Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels) – Jim Croce – 1973

Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels) Single CoverMy mate Wozza has left a few comments on this blog asking, “When are we going to get a Jim Croce song?” A good question because, Jim Croce has, for many years been one of my favourite artists. And, if asked, “What’s your favourite song of all time?” I’ll invariably reply, Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels).

but the seventiesmusic blog has rules

I’ve been unable to write about Jim up until now because this blog has a strict rule – you can read it on the seventiesmusic About Page – but, in short, I can only write about a song I’ve heard on the radio the previous week – hence the rather eclectic mix of songs thus far!

the day jim croce died 

I remember clearly the morning I heard Jim Croce had died.

It’s Sunday.  I’m lying in bed, in the room I share with my brother. The news comes on. Right at the end there’s an item about the death of American singer/songwriter Jim Croce.  The previous Thursday – September 20th 1973 (news travelled slowly in those days) – having just completed a concert at North-western State University, in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and while taking off to fly to his next show at Austin College, in Texas, his plane failed to gain the altitude required to clear a tree at the end of the runway and all on board were killed (including Jim’s fellow guitarist Maury Muehleisen).

My brother and I make a brief comment, and that’s it. It meant little to me back then.  I’d heard very little of Jim’s music and didn’t really appreciate the amazing wordsmith he was.

move on six years

I’ve just completed my final year of high school. It’s the Christmas holidays. I’m working twelve hour night shifts sorting mail at the Central Post Office. It’s sometime in the wee small hours and, cutting through the quietness of the mailroom, one of the staff has a radio playing. A song I’ve heard many times before comes on and, for the first time, I listen to the words and to the staccato guitar rhythm and I’m captivated by it.

Now they say

You don’t tug on superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t pull the mask of the ol’ lone ranger

And you don’t mess around with Jim

My shift finishes at 8am and I wait for an hour ‘til Marbecks in Queen’s Arcade opens. I buy the album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.

and that’s how it started

I take the album home and listen to it. I’m so overawed by Jim’s ability to tell stories through his lyrics, and with Maury’s guitar playing, that, the very next day, I wait another hour after work and purchase, I Got a Name. Then, about a week later, I complete the initial Jim Croce collection with Life and Times.  All three albums reached gold record status in the US.

Of course, since then I’ve added all manner of albums featuring Jim or recorded with his wife Ingrid. And to this day, I know the lyrics to every Jim Croce song off by heart.

my favourite all time song

Picking my favourite all-time song is like choosing my favourite movie – it varies depending on my mood. But, like I said, if I had to nominate one, it would be the beautifully written and recorded Operator (That’s Not The Way it Feels).

It’s the most wonderful story of a man’s conversation with a telephone operator.  He’s trying to find the phone number of his true love. She’s moved to Los Angeles with his former best friend, Ray. He had her number written down on a matchbox but it’s faded and become indecipherable. He wants to make contact to prove, mostly to himself, that he is over her. The operator provides the phone number, but something in his eyes means he can’t read it. In the end reality hits him – he’s not over her and so, he decides not to call.

Operator, oh let’s forget about this call

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

Thank you for your time

You’ve been so much more than kind

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

mrs croce said

Jim’s wife Ingrid said of Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels);

‘Operator’ is one of my favourite songs.  Jim and I had gotten married in 1966, and we had been waiting for him to go in the service. He was a National Guard, which he had joined with the hope that he would not be sent over, and he would be able to continue his education and his music career. So he signed up for the National Guard, and just as soon as we decided to get married – in August of 1966, the week before our little wedding – he got a letter that said that he would be leaving within two weeks for his National Guard down in South or North Carolina, so he was leaving with a very heavy heart. My dad had been very ill and shortly after that passed away. And we had just waited… wanted to get married and have some time to be together after all those years of waiting. And all of the sudden here he is National Guard, where Jim is not very good with authority. And he’s in the south, and they were not very good with making pasta. He was missing good food, he was missing me, he was missing life in general. He’s one of the few guys I think who went through basic training twice… he really couldn’t follow the system. He’d always find things that were funny, like a handbook that he put together in dealing with the service with a whole bunch of quotes of how to deal with people in the Army. But anyway, he was standing there in the rain at a payphone. And he was listening to these stories of all these guys, the ‘Dear John’ stories, that were standing in line waiting their turn in the rain with these green rain jackets over their heads – I can just picture it, all of them in line waiting for their 3-minute phone call. Most of them were getting on the phone and they were okay, but some of them were getting these ‘Dear John’ letters, or phone calls. I think that was the most important aspect of the song, because it was just so desperate. You know, ‘I only have a dime’ and ‘You can keep the dime’ because money was very scarce and very precious, and I think if you look at the words to the song there are so many aspects of our generation that are in it.

operator (that’s not the way it feels) fax

  • Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels) was Jim’s second single from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. The first being the title track. It rose to #17 on the US singles chart.
  • Twelve of Jim’s songs were released as singles, only three prior to his death.
  • The B-side to the Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels) single is the wonderful story of Rapid Roy (The Stockcar Boy).
  • The 2010 eight minute movie, Not the Way it Feels, was inspired by Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels). (The video link to the trailer is below – I have a feeling the song is a lot better than the movie!).
  • Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels) appears on the soundtrack to the American drama series Everwood. It was covered by Toby Lightman.
  • In 2000, the Martin guitar company produced 73 guitars in honour of Jim. In each of these guitars, an uncirculated 1973 dime was inserted in the third fret of the fingerboard in reference to the line from Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)’s chorus, “You can keep the dime.” (1973 being the year Jim died).
  • In 1985, Ingrid Croce opened a restaurant and bar, Croces Restaurant and Jazz Bar, in San Diego, that serves to honour Jim’s memory.
  • Jim’s son AJ Croce, just a toddler when his father died, has had success as a recording artist.  Interestingly, as a young child, AJ lost his eyesight to a brain tumour.  Over the years much of the sight in his left eye has returned.  He plays jazz piano and guitar.
  • Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels) lyrics.

trailer for short movie – not the way it feels

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4 Responses to Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels) – Jim Croce – 1973

  1. wozza says:

    Yeah! Alright! My favourite Jim song is Alabama Rain. It always reminds me of my grandmother for some reason.

    I always remember that you also started the Jim collection thing quite deliberately. At the time you told me that I had Lennon and Beatles stuff to collect and you wanted someone that you could accumulate as well and that you chose Jim. You probably forget that but I distinctly remember the conversation. I remember weird things like that but forget what I had for dinner two nights ago!

    Back from Europe armed with tons of CDs. Listening to Bon Iver’s second proper album now. Got that first one yet?

  2. Greg.K. says:

    I remember you and Alabama Rain. I would say that I enjoy that song but that would be stating the obvious.

    I forget that conversation – but I cannot deny that we had it. I remember feeling rather envious that, for you, there seemed to be an infinite pile of collectables but, for me, the selection was rather limited.

    No – not got Bon Iver yet….

  3. Piggy says:

    Good ol’ Jim. Must admit, this song made me feel a tad homesick for some reason!

  4. Greg.K. says:

    It’s because, when Jim’s on, it’s like an old friend just walked into the room. (A wise man said that!).

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