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February Made Me Shiver
February 5, 2014 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Bob Dearborn was a disc jockey at WCFL in Chicago. He had some thoughts about a particular song.

"I sat down at the typewriter at home, stereo playing excerpts of the song in the background, chronologically laying out the meaning of all the song's clever little metaphors into what became a three, then five-page written analysis. "
posted by timsteil (60 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Back around 1994, the library I worked in had a computer installed where you could access the internet. It wasn't a regular service we offered at that point, it was part of a temporary display called "The Virtual Library." We had to search with archie or gopher or something like that.

Everything was ascii text.

As far as I could tell with my rudimentary searching skills, there were only three things on the internet:

1. ascii pictures of Bart Simpson
2. A long screed about The Beatles being a communist/homosexual plot
3. The essay that is the subject of this post

Thanks for posting this, hadn't thought about it for awhile!
posted by marxchivist at 9:33 AM on February 5 [13 favorites]


It was the #1 song in my neck of the woods on Jan.1.1972. I would've been twelve at the time. Didn't have a clue what any of it meant, but it was the song. A month or two later, I recall a weekend school ski trip (boys only). The place we were staying had a piano and one of the kids was pretty good at it, so it was decided we should have some kind of singalong, but only cool songs. The only song we all knew every word to was American Pie.

I'm not sure I want to know what it's supposed to mean.
posted by philip-random at 9:41 AM on February 5


GHOD, I hate that fucking song.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:53 AM on February 5 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure I want to know what it's supposed to mean.

I don't get the big mystery. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, the Big Bopper. They died. It was sad.

(Also, the melody of the chorus is ripped straight from the "ah-ah-ahahahah" part of "I'm Gonna Love You Too.")
posted by Sys Rq at 9:58 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


That song is so catchy and so verbose it kind of draws you in and traps you. I liked it when I first heard it. After really listening to the lyrics I began to loathe it. Its particular brand of wistful nostalgia really rubs me the wrong way. And it really bugs me how condemning he is of modern music in general and the Rolling Stones in particular.

The characterization of Bob Dylan as the "Jester" is both apt and insulting at the same time. I think Dylan was so much more than a jester, though I acknowledge he does adopt that persona at times.

I like Buddy Holly's music. I really do. But music did not die with Buddy Holly.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:59 AM on February 5 [4 favorites]


So the next time you're playng Trivial Pursuit - The Special Has-Been Edition - and Don McLean's name is mentioned, do me a favor. Say, as authoritatively as you can, "I heard he's an asshole." I'd appreciate it.
posted by theodolite at 9:59 AM on February 5 [10 favorites]


I don't get the big mystery. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, the Big Bopper. They died. It was sad.

Sys Rq, respectfully. No. It's more than that. It's an eight minute song that takes a vital moment of tragedy and extrapolates way out from there, and in the end, seems to serve as an artifact for how annoying other (ie: older) people's nostalgia can be.

but what do I know?
posted by philip-random at 10:04 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


From theodolite's "I heard he's an asshole" link: "While he was on the set, he had met John Ritter and mentioned his 'singing cowboy' idea. McLean became obsessed: what if Ritter stole the idea?"

Uh, Don...
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:06 AM on February 5 [12 favorites]


I appreciate how the song provoked my 1972-self into learning about just who this Buddy Holly guy was, but overall I share Dr. Wu's sentiment.
posted by Rash at 10:06 AM on February 5


Say, as authoritatively as you can, "I heard he's an asshole." I'd appreciate it.

Oh man. The response from Don McLean at the bottom of that piece is about as brutal an example of an own goal as you're ever likely to see. "I'M in Who's Who! Is Andy Breckman? I don't THINK so!"

Yeesh.
posted by yoink at 10:07 AM on February 5 [10 favorites]


Then again, reading though McLean's response, he denies ever having met John Ritter and acknowledges Tex Ritter, so maybe it was a joke that was misunderstood. Or maybe this isn't the best use of my brainspace anyway, and they're all dickheads (Except for John Ritter).
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:10 AM on February 5


I met John Ritter at a Fourth of July party, at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport. Guess he is like a third cousin or something.

We didn't talk much at all, but just watching him with people all I could think was "Wow, this guy is like the exact same idiot he plays on TV!" And honest to god I didn't know if that is who he really was, or he was just behaving like that because that's what people expected him to be.

Then I saw him in Sling Blade, and kind of regretted not making an effort to talk to him more that day.
posted by timsteil at 10:20 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


hay guyz let show you how edgy i am by hating on a 43-year-old song about musicians from 55 years ago.

i mean come on bruno mars is totes better
posted by entropicamericana at 10:21 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


We all did this in 1972.

I don't think this is the best available 'analysis'. For one thing the coat Bob Dylan 'borrowed from James Dean' is not a leather jacket, and I doubt McClean was thinking about Connie Francis as the queen. He got the Altamont references right, but totally missed that 'helter skelter' > The Fab Four inspiring mass murder, and Woodstock . . .

*  *  *


In answer to the question "What does 'American Pie' mean?" Don McClean supposedly once answered, "It means I never have to work again if I don't want to."
 
posted by Herodios at 10:23 AM on February 5 [9 favorites]


It's shocking that a performing artist could be less than perfectly stable and self-effacing.

Also, American Pie is much better when performed in Kermit the Frog's voice.
posted by darksasami at 10:24 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


hay guyz let show you how edgy i am by hating on a 43-year-old song

I think "having an opinion of any kind about American Pie" pretty much rules you out of the "edgy" club.
posted by yoink at 10:27 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


kind of my point.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:28 AM on February 5


yeah, in defense of Don Asshole Mclean -- he was pretty much nobody halfway through 1971. By the end of the year, he was beyond mega, the heir to Dylan's mantle yadda-yadda-yadda ... all because of one long and dense yet catchy song (two if you count Vincent, but it was magnitudes less significant at the time). And this at a time when singer/songwriters were held to be the true seers of the time, the wisest of men in an age when you still weren't supposed to trust anyone over thirty (or maybe thirty-three).

I can see all this going to a man's head, forever disorienting him. I always wondered why he never followed up with anything. I just assumed that he decided he didn't need it. I had no idea how badly it had soured him.

Poor guy.
posted by philip-random at 10:30 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


kind of my point.

I guess I just don't see where anyone in this thread is claiming that their views about the song make them "edgy." I think it's more "hey, I'm an old fart too!" than "look how edgy I am!"
posted by yoink at 10:33 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Keep talking. I'm currently compiling a Stairway to Heaven mega-post.
posted by timsteil at 10:39 AM on February 5 [6 favorites]


I have a strong aversion to this approach to metaphor in music and literature; the idea that you can sit down and figure out the one true meaning that the author intended to convey. The use of metaphor is not an obfuscation technique. It is not a way of taking a simple message about a simple event and making it complicated so that people have to sit down with a pencil and paper and "work" for it. It's a way of taking a certain observation about a certain event and connecting it to other parts of life, extending it into other contexts, to make it more generally worthwhile. For the "cost" of making the song or poem a bit fuzzy around the edges, you get the benefit of it becoming worth re-considering and reflecting on over and over again. But when you do revisit it later, the meanings strike you differently; as a listener or reader, you bring something new to the table every time. That's the point of metaphor. It's not just "oh, the joker is Bob Dylan, the king is Elvis, aren't we all very smart having figured that out and ooohhhh I loved being a kid in the 50s."

(None of which is to say I care much for "American Pie" in particular. God knows I used metaphor-as-obfuscation all the time when I wrote poems as a teenager *shudder*. And this song has always struck me as being a bit high-school-ish, whether Don McLean was 20 when he wrote it or 30 or whatever. Still, I try not to be a snob about these things, different strokes for different folks, and I resist the application of this metaphor-machine approach to the song as I would any other song.)
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:40 AM on February 5 [9 favorites]


Keep talking. I'm currently compiling a Stairway to Heaven mega-post.

subsequent to my initial comment (and I almost mentioned it then), the big deal song just before American Pie was Stairway. I don't think it was ever officially released as a single so the charts don't really reflect it, but it was everywhere (even AM radio) at the end of 1971, and another of those serious mystery songs. What the hell was it about? What did she know, the lady who knew?

Lots of mystery in those days.
posted by philip-random at 10:47 AM on February 5


theodolite's link makes me kinda glad that I think of The Saga Begins whenever I hear American Pie.
posted by graymouser at 10:48 AM on February 5 [6 favorites]


I thought American Pie was very profound when first I heard it. Or course, back then I also thought Dickie Goodman was hilarious.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:50 AM on February 5


Radio jocks like the song because they can go on a 9-minute smoke/bathroom break.
posted by briank at 10:54 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


By the end of the year, he was beyond mega...

And then in 1973, a song about how incredible he was became a #1 hit. That's got to do something to you.
posted by darksasami at 10:55 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


I appreciate how the song provoked my 1972-self into learning about just who this Buddy Holly guy was, but overall I share Dr. Wu's sentiment.

Another data point:

In 1972 the rock nostalgia/classic rock industry was in its infancy. It was entirely possible for a 1972 teenager to have little or no idea who Buddy Holly was. Elvis was the 'King' of not rock-n-roll, but Las Vegas and bad (but kinda cool anyway) movies. We did not have access to vast repositories of information about popular culture, and the mainstresam media was totally in the hands of folks who did not dig rock. Except for a few scholars and fanatics, rock-n-roll had a very short memory. "Roll Over Beethoven" was a hit in 1973 -- for ELO. Chuck Berry was better known for the novelty "My Ding-a-Ling".

Prior to all this of course, we'd come out of the years-long Paul is Dead scavenger hunt, Bob Dylan's mysterious 'motorcycle accident', and other paranoia inducing incidents of the late 1960s.

Into this milleu arrives "American Pie" stuffed to the gills with references obscure and obvious to things known, unknown, and suspected.

You are, say, fifteen years old and everything you know about rock-n-roll comes from the radio and your older siblings' record collection.

GO!
 
posted by Herodios at 10:59 AM on February 5 [12 favorites]


American Pie ain't no more metaphor than I am. It's literary rebus symbolism/reference nostalgia, jar + capital A + clock = CROCK-A-DIAL LOL. Terrible, terrible poetry.
posted by tspae at 11:01 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


In 1972 the rock nostalgia/classic rock industry was in its infancy.

Hmmm. Perhaps. That suggests a pretty steep growth curve, though, to reaching pretty complete maturity in American Graffiti in 1973.
posted by yoink at 11:05 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


American Pie ain't no more metaphor than I am. It's literary rebus symbolism/reference nostalgia, jar + capital A + clock = CROCK-A-DIAL LOL. Terrible, terrible poetry.

"I remember when rock was young..."
posted by Sys Rq at 11:06 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing McLean on the Merv Griffin show one afternoon as a child. If I recall correctly, he seemed very down about the whole thing, despite Merv doing his usual "Oooooh!! Aaaaah!!" as he hung on every unenthused word of each answer. I think the reason it stuck with me was that it was my earliest inkling that maybe superstardom wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
posted by gimli at 11:10 AM on February 5


I like Buddy Holly's music. I really do. But music did not die with Buddy Holly.

I too find American Pie irritating for its overly self-involved, "greatest tragedy evah!" feel. But I always imagine that it is being sung by a young adolescent who lost their three greatest singing idols in one accident. I try to remember what I was like at 12 or 13 and who I was really into, and imagining all of them dying simultaneously, and how I would have felt.

It's a song that perfectly distills that sense of adolescent self-involvement and angst over such an event.

I had a similar moment, emotionally, as an adult when I was browsing in the library and unexpectedly came across of copy of the latest novel from an author I love; I had to put it back on the shelf because the realization that he had died recently made me want to not read it yet, to save it - to still have one last novel from that author to read. If I was still a teenager, it would've made me over-react into something silly like American Pie.
posted by nubs at 11:20 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


> Lots of mystery in those days.

Yup. And don't forget "Ode to Billie Joe" (why did Billie Joe MacAllister jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge??) and "MacArthur Park" (who left the cake out in the rain? and what was the cake??) and of course the whole "Paul is dead" thing Herodios mentioned. Plus everyone was smoking pot and freaking out over the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam, which gave a nice conspiratorial/paranoid tinge to everything. Good times!
posted by languagehat at 11:26 AM on February 5 [5 favorites]


pretty complete maturity in American Graffiti in 1973

That's one movie, yoink, and you're just focussing on the term 'nostalgia'. I am talking about information, knowledge, understanding, awareness.

In the early 1970s there was Sha-na-na, American Graffiti, Happy Days, and "50's Nite" at the local bar (and maybe a fake 'sock hop' put on by the High School). You had to actually go to New Orleans if you wanted to see Fats Domino. Bill Haley died a broken man, cuz nobody remembered who he was.

Today, every videotaped performance of every one-hit-onader's appearance on the local daytime chat-show in 1966 is available instantly on Youtube (after being dug up for VH1 Classic in the 1990s). Detailed bios (hagiograms) of every replacement bass player and fourth drummer of bands that broke up decades ago are lovingly curated in Wikipedia. Starting in 1995 or so "classic rock stations" sprang up in every town and began to play records I hadn't heard in 30 years -- into the ground. Tribute bands from the PreFab Five to Tiny Kiss. Package tours of motown, bubble-gum, whatever, criss-crossing the nation.

In 1972, rock-n-roll's past was a mystery.

Today, rock-n-roll's past is stark naked and brightly illuminated and pre-recorded for broadcast at this time.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:30 AM on February 5 [15 favorites]


In 1972 the rock nostalgia/classic rock industry was in its infancy.

Hmmm. Perhaps. That suggests a pretty steep growth curve, though, to reaching pretty complete maturity in American Graffiti in 1973.


From my 14-year old perspective (when American Graffiti finally hit my suburb), that was ground zero for the nostalgia boom. Up until then, whatever was going on, it was always moving forward.

Even Solid Gold Sundays (the oldies show on CKLG-AM every Sunday afternoon) didn't go any further back than 1964 or 65 (early Motown, the post mop-top Beatles, Dylan gone electric, the Stones Satisfaction). For whatever reason, pre-military Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard etc were not in the mix.

Now in retrospect, I realize you did have stuff like Sha-Na-Na playing Woodstock and, if you thought to do a little digging, all manner of early rock + roll references in stuff like The Stones, T-Rex, Elton John, Ziggy era Bowie, even the latter day Beatles.

But the old stuff wasn't an emphatic fact until American Graffiti which was quickly followed by Happy Days on TV, and so on. Very quickly, it seemed to be all you heard ... and I HATED IT.

also, what Herodios just said
posted by philip-random at 11:37 AM on February 5


... and because someone mentioned it up thread, this is how you pay respect to the oldies ...
posted by philip-random at 11:39 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


I too find American Pie irritating for its overly self-involved, "greatest tragedy evah!" feel. But I always imagine that it is being sung by a young adolescent who lost their three greatest singing idols in one accident. . . . It's a song that perfectly distills that sense of adolescent self-involvement and angst over such an event.

Details aside, I hear the song as expressing 1) the singer's lost innocence at one time and b) rock-n-roll's lost innocence over time.

For better or worse, our experience of the song is going to be colored by the context in which we first heard it, and the context in which we hear it repeated. Don McClean can be held accountable for the quality of his references and metaphors, but not for mass culture's pounding of the song.

As usual, if you don't dig it, or don't want to dig it, you don't have to dig it.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:43 AM on February 5 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Herodios and philip-random are absolutely right about the lack of historical awareness in the early days. Growing up in the '50s and '60s, I can assure you that there was no sense of pop music as a continuing stream with a codified past, although there were of course people who preferred the hits from when they were thirteen, just as our parents preferred the hits of the swing era. Music was what was happening now. The whole rock nostalgia thing started in the '70s (philip-random is probably right about American Graffiti), and it seemed very weird at the time. (Still does to me, to be honest.)
posted by languagehat at 11:43 AM on February 5


I'll just leave this here -- it used to clear the late lamented East Village bar Downtown Beirut when played on the jukebox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnsam_sHbpU
posted by AJaffe at 11:52 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


Today, every videotaped performance of every one-hit-onader's appearance on the local daytime chat-show in 1966 is available instantly on Youtube

Yeah, that certainly is something that's totally changed since the early 70s. I think that's the real "new" thing at play that would make something like American Pie work very differently nowadays. It's hard, I think, for young people to imagine just how scarce a commodity certain kinds of knowledge were back in the pre-Internet days. You could be a big fan of some band or genre of music and go for years with huge gaping holes in even the most basic knowledge you had about them/it simply for lack of access to reliable info. That certainly made the game of those kinds of allusive puzzle-songs much more enthralling. You'd glean little bits and pieces of rumors and half-facts over years. These days, there'd be "authoritative" accounts on the web within minutes of release. It's not that people don't still write allusive, ambiguous lyrics, of course, but that practice of slowly, painstakingly hunting down the significance behind particular references and images is pretty much dead.

Similarly, one forgets how pop culture used to be almost completely self-consuming. If you didn't catch the TV program when it aired, well--that was that. If you were lucky you'd see it in re-runs one day, but there was a pretty good chance it was just gone forever. Lots of recordings were just unavailable--even from acts that had been pretty big just a few years earlier. Record shops--especially if you lived anywhere outside the big cities--were small, they mostly had to carry pretty recent or very famous stuff.

So, no, you're right that even if people were predisposed to a kind of "oh, yeah, that stuff was kinda cool, wasn't it?" nostalgia in the early 70s about early rock'n'roll, it was actually surprisingly hard for them to have real access to much of the material. The information-scarcity-economy of the time really was fundamentally different in that regard.
posted by yoink at 11:54 AM on February 5 [8 favorites]


In 1972, rock-n-roll's past was a mystery.

Admittedly I was a young kid but in the early seventies, rock music basically started at the Beatles and Stones and no one knew anything about anybody earlier. Buddy Holley might as well been Al Jolson for all we knew.
posted by octothorpe at 11:58 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Admittedly I was a young kid but in the early seventies, rock music basically started at the Beatles and Stones and no one knew anything about anybody earlier.

Speaking as someone who was a teenager in the 70s and a mad keen fan of 60s music, that's only kinda-sorta true. If you were, say, a Beatles fan, you knew they had recorded songs by Chuck Berry, by Buddy Holly, by Carl Perkins etc. I mean, you only had to be interested enough to read the album blurbs to know those sorts of things. And you really couldn't not know about "Rock Around the Clock" or young Elvis. You probably didn't actually own any recordings of either Bill Haley or young Elvis, but you'd seen clips of "Rock Around the Clock" or "Jailhouse Rock" on TV any time someone made a reference to 50s popular culture. You'd get the reference if someone did the Elvis sneer or broke into "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog."

But they certainly didn't have the kind of Eminence Grise (or even stadium megastar) status that similarly popular acts from a couple of decades back have nowadays. That Elvis was still alive and performing meant nothing to me. I wouldn't have crossed the street to see his act.
posted by yoink at 12:14 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


I was in high school a decade after this song was on the charts but of course I knew it word for word, being a retro guy even then. Two things come to mind when reading this:

1) Absolutely nothing here surprised me. Either Dearborn's analysis was so cogent and influential that it had totally shaped my views without my ever having heard of Dearborn, or is he is stating interpretations that are so crayon-obvious that even a fourteen-year-old geek was able to spot them.

2) Never ever engage in karaoke if there is a chance someone might cue up American Pie. The song is vaster than empires and more slow. I once saw three friends singing it at a karaoke night in Banff and I felt like Joker in Full Metal Jacket, helplessly watching Doc Jay and Eightball being hit again and again by a sniper.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:19 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


> ... and because someone mentioned it up thread, this is how you pay respect to the oldies ...

Thank god. I thought you were going to link to this Righteous Brothers glurge-fest.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:25 PM on February 5


I like Buddy Holly's music. I really do. But music did not die with Buddy Holly.

All I can say is, it's a good thing no other song has ever indulged in hyperbole arising from a young person's strong sentiments!
posted by aught at 12:26 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Also, American Pie is much better when performed in Kermit the Frog's voice.

In fairness though, what isn't?
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 12:32 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


Fellacio.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:40 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


That Elvis was still alive and performing meant nothing to me. I wouldn't have crossed the street to see his act.

one of the worst periods of my life (musically speaking) was when Elvis died, August 1977. Suddenly, his stuff was everywhere, non-stop, unrelenting. Even the muzak stations were playing it. And meanwhile, the other big deal commercial sound was DISCO.

No wonder I ended up spending so much time trying to figure out the lyrics to Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans. (very long story short -- you have to be Jon Anderson's brain to actually do that).
posted by philip-random at 12:42 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


That Elvis was still alive and performing meant nothing to me. I wouldn't have crossed the street to see his act.

Yeah, same here, although, thanks to an older sister, I was at least familar with stuff like "Return to Sender" and my still fave Elvis song, "Little Sister" (bit 'ironic', that).

I was in high school a decade after this song was on the charts but of course I knew it word for word, being a retro guy even then.

posted by ricochet biscuit

Ah, another detail in the gradual unfolding of rock's past: The Blues Brothers.

The respect that the artists covered on the albums and appearing in the films receive today stand in stark contrast to their standing at the time Belushi, Ackroyd and co. were active. Most of those folks hadn't had a hit in years and for the majority of the SNL audience demog, were hardly any less obscure than Tuvan throat singers or Balinese gamelan players would have been.

it was actually surprisingly hard for them to have real access to much of the material.

For me, there was a now-embarassingly long gap between reading "Crossroad (R. Johnson)" on a Cream record and actually hearing a Robert Johnson record. At some point I got ahold of the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz which had "Hellhound" on it. That was the first, and I had a hard time hearing what Clapton heard there.

Likewise, I first heard Henry Thomas' "Bulldoze Blues" three decades after first hearing Canned Heat's derivative (it turns out!) "Goin' Up The Country".

But Al Wilson and Bob Hite were record collectors and blues fanatics. They had access to information that was pretty hard to come by for the average teen, even with a good library. You would have to be motivated and know what to ask for. That disconnnect would just be bizarre today.

I am still learning.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:48 PM on February 5 [6 favorites]


As is often the case, the discussion here is a lot more interesting than the article, or the song, which seems to be somehow eternal. It surprised the hell out of me a couple of years ago when my 21-or-so-year-old housemates all would have guitar singalongs and bust that one out. But then again, a lot of stuff doesn't go away any more.

Sha Na Na play Woodstock in 1969... and they're a pure nostalgia play, a novelty act, representing a style of music that disappeared seemingly for good, 10 years previous. Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran, all of them set the world on fire and then dropped off the face of the earth, apparently, in about a 5-year span.

I was born in '66, so grew up in the 70's and 80's, and you'd be as likely to hear Elvis on the rock radio as you would Perry Como. All the guys who were played there swore by Little Richard and the Everly Brothers of course, but somehow rock history didn't really start until the Beatles, so it was kind of incomprehensible, like trying to compare a chicken to an archaeopterix, there didn't seem to be a through-line. Of course now, I feel cheated by all that- why didn't I hear Ike Turner and Howlin' Wolf on the radio next to the Stones and Pink Floyd? Fuck radio programmers... but it just seemed normal at the time.

I'm trying to think of analogies, to how fast stuff seemed to have moved. Say, if grunge was basically the only kind of rock that sold at all at the time, that it changed everything. That it started in '92, and by '97 it was completely replaced. in 2007 you will only ever hear Nirvana on an 'oldies' station (it sure the hell isn't 'modern' or 'classic rock'), the dudes from Soundgarden and Mudhoney and STP and Smashing Pumpkins and Bush or whatthefuckever are either dead or working in gas stations, the sole standard bearer left is Eddie Vedder, fat, bloated, in silver lame jumpsuits, playing Vegas and making your parents seem ridiculous for ever having liked him. So some jokey nostalgia-band plays Coachella, miming being angst-ridden junkies, and everybody thinks it's funny and cute, that's Sha Na Na at Woodstock.

So yeah the McLean song was kind of like a rosetta stone for teenagers maybe, sophomoric as it was - teenagers being maybe more vulnerable to nostalgia than anyone- and I'm pretty sure I liked it a lot back when I was that young, years after it came out, when I'd barely ever even heard Buddy Holly, but it's hard to remember why, now.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:48 PM on February 5 [8 favorites]


I don't remember the plane crash, but my older sisters and cousins do, and say that it was a culturally unifying event. Don't forget, it happened in a day when there were only three TV stations and a handful of rock-focused radio stations in a given geography. Unlike today where music is fragmented, then everyone pretty much listed to the same things and if they got big enough, they appeared on Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show. It was a pretty enormous event for teen rockers to have three of the hottest-up-and-coming acts killed - I can see where it might have felt like the day the music died, at least at the time.

Herodios, languagehat philip-random -- thanks for bringing me back to the dark ages pre-internet - it's so easy to forget.

Pre web, a lot of what you learned about music beyond the standard radio fare was from the old oral tradition of passing concert stories along or learning from record liner notes. If you had any type of interest in anything off the beaten path -- blues, jazz, or anything non mainstream, good luck. If you were lucky, you could pick up some alternate stations in the middle of the night. It took a lot of work and a big network just to find out where popular bands or musicians would be playing. You learned by weekly underground newspapers, posters or letraset minmeographed flyers picked up in record stores or mailed by snail mail. The one in the link is before my time, but I volunteered in a folk coffee house when I was in college and we issued similar ones. I picked up quite a bit about blues, bluegrass, folk and country from the musicians.

I used to keep index cards of various rock musicians to track which bands they were in and what albums they played on. Index cards, really. I guess that's my version of the "we walked 5 miles barefoot in the snow to get to school" stories. It truly was a different world and I'm glad to have had a foot in both.

Part of the reason I have the mjjj handle - first thing I did once I understood the web's potential was frequent blues message boards and that seemed suitable for the purpose. I couldn't believe what a wealth of information I could get and I'm still not over the thrill of the easy access to long-dead blues greats on YouTube. Quaint index cards gone the way of Wikipedia.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:02 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


Also, American Pie is much better when performed in Kermit the Frog's voice.

In fairness though, what isn't?
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:32 PM on February 5 [2 favorites +] [!]


Fellacio.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:40 PM on February 5 [2 favorites +] [!]


Sez you.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:53 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


he was pretty much nobody halfway through 1971. By the end of the year, he was beyond mega, the heir to Dylan's mantle . . . I can see all this going to a man's head, forever disorienting him. . . .

Yes, I imagine he felt like a spinning top.

Or a dreidel.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:10 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Or on the Amazon.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:18 PM on February 5


I was in 3rd or 4th grade when that song came out. We had a student teacher who brought the 45 in to play it for us. The song took up both sides of the 45; you had to flip the record over to hear the whole thing. At least that's how I remember it.
posted by stargell at 10:13 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Starting in 1995 or so "classic rock stations" sprang up in every town and began to play records I hadn't heard in 30 years -- into the ground.

You can thank the American Graffiti of the nineties for that.

I was born in 1981, and my preteen years were saturated with the stuff my parents grew up on, i.e. Buddy Holly through to the Beatles. That's just what the eighties zeitgeist was. Then things changed. Suddenly.

Most kids in my junior high circa 1994 could reasonably be assumed to own a handful of CDs; among them were Nirvana's Nevermind, Green Day's Dookie, and Dazed and Confused: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. I'm sure Dazed & Confused, like American Graffiti before it, was the result (not the cause) of one generation's nostalgia finally displacing that of the previous generation, but a little part of me seriously wonders if I would have ever heard War -- or even Black Sabbath -- without it.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:40 PM on February 5


A guy once told me about the time, when he was a kid, that the report came over the morning radio about Buddy Holly, and he dropped everything he was doing - which was a big statement to make about the seriousness of the situation - and ran across big fields to tell his uncle about it. His music-loving uncle and he sat by the radio for hours and listened to the reports as they came in and repeated, bolstered by Buddy's music and others in between.

He talked about what a profound shift it was for a single event. He eventually moved into jazz and life went on. Except for the part about the chores and the fields, that could have been my story about Kurt Cobain.

Of course, we weren't allowed a Don McLean. *snk* - shaa! Whatever!

But yeah.
posted by petebest at 5:16 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Dean, a youthful actor who lost his life in 1955, was synonymous with the black, leather, motorcycle jacket.

...Brando?

I always think of Dean in the red jacket.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:45 AM on February 6


Starting in 1995 or so "classic rock stations" sprang up in every town and began to play records I hadn't heard in 30 years -- into the ground.

[re: Dazed & Confused soundtrack] a little part of me seriously wonders if I would have ever heard War -- or even Black Sabbath -- without it.

You guys must have lived in very different towns than me.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:05 AM on February 6


...Brando?

I always think of Dean in the red jacket.


Yeah. There are some shots of Dean in a black leather jacket, but it's not at all an iconic image of him. Nor, really, for Brando except for that one role. But the whole "a coat he borrowed from James Dean" is an odd line, really. There's no iconic Dylan "coat." There's the jacket he's wearing on the cover of The Freewheelin', but that doesn't look like anything James Dean wore, really--and it's not really a "coat." There's whatever the hell he's wearing on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited but that's about as far from James Dean's image as you could get. It might be a general reference to the adoption of a certain kind of standoffish "cool," but then Dylan's brand of that kind of "cool" and Dean's kind seem pretty far apart. Maybe it's just part of a general "Dylan sold out, man!" thing: Dylan giving up on his folk roots to chase the kind of "star" spotlight James Dean naturally inhabited?
posted by yoink at 11:49 AM on February 6


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