Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Once Upon A Time in America

By Peter Rodman

Once upon a time, while driving my Mom from Nashville to her sister's house in Paducah, I made the 'arrangement' with her, that Mom could smoke in the car--but only with her window cracked open, and only if I got to have the radio on.
"Okay," she said, "but not too loud."
Pretty soon we reached the part of I-24 where there's only crap country or Christian nutballs, and crazy right-wing radio talk shows...so I landed on a classic rock station, and kept the volume low.
It was tense in the car.
Mom thought every second that music was on represented a HUGE compromise, on her part. I thought maybe the car would need to be fumegated, with all this smoke in my face.
Soon enough, on comes America singing "A Horse with No Name."
A bouncy little number, and I hit the gas as we cruised on.
And on. And on. I never realized how looooong that song was, until the music began to turn unbearably monotonous, and just to stay awake I turned my attention to the lyrics.
"The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz..."
Oh jeez.
Mom kept puffing away, staring out her window.
"After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead..."
Crap! All my years of trying to legitimize "our music' to my Mom seemed to be slipping away with each new verse. This was worse than that time when, at 16 years old, I brought my whole record player upstairs into the kitchen, and began playing her a Donovan song-- which went just fine, until Don sang the line, "With the babies in their bellies" --which caused her to stop ironing right then and there, and give me that look: "Oh! So she's pregnant."
Back to our drive: I kept driving. Mom kept smoking. America kept singing.
And after each new verse, came something even WORSE...
"You see I've been through the desert, on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert
you can remember your name--
'Cause there ain't no one,
for to give you no pain~
La, la-laaaah la, la-la-la-la la, la la laaaaah, lah lah..."
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her smirking in victory. Though she was not speaking, I knew Mom's many facial expressions, well enough to read her mind, about this song: 'Gawd, help us all.'
"Damn," I thought. "I don't remember the song being this bad."
"After nine days, I let the horse run free..."
The hypnotic beat almost made me dizzy. Maybe I'm tired, I kept thinking.
When is Paducah gonna be here? Shit, this song is nine days long!" Suddenly I thought I heard Mom mumble something, under her breath.
"What?" I said, turning it down a bit. Her open window made it hard to hear, at 70 miles an hour.
"I said, 'WHAT A STUPID SONG!'" she answered.
How could I argue with that? The truth is, I had no answer.
I thought maybe the cruisin' beat might disguise my inability to come up with another retort, so I turned the radio up a little. Bad decision:
"There were plants and birds and rocks and things
there was sand and hills and rings..."
Now, I could not stop the little smile that began to crease my face, so I looked out the driver's side window, in order to stifle it.
"The ocean is a desert with it's life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love..."
Finally I gave in and burst out laughing.
"Alright, alright! I'll give it to ya: THIS SONG SUCKS, Mom! In fact, I never realized how much it sucks until this very moment...but you're right...this is the stupidest song I've ever heard. Happy now?"
Mom turned toward me with a subtle grin, exhaling the last bit of her 'ciggybutt' in my general direction, and mashing its remains into the car ashtray, as if crushing the last-ever defense of my whole generation, on the backs of these three longhaired ex-pats.
"Who is this?" she asked, as the song kept on going. "Just so I'll know."
Now we were both giggling openly.
"You see I've been through the desert,
on a horse with no name..."
"Yes. The group is called...'America'."
I didn't have to look, to see her eye-roll.
Suddenly we were both laughing.
"Really, Peter! Can't you do better than this?"
"Mom, we're in Nowhere, Kentucky--this is the only radio station I can get."
She fell silent again.
"...it felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain..."
Here and there, I could still hear a titter rise within one of us.
She was right: What a stupid song!
Luckily, we made it to Paducah that day. It was one of the last times Mom ever got to see her sister Ginny. There was a peace about it all, and a sort of generational wisdom between them I couldn't quite grasp at the time, but I get it now. Every new generation thinks it reinvented the wheel. (Or music.) But the truth is, for all our silly "disrupt" nonsense...we haven't done anything but rearrange the same 8 notes and 26 letters of the alphabet, even though we think we're pretty hot stuff.
The stark reality is closer to what Steve Forbert once sang: "The Manhattan skyline is probably best seen through New Jersey eyes."
Once I saw that song--no, once I saw America--through my Mom's eyes, I saw it differently than I ever had before.
At first, I thought she'd "ruined" the song forever...but today I know different. Mom's been gone almost twenty years now, and that long song on that long ride still makes me smile, whenever I hear it. I remember gamely trying one last 'defense' that afternoon in the car, as the trees whizzed by us, and Paducah got a little closer. It went something like this:
"Mom, it's not about the lyric. See, the music is designed to keep you company on a drive just like this, don'tcha get it? It's helping me stay awake. Who cares what it says?" She lit up another ciggybutt, and inhaled knowingly.
Unbelievably, America was still singing. Over time, I have grown to respect their true talent, which is apparently time-shifting. (Nobody has ever made four minutes and sixteen seconds seem longer.) That stupid song's still playing in my mind, all these years later...
"La, la-laaaah la, la-la-la-la la, la la laaaaah, lah lah...
La, la-laaaah la, la-la-la-la la, la la laaaaah, lah lah..."
This Opinion Column and All Images Herein are
© 2018 By Peter Rodman*. All Rights Reserved. * Except the photograph of 'America,' which is Copyright by Wikipedia.
The MUsic and Lyrics to "A Horse with No Name" are Copyright 1971 by Dewey Bunnell.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Why You Can KEEP Your "American Pie," Mr. McLean

There was no "day the music died."

By Peter Rodman

In 1972 I moved to Colorado, with my girlfriend of four years.  (We got married the following year.) The lure was the chance to break away from our suburban existence on Long Island, and see America on our own. I'd been writing songs for six years already, and my high school pal Kenny suggested we join him in a house on Barr Lake, out in the boonies north of Denver, to co-write some songs.
I jumped at the chance, because Kenny and I were a good fit musically--he with a deft touch on acoustic finger picking, me with a melody--so off we went.
The house was an historic (but decidedly run-down) former "Pony Express" post office.  A perfect square (so horses could ride up and grab the mail in a hurry, from any direction), located on 40 or 50 acres, with the huge lake as our 'backyard.'
Up until that time, I had no real idea what America was like at all, beyond the Fillmore East, anti-war demonstrations, Jones Beach, or the Long Island Expressway.

I found out, in a hurry.

My chest-length brown hair, though shampooed to perfection every day, wasn't just a frowned-upon accoutrement anymore.  In Brighton, Colorado, it was a deal breaker.
Everywhere we went, people refused to even speak to us. 
In truck stops, which were the only place to grab a quick breakfast back then, it was even worse: Waitresses would literally turn their backs to us, saying things like, "Boys, do you see anybody over here at this booth, waitin' to be served?  Because I sure don't!" 
It was brutal.
What I'd always seen as a mere 'generation gap' was actually, it turned out, a culture war.  
Hawks and Doves, Straights and Hippies.  
Call it what you will, but Colorado back then was not the place it is today.
The best description for our experiences outside the property would be "dangerously hostile."

More than once, our VW van was stopped for no reason at all, until finally one sheriff decided to detain me overnight, in a Mayberry-like (but humor free) cell near downtown Brighton, slightly below ground level. So freaked out was I about this unexplained confinement, that my friends and roomates stayed outside the barred windows that met the ground overnight, to offer moral support.
The next day the Sheriff let me go, and told me to "be more careful drivin' 'round here..." which I took as code for, "Why don't you just leave altogether, and we'll both be a lot happier."
So, after two months of living in the Postmaster General's Office, where unused mail-slots had held our underwear, my future bride and I departed for Boulder, where the skies finally opened up. 
I had never seen a bluer sky, than I did the day my girlfriend and I got to Boulder-- June 1, 1972. The streets "on the Hill" were PACKED with 1,000 hippies...many in various states of trippy disrepair. 
Within 5 minutes of walking in the door, I was hired to run Budget Tapes and Records. The guy in there had already had enough. He'd seen the shoplifting, the overdoses, and the 'STP family'--and the many dozens of hardened street people, virtually *living* on Orange Julius, acid, and gold paint-can fumes. 
During my earliest days running the shop, I used to take requests. 
"Be My Lover" by Alice Cooper was (by far) the most popular song there. 
Why? I have no idea! 
But pretty soon I had to actually ban the worst of the stoners from the store altogether. The smells that arise from an unwashed human body after a year or so were just too much for me. Still,  All the Young Girls Loved Alice...
For all its grungy street people, Boulder was an oasis of liberalism and music, tailor-made and "meant to be," for this boy.

That same day, we moved into a tiny apartment around the corner from the new gig at Budget Tapes and Records, for the scary-high (to us) sum of $125 a month. 
There we stayed, until our marriage finally broke apart, during the mid '80s.

My point is that there were two worlds back then.
In fact, the early 70s engendered so much more hostility between them, that we are still fighting those 'culture wars' today.  But during the period I'm talking about, before Rush Limbaugh and Fox news had a chance to re-litigate it all, we ('the hippies') had clearly won that war.
Heck, even bankers began sporting muttonchops. 
It was as common for a young woman to go 'braless' then as it is for them to wear a bra, today.
There was no more perfectly divisive character than Richard Milhaus Nixon.
He was loved by some and hated by others, but there was no in-between whatsoever.
If you loved him, chances are someone in your house had a pastel blue pantsuit, you listened to the Carpenters on AM radio, had never smoked pot, supported the war in Vietnam, and thought Bob Hope was hilarious, as well as the ultimate patriot.
If you hated what Nixon stood for, you had probably devoted some time to avoiding the draft, grown your hair long, thought pot was harmless, loved outdoor concerts, and listened to Cat Stevens, the Beatles, or Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, on FM radio.
In Colorado, the dividing line was obvious:
For the 'AM' crowd, you had John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High"--a record no self-respecting hippie ever owned, even if they secretly hummed it on occasion.
If you were 'FM,' that same expression came via Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way," cranked to a volume just shy of upsetting the neighbors.

1972 was the year Don McLean's "American Pie" topped the charts.  Ostensibly a song about Buddy Holly's death (on February 3, 1959--along with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, in a plane crash in Iowa), in truth it was much more than that.
It was a manifesto for the hawks--the AM crowd, finally laying down a 'gauntlet' that condemned all this frivolous hippie nonsense, which brought 'hair bands' to us from England, and seemed to eradicate all the great 'American Values' Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew stood for:  God.  The Flag. And Apple Pie. 
In this, young Don McLean saw an opening. 

His light-bulb moment gave us "American Pie."   

Of course! Wasn't it about time somebody spoke out on behalf of all those American Values, getting smothered by anti-war protests? All this 'anti-cop' talk, about Kent State? And what about all these new "heavy metal" bands, suddenly imported from overseas--like Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin, T-Rex, and Uriah Heap? 
The thinking was this:  What the hell ever happened to all the great music we had, before this so-called British Invasion! 

It was about time to "tell it like it is," Don thought.
And so he did.

Though I have questioned him in interviews about this subject before, McLean has steadfastly refused to discuss the meaning or the motivation behind "American Pie"for all these years--but suffice it to say, this is not like some "You're So Vain" mystery, where you had to guess who Carly Simon was singin' about.  Make no mistake...

Don was saying it straight out loud:   
He hated the Beatles.  

He thought Dylan was a phony piece of shit; America was being ruined, by all the crappy music that was made after Buddy Holly and some decent, law abiding Americans died in that fateful plane crash.
Catchy as it was, that is what "American Pie" was all about.  Strangely enough, most of us knew that in 1972...until we got old, forgot the context of the times, and just decided to sing along anyway.
Instead of being an ode to "the Day the Music Died," what McLean was really saying was that most of the music (and pop culture) after his beloved '50s had taken a serious turn for the worse, and he (McLean) wasn't having any of it.
Now, there is an argument to be made for that view, and I'd respect this ninny a whole lot more, if he stood behind his own lyrics...but Don knows which side his bread is buttered on (both sides--hawks and doves buy records and concert tickets), so he's not about to spout off--at least not outside the parameters of the 8:33 song/rant.   Why bite the hands that literally feed him?   
With political polarization at an all time high, his timing turned out to be perfect. 
"American Pie" was the first-ever right wing rock anthem, swimming in listener-friendly images of Chevys, levees, good ol' boys--in short, pretty much every 'list' of brands and vacuous shit you hear in every single song on country radio today.
It said, "Forget all these hippies; forget this stupid 'hard rock' garbage! Whatever happened to our music?"
An 'ode' to Buddy Holly, it was not

What it was, was a full-on attack on any music (or lifestyle) that didn't reflect the white-bread 'values' we'd grown up pretending were "normal," via sitcoms like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver.
Your typical Mom and Dad, in a typical 'American Pie'
kitchen, unencumbered by hippies, peaceniks, or Beatles.

Bob Hope himself couldn't have written it any better.
That message was buried in a barrage of six verses everyone would soon know by heart, and the chorus was infectious enough to make anybody want to sing along, without regard to what they were actually singing about.
As a middling artist on the brink of extinction during the early '70s,  Don McLean saw an opening in marketing his 'patriotism,' exactly as Anita Bryant and Lee Greenwood would, years later.
Perhaps his most deftly handled trick has been to avoid saying anything (beyond the lyrics) that might upset all those concert goers, for decades now.  But rather than remain some slyly-kept secret (again, see Carly Simon), McLean's savvy survival instinct seems to be the motive behind weaseling out of dissecting his perennial cash-cow.

So let's take a look, shall we?

"A long long time ago...
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.  
And I knew if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance
--and maybe they'd be happy, for a while.
But February made me shiver--with every paper I'd deliver, 
bad news on the doorstep.  I couldn't take one more step!  
I can't remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride...
but something touched me deep inside, the day the music died."

Okay...that's innocuous enough.  
Buddy Holly and the others (Big Bopper, Richie Valens) die, in a tragic plane crash.
Don was a kid. He liked rock 'n roll.  

Simple rock 'n roll--you know, the kind that doesn't make you think.  
Not too complicated (like "American Pie"), just a dance song--like maybe...
"Peggy Sue," "Chantilly Lace," or "La Bamba."  We get it.
Then, one day, Don's delivering papers up in New Rochelle-- a tony suburb in Westchester County, north of NYC--where the fictional 'Rob and Laura Petrie' lived, on The Dick Van Dyke Show...and like all paper boys, he thoroughly reads them before chucking each folded lump into somebody's driveway.  He must do that, because back then (unless you were in Mason City, Iowa) this event was decidedly not front page news. 
So there he is--shivering and delivering--and whatever page 10, teeny-tiny item about Buddy and the boys' fate was there inside a New York paper, well...it actually made Don McLean one sad paperboy
He can't remember if he cried, though...when he read the part (they never wrote) about Buddy's bride, because he tried and tried...but "bride" is the best rhyme he could come up with for "cried," and so--in a fit of semi-honesty, he'd decide (see what I did there?) to not actually claim he cried, but to say he couldn't remember if he cried.  

(You know...about the bride.)

"So Bye, Bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good ol' boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die."

That-there chorus is about teenagers in their cars, drinkin' and stuff.  
(Guess there weren't any girls down by the levee, by the time Don got there.)


"Did you write 'The Book of Love'? 
And do you have faith in God above, if the Bible tells you so? 
Do you believe in rock and roll?  
Can music save your mortal soul?  
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?" 

Here, we see little hints of the difference between the '50s and '60s, as interpreted by Don. 
"Who Wrote the Book of Love" (by the Monotones) is referenced, of course...and slightly more subtly, John Sebastian's 1966 Lovin' Spoonful hit, "Do You Believe in Magic?"  
Don isn't exactly a 'Jesus freak' (as we called them back in the '70s), but he's willing to bet those Monotones are about as naughty as y'oughta get. Because if you believe The Good Book, that's something--but from the very start, Don's had his doubts about this whole rock 'n roll thing.  Being a professional songwriter, he knows those Monotones couldn't have written "The Book of Love!"  (Not much gets by Don.) 
Now he's gonna go one step further, and say that Sebastian's cult-like devotion to rock constitutes something like heresy. SeeThat's where we all went off the rails! Once you ascribe any serious value to rock music--anything deeper than, say, a 'slow dance' (and really, is there any?) you're on the wrong track.


"Well, I know that you're in love with him, 
'cause I saw you dancin' in the gym; you both kicked off your shoes.  
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues!  
I was a lonely teenage bronc'n buck, with a pink carnation and a pickup truck
--but I knew I was out of luck, the day the music died."

See, Don's a simple man.  
His heyday delivering papers at 14 was interrupted by this great tragedy on page 10, that barely made the evening news...and then...?  
He was furious to see some girl he liked spurn his advances, and actually dance with some other guy, in the gym.  And my God, what kind of slut would kick off her shoes?  
Don't question it--Don saw all this, by God!
Right then, rock 'n roll music began changing--and not for the better, in Don's eyes.

I mean, look at this shit.  What's this Sebastian guy talkin' about? 
What's he mean, "stranger?"  Aren't all these hippies like the Lovin' Spoonful (rumored to be named for a dose of drugs) the real strangers?? 

        "Do you believe in magic, in a young girl's heart?
How the music can free her, whenever it starts
And it's magic, if the music is groovy
It makes you feel happy like an old-time movie
I'll tell you about the magic and it'll free your soul
But it's like tryin' to tell a stranger 'bout rock and roll"  
--John B. Sebastian

Don's answer was, "No! I do not believe in all that.

Don McLean was obviously not a 'flower-power' kinda guy.
In fact, he knew he was the "stranger" Sebastian described, in the lyric above--the nerd you just don't even bother with, when it comes to talking about how rock 'n roll could change the world. What next...incense?  

For God sakes, what the hell happened to tight mohair sweaters?  
Don would always be the hard-up pudge, who just couldn't get into the club.  Besides...who wants to jump around acting all stoned, when the point is that God intended us all to just get married, have kids, deliver newspapers, go to school dances, date, get married, have kids...rinse and repeat!  

"I started singin'
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"

In a way, through all of the radical '60s changes, nothing had changed. 
Hey, you could still go down to the levee...free country, right?
Music still sounded good enough, on the radio--it was just harder to make out to. 
And that's the truth. 
Dion...or Mick Jagger?
Here's where Don pulls out the daggers:


"Now, for ten years we've been on our own
And moss grows fat on a Rolling Stone"

In the immortal words of Sammy Davis, Jr. ... 

"But, that's not how it used to be!
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me"

Translation: Bob Dylan's no poet, he's a phony! 
Talk about a 'Rebel Without A Cause'... Dude can't even sing!  
"Hey, I'm a struggling folkie too," Don thought.  And you and me taught Dylan everything he knows, right here in America!  Who's this guy, to suddenly be the 'spokesman' for a generation, even a whole country--goin' over to England on tour?  He's no better than you and me!

But here's where the lyrics get a little tricky: 
Don's switching back and forth between the '50s and '60s faster than a Tim Burton movie--so in the next stanza, he pulls a fast one, and switches 'jesters' on us.
Where before it was probably Bob Dylan, now we had ceded control of our music to yet another clown, in McLean's eyes--a certain 'John Lennon.' 
Remember, the third verse begins TEN YEARS after Buddy Holly died--right when John Lennon was freakin' out not only his soon-to-be-former bandmates, but the whole world. 
This was only the beginning. Seriously.
He'd taken to wearing government issued glasses (in some cases, that's all he wore) and grown his hair longer than anyone, hoping to lose the whole Beatle thing.  Thing is, it didn't work(Unfortunately, he still looked great.)

You may not remember this now, but way before he was assassinated (and deified), Lennon was widely mocked by the press as a lunatic peacnik, who --together with wife Yoko Ono--had foresaken all sanity, to make of his charmed life one big, goofy publicity stunt. He began issuing albums containing just screaming and sound effects, one with full frontal nudity on the cover; his singles amounted to mere chants you might hear at a protest march ("Power to the People," "Give Peace A Chance")...and the concensus among all but his most die-hard fans (there were many of us kids, yes...but not in places of significant power) was that John had pretty much gone off the deep end.  (And it was all Yoko's fault...of course!)
He was a true idiot, in the eyes of those like Don McLean, who obviously thought Lennon a ridiculous imposter, and an embarrassment to the tradition of great songwriting, as embodied, no doubt, by The Big Bopper  ("Helloooooo, Baaaaaybeh!"), Richie Valens ("Ba-dah-dah La-la-la BAM-ba!") or Buddy Holly ("Uh-oh, Peggeh--A-mah Peggy Sue-u-ooo...")! Even Elvis--famously not so enamored of the Beatles--was clearly disgusted (or at least distracted, by ten years of making lousy movies):
Oh, and while The King was looking down
The Jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

See that? The King (Elvis) could have stopped this damn jester (John Lennon) if only he'd been paying attention (and not making such shitty records himself?)... 
Let's take the next few lines one by one, because here's where Don gets serious:

And while Lennon read a book on Marx...
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died

LINE #1:  And while Lennon read a book on Marx...

There's plenty of evidence John Lennon had rankled the right wing establishment in
America.  The Nixon administration marked him as a top priority for deportation, after he and Yoko brought their
Album graphic for Firesign Theatre, 1972.
publicity circus to New York City around 1971, grabbing headlines on an almost daily basis for one wild stunt after another.  Be-ins. "Bag-ins." Full frontal, nude album covers showing up in Amercian record stores! Anti-war activity. (Beginning in 1969, massive rallies against the Vietnam War took place right outside the White House, regularly invoking Lennon's own "Give Peace A Chance," as their theme song.)Yessir, rock 'n roll had infected our youth!   
Don was not alone, in believing this crazy British distortion of our music had led us all to go off the rails. 
Don't laugh, now...but the feeling was definitely out there, among the hawks: 
John Lennon must be a communist!  That is, in fact, what Nixon, J.Edgar Hoover, Haldeman, Erlichmann, and Agnew believed. (You can currently watch The U. S. vs. John Lennon for free, on Amazon Prime. It's amazing.)  
And as Don Mclean clearly states, "the courtroom was adjourned" many times over, and "no verdict was returned" in Lennon's deportation proceedings, until 1975.

LINE # 2:  The quartet practiced in the park

It's no secret that in 1966, beginning with "Paperback Writer" and "Rain," the Beatles began changing the entire sound of Top 40 radio. Backwards guitar effects, droning middle eastern sounds, and yes, a dirge-like quality...permeated that two-sided hit single, with "Rain" reaching #23 all on its own, while "Paperback Writer" echoed up and down America's beaches at #1,   blaring over every transistor radio in sight. 

Right alongside Don McLean's old school sounding faves (like Tommy Roe's "Sweet Pea," Tommy James's "Hanky Panky," and the Ray Conniff Singers' "Somewhere My Love"), these four bastards from England were subverting the airwaves, with "Paperback Writer" and "Rain." 
Not only did they gain fame on the same Ed Sullivan Show that Elvis and Buddy Holly had, but they now had the temerity to refuse to even come here to do it, and simply send "promo films," instead!
In a major break from the longstanding Sullivan tradition, the Beatles were arrogant
"The quartet practiced in the park..."
enough to simply record a tape of themselves lip-synching these songs "in the park," looking downright bored doing it, as well.  And if that weren't enough, they let Ringo (then widely regarded as the least important band member) offer this lame 'explanation' to Ed, as an intro:! "Well, Ed, sorry we couldn't be there...but you know how it is...everybody's busy these days, with the washes, and the dishes..."
They hadn't even had the decency to make up a good excuse for snubbing Ed Sullivan!  They just sat there in a studio, mocking even the notion that they should care!

He was no doubt further offended that winter, when the boys turned up in another park in England--again, sending videos over here, instead of showing up--foisting total psychedelics on us all, hidden behind matching walrus mustaches, and acting out some sort of LSD fantasy, for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane." 
This was just too much for Don.

How dare they spit on our music, in this way!   
Together, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and  "Penny Lane" (which reached #8 and #1, respectively) became the Beatles' biggest double-sided single to date. It was followed by Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, The BEATLES (white album) and more--all of which contained lengthy, experimental songs with 'chants' (which Don calls "dirges") at the end:
"All You Need is Love." "Hey Jude." "Hey, Bungalow Bill." "Yellow Submarine (re-released with the film)." "Baby, You're A Rich Man." "I Am The Walrus." "Hello Goodbye."
Every single song above (and several more) ended with a chant of some sort.  
Don was livid.

LINES #3 and 4:   And we sang dirges in the dark....the day the music died.

For his next verse, Don finds a track from The BEATLES (white album):  

Helter skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast
It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast
The Beatles failed to keep off the grass. 
McLean cites "Helter Skelter," and how the Byrds "flew off" to do psychedelia themselves, in the form of "Eight Miles High"...and then there's that stupid grass pun. All these groups were flailing about, because their LEADER (Bob Dylan, the song's first "jester"...remember him?) had actually suffered a serious motorcycle accident, and was now laid up "on the sidelines in a cast."
Meanwhile, Don panders to Americana with a few more football analogies...also managing to depict the Beatles as a washed-up halftime marching band--St. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, get it?-- under 'Friday night lights.' 
(Note:  McLean later contended he'd been turned down by 72 record companies. Not that he was bitter, or anything...)  

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance
'Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?
We started singin'
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
And singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die

Don was benched, baby. The marching band had refusing to yield the field to him.
Curses...foiled again!
All these clowns and jesters, marching bands and drug addicts had the field to themselves, man.  What about Don?

Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again
So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
'Cause fire is the devil's only friend
Oh and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan's spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died

Oh, looky!  Don's back to slamming the Rolling Stones again!  
"No angel born in hell, could break that Satan's spell."
His little history lesson has slinked its way to 1969 or so, when the newly energized Stones did their first major "adult" tour across America, fueled by "Jumpin' Jack Flash,"  "Honky Tonk Women," and (uh oh!) "Sympathy for the Devil." 
Don, it should be noted, had no "sympathy for the devil." Know why?

'Cause he was singin'
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die!

Now, along came Janis Joplin...and man, was she a lost soul!

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play
And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died

In a nutshell, this song has about as little to do with Buddy Holly as it does Don McLean's guilty plea for wife-beating last year. It's about hawk and doves.  It's about straights and
All we are singing, is "Give Peace A Chance!"
hippies.  It's about false idols and real idols, and who should decide which are which--and that person is...you guessed it:  Don McLean, of course!
Now you know why, whenever I hear February 3rd described as "The Day the Music Died," I cringe.
(Whenever Don hears the phrase, he hears "cha-ching!")

I truly believe that if people realized they were singin' along with a song tearing apart the Beatles, the Stones, the Byrds, Bob Dylan, and the whole '60s...they might just think twice about chimin' in.  
Funny thing is, most hippies knew all this, back then.  They knew this was a hawkish rejection of everything we stood for; they knew it was a repudiation of the '60s, and everything thereafter; they knew it was the first musical salvo fired, in what came to later be know as 'The Culture Wars' --which we are still litigating, 50 years later.  It was as obvious as Lawrence Welk, covering "One Toke Over the Line."

No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan's spell

Yep, we knew all that, but as the years rolled on, we (the 'Me' generation) seemed to forget.  Time has a way of blurring all the lines.  AM and FM, once diametrically opposed musical worlds, seem to be schmooshed together now, in the fog of nostalgia which allows "Hello Dolly" to live alongside "White Rabbit," on streaming oldies stations.  
It's hard to imagine how many millions more people have sung "Give Peace A Chance" than "American Pie" over the years, but there can be no doubt, more barrooms are filled with the latter, on any given night. 
McLean's mug shot, from the 2015 domestic abuse case.
He pled guilty.

Whether or not any of them know what they're singing about, I can't say. All I know is, Don knows--and he's not saying, which is why I have.    
In fact, he's not giving anything away. 
In 2015, Don McLean sold the original lyric sheet on which he wrote "American Pie" for $1.5 million, at auction.  
And incidentally, I just googled "The Book of Love," and found out I was totally wrong:
The Monotones did write it!  
Warren Davis, George Malone and Charles Patrick are in fact credited as the guys who wrote "The Book of Love."  I wonder what they thought, when they first heard their song name-checked in "American Pie." 
Just now, I had a picture in my mind...
Don was in a bar, singin' "American Pie," and right after he started with the line, "Did you write 'The Book of Love'?" the Monotones said from the spartan audience, "WE did!"   

As I watched, Don continued the song, and The Monotones (still young men of color, in my datdream) cheerily ordered themselves some drinks.  
I decided to leave the place before Don got to the nasty parts, about Dylan and the Beatles.  
But as I was walkin' out, that first chorus was about to begin, and the Monotones were clinkin' glasses, in a toast to their songwriting royalties...and they were singing... 

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die
They were singing
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die, boys...
This'll be the Day that I die.

This opinion column Copyright 2017 by Peter Rodman. All Rights Reserved.