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Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Day the Music Died: Part 1 – American Pie

americanpie1

….A long, long time ago….

Singer/song-writer, Don McLean penned one of the most recognizable songs ever recorded.  American Pie is part of our musical and American lexicon.  Not only does the song lament the change in music with the passing of Buddy Holly, but it catalogues the changes and additional “deaths” of music through the decade of the ’60s.  There is a real dichotomy in this era.  The mutation of music in the 1960s provided revolutionary new sounds, electric music and much different attitudes.  While many would look at this as positive progression, many also mourned the loss of the music of the past, as well as the innonence of the time.

  American Pie, Don McLean

McLean has never commented extensively on the meaning of the song, preferring to let the aire of mystique remain.  When asked what the song means, he generally gives the elusive answer of “It means I’ll never have to work again” or “It’s the story of America”.

For my personal experience, I spent many a high school night memorizing every word of every verse, rewinding my cassette recorder over and over again to get every word.  On the way home after a night out, my friends and I would pop the tape into the car cassette player and passionately belt out the lyrics.  I imagine that American Pie has been a staple on playlists across America for the last 35 years.

Perhaps the most eloquent explanation of American Pie is the original Rolling Stone review from ’72 by Lester Bangs:

Don McLean’s “American Pie” has ripped out of nowhere and taken the country by storm both in its album and truncated single versions. It took exactly two weeks to shoot to the top of the charts, everybody I know has been talking excitedly about it since first hearing, and, even more surprisingly, it has united listeners of musical persuasions as diverse as Black Sabbath and Phil Ochs in unbridled enthusiasm for both its message and it musical qualities.

All of which is not so surprising once you’ve heard it, because it is a brilliant song, a metaphor for the death and rebirth of rock that’s at once complex and immediately accessible. For the last couple of years critics and audience alike have been talking about the Death of Rock, or at least the fragmentation of all our 1967 dreams of anthemic unity. And, inevitably, somebody has written a song about it. About Dylan, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Stones, Byrds, Janis and others. About where we’ve been, the rush of exhilaration we felt at the pinnacle, and the present sense of despair. Don McLean has taken all this and set it down in language that has unmistakable impact the first time you hear it, and leaves you rubbing your chin–”Just what did that line mean?”–with further listenings because you know it’s all about something you’ve felt and lived through. A very 1967ish song, in fact, in the way it makes you dig for deeper meaning, but not the least bit mawkish.

It opens with a slow, mournful sequence about reading the headlines about the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper while delivering papers as a child, then into the chorus: “Bye bye, Miss American Pie/Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry/Them good ole boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye/And sayin’ this’ll be the day that I die.” Then all at once it rears up and charges through the years in a giddy rush: “I was a lonely teenage bronckin’ buck/With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,” the “Book of Love,” sock hops in the gym and puppy jealousy, and then into the heart of the myth, where Dylan is a Jester “in a coat he borrowed from James Dean,” laughing at the king “in a voice that came from you and me.”

The halcyon days of Sgt. Pepper are brilliantly caught: “The half-time air was sweet perfume/As the Sergeants played a marching tune,” but suddenly the Jester is on the sidelines in a cast, the stage is taken by Jack Flash (“Fire is the devil’s only friend”), and Altamont, the Angels and the despairing resentment the Stones left many fans with pass in a dark panorama. Finally coming down to the levee again, where the good old boys are draining the bottles and talking as if it’s all over, as they did when the plane bearing “The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost” fell and as they will again and again through the years. It’s just the old Calvinist sense of impending apocalypse and perdition, but they’re good old boys anyway and we can’t resent them because we too “believe in rock ‘n’ roll/And [that] music can save your moral soul.” Because they’re us.

“American Pie” is a song of the year, and its music is just as strong as those lyrics, propelled with special resonance by the piano of Paul Griffin, who played with the Jester when his myth was at pinnacle. The single version is considerably shorter than that on the album, and I only wish that I could recommend the latter unhesitatingly. Unfortunately, the eight-minute hit is the only tune of real substance and vitality on it; the rest is given over to a series of moody, rather bland songs stereo-typically deriving from the Sixties folk tradition and the current proliferation of songwriters specializing in introspective, watery poeticizings. Shucks, I almost wonder from struggling to keep my attention on them whether “American Pie” won’t be the only important song Don McLean will ever write. But maybe that’s being premature and petty; because he did write it, and we needed it, did we ever. If you’ve ever cried because of a rock & roll band or album, or lain awake nights wondering or sat up talking through the dawn about Our Music and what it all means and where it’s all going and why, if you’ve ever kicked off your shoes to dance or wished you had the chance, if you ever believed in Rock & Roll, you’ve got to have this album. (RS 100)

LESTER BANGS

I have to disagree with Lester on the rest of McLean’s American Pie album.  There are several great tracks on this album, with Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) as a particularly compelling song about artist Vincent Van Gogh.

  Vincent (Starry, Starry Night), Don McLean

Don McLean was friends with folk legends The Weavers, as well as Pete Seeger and briefly attended Villanova with Jim Croce.  McLean’s style is very much in the vein of old-time singer/songwriters with tunes that are easy on the ear and hard on the mind.  His songs MEAN something.  They’re not catchy and snazzy, they are deep.

A young girl named Lori Lieberman attended one of Don McLean’s performances and was so touched by it that she wrote a poem, entitled Killing Me Softly with His Blues.  Composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel later turned that poem into a song immortalized by Roberta Flack as Killing Me Softly. 

   Killing Me Softly, Roberta Flack

It was later re-mixed and covered by The Fugees.

MUSIC MAVEN Trivia:  Lori Lieberman went on to provide music for the critically acclaimed Schoolhouse Rock…”I’m just a bill, only a bill…”

NOTE:  I refuse to post  covers of American Pie, as among those that attempted it, the Madonna and The Brady Bunch (a kid you not) versions are hideous.  Garth Brooks does a minimally decent rendition but it doesn’t come close to Don McLean. 

Don McLean immortalized the great Buddy Holly, paying apt homage to the legend’s musical importance and ensuring  Holly is known to new generations.  American Pie is proof that songs with meaning, songs than resonate with listeners, are recognized, treasured and endure forever.

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment in The Day the Music Died series.  Until then, if you’re so inclined, take a look at Music Maven’s take on American Pie‘s lyrics, verse by verse.

  Click here for Music Maven’s Lyric Interpretation of American Pie

 

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The Day the Music Died — A Music Maven Mini-Series

winter_dance_party

This coming Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009, will be the 50th anniversary of the great Buddy Holly’s tragic death when the small plane he was a passenger on crashed in an Iowa corn field.

Holly’s short, yet meteoric career, provided influence for many musicians across many genres.  Over the next three days, Music Maven will pay tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson).  We’ll explore their influences and perhaps even reveal a few tidbits you might not be aware of.

Shortly, I will post the first of the series.  It will be a post on American Pie, the Don McLean classic inspired by the death of Buddy Holly.  American Pie  is a perennial favorite, but do you know about Don McLean’s musical kun-NECK-shuns?  Do you know all of the hidden meanings in the song? 

Check back to learn more…hope you enjoy the show!

 

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Last Hint…

  Not Fade Away, Taylor “Tink” Hicks

 
6 Comments

Posted by on January 31, 2009 in kun-neck-shuns, taylor hicks, Uncategorized

 

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Another Hint…

  Like A Rollin’ Stone, Bob Dylan

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2009 in music legends

 

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It’s Coming….

I’m working on a big project for Music Maven.  Be sure to check back this weekend…

Here’s a hint:

  Killing Me Softly, The Fugees

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2009 in music maven

 

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Fly High, Free Bird

Billy Powell  1952 - 2009

Billy Powell 1952 - 2009

Another of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd as flown away.  Keyboardist Billy Powell, passed away early yesterday at the age of 56.  Powell was on board the plane that crashed in October of 1977 in Central Mississippi on their way to a performance at LSU in Baton Rouge.  Oddly enough, Powell was scheduled to play with the re-vamped Skynyrd band in Kinder, LA this weekend.

Billy Powell started as a roadie for the early version of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  An accomplished piano player, Powell sat down to test out the keyboards at a prom gig and Ronnie Van Zant liked Powell’s strains on Freebird.  Powell was officially brought into the band in 1972.

Powell survived the 1977 plane crash that claimed Van Zant, Steve Gaines and his sister, Cassie, but suffered severe facial lacerations, almost losing his nose.  In VH1’s Behind the Music, Powell gave a graphic description of the crash, upsetting members of the Gaines and Van Zant families.  Despite the conflict, Powell has been an active member of the revived Lynyrd Skynyrd since 1987.

With Powell’s death, only drummer Artemus Pyle, guitarist Ed King and guitarist Gary Rossington survive.  There’s even been speculation that the band members are victims of some sort of curse called into being from the enigmatic Freebird.

If I leave here tomorrow,
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now,
‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see.
But if I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn’t be the same.
‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you can not change.
And the bird you can not change.
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can’t change.

Bye bye baby, it’s been a sweet love. Yea.
And though this feeling I can’t change.
But please don’t take it so badly,
‘Cause the Lord knows I’m to blame.
And if I stay here with you girl,
Things just couldn’t be the same.
Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you’ll never change.
And the bird you can not change.
And this bird you can not change.
The Lord knows, I can’t change.
Lord help me, I can’t change.
Lord I can’t change.
Won’t cha fly high free bird, yeah.

All very young when their legendary southern rock anthems were born, very few of them will see old age.  However, their Southern Fried Rock will live on with the Me generation, as well as their kids and grandkids.

  Freebird

  Call Me the Breeze

  The Redneck National Anthem

  That Smell

  What’s Your Name?

  Georgia Peaches

Great stuff.  Where is today’s Lynyrd Skynyrd?

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2009 in memorials, music legends, rock

 

What’s Right is Right

…and what’s fair is fair. 

While I was a HUGE Taylor Hicks fan when he was sporting that lovely paisley shirt, purple velvet jacket and getting funky on American Idol a few years ago, I lost interest after a while.  His over-produced, Idol infused “debut” CD, the obvious malfunctions in his marketing and the insaneness of the online “fan wars” caused me to put some distance of my own between me and the Silver Fox. 

Also, the whole Grease thing really shattered my illusions of the nitty, gritty, “real”, all about the music, soul singer.  I had envisioned Taylor with the likes of Marc Broussard, Norah Jones, Widespread Panic and Grace Potter, not prancing around in a teased up pompadour singing Beauty School Drop Out.  While I still don’t like the move, it appears that the Teen Angel part has kept him out in the public.  In the summer, he released Early Works, full of older pre-idol material that was self-produced and had limited distribution, mainly via Target.  Not sure of the exact count, but let’s just say that it didn’t storm up the Billboard charts. 

Taylor has been working on a new CD, titled The Distance.  It will be released via Taylor’s Modern Whomp Records and distributed via the indie-promotiong Artists2Market.  While quite a challenge to go it alone, Taylor has asserted that this CD will be a true representation of his music, without interference from “others”.  So, today the first single from The Distance drops — a smooth, easy tune called What’s Right is Right.

taylor-hicks

Click HERE to listen to What’s Right is Right

As much as I may have seen Taylor, and his music through rose colored glasses previously, the pendulum swung hard the other way over the last two years with my disappointment in the music (or lack thereof) of Taylor Hicks.  Where was the John Mayer collaboration?  The Ray Charles studio session?  A Muscle Shoals revival?  The Yabba Dabba Soul Patrol Mojo Dive Tour, for Christ’s sake? 

However, lately, I have wondered if I have simply been too hard on poor Taylor.  After all, his was an uphill climb out of the chute.  Not really Country, not really Alternative Rock, not really any specific “genre” for the suits to throw him in.  While he certainly made missteps and was, at times, lazy…did I throw the baby out with the bathwater?  I decided to really give this new CD a try.  So, I have started with What’s Right is Right

While there’s nothing here that will set the world on fire, the song is good.  It’s James Taylor-esque to me, with simple instrumentation and vocals I can actually hear.  Not sure that he’ll get much radio play on anything other than Adult Contemporary stations, but I don’t think that’s the point.  James Taylor has had VERY few “hits” over his career, yet is certainly a respected musician and singer.  If you can make money pleasing a fan base, over time, you will be able to sustain yourself and leave a lasting legacy.  I like What’s Right is Right and I think that I will like the rest of the CD that drops March 10th, 2009. 

 The track listing is promising, with a little of something for everyone. 

Wedding Day Blues
Seven Mile Breakdown
What’s Right Is Right
Woman’s Gotta Have It
New Found Freedom
The Distance
Nineteen
I Live on a Battlefield
Maybe You Should
Once Upon a Lover of Mine
Keepin’ It Real

There is a potential solid Country hit in Nineteen, along with one that I have a feeling will be a Music Maven hit — Bobby Womack’s Woman Gotta Have It.  I have adored this song since 1976, when my brother gave me my first LP album — James Taylor’s In the Pocket, arguably one of his best albums.  But THAT, my friends, is another story for another day.

If I may — give Taylor just one more chance and try to listen to this new CD without rose colored glasses or bias from unrealized expectations.  Try listening to it like any other emerging artist I might throw out there at you and then, we’ll give it a proper review.  Just keepin’ it real.

It will be available on Amazon, March 10th.  The single is available today on iTunes.  My Libra Dragons is predicting an American Idol appearance in mid-March.  Don’t they at least owe the guy that much?

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2009 in american idol, new releases, taylor hicks

 

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Challenge of MO-Beel

Mobile, Alabama.  Pearl of the South.  Oak tree-lined streets draped in moss that provide a welcoming canopy for residents and visitors, alike.

government-oaks

The city I call home.  While I am forever Cajun and unabashedly proud of my homeland, Lower Alabama is home now.  I won’t bore you with the long, convoluted story as to how we chose to live in Mobile, but will share some particular sites with you that I took with my new Canon 50-D camera.

You see, my friend KD put a notice up on her blog, A Half Hour A Day, about photo guru, Scott Thomas’ collective shoot “assignment”.  While I’m quite the novice when it comes to this monsterous camera, what it does and how I can unleash its power, I figured I had to get wet sometime…so I jumped right in.

Now, I have been all around Mobile over the last seven years that I have lived here, but admittedly, it’s been a while since I took in the sites.  I took off on Sunday to capture some of the main sites to share, cyberly, with folks that are literally all over the world.  Heady stuff.  Never the shrinking violet, I embraced the assignment with gusto.

A little background for the readers (since most of you is yankees)…

Mobile is the only city in the United States that has been under five “national” flags. 

fiveflags1

Spanish, Confederate, U.S., British, and French.  The one on the left is the Alabama State Flag.  Desired for its port, rivers and bays, Mobile offered settlers commerce and transportation.  Today, the many rivers, bays and tributaries provide livelihoods and entertainment for residents and visitors.

Probably the most well-know attraction in Mobile, is the USS Alabama Battleship. 

battleship2

The Alabama is a floating museum that is anchored at the mouth of Mobile Bay and the prominent visual as you exit the famous Wallace Tunnel on I-10, heading East.  I have many fond memories of visiting the battleship as a child when we would travel through Mobile on our way to Pensacola or Orlando.  To see the battleship rooms and decks was always like entering a time warp for this WWII history buff.

And, Mobile is a bastion of history.  Founded in 1702,  Mobile is actually named for the Mobilian Indians who first settled these parts.  French Canadian explorers (and brothers) d’Iberville and Bienville were the first settlers in Mobile.  d’Iberville went on to explore the Carribean, while Bienville made his way west along the Gulf Coast to establish a little village called La Nouvelle Orleans…you might have heard of it.  Matter of fact, a few years later some Mobile natives moved over to the new settlement in Louisiana and brought with them their new Lenten tradition, Mardi Gras.  That’s right.  MOBILE is the home of the first Mardi Gras…not New Orleans.

Mobile pays tribute to its founding brothers in two different ways.  A statue of d’Iberville graces Cooper Riverfront Park, gazing out over the water that continued to call him.  At his back is the new RSA Tower, the pinnacle of Mobile’s budding skyline and the tallest building in Alabama.

diberville-sphere1

The lovely old towne square in Downtown Mobile is named after Bienville, where a large cross monument and exquisite wrought iron fountain beckons.  The brothers, like most French men of that time, were vehemently dedicated to Catholicism.  Even today, Mobile has a very large Catholic community.

bienville-square

Now, I’ve seen pictures galore of the Bienville Square fountain and have also seen it numerous times from a distance, however I had never been up close.  The wonderful clear water made a very comforting, peaceful sound on this particularly gray, Sunday morning.

bienville-fountain

While it looks black from afar, closer inspection discloses that it’s actually a wonderful dark verdi green.  And, the detail on the iron works is simply superb.  Considering that this centerpiece has been in place since the 1890’s, it’s held up remarkably well.

fountain-detail

I had a great time seeing some of the sights of Mobile and of course, getting to know my new camera.  I still need LOTS of practice but I like the shots I took, however I think the last one is my favorite.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on January 26, 2009 in Mobile, photography

 

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Love Story

I simply cannot explain why I like this song.

  Love Story, Taylor Swift

Perhaps it stems from an inexplicable attraction to this…

  Afternoon Delight, Starland Vocal Band

…old habits die hard.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2009 in Country, the seventies

 

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More Mayer Goodness

jm

 

Using my ultra-effective interwebs Google-Fu skillz, I located a few more Mayerlicious You Tubes that illustrate Johnny Boy’s humor and talent. 

Happy Weekend.  Enjoy!

  Chocolate Rain

The FIRST John Mayer show (on VH1):

Seriously.  I lerve this guy’s humor.  But, do you think that people, as a whole, will “get” Mayer?

  Ellen interview

  Showing emotional depth regarding the writing of “Say” for The Bucket List

  Demonstrating his musical prowess via I’m Gonna Find Another You

  Respecktin’ his elders — B.B. King

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2009 in John Mayer

 

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