Drove My Chevy to the Levee and the Levee Said Hi

There are certain things that must happen to a person in life, and no matter how much that person may want to speed up or delay these events, he must trust that everything is unfolding as it should, and that all will be revealed in due time.

For instance, it was only this week, 30 and a half years into my time on this earth, that I finally figured out the song, "American Pie."

I used to sweep out movie theaters to that song back in high school, when I worked at General Cinema showing films like Last Action Hero and Lion King and Malice. (I can still more or less recite Alec Baldwin's God speech). The theater manager liked to play the Born on the Fourth of July soundtrack in between shows. We'd pick up all the empty cups and popcorn bags and then see who could throw a broom furthest across the theater. If you hit the screen, it was a ground-rule double.

American Pie, which provided the soundtrack to many of these games, is not about simple high-school hi-jinks. It's about disillusionment, and ruination, and death.

I figured as much.

But today, or last Monday, more accurately, I found out for sure. And given the song's cryptic lyrics and widespread popularity, I'd say it's something of a rite of passage to finally, once and for all, replay those words one more time in your head and go, "Oh! Ohhhh..."

Everybody knows it relates to a plane crash, the one that killed Buddy Holly and a few other rock legends. And you can get a vague idea of the allegorical nature of the song when Don McLean starts singing about the jester singing for the king and queen, etc. The rest of it, though, I'd kind of written off as catchy jibberish. Not so.

The jester is most likely Bob Dylan, who appeared on the cover of an album wearing a red windbreaker he "borrowed" from James Dean, who wore one in Rebel Without a Cause, the girl who sang the blues is Janis Joplin, the quartet who practiced in the park is the Beatles and the dark, in which we sang the dirges, may well have been the great blackout of November 9th, 1965, when a sixth of the country was without electricity.

And all this is debatable. You can look it up and decide for yourself on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

The main thing I learned, though* was that McLean was writing about, well, about things pretty much falling apart in this country the whole time he was growing up. Sure, being a musician, he took it pretty hard when the Rolling Stones grew moss, Elvis got fat and the Byrds took up pot, but there was a lot of other unfortunate stuff going on at the time as well, and he sang about that too. Stuff like assassinations. Overdoses. Plane crashes and motorcycle crashes and concert fires and people getting stabbed to death.


That's why the refrain goes the way it does, I learned -- driving your Chevy to the Levee was a common advertising jingle when McLean was a boy, offering listeners the promise of many happy destinations in 1950s America from behind the wheel of a shiny new Chevrolet. McLean felt that the promise of the 50s had been unfulfilled by the turmoil of the 60s... the levee, once reached, was dry.

And I almost went another 30 years wondering about that. Thanks to something wonderful that came about during *my* generation, though, I was able to click a few buttons, type in a few words and satisfy my curiosity. I could keep reading more, and learn the opinions of others like me, if I wanted, for weeks on end. I could contribute my thoughts on the subject, or write a sequel, or record myself singing a cover. (Goodness, no.)

And now that I've learned about it, I was able to share what I found with you. And then you can talk back, if you want, and we can go like that, even if we don't live anywhere near each other and have totally dissimilar lives. That's pretty darn good.

I may be jumping to conclusions here, but it looks like someone may have refilled the levee.

*The other cool thing I learned was the fact (I hope) that "Killing Me Softly" was inspired by a woman who saw McLean performing this song. How about that?


Megan said...

Wow! That was incredibly interesting. It reminds me of the song "we didn't start the fire" by Billy Joel but this one came first and is much more poetic.

Anonymous said...

Here's a "poor baby" for you. That, and the Frosted Mini Wheats in warm milk, should make you feel much better. If not, try putting Vicks Vapo Rub on your feet tonight before you go to bed. Cover them with socks, and you should feel better in 10 minutes.

I read a great book over the weekend -- "Forever," by Pete Hamill. I think you'd like it.

Love and hugs