Pop Culture, Travel

The World’s Longest Yard Sale Eclipsed.

Eclipse Tourism

Original publish date:  August 14, 2017   Reissue August 15, 2019

2017 was the 30th anniversary year for the 127 yard sale aka “The World’s Longest Yard Sale” which started in 1987. I’ve written about the yard sale before and my wife and I have taken this long strange trip several times now. The 127 yard sale bills itself as the longest yard sale in the world, and they’re probably right. After all, it is a 690 mile long route that travels through 6 states; Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. The sale follows Highway 127 from Addison, Michigan to Chattanooga, Tennessee past Lookout Mountain in Georgia and ends in Gadsden, Alabama. Oh sure, the road has more colorful nicknames along the route: Dixie Highway, Federal Route, Cumberland Parkway, Bluegrass Parkway, Lookout Mountain Parkway, but yard sale veterans just call it the 127.
The route can be beautiful and it is also steeped in history. Besides traveling through the historic cities of Cincinnati, Chattanooga and Birmingham, the 127 skirts the entire Eastern edge of Indiana, travels through Kentucky horse country, near Civil War battlefields and past civil rights landmarks. Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called this area home. Yes, highway 127 has tons of history but for the first week of August every year Highway 127, it also has tons of bargains.
To survive the world’s longest yard sale you need many things: reliable-roomy transportation, hotel reservations in advance, a trusted GPS device with paper map backups, comfortable shoes, lots of change (singles and quarters), a case of bottled water, insect repellent, snacks and most of all, plenty of patience. The route encompasses all sorts of terrain and conditions: small towns, big cities; mountains, hills, dales; 90° heat, dew as thick as fog and take my word for it, there will be monsoon rains somewhere along the route. And did I mention bad drivers? Yard sale travelers seem to lose their minds when they see a bargain resting 20 yards from the curb.
10-127-Corridor-Sale-flea-market-009We started our trip on Wednesday, August 2nd south of Cincinnati. We allowed ourselves three days for the 127. We learned long ago that it would take at least five to hit every sale. We started out at nine in the morning and made it as far as Harrodsburg Kentucky that evening. Normally it would take 2 hours to drive the 120 mile route between the two locations. The next day, Thursday, August 3rd, we left around 8:30 AM and by 6 PM we had made it as far as Spring City Tennessee. This day’s route was 180 miles between locations. Normally this is a four hour trip without stops. By our third day, Friday, August 4th, between the crowds, the traffic and general fatigue, we had just about had our fill. By the time we had reached Chattanooga that afternoon, we were done.
127Sale_2013_8.0.1421549453.0And what did we find on the world’s longest yard sale 2017 redux? Unlike years past, we really didn’t find anything fantastic for ourselves; we just found stuff. Don’t get me wrong, we found some cool things. We just didn’t find any life changers. My personal prize was a bronze statue of Gettysburg hero General Winfield Scott Hancock. It now rests on my desk. I found tons of old paper to play that I am still winding my way through. My favorite so far is a packet of letters written by a French woman to her soldier beau in Geneva Indiana in 1919 – 20 at the close of World War I. She pleads for news from her soldier boy and wonders why he doesn’t write. Poignant to say the least. 127-Yardsale-No-Parking
We did notice that at some places along the route of the sale local law and code enforcement officials had meticulously coned off the berms along the road. Interspersed among these cones were flashing highway reader signs proclaiming that any vehicle found parked on the berm will be ticketed. Apparently the novelty of the 127 Yard sale has worn off in some communities. Humorously towns before and after these persona non grata localities replaced those ominous no parking signs with signed reading “Welcome Yard Salers.”
5d3eed899c6b2.imageMy favorite memory comes from a gentleman I met at the Jordan Motel in Jamestown Tennessee. The motel is an important landmark on the 127 because this is the spot where the first booths were set up back in 1987 to start what would become the world’s longest yard sale. Jamestown is in the heart of Big South Fork Country which bills itself as the Trail Riding Capital of the Southeast. At first I was drawn to the booth by a large metal highway 70 sign leaning against a nearby tree. It was only 35 bucks but it wasn’t our I-70 so I passed. Let me rephrase that, Rhonda suggested I pass because I am apparently out of room for any more road signs.

04 (1)
The sinkhole at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

1392253216000-XXX-Corvette-aftermath-01On this man’s table were a couple dirty squares of carpeting, each about 4″x4″ and each displayed in picture frames. Alongside the dingy relics were photographs of a scene that looked strangely familiar to me. It was a large hole inside a closed building that I soon recognized as the sinkhole that swallowed eight Corvettes at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green Kentucky around Valentine’s Day of 2014. I asked about them and was informed me that the vendor was the contractor hired to pull the cars out and repair the hole. He said, “In fact, I’m the guy that fired up that Corvette and drove it out. It didn’t have anything but an oil leak.” As he searched his cell phone to show me a video of the event as proof, he informed me that he was surprised the Corvette museum called him because, “I’m just a good old boy from Kentucky, I didn’t know thing about Corvettes or fixing sinkholes.” As Rhonda and I got back in the car and drove south, she asked me if I had asked him how much they were. Strangely, I hadn’t. I guess I was too caught up in the story.

The Jordan Motel in Jamestown, Tennessee.
1940s postcard of the Jamestown Hotel.

It was also at the Jordan Motel, which had about 50 dealer booths scattered around the grounds, where I found another relic from my past. Rhonda was quick to point out a couple of baby boomers walking past. The 50 something woman was smoking a cigar. I’m a cigar smoker myself and I’m here to tell you I don’t see that very often. Turns out they were sharing it. She would take a puff or two and then hand it over to her “old man”. Here my eyes caught something on a nearby table that piqued my interest. It was a well used copy of Bob Dylan’s 1966 seminal double album “Blonde on Blonde”.

Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.

I picked it up and the dealer, who appeared to be somewhere in his 60s, immediately said, “You can have that for a dollar if you want it.” I pulled out my dollar bill so fast it’s a wonder I didn’t sprain my wrist. I couldn’t resist telling him why I wanted it. I have a copy of the album that I was fortunate enough to get Bob Dylan to autograph for me 30 years ago. I met him briefly after a concert at Market Square Arena. To say I met him might be a stretch though. I caught him just after he had climbed into his limo to leave for the airport. I knocked on the window, showed him my album and a pen and asked if he would please autograph it for me. He got a rather perturbed look on his face and rolled the window down just far enough that I could slip the album and pen through. He scribbled his name, which is indecipherable, and passed it back through the window to me and drove away. I still have that album of course, but I had long ago lost the two records that were originally housed within.
With this 127 yard sale find I could finally replace them. The booth owner promptly told me that he was at Woodstock in 1969. It was then that I noticed his ponytail and tie-dyed tank top. “I remember pushing cars out of that mud. There was mud everywhere,” the old hippie said, “I never forgave Dylan for not showing up and playing. He lived there! How can you not play Woodstock when you live there?” Who would’ve thought that I would encounter the one guy who could top my Dylan story with a story of his own in the hills of Jamestown Tennessee?
However, there was one event that literally overshadowed our journey on the 127. The 2017 World’s Longest Yard Sale was being eclipsed by another event, “The Great American Total Solar Eclipse”, two weeks in the future. Rhonda and I spent our second night at the Howard Johnson’s in Spring City Tennessee. It’s Rhonda’s preferred abode while on the 127 because it’s nice and clean, convenient to the route and features a restaurant next door called “Winstead’s American Grill & King of Pizza” that is famous for its handmade Stromboli’s. The motel, the restaurant, heck, the whole town was festooned with posters and banners for the August 21 eclipse event.
321815_226757074075159_867120722_oSpring City Mayor Billy Ray Patton claims the town is one of the best places in the world to view the eclipse because it is located along the exact path the eclipse will travel. Spring City rests on the 70 mile wide “path of totality.” Residents and visitors will have two minutes and 39 seconds of totality when the moon completely blocks the view of the sun. The total solar eclipse will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina. But don’t get any ideas, the hotels in Spring City were already sold out two weeks ago. On Monday this small TVA town of 2000 is expected to swell to 50,000 with visitors hoping to catch a good view of the eclipse.
127-yard-sale-state-route-mapWhile it is too late for anyone to visit the 2017 Highway 127 yard sale, there is still time to prepare for the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. On Aug. 21st (this Monday) the eclipse will be visible for the first time since 1979. Hoosier sky watchers will be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse on that summer day, but most people will have to travel to see the sun completely eclipsed by the moon.
It is important to remember that looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face. That safe zone will happen only within the narrow path of totality. Otherwise, the only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses.” Do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device, the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
The total solar eclipse is not visible in Indianapolis, but it can be observed here as a partial solar eclipse. In the Circle City, the eclipse will begin at 12:57 p.m., according to Butler University’s Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium. It will reach its maximum point at 2:25 p.m. and will officially end around 3:48 p.m. If seeing a partial solar eclipse doesn’t thrill you and seeing a total solar eclipse is your only interest, never fear, in 2024, Indianapolis will be on the direct path of its first total solar eclipse in nearly 820 years. Not to mention, that will give you plenty of time to visit the Highway 127 World’s Longest Garage Sale and report back.


Music, Pop Culture

The Band. Woodstock Comes To Irvington.

d The Band 1aaaaa

Original publish date:  April 11, 2019

You are cordially invited to come over to the Irving theatre this Saturday, April 13th from 2 PM to 4 PM and talk about music. This is the 50th anniversary year of Woodstock, the concert that changed both the culture and history of music while defining a generation. More importantly, this event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first live concert by The Band at the Winterland ballroom in San Francisco California. The Band (Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson) not only change the face of rock ‘n roll, they almost single-handedly created the movement that became known as “Americana” music. Although known by many as Bob Dylan’s backup band, as we shall see this Saturday, there is more to the fellas than meets the eye.z big pink 3c
When these five self-described bearded “Cowboys” appeared on the January 12, 1970 cover of Time magazine (a first for an American band by the way) they were described as “The New Sound of Country Rock.” They came to epitomize Woodstock, the community and the concert, although they landed at both quite coincidentally. In an era when other bands were writing and performing songs about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, The Band were performing songs about reflection and history created in the basement of a little pink house in the Catskill Mountains. The songs dripped with sentiment, depth and meaning straight out of the pages of American history even though four out of the five members were Canadians.Woodstock-poster
This Saturday I will host an in depth discussion about The Band and its impact on American music. Joining me will be local radio legends Dave “the King” Wilson, Ed Wenck and Jay Baker. The program will start at 1:30 p.m. with live music in the Irving theatre performed by The Mud Creek Conservancy, the acoustic duo of Ed Wenck and Josh Gillespie. Occurring before the presentation this will be their first live performance. The duo will play and explain a couple of The Band’s best-known songs for us during the discussion as well. The program will also include a live podcast of “Firehouse Irvington” by Kevin Friedly and Jay Baker after the show. We invite you to come out, share thoughts, ask questions and even bring your guitar to play and sing along in what promises to be a show for the ages.The Band
Channel 13’s Nicole Misensik and Brandon Kline will be on hand to assist with questions from the audience and Dave Wilson will act as the official emcee. The program will feature film clips of The Band on stage, taped interviews and historic photographs that, combined with the discussion, will help form a more complete history of what many critics believe was the greatest band in the history of rock ‘n roll. The band’s iconic lyrics will be discussed as well as their motivation and meaning and songwriting process. Not to mention some interesting connections to pop culture events and personalities that lasted well before and long after their breakup in 1976.
bd triumphThe Band was born only after the near fatal motorcycle accident involving the world’s most famous electric folksinger changed their direction. And, although The Band’s first album “Music From Big Pink” debuted on July 1st, 1968, the band from West Saugerties, New York did not perform live until the spring of 1969 a continent away in San Francisco. The album was created start to finish in two weeks time with no overdubbing, unheard of for its day. What’s more, The Band very nearly didn’t take the stage at all; saved only after legendary promoter Bill Graham picked a hypnotist out of a bay area phonebook to right the ship. The little-known stories of these great incidents will be discussed this Saturday.
Most people forget that The Band even performed at Woodstock, let alone was a headliner. We will discuss how mismanagement not only kept The Band out of the film and off of the soundtrack, it kept Bob Dylan off of the stage. All but only the most devoted fans realize that The Band not only performed at Woodstock, but also at the largest concert in the history of music alongside the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers at Watkins Glen New York four years later. And then there was the 1970 Festival Express tour across Canada featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and The Band. The Festival Express was a 14 car long train that stopped in three Canadian cities: Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, during the summer of 1970, that ultimately became one long non-stop jam session and never ending party fueled by drugs and alcohol.
2To understand The Band, one must also understand the era into which it was born. Big Pink’s 1968 debut was also the year of student protests against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy’s assassination, riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Black Panther demonstrations, feminists protesting the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, Apollo 7 and 8’s moon landing rehearsal flights, Charles Manson gathering his cult members at Spahn Ranch and Nixon’s nomination for president. To many, America was coming apart at the seams and the divide between generations had never seemed wider. This band, formed out of a classically trained musician, a teenaged alcoholic, a butche’rs apprentice, a Jewish Native American grifter and a veteran performer from the Mississippi Delta, stepped forward to bridge the gap.
The Band 19While considered the fathers of the history conscious “Americana” music movement, make no mistake about it, these guys were quintessential rock and rollers. Fast cars, fast women, and fast times punctuated the lives of each member of The Band. They started in the age of rockabilly, while Elvis Presley was still shaking things, up and finished at the dawn of hip-hop. They crossed paths with Hollywood movie stars, gangsters and presidents. Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Conway Twitty, Tiny Tim, Jack Ruby, Martin Scorsese and Jimmy Carter all play a part in the story of these four Canadians and one self-described “cracker” from Arkansas to create a mystique that still surrounds them today, long after three out of the five band members have passed.
Not only is this Saturday’s event timed to coincide with an important anniversary in the history of The Band, it is also taking place on “National Record Store Day”. There will be live music outside the Irving theatre beginning early in the day and lasting long after this presentation concludes. The program will start at 2 PM, admission is free, but we ask that you please make a donation at the door to the weekly view newspaper to help support the Free Press of Indianapolis.

Auctions, John F. Kennedy, Music, Pop Culture

American Pie and the Day the Music Died. Part II

American Pie part II

Original publish date:  February 7, 2019

Sixty years ago, February 3, 1959, three of Rock ‘n Roll’s biggest stars- Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, known as the Big Bopper- were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The day became known as, “The Day the Music Died.” 13-year-old Don McLean was folding newspapers for his paper route in the early morning hours of February 4, 1959 when he got the news. Ten years later, McLean recorded an album in Berkeley, California called “Tapestry” in 1969. After being rejected 72 times by multiple labels, the album was picked up and released by Mediarts, a label that had not existed when he first started looking. It attracted good reviews but little notice outside the folk community. McLean’s major break came when Mediarts was bought by United Artists, paving the way for his second album, “American Pie”.
z 10713201_1The album launched two number one hits in the title song and “Vincent”. American Pie’s success made McLean an international star. The title track went on to become an anthem for late stage baby boomers. Decyphering the song’s lyrics became a national pasttime, sparking rumors that persist to this day. “American Pie” was the number-one US hit for four weeks in 1972. The song was listed as the No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century and was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
z 74282792McLean has really never divulged the song lyrics meanings. He has said: “They’re beyond analysis. They’re poetry.” His silence has simply added fuel to the speculation. In 2009, on the 50th anniversary of the crash, he stated that writing the first verse of the song exorcised his long-running grief over Holly’s death and that he considers the song to be “a big song … that summed up the world known as America”. It should be noted that McLean dedicated his album to Holly. Every line of the 8 1/2 minute song has been carefully culled over and, rightly or wrongly, “explained” by fans and pundits alike ever since. Some of them are simple, others, not so much.
z don-mclean-american-pie-part-one-1972“A long, long time ago.”: American Pie was written in 1971 but talks about the 1950’s. “I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.”: McLean’s favorite music were the golden oldies of the 50’s. “And I knew if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance, and maybe they’d be happy for a while…”: Fifities music was primarily made for school dances and sock hops and McLean was waxing nostalgic about creating the same atmosphere with his music. “But February made me shiver.”: His idol, Buddy Holly died in a February plane crash in Iowa. “With every paper I’d deliver.”: He was a newspaper delivery boy in New Rochelle, New York. “Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step.”: Denotes the day he got the news of the plane crash. “I can’t remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride.”: Buddy Holly’s wife was pregnant when the accident occurred and soon after had a miscarriage. “But something touched me deep inside, the day the music died.”: Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper died together on the same day and fans felt that these three were that only major artists left. Elvis got drafted, Little Richard turned gospel, Bill Haley was forgotten, Jerry Lee Lewis was scandalous and Chuck Berry was a convicted criminal.
z monotones-book-of-love-56a96b6d3df78cf772a6cf2a“Did you write the book of love?”:”The Book of Love” was a hit in 1968 by the Monotones. “And do you have faith in God above, if the Bible tells you so?”: Don Cornell’s book “The Bible Tells Me So” (1955) and the Sunday School song “Jesus Loves Me,” with the line “For the Bible tells me so.” were presumed memories from McLean’s childhood. “Now do you believe in rock & roll?”: McLean was a former folk singer, a medium supplanted by Rock n’ Roll. “Can music save your mortal soul?”: Music may be the only thing that can save the listener from the social upheaval of the sixties. “And, can you teach me how to dance real slow?”: another perceived reference to the innocence of the 1950s. “Now I know that you’re in love with him, ’cause I saw you dancing in the gym.”: Buddy’s widow Maria Elena remarried. “You both kicked off your shoes.”: 1950s sock hop reference. “Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.”: Buddy Holly was living in Greenwich Village at the time of his death and frequenting the Jazz bars with his young wife. “I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck with a pink carnation and a pickup truck.”: likely a tip of the cap to Marty Robbins 1957 song A White sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation). “But I knew I was out of luck, the day the music died.”: Holly’s death presaged an end of innocence.
z R-9587200-1483213325-5153“Now for ten years we’ve been on our own.”: It was a decade after Holly’s death when McLean put out his first album in 1969. “And moss grows fat on a rolling stone.”: Bob Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone” signified (to many) the death of folk music. “but that’s not how it used to be.”: Again referring to Dylan’s musical changes. “When the jester sang for the king and queen.”: A veiled reference to Dylan as the jester. The king was Peter Seger and the queen Joan Baez. The two biggest names in folk music in the ’60’s. “In a coat he borrowed from James Dean.”: Although some see this as reference of Dylan’s “Freewheelin'” album cover where he is wearing a red windbreaker, it has also been explained as the movie idol’s death coming so close to Holly’s. “And a voice that came from you and me.”: again a reference to Dylan being the voice of his generation. “Oh, and while the king was looking down the jester stole his thorny crown.”: When Elvis “The King” left for the Army, Dylan stepped up to take his place. “The courtroom was adjourned, no verdict was returned.”: Dylan left the folk scene and went electric, then had his motorcycle wreck and disappeared for awhile. “And while Lennon read a book of Marx.”: Like Dylan, John Lennon and The Beatles switched genres from a pop band to serious musicians with an even more serious message. “The quartet practiced in the park and we sang dirges in the dark, the day the music died.”: The Beatles performed their last live concert at Candlestick Park and were broken up by the time this song became well known. There are many music aficionados out there who will argue that this verse is not about Bob Dylan at all but rather about the Kennedys. In that case, the lyrics should be pretty self explanatory.
z manson01_300x300“Helter Skelter in a summer swelter.”: In the summer of 1968, Charles Manson massacred an entire family spurred on by the Beatles song “Helter Skelter” from the white album. “The Byrd flew off with to a fallout shelter.”: The Byrd’s were a popular folk-rock group who had a hit with Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” in 1965. Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” appeared on his “Bringing It All Back Home” record, which features the image of a fallout shelter sign in the lower left corner. “Eight miles high and falling fast then landed in the foul grass.”: Eight Miles High was the first ever psychedelic song by the Byrds and tall grass refers to marijuana. “The players tried for a forward pass with the jester, on the sidelines in a cast.” Bob Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle wreck sidelined him and led to the success (out of necessity) of his back-up band, “The Band” whose 1968 and 1969 albums are considered classics. “Now the half time air was sweet perfume while sergeants played a marching tune.” Perceived reference to Dylan’s time off and the 1967 Beatles album Sgt. Pepper. “We all got up to dance, but we never got the chance.”: reference to the protests at the 1968 Chicago DNC and Kent State massacre of 1970. “Cause the players tried to take the field.”: The National Guard at Kent State University. “The marching band refused to yield.”: resulting in the deaths of of four students and wounding of nine others. “Do you recall what was revealed, the day the music died.”: Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.
z woodstock_a-G-5129968-0“And then we were all in one place.”: The Woodstock Festival took place in August 1969. 400,000 of McLean’s generation were there. “A generation lost in space.”: with the Apollo 11 moonlanding, the kids who grew up watching Lost in Space were coming of age. “With no time left to start again.”: The deaths of Buddy Holly and James Dean were harbingers for assassinations of the 1960s that could not be undone. “So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack flash sat on a candlestick.”: Reference to the Rolling Stones song Jumpin’ Jack Flash. “cause fire is the devil’s only friend.”: The Rolling Stones 1968 album Sympathy for the devil. “Oh, and as I watched him on the stage.”: In December of 1969, the Stones attempted another Woodstock at Altamont Speedway. A free concert with the Hell’s Angel’s handling the security. The Stones paid them with beer and handfuls of acid and during the performance of “Sympathy for the Devil,” a black man was beaten and stabbed to death by the Hell’s Angels. “My hands were clenched in fists of rage no angel born in hell could brake that Satan’s spell.”: The Hell’s Angels. “As the flames climbed high into the night, to light the sacrificial rite.”: The stones were helicoptered out after the murder and mayhem ensued. “I saw Satan laughing with delight, the day the music died.”: Historians point to the Stones at Altamont as the death of the sixties and good no longer triumphed over evil.
“I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and turned away.”: Considered as a reference to Janis Joplin’s death by an accidental heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. “I went down to the sacred store.”: Nostalgic return to a once safe place. “Where I heard the music years before, but the man said the music wouldn’t play.”: pining for the forgotten golden oldies of the good old days. “And in the streets the children screamed.”: Race riots, political protests and militant groups now ruled the streets. “The lovers cried and the poets dreamed.”: The political assassinations of the sixties had destroyed the promise of the future. “But not a word was spoken. The church bells all were broken.”: The age of Nixon-Agnew & Reagan was now usurping religion as their mantra fueled by the so-called silent majority. “And the three men I admire most, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”: McLean is Catholic and this is a tribute to the Holy Trinity. “They caught the last train for the coast.”: The April 8, 1966 Time magazine cover had asked the question “Is God Dead?” and The Beatles John Lennon had echoed the sentiment the same year. “The day the music died. And we were singing.”: McLean’s shock and despair at Holly’s death seemed insurmountable but it in fact led to his own birth as a musician and after all, music soothes the savage beast.
z 079402b9031ff1066dbb65cdf00c801aThis song’s refrain may be the hardest part of the song to explain. “So bye, bye Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry. And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye singing This will be the day that I die, this will be the day that I die.” The rumor was that American Pie was the name of the doomed plane carrying Holly, Valens and Richardson. Not true. It was also suggested that McLean was dating a Miss America contestant while writing the song. Also not true. Years later, McLean stated that Miss American Pie is as “American as apple pie, so the saying goes.” When taken on the face of it, I believe the refrain came together as a chorus simply because it was catchy. All hidden meanings aside, that may also be true about the entire song. Practically speaking “Chevy” rhymes with “levee”, it’s that simple. Still, theorists propose that the song’s refrain comes from Buddy Holly’s “That’ll be the day,” that eventually says “that I die.”
To further confuse the issue, an internet site notes that the Levee was a bar in Purchase, NY near McLean’s hometown and that there is also a town named Levee located about 15 minutes from his old school. According to local lore, McLean first wrote the lyrics on paper napkins in a bar in between gigs at Caffe Lena coffeehouse. A plaque on the wall of the Tin & Lint bar reads: “American Pie written by Don McLean, summer 1970.” McLean denies that story and in 2011 he told a local newspaper reporter that he wrote the song with the famous line “Bye, bye Miss American Pie” in Philadelphia. McLean himself said the chorus came to him suddenly while out shopping in a pharmacy in Cold Spring, New York. “I drove as fast as I could back home-I didn’t have a pencil and paper with me-and scribbled that down and put it in the tape recorder.”
McLean bristled when asked about the meaning of the song; “Over the years I’ve dealt with all these stupid questions of ‘Who’s that?’ and ‘Who’s that?’ These are things I never had in my head for a second when I wrote the song. I was trying to capture something very ephemeral and I did, but it took a long time. You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me… Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.”
z Don-McLean-American-Pie-Handwritten-Lyrics-52711In February 2015, McLean announced that Christies Auction House in New York City would sell his original lyrics for the iconic song. McLean explained his reasoning in Rolling Stone magazine: “I’m going to be 70 this year. I have two children and a wife, and none of them seem to have the mercantile instinct. I want to get the best deal that I can for them. It’s time.” The lyrics are 18 pages and contain 237 lines of manuscript and 26 lines of typed text and includes lines that didn’t make the final version as well as extensive notes. Christie’s described the lot as “Comprising: 4 pages manuscript in pencil on four sheets of blue paper stock, 11 pages manuscript on 10 sheets in pencil and ink on ruled spiral paper (including one a half sheet), 2 pages manuscript in pencil on two sheets of yellow paper stock, and one page typed manuscript on blue paper (with four lines holograph notes on verso in purple ink and pencil). Together 18 pages of manuscript on 17 sheets. ” The lot sold on April 7, 2015 for $1.2 million ($1.57 million with buyer’s premium).
After the auction when asked what “American Pie” meant, McLean jokingly replied, “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.” McLean said he would reveal the meaning of the song’s lyrics after the original manuscript was auctioned off. In the auction catalog, McLean revealed: “Basically in American Pie things are heading in the wrong direction. … It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.” The catalog confirmed some of the better known references in the song’s lyrics, including Elvis Presley (“the king”) and Bob Dylan (“the jester”), and confirmed that the song culminates with a near-verbatim description of the death of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Free Concert, ten years after the plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and Richardson.
After the sale, McLean said that he would be selling off more from his music collection adding that he had just embarked on a program to lighten the load and get rid of things. “I hadn’t thought about the lyrics much. They were upstairs in a box of lyrics probably a foot thick with all kinds of songs I’d written that people know. But, of course there’s no song like that song and so I decided to sell them and see what happens. I know that people feel like that song belongs to the public so I thought a public auction would be the best thing to do.” McLean added that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame wanted his lyrics but he refused because “they didn’t want me. I’ve never been in the rock n roll Hall of Fame, I’m an outsider. I’ve been very famous all my life. Many people have been inducted into the Hall of Fame but I haven’t because I’m a contrarian. The wanted my lyrics but I said to them ‘well, you don’t want me in the Hall of Fame so to hell with you’.” Fits in well with American Pie’s loss of innocence, don’t you think?