I am absolutely blown away by your latest album Real Life!

Jerry

…there is a common thread of your life story moving throughout each song

Tony

It is great, obviously, love your candor in the notes.

Pat

Your CD is amazing! … The sound is terrific, the instrumentation sounds top-notch.  Listening to it requires more than listening; it requires thought and even a little meditation, as the words are so engaging …Thanks for letting me and the rest of the world in like that.

Bruce

“Real Life.” I’ve got it stuck in my head at the moment.

Lynn

Your way of singing your thoughts, sometimes just listing them, is an unmistakable signature.

Bob

This record is incredible! 

Ryan

Great job. Nice singing, great unique song [“Ain’t Gonna Watch No News”], pleasant mix, very musical. Really great Lee!

Corky

The Cover

When I was a kid I wanted to be a priest. I had a serious altar in my bedroom. I said the rosary. I had a nun doll. Why a priest? I’m not sure, but:

  • I was an earnest boy who believed authority figures (nuns), and
  • the most educated men I knew were priests, and
  • maybe I knew I was gay and my only single male role models were priests.

Better yet, I imagined becoming a monk—isolated, I believed, from the real world with its bullies and other torments.

Then came algebra. Math actually made sense to me. Instead of tying my head in knots trying to believe the incomprehensible, I could understand and believe in equations. Answers that were true. Answers that were certain. It was a long road to completely surrendering my Catholic faith but ever since doing so I’ve lived in mathematical heaven.

I still love the trappings of religion, however. I still watch Christmas Eve midnight mass at the Vatican every year. My family gave me a robe. And I finally bought a real, albeit deconsecrated, chalice.

The Real Life cover represents my arc from monk to math. The expression on my face? General disgust with the state of the world, especially our beloved America.


Stream the full album here

or selected songs with commentary and lyrics below:

Real Life : Full Album – Lee Chapman

Real Life (2018) : My friend Josh plays brilliantly on this succinct elucidation of all I know about the real meaning of life.

A walk on the beach: sand castles built by toddlers’ dads
A walk on the beach: sand penis / spring break undergrads
Real life is nothing like
A walk on the beach

A walk on the beach: she’s going topless on a dare
A walk on the beach: he’s seeking last night’s underwear
Real life is nothing like
A walk on the beach

Real life isn’t paying off your student debt
(although you should)
Real life isn’t working out until you sweat
(although you should)
Real life is wandering around the Met
Real life is soaking in a bubble bath
with a glass of Chardonnay, a string quartet
pondering philosophies
that you don’t get
yet

A cruise on the Nile: feluccas, palm trees, piles of stones
A cruise on the Nile: Tut’s treasures—poor guy—skin and bones
Real life is nothing like
A cruise on the Nile

A cruise on the Nile: young sunbird, peristyles, crocodiles
A cruise on the Nile: old goatherd, tourists massacred
Real life is nothing like
A cruise on the Nile

We walk on the beach—you look down
studying something on the ground
You wouldn’t notice someone drown
or beautiful bodies turning brown
You’re seeing the driftwood’s rusty nails
and durable plastic—shovels and pails
You’re missing a schooner’s filled-out sails
You’re missing a pod of breaching whales

Real life isn’t paying off…

A drive up the coast: white clapboards,
northern mockingbirds
A drive up the coast: Moose Peak Light, tempest-tossed, Robert Frost
Real life is nothing like

A drive up the coast
a clambake, Yankee pot roast
An inn with a ghost—I saw her—really, almost
Everything’s quaint; real life ain’t

lyrics

Ain’t Gonna Watch No News (2018) : This was a wise resolution. I haven’t kept it.

I ain’t gonna watch no news no more
(I just want to be happy)

the latest scam I shouldn’t fall for
celebrity shenanigans conservatives abhor
last night’s historic game’s amazing score
environmental crises I should not ignore

I ain’t…

the local news at ten makes me snore
the mayor’s corrupt the traffic’s bad it’s really gonna pour
don’t want to bring us down and get specific
‘cause national and world are far too horrific

I ain’t…

I’m outraged-out—I wish the news were a bore
I try not to care when my TV is dripping blood and gore 
from halfway around the world another war
that’s being fought in my name leaves my psyche sore

I ain’t…

lyrics

I Can Tell (2019) : Noticing that, for a while, the only things I ever talked to my husband about were my diet, my new car’s features, and my sore back, I realized he might be getting sick of those topics and sick of me.

I can tell you’re sick of me
Sick of my diet
Sick of my new car’s features
Sick of celebrity gossip
You don’t care at all
What Ringo said to Paul

I’m afraid you’re bored with me
Sick of my back pain
Sick of computer crises
Sick of reality TV
You don’t want to know
Who’s safe and who must go

I can tell
I’m blathering, you’re lost in your cell
You’re phosphorescent blue, I’m pastel
You’re single-malt straight up, I’m pink Zinfandel
I can tell

You can’t tell I’m afraid
You’re oblivious
Reading French novels
Medical journals
Writing your conference paper
You would be surprised
You don’t realize

I can tell…

lyrics

I Know I Annoy You (2019) : Bob and I have been together 28 years. In real life we don’t annoy each other very much. Also, Sondheim would not approve of “rhyming” “mean to” with itself.

Every time I fast
You are aghast
Every time I binge
you cringe

When I am spendthrift
You’re miffed
When I am a cheapskate
You berate me

I know I annoy you
It’s so easily done
I know I annoy you
and surprisingly fun

It bugs you when I make
a grammar mistake
If I like a song
You explain why I am wrong

It bugs you when I snore
It bugs you when I breathe
every time I slam a door
you seethe

I know I annoy you…

Although I annoy you
Honestly I don’t mean to
I know I annoy you

Though I know it’s so mean to

But I can’t help it
It’s just the way I am
less a fleece-white little lamb
No I can’t help it
I’m more an
ancient Roman battering ram

And you can’t help it
It’s just the way you are
with your finely-tuned radar
No we can’t help it
Together we can rapidly go too far

If I ask a question
You claim it’s hiding a suggestion
Any music I admire you disdain
Any policy I favor you consider insane
or at least inhumane

I know I annoy you…

lyrics

Couldn’t Go Wrong (1978 & 2019) : At a songwriting workshop I mentioned that I’d written a self-referential song a long time ago and sang the first few lines. Two fellow songwriters (Erik Dionne and Elise Adelmann) loved it, so I dug it out of the archives. It was mostly crap but had some good elements, so I reworked it.

I sat right down and wrote this song
‘bout things that couldn’t go wrong but do
like buying used cars from Honest Dan and
falling in love with a girl like you

Couldn’t go wrong

I better beware of this new app
and looking for love on my iPhone
you never know what’ll land in your lap
I never woulda signed up if I’d known 

Couldn’t go wrong

If I were more skeptical
I wouldn’t fall under your evil spell
If I weren’t so naive
I wouldn’t be caught in that web you weave

I wouldn’t go wrong

I sat right down and wrote this song
‘bout things that couldn’t go wrong but do
like being talked into just one more or
falling in love with a girl like you

Couldn’t go wrong

I better beware of this great deal
I better think twice ‘cause it’s a steal and
I better figure out just who screws who—who screws who?
Before we’re at the altar and you say “I do!”

Couldn’t go wrong

If I were more skeptical…

I sat right down…

lyrics

Outside / Inside (2016) : I’ve always been baffled that we put so much work and resources into building buildings and then want class to meet outside on the quad. I want to meet inside.

Outside is cold
or else too hot;
inside is not.

Outside is dry
or else too wet;
inside's an indoor cat to pet.

Outside it’s raincoats, or gloves and boots.
Inside it’s sweat gear or birthday suits.
Outside are bad guys, rapists and crooks.
Inside it’s me and TV and art books.

Outside smells like diesel fumes
or Ginkgo trees or cow manure.
Inside my antiseptic rooms
it's filtered, air conditioned, pure.

Outside is cold…

On the other hand:
Inside's a humorless overdue math book—I don't get,
something about some unique paradoxical—finite set;
a new improved probably buggy OS—to download;
an incomprehensible Shakespeare sonnet—to decode.

Outside’s too dark
or else too bright;
inside you simply adjust a knob
until the light’s just right.
Nevertheless, nevertheless:

We humans spend a lot of money,
energy, and time 
designing and constructing buildings.
Isn't it a crime 
that some of us eschew our hardwood
floors and Persian rugs
to crawl around on dirt and weeds
with garbage, snakes, and bugs?

Outside,
monsters—are real,
behind—the wheel,
sometimes—with guns.
Inside,
they’re in—my head,
but for—the ones,
under—my bed.

Outside is cold…

Outside’s tornadoes, and hail, and snow,
footballs to fumble, the lead to blow,
hunters and fishermen haunting my barbershop,
glasses to break and a pop fly to drop,
climbing the grown-up pool’s high diving board,
escaping the after-school Protestant horde.

Inside I’m building a giant cathedral
with Girder and Panel construction kit steeple,
Lincoln Logs, Gilbert Erector Set,
miraculous Infant of Prague statuette,
Tinkertoy, plastic American bricks,
baldachin, candlesticks, monstrance, and crucifix.

Outside is cold;
outside is wet.
Outside is cold
or else too hot;
inside it's not.

lyrics

I’d Never Get Up (2017) : I’m good at sleeping. I like bed. Sometimes I’m depressed; usually not. Lots of Fermilab references.

Thank God songs have imperfections;
thank God kitties need injections.

I’d never get up.
Never get up. Nope. No.

Thank God poems need redacting;
thank God protons need extracting;
thank God I love interacting with my fellow man.

I’d never get up…

Thank God computers need assistance liquefying Helium,
and aromatic volatiles reach my olfactory epithelium.
Thank God bladders are not infinite.
Thank God love exists and I’m in it.

I’d never get up…

lyrics

I’m Not Bald (2019) : On my family’s Alaskan cruise we saw several bald eagles. I had to wonder what they think about being our national symbol.

You don’t know
What I’m called
You don’t know

(repeat)

You think you own me; I do not consent 
There’s no way I will ever represent 
Your military or your government 
Especially your current president 

You don’t know
What I’m called
Let me go
I’m not bald.

I don’t exemplify
I will not glorify
I will not symbolize
Hypocrisy and lies

You don’t know…

You put me on your twenty-two cent stamp 
So kids could lick me writing home from camp 
You put me on your quarter dollar coin 
I’m in your pants from LA to Des Moines 

You don’t know
What I’m called
Let me go
I’m not bald.

I am not your ideal
I’m flying off your seal
Can’t take it any more
I won’t stand for
your Marine Corps
Eat fish
Make love
not war

lyrics

You Think You Know Me (2019) : My life is good. My worst complaints are utterly first-world. But part of me sometimes wants to break out and do something wild.

You think you know me
inside and outside

You think you know me
You got me classified

You think you know me
But someday
You and the real world will collide

You think you know me
You got me categorized

You think you know me
I’m thoroughly analyzed

You think you know me
You think you know me
But someday
Someday
you might be surprised

You think you can predict
The outcome
Of every conflict

You think you know
in advance
Who runs this show
Who wears the pants
No!

You think you know me
You’ve got my folder filed

You think you know me
I’m just a fifties child

You think you know me
But someday
Someday
I might do something wild!

Like having that third glass
enrolling in a square dance class

Like camping out on my back lawn
Like birding at the crack of dawn

Like practicing piano daily
Like buying one more ukulele

I’ll get a cause
like passing laws
banning straws

You think…

lyrics

Last Night Meant Something (2014) : OK, this was 2014’s unrequited love song, I guess.

Last night meant something.
Those words meant something.
What we did must have meant something
to you, you too.

Last night meant something…

What we did was kinda fun.
What we did can’t be undone.
I’m hoping, I’m hoping,
still hoping, for at least one rerun.

What you said I can’t ignore.
What we swore was pretty hardcore.
What I said, what I said,
I never said before.

Last night meant something…

Last night was New Year’s Eve.
You rarely drink like that.
Your flight is your train is
your taxi is about to leave.

You’re allergic to my cat;
You’ve barely time to chat.
You think I, you think I,
you think I, I am so naive.

What? You're right. But…

Last night meant something…

lyrics

This Love (2019) : I wanted to enshrine one of my favorite clichés, “Scientists are baffled,” but not write about things that actually baffle scientists.

Scientists are baffled
They can’t see
How anyone in his right mind could possibly
still love me

Scientists are baffled
So what’s new?
They don’t know how anyone with half a clue could
Still love you

This love of ours is blessed
With superpowers
This love of ours will last
Like plastic flowers

not the kind that fade
or look homemade
or totally disintegrate
in toxic micro-particles of hate

the kind whose beauty doesn’t stop
whose petals never drop
the kind that just grow fresher
under pressure

This love

They can not explain 
love is real
how stomach flu, psoriasis, and chronic pain
It can heal

They’re not all that smart
They can’t feel
They don’t comprehend the fine and subtle art
of the deal

This love of ours is blessed…

So this love we’ve built
on trust, not guilt
on honesty, integrity, no lies, and lots of
compromise, compromise

After all we’ve said
this love should be dead
After all we’ve done
Life should not be fun

But it is
We learn and we live
We fight; we forgive

but scientists are baffled
by this love
They don’t know what elementary particles
it’s made of

This love

lyrics

It’s Time (2019) : This is the only “live” recording on Real Life, inspired by the boss of my writing group, “Words on Water,” deciding it was time for a change in the organization’s structure. She made that a prompt.

It’s time.
It’s time to change.
This time let’s not just rearrange the furniture.

It’s time.
It’s time to go.
Let’s sell the house and overthrow the status quo.

Let’s grow.
Time to admit
we had our run, let’s quit
‘cause we are done.

Surprise!
We had our highs.
Time to debunk the lies.
This ship has sunk.
It’s time.
It’s time to leave.
This time let’s just admit we gave it our best shot but failed.

Surprise!
Our love derailed—
not just a tiff we’ve sailed
over the cliff.

It’s time.

lyrics

When You Just Don’t Care (2017) : In preparing this album I noticed a mistake in this song. It would have been cute to leave it in because I just don’t care, but I do care. Although the original files are mysteriously lost, Ahren and I were able, with much archeological and surgical effort, to reconstruct it. (My rhyming dictionary got a real workout here.)

Whether you're single, or half a pair,
totally faithful, in an affair,
playing on-line poker or solitaire:
play it with flair.

No need worrying whether everything's fixed or fair.
Life is so much easier when you just don’t care.

Whether you're glued to your easy chair,
whether skydiving in midair,
writing love poetry or web software:
write it with flair.

No need worrying…

Whether you say your nightly prayer, 
whether you take more than your share,
you can be a billionaire,
you can be on welfare.

Whether you're square or debonair, 
wearing white tie or underwear,
fighting for peace, or germ warfare:
fight ‘em with flair.

No need worrying…

Whether you're Leibniz or Voltaire,
living in the best or worst possible world where
you can be a common man, heir, or spare,
either vin ordinaire or rare.

No need worrying…

lyrics

The One Thing I Want (2016) : I always tell people my songs are usually inspired by my real life but are not my diary—I make stuff up. This song is the perfect example. Bob and I went through a doing-crossword-puzzles-together phase. He got sick of them before I did so I did them alone for a while. It occurred to me that this would make a good symbol for a relationship slowly deteriorating. Bob and I are fine but the couple in this song is not.

Every day for years
I'd go to work
and have a million loving thought of you.

Every day for years
I’d take a break e-
mail a kitty video to you.

Then
Every night for years
Every day for years
We'd have to work late
and cancel our date
Then
Trips to Cleveland

Now
The one thing I want
is for you
to come back.

Every night for years
We'd sit and watch the
nightly news and
have a glass of wine
Every night for years
We'd talk about our
daily blues and
share some hopes and fears
Then
Every night for years
we’d drink a second,
drink a third,
and do a crossword.
Then
I'd do it alone

Now…

But the one thing you want is

Every week for years
honest talks on nature walks in parks and woods with muddy shoes and autumn trees and snakes and bees.
Then
Every week for years
the bookstore and Starbucks
Then
pumpkin scones, coffee clones, separate phones.

Now…

But the one thing you want
is for me to stop asking for 
the one thing I want.

lyrics

I’m Doing the Best I Can (2019) : As I was leaving physical therapy a voice in my head said, “I’m not confused, but my brain is.” Who said that? I’m confused.

I am not confused,
but my brain is. 
Are you underused? (ten percent!)
Take this brain brain quiz:

Why do you think about nuns?
Why do you think about ROTC?
Why do you think about college roommates?
Why do you think about our old boss?
Why do you fret about politics?
Getting upset about dirty tricks?

Why do you have no
answer for me?
Nothing apropos?
Could it be:

That you are still that little boy big brat small fry?
That you are still that baby-tot-kid-teen young guy?
That you are still that middle-aged middle-class
	middle-man?

I’m doing the best I can.

Why do you think about things that people should do
	but don’t? 
Why do you think about things that possibly could go wrong 	but probably won’t?
I’m doing the best I can.

But you are always whining,
undermining, 
assigning blame.
Like I’m some imposition.
Like we’re in competition.
Like life’s a football game.

Why keep interrupting 
With things to do
Disrupting sleep
With thoughts of me and you
Thinking thoughts too shallow
followed up with thoughts too deep.

Why do you think about dropping dead?
Wallow in existential dread?
Why do you think about… 

I’m doing the best I can.
stop blaming me, son, you’re the one
obsessing on that nasty nun
I’m trying not to be misled
I try to think ahead instead
avoiding bloodshed’s my ideal
to sleep in bed not at the wheel
I’m doing the best I can.

Why aren’t you like me, talking,
ever growing?
instead of silently stalking,
torpedo-ing?

Why do you think about…

lyrics

Whadda You Care (2019) : I used to hate fashion. Now I appreciate a cool runway show. But who cares what I wear?

I know you’re a man of solid principle.
You consider most behaviors inadmissible.
Old men’s in particular are unforgivable,
not to mention mine, which I’m inclined, to think you’d find despicable.

I am impressed by your discipline, dear comrade,
governed by rules undeniably ironclad.
I am sorry that you’re forced to see
miscreant reprobate fools like me,

I know you’d indict me, arrest me, and try me in the fashion courts
‘cause I’ve been known to wear:
cargo shorts!
Whadda you care?

And though it violates one of your deeply held beliefs,
I’ve been known to wear:
white cotton briefs!
Whadda you care?

How do you know?
Did you follow me
into the locker room?
Do you spy on me?
Or just presume?

You’d forgo the justice system
strip me naked lock me in ye olde towne square stocks
throw stones, break bones, throw rocks
‘cause I’ve been known to wear:
sandals with socks!
Whadda you care?

You’ve made me aware
you’re cool, I’m square,
I’m old, you’re young,
you’re spring, I’m sprung.
I am your fashion nightmare.
But if you don’t like it, don’t stare!
Whadda you care?
Why do you care?

Whadda you care
what I wear?
How dare you tell me how to dress?
My guess:
you dress for success,
you dress to impress,
‘cause inside you there’s nothing but depressing emptiness!

Whadda you care?
Why do I care?

lyrics

Self-Loathing (2017) : There’s a little bit of cute logic in this song. If the listener isn’t thinking he or she won’t get it. (I’m holding out against the singular “they”; and yes, I know, Shakespeare used it. But Sister Mary-Whatever definitely did not.)

When I mention: Chicago
Your reaction: ice and snow

When I mention: Illinois
Your reaction: hoi polloi

When I mention: the Midwest
Your reaction: je déteste

You hate everything I love.
So you should be full of self-loathing.

When I mention: Jackson Pollock
Your reaction: alcoholic

I love preaching modern math
Making you a sociopath

I love any chocolate
Any of your pants still fit?

You hate…

Any Joni Mitchell song
All her harmonies are wrong

Any show by Stephen Sondheim
Too complex, too much rhyme

Sunday in the Park
Act two jumps the shark

John Paul George and Ringo
No no no no no no

The fifteenth symphony of Philip Glass
I’m gonna take a pass I’m gonna take a pass
I pass I pass I pass I pass

When I mention: Frank Lloyd Wright
Your reaction: urban blight

All-glass curving curtain wall
Tiny bathrooms, kitchen’s small

Prairie style silhouette
And the roof leaks I would bet

You hate…

lyrics

I Don’t See You (2018) : I’ll never understand why I didn’t want to say “hi” to my high-school friend when I ran into him. (In real life we never kissed—I added that to make the song better. My songs are not my diary!)

I don’t let mom drive much anymore. 
I take her out to a grocery store—
fluorescent like a pastry-stocked OR.
We hit the SNACKS and skip the SALAD BAR.

A gangly guy, someone I used to know
in algebra, a hundred years ago,
who wrote the score for every high school show
and walked full speed into a plate glass window.

I don’t see you;
you don’t see me.

I wonder, is that your wife and child?
I thought you’d end up like Oscar Wilde.
You wonder, does he live with his mom?
You probably did time in Vietnam.

We sneak down the COFFEE CANDY aisle.
I picture a hippy Gomer Pyle.
You’re thinking, he used to play guitar;
apparently did not become a rock star.

I don’t see you…

What’s wrong with me?
Like why on earth did I pretend
I didn’t see
my drama club forever friend?
What’s wrong with us?
Too shy to reminisce about
that yellow bus,
that psychedelic kiss.

It’s Tuesday, my turn to stay with mom.
Since dad’s gone, she cannot be alone.
We eat quick and clip a couple coupons
and gossip until her favorite sitcoms.

lyrics

Real Life Has Begun (2004) : Bob and I used to perform this but it was not popular. I think the reason may be that we played it too fast; this is a greatly slowed-down version. This song is meant to be a splash of cold water in the face of people who are always waiting for the next phase: in grade school waiting for high school, in high school waiting for college, then waiting for a career, then retirement, never realizing that real life has already begun.

Real life has begun.
Some somedays have come and gone.
Some races are already lost, some won.
Real life has begun.

Ten or fifteen billion years ago
real life began.
With the big bang, then the sun,
and the slime, then the also-rans.

It’s sad, it’s good, it’s bad, it’s fun
but whatever it is, it has begun.
The slime, the sun, will end one day
but whenever it’s done, it is underway.

Real life has begun…
Whether or not your duck’s in the water
when the starter’s gun shoots, it shoots.
Whether or not you agree philosophically,
real life’s begun.

Despite this blindfold and despite
these ten-megawatt headphones,
despite rubber gloves,
eventually somehow I sensed
through these layers of fuzz
real life had commenced.

Real life has begun…

lyrics