16 March 2007, 8:57 AM
There are some songs, some books, some poetry and art that span time. They touch something universal in us- who knows how?- but they do, and years after their relevance should have worn thin, even died, they still tug at us, still make us laugh or weep, still make us dance, still make us talk their subject matter around in circles and into the ground.
I tested this theory today in the most hostile of environments- I brought a collection of songs that hold true to this idea, in my world anyway, onto Bus 567 and played it while I picked up my middle school/ high school students. There’s something sacred about music in the world of high school students. Don’t mess with their rap, their country or their crap. They’ll let you know in a heartbeat if they don’t approve, and they’ll mock you openly if they find your taste outdated or unpalatable in any way. So I was quite surprised when they heard the music I’d brought with me today, and no one said a word.
I took this as a sign that there was at least some level of general approval, and though it was officially “country day”, I didn’t turn on the country station. If they’d asked me to, I would have, and they know that. But no one ever did. Maybe because they saw me singing along. Maybe because they wondered what music this was. Maybe because they liked it. Or maybe because they were afraid to ask. That is a distinct possibility. They do, at times, fear me.
I did notice that no one was singing along.
And how could they? These songs are not the music of their hearts. The music of their hearts lies somewhere between the Dixie Chicks and Snoop Dog. I’d really like to believe that Snoop is not the music of anyone’s heart, but I know I yearn in vain.
So I began to lose hope as the CD progressed, from Dan Fogelberg to the Eagles to Billy Joel and on to James Taylor and Don Henley, even Mac Davis. I was counting on these men (didn’t realize there weren’t any women on this CD…) to speak to my kids- counting on them to communicate between my generation and theirs, to draw them out and make them wonder if there might be something in the world outside of their pirate headbands and pants hanging down to their knees. But it was obviously not happening. They respected my music, but it didn’t speak to them- didn’t sing to their hearts, didn’t move them to tap a toe (does anyone tap their toes anymore?), didn’t make them want to sing along.
But I’d forgotten about Mr. McLean.
I’d just about given up hope. I mean, when songs like “Hotel California” and “Fire and Rain” fail to elicit any response whatsoever, a generation is officially dead, right? There’s nothing more beyond that.
I’m in the final inning, down by 2 [hundred], the bases are loaded, and Don McLean steps up to bat with “American Pie”. Home run, I tell you. Home run. Who knew that almost every student on a bus in the middle of nowhere Kentucky would know the words to a song that outdates them by roughly 30 years? But they did. Mind you, they didn’t know all the words- even people who were alive and kicking when the song came out usually don’t know all the words. ***Quick aside: I was barely alive when the song came out, but I DO know all the words to “American Pie”, I fancy that I understand what Mr. McLean was attempting to communicate, and I think it’s a brilliant song, even thirty years after the fact. The man was a genius.*** Back to the point- they didn’t know all the words, but almost every student on my bus could and did sing along with the chorus, and I could tell they were fiddling with the verses as well.
I dropped off my high schoolers, and while I was sitting there waiting for the buses to get moving, one of my middle schoolers, one of the two or three who had not been singing along, came forward. “I have a question, Ms. Busdriver…” Some of them call me “Ms. Busdriver” no matter how many times I tell them my name. “When this song is over, will you turn on the country station?” I thought for a moment. “So you like this song, then?” … “It’s weird, but it’s kinda nice.”
Well. High praise from a 14 year old middleschooler. Way to go, Mr. McLean. You’re still speaking, even after 30 years.