Bye-Bye Miss American Pie

I was driving to Miami yesterday and was happy to discover that Dork Radio stays clear as a bell all the way there and back. There is an advantage for Florida being flat as a pancake and having all large obstructions to radio signals flattened by hurricanes Andrew through Wilma.

I was tired, operating on 3 hours of sleep, and relying on the radio to keep me solvent on the Florida Turnpike at 6 a.m. and the God of Easy Listening was in my corner, because what should come on the radio but American Pie by Don McLean.

“Long, long time ago,” I sang it out, disrupting my daughter, whose earphones were turned down to an early morning level. She tapped on her volume button a few times and gave me a look. She’s used to me singing along with the radio, but she’s always hoping for spontaneous laryngitis.

“I can still remember how the music  (pause)  used to make me smile. And I KNEW IF I HAD MY CHANCE . . .”

I can still remember how we used to obsess over those lyrics. WHOT had a contest where we were supposed to guess what the song was about. To enter the contest, you had to write out the lyrics - word for word - and submit them with your essay on what Don McLean meant when he wrote the song.

This was before the Internet, don’t you forget, so to write down the lyrics you had to do a heck of a lot more than Google American Pie lyrics, copy and paste.

We were in Sue Krollop’s basement with her turntable and we put the album on (or was it the 45?) and someone sat with a spiral notebook and a number 2 pencil and it went something like this:

A long, long time ago, I

“OK stop.” (Scribble scribble write write)  “OK go.”

A long, long time ago, I can still remember how the

“OK stop!” (Write write) “OK go.”

Can still remember how the music used to make me

“Stop!” (Write write) “OK go.”

Because WHOT contest administrators were in the business of toying with pre-teens, they required that the lyrics had to be from the Long Version. The radio never played the Long Version anymore. They skipped the whole middle of the song, starting with Now for ten years we’ve been on our own and moss grows fat on a rolling stone and continuing through lots of references to Satan, football and royalty. How were were supposed to know what this song was about? It sounded like something from Revelations or a dream you might have after eating bad fish.

I don’t believe we ever got done with the lyrics. The Long Version isn’t called the Long Version for nothing. Plus we were in 6th grade and still had a lingering grip on the 1960s version of ADD, which they treated with regular visits to Mrs. McKee, the guidance counselor, and an eye patch. I can’t imagine that we had the attention span and wherewithal to hand-write all those lyrics. We were probably calling boys and hanging up by Did you write the book of love and do you have faith in God above?

We did, however, listen to WHOT for weeks, and heard that the winner had correctly guessed that the song was about the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. We were children of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, we didn’t know who those three guys were, and we concluded that they were not cool enough to make the music die all on their own.

It’s only now that I’m older and have the Internet at my disposal that I can appreciate that Don McLean wrote a really deep song, full of references to obscure rock ‘n roll history. Some guy named Rich Kulawiec has a website where he analyzes the song and provides annotated lyrics. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s super cool.

Two things about Don McLean: His concert at Youngstown State in 1973 was the first concert I ever went to. My sister Kathy had an extra ticket and asked me to go and it was about as exciting as you could imagine. I got home late and stayed up the entire rest of the night doing a geology paper. It was worth it. I’ve been to lots of concerts and that stands out as being really special.

And 24 years later I won a free drink ticket at my 20th class reunion by correctly answering the trivia question asked by the DJ: Who was the song Killing Me Softly written about? That’s right. Don McLean.  Unfortunately, I had already had way too much to drink at that reunion, spilled wine on a beautiful pair of suede heels, instantly ruining them, and dropping my camera in the bathroom, breaking it. There were more mishaps to come - my husband drinking my contact lenses that night, breaking my mom’s sink, and some more stuff that I’ve blocked. (And those of you at that reunion, if you remember some stuff, please don't comment. Thanks.) The free drink ticket probably got crushed by my camera or I threw up on it. I redeemed myself at the 25th reunion by not drinking much of anything and being the designated driver for everyone else. I was supposed to be one of the smart girls and I had a lot of making up to do.

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