A long, long time ago ...
In fact, it has been 40 years since Don McLean’s single “American Pie” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. The iconic musical representation of historical events that shaped a nation has been theorized repeatedly in an attempt to interpret the meanings behind the lyrics of the song.
The one message that does resonate throughout the tune, however, is that the song — and the times during which it was written — reflect the loss of innocence in American music.
A newly-released volume of scholarly essays; “Do You Believe In Rock and Roll?: Essays on Don McLean’s “American Pie” by Delphos natives Ray Schuck and his son, Raymond I. Schuck; examines the song through a variety of themes.
During the 1970s, the music culture evolved from the rebellious counterculture of the 60s toward a trend of relaxing music as well as dance music. People were tired of the turmoil from the previous decade — the Vietnam War, Charles Manson’s “Helter Skelter”, widespread drug abuse and deaths by overdose — and many of them sought a refuge in dance clubs to enjoy a good time.
Music in this era became a vehicle for dialogue, voicing a deeper, darker and sadder outcry for change. It was the summer of 1971 and Don McLean’s epic exploration of American culture in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, “American Pie,” had catapulted into the top 40 and was a staple on all playlists.
Which brings us to the question: Where were you when you first heard “American Pie”?
“I remember it vividly. I was eight or maybe 10 years old, at the Stadium Park, and I heard it blasting from a car radio,” Raymond reflected, “I thought about the imagery [dying] and knew I did not want to die.”
Fast forward from 1971 to 1998, when Ray Schuck, visiting assistant professor of history at Ohio Northern University, had been teaching courses in the Public History/Museum Studies Program.
“Dad teaches public history and plucked songs on his guitar relating the music of that time to the historical topic being discussed,” Raymond. “His students suggested that he reflect on and write about the song’s [American Pie] interpretations. He and I began the collaboration on the book about three and a half years ago.”
The book encompasses eight compositions with themes that explore the song’s lyrical interpretations, line-by-line analysis of the song, perception of race in rock and roll, significance of the rock and roll industry, the experimentation of the actual playtime of the song, the not-so significance of rock and roll, the Baby Boomer generation and the impact of the era’s music on Generation X.
The eighth composition — “A Tale of Two Sagas” — examines Weird Al Yankovic’s parody, “Yoda,” which was inspired by the events of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The song is told from the point of view of Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker and is set to the song “Lola,” a tune released by the British rock band The Kinks.
“The use of a 1970’s tune in combination with Star Wars-inspired lyrics created a cross-over effect melding two different generations together,” Raymond mused.
The pair enjoyed working on the project together.
“We really had a lot of fun,” Ray said.
The book was published by McFarland and released Sept. 26.