I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
- from American Pie by Don McLean (1971)
There are as many meanings to Don McLean's iconic song as there are people who listen to it. During interviews, McLean has admitted that the genesis of the song was the death of Buddy Holly in the 1959 plane crash that also claimed the lives of fellow musicians Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper.
McLean likes to let people derive meaning from American Pie on their own. However, there are myriad sites on the Internet that will tell you exactly what it means. One such, un-cryptically named, "understandingamericanpie.com," expands on the popular theme of the song lamenting the years between 1959 and 1970, a decade or so that ushered in radical changes to American culture.
While American Pie and its signature sub-title, "The Day the Music Died" have a host of literal and fanciful meanings, I believe The Day the Music Died is probably closer to the year 2000.
From 1959 to today, a Google search will easily provide an extensive list of musicians, singers, songwriters and performers who have died, "before their time."
Hendrix, Joplin, Jones, Morrison, Cobain, Bonham, Lennon, Marley, Allman, Cooke, and many, many more. Based on your taste in music and/or your opinions of the cultural impact these and other artists had on music in general, their deaths - individually or collectively - could signify the day the music died.
For those who were born in the 1990s and have grown into adulthood listening to the modern pantheon of musical idols, you may want to look away now. Because I'm going to stick my neck out and say that sometime in the 1990s, the music died.
The last time I really appreciated anything new coming out of the radio, turntable, CD player, or - lately - the Internet, was likely labeled as grunge music. Although it probably began much earlier, the video for Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit (Geffen, 1991) ironically ushered in the commercial grunge era replete with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and a host of other t-shirt and flannel-wearing bands - some of which were insanely talented.
Video still; Smells Like Teen Spirit (Geffen, 1991)
Since the 1990s...? I can't really come up with anything I would consider ground-breaking, musically speaking. I know a host of Millenials - or Generation Y'ers or whatever they are labeled these days - will probably descend on me like so many angry, africanized bees for inferring that their artists have not developed music in any significant way.
But please note, I'm not saying there haven't been artists since late 1990 who made decent music. I'm just saying that I have not heard any that made me sit back and say, "Wow. That's new and different; and I really like it!"
Every generation has a plethora of talented musicians and singers. Writers who can string together a lyric that captures the magic of emotion - something that resonates with listeners of an age. I remember listening to Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in high school and thinking, 'This has got to be the best album, ever!'
And when I read the lyrics by Bernie Taupin, I was doubly blown away.
Album cover art: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (MCA, 1973)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was followed by a tremendous lineup of double albums that included Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti (Swan Song, 1975), and Frampton Comes Alive! (A&M, 1976). More eclectic readers might clamor for The Who's Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973), Bruce Springsteen's The River (Columbia, 1980), and certainly, The Wall (Columbia, 1979) - Pink Floyd's most complex (perhaps) concept album, to be included in this list.
But again, we're talking about music that defined and advanced - in a good way - the progression of music through the ages. I'd like to hear from you. What modern artists/bands/composers/writers do you believe have contributed significantly to the growth of music since 2000?
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
- from American Pie by Don McLean (1971)
What do you think?