Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie – Thoughts on a February Day, Fifty-three Years Later

A recent piece on talk radio this past week got me to thinking about Don McLean and his song, "Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie."  There’s a lot written online about Don McLean’s song and I’m not going to try to add to all of that, too much.  I just love this song and others written by Don, like “Vincent”.  I thought I would add my two cents worth to the pile.  I understand Don does not comment on the song, now, if he ever did.  He's left it to others to interpret.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
I will say this, though:  If Don was critical of The Rolling Stones and their behavior on stage, and their ill-advised use of the Hell's Angels as body guards at Altamont, I agree with him.  The advent of evil and darkness in modern music represents a departure from music toward something else….not music.  Therefore, the music died.  Just listen to today’s Rap.  It’s neither beautiful nor uplifting.

But the music of Don's teenage years (and mine) was over-shadowed, not only by the satanic specters of the Stones and the Doors, but also by the political and social protest music of people like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary.

I believe, in his song, he tells how the music he really loved and which he really expected to play for the world, in his life, died; and that music was, I believe, old-fashioned Rock and Roll (and, perhaps, Do-Wop, as well).  He says, in his song, it died, with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, in a snowy cornfield in 1959; and again, when Bob Dylan became more popular than Elvis Presley; and again, when no single musician or group could keep up with the Beatles in their popularity; and, finally, when the Rolling Stones and others, like The Doors, took music out of the realm of beauty into satanic misery.

Buddy Holly

Many good and great musicians, including Joan Baez, Judy Collins, even, James Taylor, lived on the crumbs and in the shadow of the “most popular” through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  The passing of the greats left a void, of sorts, where the less popular moiled and toiled to raise themselves up and go forward.  The greats, like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Stones, left behind a fragmented music industry, factionalized and struggling.  Rising up out of those ashes, is Don McLean’s historical, even epic, song, describing the rise and fall of a generation, born of “the Greatest Generation” but floundering in its own hugeness and confusion.

Well, I’m no expert.  I just have an opinion based upon the little I know and how the music affects me, personally.  Don was a very good musician, acquainted with pathos and beauty.  You can hear it in his voice and in the music he has written.  It’s especially evident in this song, American Pie.  You can hear his original version on the link, here.  You can also find his re-recording of it.  In the re-recording, done years after the original, he showcases his wonderful voice even more than ever.  He is a superb singer, really.

Don McLean
Listen to:  Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie by Don McLean

Thank you, Don and your friends, including Woody Guthrie, who once said he hated a song that didn’t uplift and present positivity and beauty.  Woody said songs that drag you down are bad, that he wouldn’t ever write such a song.  And he didn’t.  Have you ever heard his song about why he let a bunch of hound dogs “lick him all over (“Talking Hard Work Song”)?”  It's a truly humorous song about hard work and what a man will do to win over a good woman.  And what would the world be like without “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You”, a song born during the Dustbowl when neighbors parted from neighbors, friends from friends and families from relatives in horrific conditions.  Or “This Land is Your Land?”, a celebration of American exceptionalism?

Sing on, muses.  We’re listening…from Beethoven to Josh Groban, we love to hear you.  What do you think?

Tomorrow, I'll get back to quilting, I promise.

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