining, that ain’t emotionally draining, that’s actually entertaining. Used to go to the opera: murder, suicide, torture and consumption, broken hearts (poor Tosca). When the colora- tura died I always cried. I wanna listen to lyrics that rhyme. I wanna listen to lyrics in English. I wanna listen to music that’s really dumb music that I can hum music that leaves you numb. Give up honey, you cannot make me be civilized. No more music written in Europe by dead white guys. Give me country, rock and roll, Broadway, or even rap. Please don’t tell me not to snore, or shush, or when to clap. Don’t wanna listen to music that’s deep. Don’t wanna listen to music that puts you to sleep. I wanna listen to music that ain’t mentally straining that ain’t emotionally draining that’s actually entertaining. I wanna listen to music that’s really dumb music that leaves you numb music that has a drum.
Heat Flow (2020) : What one writes when one can’t get warm in bed.
Drums: Nick Bertling; Electric Guitar, Electric Bass, Shaker, Bongo, Guiro: Ahren; Recording, mix: Ahren
I got a warm bed I got two cool sheets I got a hot head I got two cold feet I cannot tolerate this status quo I must recalculate the hot/cold ratio I know I know I need I need I need some heat flow Heat flow But how? Somehow. What might all the laws of physics allow? In 1822 a famous Frenchman knew! Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier pride of his nation blew the French and us away with his creation not just symbolic truly consequential a parabolic partial differential equation a great sensation a distillation of all there is to know regarding heat flow Heat flow From hot spots—whoa to cold For a function u in a homogeneous isotropic medium the time derivative of the function u is the diffusivity times the Laplace. Gosh! Heat flow From hot spots—whoa to cold spreading perfectly—as Fourier foretold mathematically, exquisitely controlled It’s taken all night I got toasty toes But something ain’t right I got a frozen nose.
I Want to Teach You (2012) : I do love to teach. Especially subjects people hate.
Guitar: Lee; Recording, mix: Tom
I want to teach you, I want to teach you things. I want to teach you what joy a little knowledge brings I want to teach you, I want to teach you stuff. I want to teach you 'cause you don't know enough. To carry on a stimulating conversation. Something beyond next weekend and your last vacation. So say goodbye (although I may be overreaching), goodbye to ignorance 'cause I love teaching. I want to teach you… I want to teach you quantum theory and the bottom quark. I'd like to take you to each art museum in New York. I want to sit you down with my guitar and show you chords and Egypt's pyramids and Norway's best fiords. I want to teach you… If I knew fashion we could ridicule the latest styles. I know computers! I could show you how to backup files. If I knew mollusks we could marvel at the octopus. I do know math—I'd love to teach you calculus. If you want that mortarboard I could act like—Glenn Ford Don't worry, future—Dead Poet If it's boring we'd forego it You could be my blackboard toady You bring out my Miss Jean Brodie, Mr. Kotter, certainly Our Miss Brooks and Miss Crabtree I'd be sweet, I'd be tough Professor Kingsfield, Mrs. Puff I'd provide the skills you lack You could call me: Conrack What is fuzzy I'd make clear Just like Mister Belvedere You could be my teacher's pet Sing with Sister Virginette Like Poitier and Mr. Chips I've much to say, important tips On how to live, and grammar rants es- sentially I am Miss Frances I'd make proper fractions simple Wearing rosary and wimple Complex numbers and all that Are easy in a wizard's hat Unlike Trunchbull, like Miss Honey I would show you ancient sunny Greece, Paree, the Taj Mahal and we'd compose like Mr. Holland I can out-teach Dumbledore, And old Mz. Frizzle, any nun, for Every book report, term paper, every quiz'll be pure fun I want to teach you… If I knew world lit we'd deconstruct some fiction. If I knew logic I would prove by contradiction that love exists, cause otherwise my favorite songs are full of lies. If that were so I'd rather not philosophize. I want to teach you the secrets of Tut’s tomb. I want to teach you “Cogito ergo sum.” I want to teach you who’s who and who is whom. I want to teach you.
Don’t Do It (2017) : After extensive research (i.e. a couple internet searches) I’m still confused about exactly what Galois’s contribution was.
Guitar: Lee; Stylophone: Ahren; Recording: Todd & Ahren; Mix: Ahren
In Paris, in 1832, a twenty-year-old mathematical genius, Évariste Galois, was challenged—to a duel. You're French, sophisticated, not some macho Latin fool. Sleep in; solve some equations. Don't get up at dawn and duel. Don't spend the next few decades decomposing in your tomb, but staring at a blackboard in a tiny, attic room. Don’t do it, Évariste Galois, don't do it! Please consult a priest; talk to your mama. Évariste Galois, don't do it! Derive some compromise or else concoct some clever lies. Or write your girlfriend's boyfriend; earnestly apologize. You’ll never comprehend these matters matrimonial, so stick to numbers, algebra, and polynomials. Don’t do it… Some perspicacious high school kids consider it to be a fun thing to do to solve a polynomial equation of degree one, sometimes two. Some talented Italians, in the sixteenth century, raising the score, found nasty formulas to solve equations of degree three, later, four. But no more. No matter how valiantly all of them strive, they’ll never be able to do it for five. It took you, young Évariste Galois, to show that four is far as it’s possible to go. You saved a lot of matematicos a lot of time when you invented finite groups, a theory so sublime, you’re one of my top mathematical heroes. We need you to work on Riemannian zeros. Don’t do it, Évariste Galois, don’t do it! You did it, Évariste Galois, you did it. You were killed and so we will never know what you might have done at age twenty-one.
Surely You’ve Heard of Him (2019) :When I wrote this I assumed everyone had heard of Jesus and St. Damien and that no one had heard of Convit. The second of these assumptions is very wrong, so for most people the song will make no sense. (Inspired by David G. McAfee)
Acoustic Guitar, 12-String Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar, Pump Organ, Harmonica, Shaker, Cymbal, Tambourine: Ahren; Recording, mix: Ahren
A carpenter from Galilee miraculously, mystically made cripples walk again and blind men see took pity and healed ten of leprosy He was a good man Did what a good man can Made the world better than it had been Surely you’ve heard of him Saint Damien of Molokai prayed to Jesus Christ on high and ministered to those in quarantine and touched the heart of those so-called unclean He was a good man… Jacinto Convit, MD researched immunotherapy created a vaccine for that disease saved thousands with his hard-won expertise He was a good man…
Two Bettes (2019) : Inspired by the movie A Stolen Life. (Weird that Glenn Ford appears in two songs. He’s no GMotSM.)
Guitar: Lee; Recording, mix: Tom
Good Bette Davis (i.e. shy Bette Davis) and bad Bette Davis (i.e. sexy Bette Davis) are twins. Identical twins. (probably won’t work out so well) Both Bettes fall in love with Glenn Ford. Just one Glenn Ford (probably won’t work out so well) Glenn Ford is shy but horny. (probably won’t work out so well) Guess which Bette he likes? Guess which Bette he marries? (seemed like a good idea— probably won’t work out so well) The sisters reconcile. Bad Bette takes her sister sailing. (probably won’t work out so well) Ignores severe storm warnings. (probably won’t work out so well) Their bloat flounders. Bad Bette drowns. Good Bette tries to save her but only manages to save her wedding ring. (seemed like a good idea) Good Bette slips it on and pretends to be Bad Bette. (seemed like a good idea— probably won’t work out so well) It’s a challenge trying to fool Bad Bette’s maid, trying to fool Bad Bette’s dog, finding out Bad Bette’s having an affair, finding out Bad Bette’s getting a divorce. Of course. Good Bette (pretending to be bad Bette) doesn’t know what to do! What would Bad Bette do? What would Good Bette do? But Glenn Ford figures out who is who, forgives her, and they live happily ever after.
Battleship New Jersey (2017) : One of my bucket-list items is to tour a World War II-era battleship. Every January we go to Philadelphia. Across the river lies the New Jersey—closed for the holidays. / During the “Christmas Truce” of World War I, soldiers from both sides came out of the trenches to celebrate together.
Percussion: Mickey; Recording, mix: Frank
The battleship New Jersey is closed for Christmas. But the parking lot is open; you still can see the great gray God of special treatment steel, displacement fifty thousand tons, and its nine great guns, with smaller guns defending them. If you send one thousand bucks you can be a “Special Friend of The Battleship New Jersey.” On Christmas 1943 a teenaged sailor, dixie cup teetering, leaned over his best girl and stole a final kiss. Her left foot rose almost all the way. If you send… On Christmas 1969 the battleship New Jersey and a Viet Cong submarine ceased fire for the day and traded Hershey bars and weed. Their choirs came together, singing “Baby it is cold outside.” If you send… If it weren't Christmas then you could take the turret tour: See how seventy-seven sailors operated the great gray guns singing “Silent Night.” No high heelED shoes ARE permitted If you send… soldiers from both sides came out of the trenches to celebrate together.
Corporal Cooper (2017) : This is a true story, as told to my husband by his Naval Academy classmate. I made up the details, e.g. the name “Cooper.” (It was great fun researching Vietnam-era military lingo and hippie slang.)
Guitar: Lee; Recording: Todd ; Mix: Ahren
Corporal Cooper comes into my tent, salutes, and says, I’m gonna re-up. What? Another year in ‘Nam? How come? I’m stoked. I’m gettin’ married. Who? A village girl, Kim-ly. I know just what you’re thinking but relax—deep down I feel she ain’t no hoochgirl whore; our love is boo-coo real. Corporal Cooper always smiled. Ain’t nothin’ here to be afraid of. The third platoon's short-timer flower child is going native. Is she knocked up? Are you OK? What will your parents say? I got no dad and mom’s a hooker too in Omaha! Would Kim-ly understand Nebraska? How could she belong? I’ll wrangle you some R&R in Hong Kong. Think about your future. Far out, sir! Can Kim-ly tag along? Corporal Cooper always smiled… I’m back, sir! Had a blast! Have you decided what to do? You were right. Kim-ly’ll be bummed out but me and her are through. I met a girl in Hong Kong named Lijuan. We’re gettin' hitched! Relax. It ain’t just physical this time— deep down I feel she ain’t no Hong-Kong whore; our love is boo-coo real. Corporal Cooper always smiled… My tour was up; I headed home; he stayed in Vietnam. A week before they were to marry— he was wasted by a friendly F-100 cluster bomb. They couldn’t find enough to bury. They couldn’t find enough to bury. Corporal Cooper always smiled…
We Snuck Out (2020) : Inspired by the exploits of my brother-in-law Rick. / Miss Eldred, who humiliated me for using the word “snuck,” would be horrified.
Drums: Nick Bertling; Vocals, Electric Guitar, Bass Guitar, Tambourine, Clave: Ahren; Recording, mix: Ahren
We were VMI’s Truly badass guys We were real men We proved it again We snuck out Despite the general’s threats We snuck out We were not model cadets We snuck out We needed beer We snuck out We had to hear Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts (it took real guts) Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts (to go out after dark) Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts We were VMI’s… We snuck out around midnight We snuck out To some mean shit-hole dive We snuck out our sacred rite We snuck out And came alive to Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts.. They wouldn’t sell ‘em at the record store ‘Cause Hot Nuts weren’t a bore They wouldn’t play ‘em on the radio ‘Cause Hot Nuts did not blow Who gives a shit about reports and grades we love “Big Jugs” and “Two Old Maids” We’re only thinkin’ with our “Ding-a-Lings” when our man Doug Clark sings Baby, we ran the block baby, rocked ‘round the clock now baby, out here in these boondocks, “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” We snuck out midnight vacation We snuck out we’d bum some rides We snuck out To the greyhound station to pick up seven copies of their latest sides they came by bus especially for us The music that could kick some military butts Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts
Midshipmen (2018) : This started as a poem and, I’m afraid, never quite completed the transition to song.
Flute, Piccolo, Alto Sax: Kim; Recording, mix: Frank
They’ve set up tents in Ogle Hall’s back yard. The biggest has a crystal chandelier. Hors d'oeuvres are in the ballroom Lafayette once called “the most beautiful room in America.” Midshipmen drink iced tea and lemonade, alumni and their spouses wine and beer. We grownups sit around and reminisce; the kids plan their career. Midshipmen. Some are graduating this year, getting shoulder boards and bars, some heading off to submarines, They’ve set up tents in Ogle Hall’s back yard. The biggest has a crystal chandelier. Hors d'oeuvres are in the ballroom Lafayette once called “the most beautiful room in America.” Midshipmen drink iced tea and lemonade, alumni and their spouses wine and beer. We grownups sit around and reminisce; the kids plan their career. Midshipmen. Some are graduating this year, getting shoulder boards and bars, some heading off to submarines, I guess this celebration’s not the time or place. I get myself another Chardonnay. I look for blood and tears but I can’t find a trace in “the most beautiful room in America.”
Iron Lung (2017) : Based on the poem by my writing group buddy John Slidell.
Lyrics: John Slidell & Lee; Music: Lee; Guitar: Lee; Recording, mix: Ryan
I cannot feel my body no feeling in my toes This capsule’s breathing for me a tube runs down my nose My mother stays beside me she sleeps here every night She is my inspiration to not give up the fight They say I might get better play basketball someday I dream of cold spring waters ride rockets to the Milky Way I think I’m getting better that’s when the pain begins It takes all spring, all summer Sometimes I feel my limbs My mother stays beside me she sleeps here every night She is my inspiration to not give up the fight They say I might get better… I’m choking No one’s around I’m choking Starting to drown I bang on the bars, can't scream, can't shout the nurses came running before I escape to the mountains they suction me out The feeding tube’s removed It’s time to break away and my first taste of ginger ale yes, my first taste of ginger ale stays with me to this day
Berzelius (2015) : Like all the boys I loved my shapely blond high school chemistry teacher but will always loath the subject. This song is my attempt at atonement.
Guitar: Lee; Recording, mix: Eli
Jöns Jacob Berzelius, Swedish chemist, alias: Bonds, among forgotten sacred icons, prince of protons and electrons, in multiple careers, in only sixty-eight years, expanded our world view. What did you do? He was ennobled by the king. Do you deserve ennobling? If you’re a duke, viscount, or baronet, then you were born that way I’ll bet. While you were working on your abs or chewing on ice cubes, he introduced into his labs paper filters and rubber tubes. Jöns Jacob Berzelius… Explore exciting new frontiers? Lead scientific pioneers? Earn accolades from all your peers? Do anything deserving cheers? While you were propagating genes Bonds identified proteins. While you dropped out, tuned in, turned on, he discovered silicon. Jöns Jacob Berzelius… Did you close your eyes and plug your ears? Believe your lies, deny your fears? Cause your sweetheart salty tears? Drink a few too many beers? While you were conked out at your desk, depressed and fighting tedium, he just precipitated a new element, selenium. And thorium. And cerium. Jöns Jacob Berzelius, Swedish chemist, alias: Berz, (that’s the alias his great-great- grand-daughter prefers) in multiple careers, in only sixty-eight years, expanded our world view. What did you do? Like all of us he suffered from imperfect human nature: He made a choice much worse than dumb: in Berz’s nomenclature for molecules he got his numbers somehow flipped: the two in H2O was not a subscript; it was a superscript! Like H-squared-O. Jöns Jacob Berzelius, whatever were you thinking? No wonder you’re forgotten and your reputation’s sinking. I once considered you a genius too but here’s the rub: you’re not if you can’t differentiate super- and sub-.
Don’t Tell Mom (2006) : My longest song ever—they played it on the radio in Bloomington but wanted me to cut it. I couldn’t. / Third episode true; first two invented.
Acoustic Guitar: Lee; Recording, mix: Tom
Midnight Christmas Eve 1991 Mark was six eating Santa’s cookies drinking Santa’s Coke His dad awoke wondering why he can’t assemble a God-damned thing like real men He went downstairs to try again and caught the thief cookie in hand Please, dad, don’t tell mom Don’t worry, Mark, we’ll keep her in the dark She’ll never understand ‘Cause women don’t know beans about what it means to be a man Midnight Christmas Eve 1998 Mark was thirteen hiding in the attic with dad’s old magazines His dad awoke to a sound mice or maybe bats somewhere near maybe reindeer He went upstairs to look around and caught his kid Playboy in hand Please, dad.. Midnight Christmas Eve 2006 Mark’s dad dreams of baby screams and tennis teams the former future rookie with the killer stroke eating Santa’s cookies drinking Santa’s Coke shepherds, angels, camels, and three kings the phone rings 9am Baghdad daylight saving time Mark is 21 Hello son It isn’t anything a superficial wound maybe bad enough to get me home soon no broken bone near the Green Zone not like yours, dad, in Vietnam an IED, not a real bomb got me in no-man’s land weapon in hand Please, dad… (We may win, we may lose / don’t let mom watch the news. Life is like basketball / if you play, you may fall. Don’t tell your mom I said it, but women just don’t get it.)
Hey Wolfgang (1977) :I wrote this during my long, frustrating quest to appreciate Mozart. I was attempting to describe my frustration at my philistinism, but everyone assumes the song just says “I hate Mozart.” In fact, my quest succeeded and I’ve loved him for decades. Except the operas. Except The Magic Flute.
Guitar: Lee; Recording, mix: Eli
Hey Wolfgang you little twit take your magic flute and stuff it Hey Wolfgang you little shit take your magic flute and stuff it When I was young I was sure I’d be a great connoisseur of fine music and art but to this day I still can’t stomach you, Mozart You’ll never be on my juke Your music makes me puke It’s all so prissy and quaint and rather elegant, but funky it ain’t Hey Wolfgang you little bum take your high-heeled shoes and stuff ’em Hey Wolfgang you little twit take your magic flute and stuff it Now I can groove on Van Gogh and I can move it to Bach I’m not that big on Gaugin but I sure dig Ludwig Van I gave the old college try now I’m into most of you guys but lately I feel so dumb can’t understand where you and Wagner are coming from Hey Richard you paragon take your Viking helmet and sit on it Hey Wolfgang you little twit take your little baton and stuff it I always wanted to be a child prodigy but I weren’t no genius like you when I was thirteen I was still faking stomach flu You were on a stage conducting your symphony I was in my back yard getting chased by a bumblebee Hey Wolfgang just wait and see you’re gonna live a life of poverty But don’t worry your music thrives soon as you bite the dust at thirty-five Hey Wolfgang you little shit take your magic flute and stuff it