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April 17, 2008

"American Pie" by Don McLean

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I"m not sure how I did it twice, but above is one of the many videos/interpretations of "American Pie" you can find on YouTube. The song was released six years before my birth, but I've been fascinated with it since I "discovered" it in high school. I did a bit of research this week, and I must admit that I am still not one hundred percent sure I "know" what the song means! Whatever you believe about "American Pie," you have to admit it's a great tune! Disclaimer: it's about 8 minutes long.

The song “American Pie� by Don McLean is historically significant because it marks popular music’s transition from the light and cheery music of the 50’s and 60’s to the more serious and thoughtful music of the 70’s. It is also an important song because it speaks about the social changes occurring throughout the United States during the decade previous to its release in 1971. The song is now thirty-seven years old and people are still trying to interpret its lyrics. Any song that remains the subject of such intense analysis approaching four decades must be a modern masterpiece.
Don McLean was a teenager in 1959, when Buddy Holly’s plane crashed; it affected him deeply. He saw it as the day the music – the original, fun, rock and roll of the 50’s – died. According to his “official� website, www.don-mclean.com, McLean is cited as saying that the song is autobiographical in nature. At times, he says, he is a character in the song and at times he is an observer. He writes of historical events from his point of view, such as the time “he read about his widowed bride,� referring to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. While McLean may have written a song about a young man’s perspective on the social changes taking place in the 60’s, many people have attempted to uncover a deeper meaning behind the lyrics. In just a few minutes of research, I found a complicated analysis of the song by Bob Dearborn, who interpreted the lyrics on his radio show in 1971, as well as other interpretations posted on individuals’ personal websites, such as www.rareexception.com and www.faqs.org/faqs/music/american-pie.
“American Pie� is a significant song for students to learn about today because it can be used across the curriculum. Obviously, history teachers can use it to enhance a lesson about America in the 60’s – students can identify events and interpret the social commentary in the musician’s lyrics. Music teachers can use it to teach folk music – it illustrates the difference between rock and roll love songs and folk music with a social message. English teachers can use it to help set the scene for novels or readings set in the 60’s or 70’s. It’s a great song to use when studying current events – students can use it as a guide to help them find music that make social commentary on today’s news events.
When I consider what “American Pie� might have meant to Americans two hundred years ago, I think of what was happening in the United States in 1908. Immigrants were flooding across the boarders to create a “melting pot,� so they might have understood the symbolism of a pie. As guitars have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, I believe they would have appreciated the acoustic nature of the music. However, it would have been incomprehensible for them to imagine a song played on the airwaves with offensive lyrics like, “for no angel born in hell/ could break that Satan’s spell.� Had Americans at the turn of the century understood McLean’s reference to the Vietnam War, “bad news on the doorstep/I couldn’t take one more step,� they might have been discouraged to learn that the country was headed into a series of wars fought across the world.
However one interprets McLean’s “American Pie;� as a simple song of a boy’s point of view or a social commentary on America, there is no doubt that it is a song that will withstand the test of time, and should, therefore, be included in the education of our students.


April 13, 2008

"Hero/Heroine" by Boys Like Girls

Fifteen years ago, I embodied teen pop culture: I owned every cassette that New Kids on the Block had made, I knew every word of every song (including the Christmas album), and my locker and bedroom were plastered with glossy posters of Danny, Donny, Jordan, Joe, and my favorite…Jon. (I recently learned they are making a comeback…I wonder if they will market their music to their old fan base who are 30 year old women?)
New Kids on the Block were big, but not revolutionary, as pop culture has a history of repeating itself. One of the popular boy bands on the market today is Boys Like Girls, of whom I learned when a student researched them for her informative speech. I chose them for this week’s project because, other than that student’s research, I knew nothing about them. I soon learned that they are the 21st century’s version of NKOTB.
I chose to analyze their song “Hero/Heroine� simply because there were two music videos on the band’s official website, and that was the first one I watched. I also wondered if there was going to be a double entendre with the term “heroine,� but I found none, thank goodness. Let’s take a look at the lyrics, first:

“Hero/Heroine� by Boys Like Girls
It's too late baby, there's no turning around
I've got my hands in my pocket and my head in a cloud
This is how I do
When I think about you
I never thought that you could break me apart
I keep a sinister smile and a hold of my heart
You want to get inside
Then you can get in line
But not this time

Cause you caught me off guard
Now I'm running and screaming

I feel like a hero and you are my heroine

I won't try to philosophize
I'll just take a deep breath and I'll look in your eyes
This is how I feel
And it's so surreal
I got a closet filled up to the brim
With the ghosts of my past and the skeletons
And I don't know why
You'd even try
But I won't lie

You caught me off guard
Now I'm running and screaming

I feel like a hero and you are my heroine
Do you know that your love is the sweetest sin?

And I feel a weakness coming on
Never felt so good to be so wrong
Had my heart on lockdown
And then you turned me around
I'm feeling like a new born child
Every time I get a chance to see you smile
It's not complicated
I was so jaded

And you caught me off guard
Now I'm running and screaming

I feel like a hero and you are my heroine
Do you know that your love is the sweetest sin?

(I feel like a hero and you are my heroine)
And I feel a weakness coming on
Never felt so good to be so wrong
Had my heart on lockdown
And then you turned me around
(Do you know that your love is the sweetest sin?)
I'm feeling like a new born child
Every time I get a chance to see you smile
It's not complicated
I was so jaded

(I feel like a hero and you are my heroine)
And I feel a weakness coming on
Never felt so good to be so wrong
Had my heart on lockdown
And then you turned me around
(Do you know that your love is the sweetest sin?)
I'm feeling like a new born child
Every time I get a chance to see you smile
It's not complicated
I was so jaded
[Hero / Heroine Lyrics on
http://www.lyricsmania.com/ ]

This song is a typical teen pop love song about a boy and a girl who fall in love. Who hasn’t heard the word pairs “feel/surreal,� and “complicated/jaded� matched up in a rhyming couplet? Shakespeare these Boys are not. However, they have capitalized on the “candy clichés� to which Ann Powers refers in her article, “Bread and Butter Songs: Unorginality in Pop.� Powers write that “Teenpop needs its candy cliches more than any other genre, since adolescence is all confusion, the time when music offers for many the first map to adult emotions.�
I remember listening to my NKOTB tapes until they warped or snapped from rewinding them. Finally, someone understood the heartache and deep despair of a teenager in love! NKOTB and BLG are the cartographers of their time, creating maps for teen girls feeling, for the first time, the thrill and agony of love.

When viewing the video with the critical approach of audience analysis, one can see, like Beach writes on page 34, “They are seeking to gain an audience’s identification with a certain set of activities or beliefs that can be equated with a product.� On the band’s official website, one can view the video: http://myplay.com/video-player/boys-like-girls/?bcpid=570322901&bclid=570333558&bctid=302034118
I wanted to embed the youtube video, but it was not the same one that I watched on the official website.
The “product� that BLG is selling is the romantic boyfriend. When you watch the video, you see a handsome guy who is head-over-heels in love with a beautiful girl. Rather than do “masculine� things, the activities that he performs are thoughtful, romantic, and fairly selfless. In order of their appearance, the lead singer: lifts heavy luggage, gives her a ride on his bicycle handlebars, cleanses her wound, holds her hand and kisses her (several close ups of this one throughout the video), gives her a puppy for her birthday, shares the music on his phone, dances with her, drives a cool car, apologizes after an argument, sings in a rock band, and lets her win a game. They have targeted their audience well, as women, young and old, want their men to think and do romantic things for them. The wise teen boy would watch videos like these and take notes! NKOTB sold the romantic boyfriend to me as a teen as well.

Analyzing the band BLG with media ethnography studies, one will notice that the BLG fans participate in music clubs, as noted by Beach on page 61: “Audiences also participate in shared community experiences in music clubs or rock concerts through dancing, singing along, or karaoke singing…or participating in online music group fan sites� BLG has an official fan club at their website, and from what I can tell, there are thousands of members. Typical blog postings sound like this:
• “i love your song the great escape everytime i hear it i go crazy !!:)l0l well ya i also have it as my myspace song ..... IT ROXS!!!!�
• “Boys Like Girls are SOOO awsome!!! They rock my sox off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!<3 <3 <3�
Teens with technology have the ability to publish their love for a band online, to meet other fans and chat with them, and learn about their crushes based on their website info. Participating in the music and fan clubs that Beach writes about are ways that teens create a sense of community with each other. There were no online fan clubs in which I could participate as a teen, but I bought every issue of “Bop� magazine and gossiped about NKOTB with my friends.

BLG is not my new favorite band. However, exploring the genre of teen pop music as an adult helps me to understand why I developed such an affection for NKOTB as a teen and why teen girls continue to love boy bands today. They do three things: they create a “map to adult emotions,� as Powers puts it, they sell the product of the romantic boyfriend, and they allow for teens to bond with a shared interest in a community.