“Operator”

“Operator”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Jim Croce
“Operator”

Story by Ingrid Croce

Written and Recorded by Jim Croce

In 1963 Jim Croce was a clean-cut sophomore at Villanova University with a double major in psychology and modern languages. He knew over 2,000 songs that he played as a solo artist at college concerts, coffee houses and East Coast society engagements.

In addition to performing, Jim worked at the college radio station, doing a three-hour folk and blues show. He interviewed great artists like Mississippi John Hurt and Son House. Hearing this music reminded Jim of the traditional jazz and blues his father played on their old phonograph, which was seldom without a stack of Turk Murphy, Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, or Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti records.

That December I was just 16 and making the transformation from a cartwheeling cheerleader at Springfield High into a Joan Baez inspired folkie. Jim Croce was judging a folk contest I was in at Convention Hall in Philadelphia with my group “The Rumrunners” and he picked me!

After the concert, Jim asked me to perform with him and we became a duo. Our relationship grew from our love of music and an undeniable attraction we had for each other from the start.

While at Villanova, Jim had joined the Army National Guard and had waited for over two years to be called to take his basic training. Just days before our wedding on August 26, 1966 Jim finally received his orders to report for duty. Though we were madly in love and couldn’t wait to move in together, sadly, 5 days after our honeymoon, Jim got his head shaved, his boots polished and gave me a teary-eyed kiss goodbye at the Pennsylvania Station. He was on his way to Boot Camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Jim wrote me wonderful love letters every day. He also wrote about his strong distaste for authority and drew pictures of his Sergeants, posting them around the barracks with quotes that said things like, “Half the army reads comic books and the other half just look at the pictures.” This type of “rebelliousness” led to the necessity of Jim having to repeat basic training twice. But, as always, Jim’s discontent fueled his humor and he found his wit and musical talent could be used in his favor.

At every opportunity, Jim practiced his guitar and entertained his fellow soldiers. When his superiors heard Jim’s music they excused his transgressions and asked Jim to perform for them at the Officers Club. It was at Fort Jackson that Jim really started to get a lot of new ideas for his songs.

As Jim used to explain at his shows, “I got the idea for writing ‘Operator’ by standing outside the PX, waiting to use one of the outdoor phones. There wasn’t a phone booth. It was just stuck up on the side of the building and there were about 200 guys in each line waiting to make a phone call back home, to see if their ‘Dear John’ letters were true. And with their raincoats over their heads, covering the telephone and everything, it really seemed surreal that so many people were going through the same experience, going through the same kind of change, and to see it happen especially on something like a telephone, talking to a long distance operator just registered…

When I got out of the Army, I was working at a bar where there was a telephone directly behind where I was playing. I couldn’t help be disturbed by it all the time, and I noticed that the same kinda thing was happening, people checkin’ up on somebody or finding out what was goin’ on, but always talkin’ to the operator, and I decided I would write a song about it.”

“Operator”

Operator, oh could you help me place this call?

You see the number on the matchbook is old and faded.

She’s livin’ in L.A.

With my best old ex-friend Ray,

A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated.

Isn’t that the way they say it goes?

But let’s forget all that

And give me the number if you can find it

So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show

I’ve overcome the blow.

I’ve learned to take it well

I only wish my words could just convince myself

That it just wasn’t real,

But that’s not the way it feels.

Operator, oh could you help me place this call,

’Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me?

There’s something in my eyes,

You know it happens every time

I think about the love that I thought would save me.

Isn’t that the way they say it goes?

But let’s forget all that

And give me the number if you can find it

So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show

I’ve overcome the blow.

I’ve learned to take it well,

I only wish my words could just convince myself

That it just wasn’t real

But that’s not the way it feels.

Operator, oh let’s forget about this call.

There’s no one there I really wanted to talk to.

Thank you for your time,

Oh you’ve been so much more than kind

And you can keep the dime.

Isn’t that the way they say it goes?

But let’s forget all that

And give me the number if you can find it

So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show

I’ve overcome the blow.

I’ve learned to take it well

I only wish my words could just convince myself

That it just wasn’t real,

But that’s not the way it feels.

Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels). Words and Music by Jim Croce. © 1971 (Renewed 1999) TIME IN A BOTTLE PUBLISHING and CROCE PUBLISHING. All Rights Controlled and Administered by EMI APRIL MUSIC INC. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by Permission.

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