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Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Music dies; parents watching Super Bowl nearly do the same

Posted by James McPherson on February 2, 2009

CNN reminds us that it has now been 50 years since “the day the music died,” coincidentally in the same state where many presidential campaigns throughout history have crashed and burned. Buddy Holly was the most important of the musicians who died in the crash, which also claimed teen singer Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper Richardson (and would have killed one of my personal favorites, Waylon Jennings, if he had not given his seat to a flu-bitten Richardson).

Holly brought us songs that included “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and the last song he ever performed, the ironically titled “Not Fade Away.” The crash brought perhaps my favorite rock song, of all time, Don McLean’s “American Pie” (the meaning of which isn’t totally clear; McLean famously said, “It means I don’t ever have to work again.”), sung by Garth Brooks and a cast of thousands at Barack Obama’s Inauguration Concert.

I was at an impressionable age for music when the song came out (I turned 13 shortly after that) and a big fan of 1950s music in general (despite being only only six months old when Holly died). A few years later even modified McLean’s chorus to fit my first car (a 1966 Valiant): “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie; drove my Plymouth to the limit but the limit ain’t high. The others drinkin’ whiskey, and I guess so was I. If my ol’ man finds out then I’ll die.”

The song is also very long, meaning it never got as much airtime as I thought it deserved–and less after pre-programmed corporate radio meant fewer DJs who needed bathroom breaks. But you can see an early live YouTube video of McLean performing “American Pie” below.

On another media topic that brings to mind the words, “O, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away” (a song later recorded by the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Supremes, the Beatles, Deep Purple and Rush, among others), parents in Tucson have to wishing they could erase from memory the surprise images that appeared during yesterday’s game. Some residents of the Cardinals’ state saw what had to be the longest 10 seconds of any Super Bowl party in history.

Despite the fact that viewers saw the unzipping of pants in this case apparently not because of a “wardrobe malfunction,” but instead through the act of a hacker, cable executives are probably just hoping they can avoid a lawsuit.

That’ll be the day.

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2 Responses to “Music dies; parents watching Super Bowl nearly do the same”

  1. Luis Lopez said

    What’s great about the song “American Pie,” are the number of websites devoted to interpreting the lyrics that McLean includes in the song. I, myself, have had a fascination with this song for a long time now. I remember spending many times when I was younger perusing the internet and looking for the full meaning of the song.

    Here are some of those websites:

    http://understandingamericanpie.com/

    http://www.don-mclean.com/?p=68

    http://web.archive.org/web/19991009050243/http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_398b.html

    And that’s only a sampling.

  2. Steve Novak said

    I always loved American Pie, but thought McLean was way off base, if I interpreted his lyrics correctly.

    Those were an awesome threesome of early rockers that died that day. A real tragedy, as we’ll never know what they would’ve come up with in later years.

    But the idea, in the song, that Elvis was the “King” and John Lennon a mere joker who “stole” the King’s crown – when in fact, the Beatles had overmatched Presley through their own genius.

    All the whining lamenting about Altamont and the rest of the worst of the ’60s and ’50s turned me off. I loved the sixties and almost all of the rock and roll that came out.

    The Big Three dying did *not* mean “the music died”. What arrogant crap. It was just getting going.

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