Songs of America
These lyrics, this song, sung today by Madonna, and years ago, a song that my Dad probably sung..as written by Don Mclean in the 70’s, symbolized for many an aspect of America of the 60’s and 70’s. Who was the American, and what did it mean to be American? What did America mean or represent?
When I listen to that song, I see different things than what my dad probably saw. To talk to my dad, you’d learn that the song Miss Ameican Pie, contained the entire history of Rock and Roll. He would tell you that McLean wrote the song whenh is idol, Buddy Holly was killed. That McLean opened a bunch of newspapers and read that Buddy Holly was killed, and the song sort of “wrote itself” about things that were beginning to slip away forever from the America that used to be, on to the America that was, and the America it would become. The rite of passage from innocence into maturity. The passing of one era, and the beginning of another.
But when I hear the song today, as sung by Madonna, I may interpret something different, only because I see it more as a song of the late 60’s and 70’s, than I do of a song about the 50’s and I connect it more with the times that it was written in, rather than about the “times” that it refers to in some of the lyrics. I can identify it more with the flower people of the 70’s and the Vietnam war, than to the 50’s. But there is a connection.
I suppose you can say that if the innocence of Rock and Roll passed along with someone like Buddy Holly, so did the innocence of America, pass and leave with the onset of the 60’s and the Vietnam war. What Americans were, what it meant to be an American, and what America represented took on new meaning as the 60’s moved into the 70’s.
The demographics of America changed so that the conservative values of the heartland, or middle America could no longer be found to thrive in the “big cities.” Especially, in cities on the East Coas and West Coast. Cities that once were inhabited by “country folk” that had moved to the city for better jobs and opportunities, cities that had been inhabited by immigrants of European origin, were now swarming with Hispanics and Asians. Ghettos were not limited to only “colored” people in the 50’s and “blacks” in the 70’s but now encompassed areas of Asians and Hispanics as well. Values didnt meld, but rather clashed, and friction occurred.
Eastern influences began to affect the thoughts of young people that could not grasp the values and identities that their parents had foiught for, and they began to question American values rather than defend them. Patriotism once brought together the entire American melting pot and crystlalized it under a common goal during World War II. Americans of every walk of life and European immigrants fought for the right of freedom, the right to vote, the right for a better life. However, in the 60s adn 70’s that “patriotism” was something to fear and in some ways be ashamed of.
Patriotism in the 60’s and 70’s had not become something to rally for, but something to squash. It meant imperialism and to many it meant oppression of forcing the :”American” way of life on others, against their will, for their own good. And so with the onset of the Vietnam War, with the beginning of the Vietnam War protests, America’s youth turned to counter cultures, eastern cultures, mysticism, embraced these, and rebelled against the values of their parents, values they felt as self surving and oppressive. And although it was the America’s Free Speech movement, it seemed to rebel against the freedom that it enjoyed.
Bye bye Miss American pie, to me, speaks of a different passing. To me it speaks of a passing of an America of I Love Lucy, the passing of an America of Leave it to Beaver and Andy Griffith, into the chaos of All In The Family, and the subtle reverse discrimination of the The Jeffersons. To me it is the passing of “mom, and apple pie,” into a generation of physical, emotional and ethical unravelment. It is the passing of an era, it is a good bye to Americana, it is the culmination that we have today of a nation that is no longer a melting pot, but one diversity. We are no longer a nation of American Citizens and Naturalized Citizens, but we are Ethnic Americans.
We stress diversity rather than try to homogenize into a whole. We divide over America,s fight for the freedoms of people in other lands. We take to the streets in defiance to people’s fight for freedom, and return a young boy to a land of communism and oppression. We trample our Constitution and seek to rewrite laws in the name of “the will of the people” because we lose an election.
“Bye Bye Miss American pie, drove my Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry…….”
I suppose, in most cases we sing lyrics and remember tunes, but at times we reaize a deeper “meaning” within a song. The most simple songs can be a reflection not only of the person that wrote it, but the times in which he lived, and what those times held dear and valuable, or what they feared and abhorred. We listen to songs, but maybe we dont hear the messages.
“..Born in the USA…” means what? To who? And why? Bruce Springsteen is known for that song, and it can mean differnet things to different people. I had read that Springsteen went without sleep for hours in order to appear ill and be classified as 4F during the Vietnam war, but he also identifies with Vietnam War Veterans. Republican President Ronald Reagan used those words ..”Born In The Usa..” as a theme during his 1984 campaign, yet to many this song represented as much to the Vietnam war protester who used his “Born In the USA” freedom of expression to burn a draft card, as it did to the Vietnam veteran who was “born in the USA” and fought for the preservation of Democracy and the defeat of Communism. It meant as much to these two paradoxes as it did to a Conservative Republican President, born in the USA’s hearland, when he spoke of American values and work ethic and the ideals of freedom and representative Democracy. Springsteen himself seems to have a preoccupation of American working class values that can make Born In The USA as :”American” as looking for the union label.
In many of his songs, not just Born in the USA, you can hear Springsteen identify himself with traditional American values associate with middle America and the work ethic. Springsteen shapes the ideals of good conservatism to best fit our uncertain times. As his life and lyrics repeatedly reveal, there are ways to retain our dignity and ethics in a world where our very foundationsfamily, religion, job security, gender slip away from beneath our feet.
But with the passing of the Miss American Pie and the work ethic, and traditional values, came the loss of innocence and the onset of New Wave maturity, where Madonna cries “Papa dont Preach” in response to “Like a Virgin:” and lyrics reflect the morality the typical American in an America represented by excesses and extremes that range from emotional to sensual to sexual to racial and interracial, amid the glitz of Hollywood, the glamour of New York or the ghettos of East LA, and when all these mix and vie for prominence, when the have nots want to have, and the wanna be;s strive to be, and those that can want to hold on to what they have–we have chaos.
How can we not expect that chaos to be immortalized in words, to be justified and rationalized in some way? That way, may be Hip Hop or maybe, gangster rap. Indeed that with the passing of yet another “icon” Tupac, we have the birth of a string of rappers that have given us the HipHop of the 90’s that so exemplifies America as it is today. Some say at its worst, others say at its best.
A basic understanding of the history and tradition of hip-hop is necessary when listening to Tupac’s music. Artists like Public Enemy, N.W.A. and Eric B. & Rakim were conscious of what was said on their records because they wanted to “uplift the minds, and heighten the esteem, of Americans” Who? What American? You? Me? Perhaps their “fans?” They espoused political, economic, social and spiritual revolution on the mic as well as push black awareness. They realized that rap was a vehicle by which ideas could be communicated nationwide and that their verbal attacks on Big Brother sold well, despite being too controversial for radio
“Bye Bye Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry.” The levy was dry. The levy was dry.” Gone is a vital resource. Patriotism. Diversity has spawned and in the likes of pushing awareness and espousing political reform we essentially go “back in time” and polarize ourselves with ethnic pride and cultural diversity in the America of the 90’s. ” Bye Bye Miss American Pie…”
The revolutionary spirit that has been triumphed by Tupac came to him naturally, by way of his mother, Afeni Shakur, a former Black Panther. But he was also a product of the ghetto, where the influx of crack and increased gang violence were beginning to take their toll on the young black male population. Tupac knew that the grimy, street “hellrazors” often missed political messages, so he created a style that would appeal to them, with a message that glamourized their lifestyle. It has been said that Tupac and his effect on Hip Hop has reflected the desires of all America for love, peace and happiness.
Who’s America? My America? Your America? Their America?
Tupac’s passionate songsl attack the brain with haunting tales of abandonment, imprisonment, miseducation, economic depravity, loneliness and premonitions of his own death. These songs of hopelessness intentionally horrify listeners. Tupac maintained that giving the raw, uncensored truth appeals to the human consciousness and our natural inclinations to right the wrong. This was his duty as a representative of the voiceless masses of poor youth living in America.
Whos America? My America. Their America? Our America?
“..Oh Im a Yankee Doodle Dandee…”
“..God Bless America, Land that I love…stand beside her….and guide her..”
“Bye, Bye Miss American pie…
the levy was dry..the levy was dry….
Bruce Springsteens Songs : by Bruce Springsteen
Born In The USA-Springsteen and the American Tradition: by Jim Cullen
Tramps Like Us-Music and Meaning Among Springsteen Fans – by Daniel Cavichhi
Irving Berlin-Patriotic Songs – A Trade Paper