Scribbling My Life Away

Scattered Thoughts and Other Trivia

Ode to an Unofficial National Anthem

Sometimes the strangest songs crop up when I set the media player on random. Sometimes, I don’t even realize that I had the song anywhere on file, and sometimes I have no idea how I got my hands on it.

Take the MP3 I have of Garth Brooks doing a live, acoustic cover of ‘American Pie.’

First I went, “Bwah?”

And then I went, “Hey, this ain’t too shabby. Good job, Brooks.”

And then I went, “Wait a second. The audience is singing along with the whole song.”

Keep in mind, this is a song that is 8-and-a-half minutes long. Think about that a minute. In Brooks’s live version of ‘American Pie,’ you can hear the audience singing along for 8-and-a-half minutes. And not just the undeniably memorable chorus, but the verses, too. And I don’t just mean the beginning and the closing verses, but every single verse.

In that moment I had a realization that bordered on an epiphany. ‘American Pie’ is one of those songs. You know what I mean, right? It’s a song that just about everyone knows. Age doesn’t really factor into it, neither does level of education, or region of the U.S. you come from. Hell, even people with only a glancing familiarity with American pop music know this song.

If you’re American (or if you’ve been in America for any length of time), if there’s someone standing in front of you with a guitar and a good grasp of the lyrics, you can not only sing along with almost the entire song, you also know what the song’s about. You might not get every single reference in the lyrics, but you know damn well that the song is about the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper in a plane crash. You might not know that the plane crash happened in 1959. You might not know it happened in Iowa. But you definitely know the who and the what happened.

Yet, to say that ‘American Pie’ is about the death of Holly, Valens, and the Bopper kind of misses the point. ‘American Pie’ is about growing up, losing your innocence, and realizing that (as Paul Simon once famously wrote in ‘American Tune’) “you can’t be forever blessed.”

If ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ (our official national anthem) represents what the United States should be, I would argue that here at the dawn of the 21st century, ‘American Pie’ best illustrates what the United States really is.

This song, which was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 1971 by Don McLean using his own knowledge of the musical history of the rock ‘n roll era, is at its heart a damn cynical song. It starts with hope and slowly sinks into disillusionment. Poppy beat notwithstanding, there is nothing happy about this song. There is no redemption, no moment of coming to terms with loss, no heroic struggle to recapture what was lost.

In short, the saga simply…ends.

And maybe that’s the whole point.

‘American Pie’ merely states what is, couched in terms of popular culture, it’s true, but a harsh reality nonetheless. In a way, it makes McLean a prescient kind of bard singing out the history of the United States in the latter half of the 20th century using a very specific conceit.

All ‘American Pie’ tells us is a history we know (or at least suspect). What we do with that knowledge is ultimately left up to us, the listener. Do we merely accept it? Do we try to turn back the clock to an era that we think is more innocent? Or do we move on, wiser for what we’ve experienced?

The ultimate irony of ‘American Pie’ isn’t that us notoriously short-attentioned, and short-memoried Americans are familiar with this 36-year-old, 8-and-a-half minute song. The ultimate irony is that even at the time of the song’s release, the only person who knew what all of the lyrics meant was McLean himself…and he still ain’t talking. As more time lapses between its release on the pop music landscape in October 1971, the more mysterious all those lyrics are to many of us. Yet, we still know at least 90% of those lyrics, we still sing along, and we still get the gist.

‘American Pie’ is, in short, our Unofficial National Anthem. It’ll never be used to open a sporting match, it’ll never be played when American athletes win the gold at the Olympics, and it’ll never get any kind of official recognition by anyone. Yet, it doesn’t make it any less of a national anthem.

Sure, there’s room for debate on whether ‘American Pie’ is or is not such a creature, but what do you call a song that everyone seems to know almost by osmosis?

For a somewhat cobbled-together stab at deciphering the lyrics of ‘American Pie,’ Wikipedia has a detailed entry.

And while I’m at it, here are a few song downloads: The original studio release of American Pie by Don McLean and the live version American Pie (Acoustic/Live) by Garth Brooks. Note that Brooks’s version is missing a a couple of middle verses, but this version still runs 7-and-a-half minutes.

If you’re interested in seeing what Madonna did to ‘American Pie’ when she covered it, here’s a video from YouTube. Frankly, I think Madonna kind of missed the whole point of ‘American Pie.’ As an original song, it would’ve worked. As a remake? It’s iffy at best.

And for the heck of it (and because I can’t resist), here’s a download of Weird Al Yankovic doing his version of ‘American Pie’ (with the blessing of McLean, no less) with The Saga Begins (Episode One). Even though the lyrics are about Star Wars, I think Weird Al’s version edges out Madonna’s by quite a lot.

March 14, 2007 Posted by | history, mp3, music, music_sharing, politics | Leave a comment

Iraq: 101

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention…or for those of you who have but needed a nice little primer to help you keep track of what’s what, Mother Jones has put up a well-researched and well-sourced primer called Iraq 101.

While not a lot of the information in there is news to me, I tend to get the political parties and who represents whom mixed up (for example, I tend to assign Sunnis to Shiite political parties and Shiites to Sunni political parties, which…yeah…very, very stupid and very, very bad).

Even if you think you know all the Playas and all the facts, guaranteed that you’ll be learnin’ something new in this handy online primer.

The sources section is an especially nice collection of links.

Fellow U.S. citizens, it’s been 4 years since we launched an illegal war on Iraq — a country that we not only armed back in the day, but never attacked us and also posed zero threat to our national security.

If you haven’t educated yourself on the key facts, it’s time to start.

March 5, 2007 Posted by | cool_sites, history, politics | Leave a comment

Is it me? Or are some people insane?

So, in the course of cashing a check yesterday afternoon (the bank’s right next door to where I work), I scored big on the coin front.

I got four of the shiny, new gold Washington dollar coins in my change. (Yay!)

However, my glee was short-lived, thanks to the following exchange with the ignorant.

OH = Our Heroine
Him = College-aged guy bank teller


OH: Pretty!

Him: They’re nice aren’t they? At last, a dollar coin I can support.

OH: [puzzled] Well, they are distinctive, with the gold color and the really angry George Washington face.

Him: It’s the first dollar coin that says “In God We Trust.”

OH: No it isn’t.

Him: Yes, it is.

OH: No it isn’t. All modern American money has “In God We Trust” on it. There’s not a chance that any dollar coin minted in the 20th century doesn’t have it.

Him: Well they didn’t.

OH: [looking at George Washington coin] You’re wrong about dollar coins in the past. And you’re definitely wrong about this one. There’s no “In God We Trust” on it anywhere.

Him: [smug] Look at the edge of the coin.

OH: [looks at edge of the coin; sees “In God We Trust” etched in light letters around the edge] That’s…a very weird place to put it. Usually that’s on the face of the coin.

Him: Not on dollar coins. It’s never been on a dollar coin. That’s why I like this coin, because it has “In God We Trust” on it.

OH: [gives up on schooling the ignorant] What difference does it make whether the saying’s there or not? Money’s money.

Him: [looks at OH with disgust] It makes a big difference.

OH: [backs slowly away from the ka-raz-ee] I gotta get to work. Deadline.

Now, this guy was so convinced that “In God We Trust” never appeared on a coin, that nothing I said convinced him. End result? I decided to check who was right.

Which of these coins is not like the other?

Note “In God We Trust” right under Ike’s chin.

Note “In God We Trust” right under Susan’s chin.

Note “In God We Trust” right behind Sacagawea’s head.

Note the lack of “In God We Trust” on the coin’s face

Now, am I missing something? Is someone somewhere spreading some kind of urban legend that modern dollar coins don’t have “In God We Trust” on them? Why the hell would anyone do that?

Because if you look, dollar coins before the 1920s didn’t have the saying, and absolutely no U.S. currency had the saying prior to the Civil War.

So, here we have it. Modern U.S. coins and bills have the saying on the face of the coin or bill. Now we have a coin where it’s etched on the edge in veeeeeery light letters. If it’s important to you to have “In God We Trust” on the money, how is this considered a good thing? (As I said. I couldn’t care less. Money is money.) Isn’t having the saying along the edge, I dunno, a demotion?

Also, why does it even matter that “In God We Trust” is on the money anyway? Who really cares about this? It seems like such a…I dunno…a petty thing to be worried about.

March 3, 2007 Posted by | history, people_are_nuts | Leave a comment

Instant Movie Viewing on Netflix

MarcsBro was the one who gave me the heads up on this.

People who have Netflix might be interested to know that in addition to however many DVDs they get a month, they’ll also be able to get a number of additional hours for online viewing of movies.

So, for example, if you’re on the 3-DVDs-a-month plan, you’ll be able to watch another 18 hours’ worth of movies/tv shows online free of charge. The cheapest plan will give you an additional 6 hours’ worth.

They’re starting small — only 1,000 titles will be included at the start — but by June 2007, the option will be available to the entire customer base.

For more information, here’s the press release.

January 17, 2007 Posted by | netflix | Leave a comment

It’s Tommy Westphall’s World…We Just Live In It

Soopah sekrit to crossoverman the genius behind Tommy Westphall’s Mind — A Multiverse Explored:

This article by Dwayne McDuffie was published back in 2002, but I only just found it (which may explain why it’s pointing to a site that’s not yours).

Best. Quote. Evah! On the Tommy Westphall Universe:

All of these would help me prove my Grand Unification Theory, which posits: “The last five minutes of St. Elsewhere is the only television show, ever. Everything else is a daydream.”
— Dwayne McDuffie, Six Degrees of St. Elsewhere

Still, if you really want the final authority on just how much television Tommy Westphall continues to destroy thanks to the final scenes of St. Elsewhere, you must check out crossoverman‘s fantastic page, Tommy Westphall’s Mind — A Multiverse Explored.

This meta-filter entry is a good primer if you’re still confused after reading the wikki entry on Tommy Westphall and crossoverman‘s web site

January 12, 2007 Posted by | cool_sites, geekery | Leave a comment

President Bush is Insane

I have finally read the transcript of His Lordship’s Speech to the Nation. I know I should’ve watched it, but I was busy being amused by a discussion about dirty words.

I definitely got the better end of the deal, from all accounts.

I also read the fact sheet on the ‘new way forward’ in Iraq (If I had a vote, I’d vote, “Go back in time and not invade Iraq in the first place.”) as well as the PDF of the Iraq Strategy Review PowerPoint for Dummies (Again, I vote: “Not go in the first place, nitwit.”).

In reading over the speech, I started wondering if he had just declared war on Iran and Syria. Now, to be fair, news organizations on both the left and right picked up on this before I settled down to read it for myself this ayem, but I thought they were overstating the case. Even in reading the speech, I still wasn’t entirely sure if it was pure rhetoric from His Lordship or if the commentators were right on the money.
Continue reading

January 11, 2007 Posted by | news, politics, rant | 3 Comments

I Love the Straight Dope Message Boards

A discussion thread that asks: Where the F**** did “cum” come from?

I especially love finding out that the Wikkipedia entry on is not only not worksafe, it also has a video demonstrating the male ejaculation.

[I checked. The information is solid. Heee!]

No definitive answer yet about the source of “cum” in place of come as a sexual term, but so many play on words that I can’t stop laughing.

Yes, I’m procrastinating. Why do you ask?

Edit: Somebody needs to (on purpose) write a hilariously bad PWP using “cum” for all “come”s.

Don’t look at me to do it. I can barely write about kissing. Yes. I suck.

January 11, 2007 Posted by | cool_sites, sex, straight_dope | Leave a comment

Intreresting Links of the Day

via audiography: CDs may be going the way of the Dodo, some whining about the future of the music industry as people more and more go to electronic formats.

However, there appear to be some some bright spots on the horizon, including “subscription” music services like Rhapsody and Emusic that allow unlimited access to songs for a monthly fee, as opposed to Apple’s “per track” business model. There also appears to be a growing resurgence in the beauty that is the vinyl record among true audiophiles seeking sound quality.

via twistedchick and jebbypal: Getty images is tracking down people who have infringed on their copyright and aggressively going after them.

If you’ve raided Getty for icons or for your fansite and haven’t ponied up a penny, you might want to start yanking down those pictures…as in yesterday.

Finally, Will Wheaton has his latest ST: TNG DVD commentary up at TV Squad. C’mon, people. It’s for Part II of ‘Encounter at Farpoint.’ As always, expect a good time reading it.

January 9, 2007 Posted by | cool_sites, news | 2 Comments

It’s Not Snow…But It’s At Least Approaching Winter

Kind of.

Now if only I could will the screaming headache away.

January 8, 2007 Posted by | personal, weather | Leave a comment

A Day When No Snow Would Come

A January Spring in Boston

Boston Globe photo of buds on a magnolia tree at the Arnold Arboretum. According to the news reports, the weather has buds swelling and flowers popping on some of the trees and bushes at the arboretum.

It’s January, it’s night, and I have windows open.

What is wrong with this picture?

Everyone around me it seems — even the most determined future Florida snowbird — is out of sorts over this spring-like weather and has been since before Christmas. People are short-tempered, cranky, and positively suffering near-paranoia over this.

Where’s the snow? we keep asking each other. Where’s winter? This can’t be a good sign. You realize our water supply is gonna take a hit. We need that snow.

It’s an interesting psychological snapshot. Suddenly we all begin to glimpse at the reasons why our caveman forebears would willingly sacrifice neighbors and family in an orgy of blood to whatever god, goddess, or spirit they thought controlled the weather and then retire to dance around the bonfire to ensure the wheel of the seasons stayed on the familiar path. That’s not to say that any modern 21st Century American is about to start breaking out the stone knives, firing up the bonfires, and looking a fresh young male or female virgin to sacrifice. Killing the underage neighbor is not going to bring winter any more than dancing around a bonfire will.

Yet the sense that something must be done and we have to do it quickly just doesn’t seem to quite fade away, even though we know that whatever is causing this unseasonable weather is rooted somehow in science. So we are left wondering, Did a butterfly flap over Tokyo? Is it global warming coming on with a vengeance? Or is it just some weird natural phenomenon and all will be right with the weather next week/next month/next year?

Either way, the sense of “something’s wrong” is unmistakable.

In the past few days, I’ve heard people refer to this terrifying spring-like weather as “disgusting” and “unnatural” and “simply wrong.” People’s allergies are acting up because the local flora and funa believe that April is here and are, even as we speak, sprouting for their long winter nap a full four months early. People are getting sick because we’re dressing for winter and but are left struggling with the reality of a January spring.

Some years ago in a job that is far, far away, I worked with a New England transplant from the south. She never had issues with the snow. While we were all bitching and moaning in the is-it-spring-yet doldrums of February, she never joined in. In her mind, you see, there was nothing more beautiful than a New England winter sky. “There are days it’s so blue,” she said, “it’s enough to make you weep.”

This morning, I walked out of my apartment today to run some errands, dressed to match that blue New England winter sky with its scattered dark clouds hinting of an oncoming snow menace. I was smacked right in the face with 70-something degree weather and had to retreat to put on a short-sleeve t-shirt and a flannel shirt (just in case January finally roared in the few hours I was out running around).

As I wandered around outside and did my thing, the disquiet just wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t just the unseasonably warm weather, it was that the sky looked wrong for this kind of weather. Above me was nothing less than a postcard-perfect New England winter sky hanging over a textbook New England spring day.

It appears I’m not the only one who thought the visual didn’t match up with warmth on my skin.

When I stopped for coffee at the local café, the woman behind the counter made a remark about the “disgusting” weather before adding, “What really worries me is the sky.” She said. “It’s the right sky for winter, but it’s the wrong sky for the weather.”

January 6, 2007 Posted by | personal, weather | Leave a comment