Tag Archives: Don McLean

Nostalgia

25 Oct

Music is very effective at conjuring up memories; however some songs go further and deliberately evoke nostalgia. It is a powerful emotion than only becomes stronger the older you grow.

An obvious classic is Don McLean’s American Pie. It doesn’t just hark back to better times but a specific day – The Day the Music Died when Buddy Holly and several other musicians were killed in a plane crash. Parts of the song are autobiographical, recounting how he heard about their deaths while delivering newspapers. Writing the song helped McLean come to terms with his grief. From the first line (“A long, long time ago… I can still remember how that music used to make me smile…”), the song is drenched in painful longing for things that have passed. Coincidentally (or not), it has become one of the most played funeral songs. Feel free to spend eight and a half minutes remembering what a great song it is.

Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams is another obvious choice. It may not have the lyrical depth of American Pie, but instead hits the listener with an emotional one-two about a summer of discovering music and adolescent romance. If you’ve ever had a childhood sweetheart, it will be hard not to picture them while listening to this song.

In a record all about looking back on growing up, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs hits the nail right on the head. It begins with a childhood tale and then proceeds to hammer it home. Win Butler admits every time he thinks he has ‘moved past’ feelings for his childhood home, they catch him again. As if that wasn’t enough, the band worked with Google to create an interactive music video that makes it even more personal, meshing ‘We Used to Wait’ with photos of your childhood home. You can find it here. Prepare the tissues if you watch it.

Gaslight Anthem also trades heavily in nostalgia. All of their songs are told in past tense, telling stories of lost loves and better times. The whole of American Slang could be on this list. One that hits especially hard is their early song Navesink Banks. In it, the narrator walks down by the decaying New Jersey shipyards near his childhood home and says wishfully, “Ah Maria, if you’d have known me then…” In reply, Maria just says, ‘Listen baby, I know you know.’ It’s a powerful moment that says there’s a place for nostalgia, but you have to live in the moment.

Hip hop hasn’t been as quick to embrace nostalgia is it’s a younger genre. Nas’s Memory Lane is noted for its realistic depiction of life in the projects. In the first verse, Nas waxes lyrical about the good parts of growing up, yet after the chorus he is suddenly consumed by memories of lives that had been lost to drugs, prison and street fights. There are no rose tinted memories. His memory lane is gritty and unforgiving, yet he finds himself reminiscing about it anyway.

What to Expect (Musically) in the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

21 Nov

Even the balloons are stretching!

There is just something about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, now in its 86th year, that gets me excited. Even as I grow older, I still like waking up and turning on the parade coverage – switching back and forth between channels – while I settle down for a leisurely breakfast. Perhaps I like the parade because it is associated with a family feast later in the afternoon. A full-day of football follows the three-hour display of floats, balloons, and performances. Heck, even a dog show annually appears on NBC from 12-2 p.m.

Maybe my interest is simply with the parade itself. I am a fan of the widespread display of optimism, the bundled balloon handlers stumbling down sixth avenue, the elaborate floats crowded with celebrities and musicians, the marching bands, the Broadway music/dance acts – the whole kit and kaboodle. There are not many events associated with pure, unadulterated happiness. The parade is one of them. Now, I’ll admit, I do end up only watching around 30-45 minutes of it (unlike when I was a child) before using the off time to catch up on schoolwork or visit the gym in anticipation of the impending shameless familial gluttony, but I cannot help but smile when I turn on the parade in the morning, and kudos to Macy’s annual event for giving me that every year.

Performers

Note: For a full list of performers visit Wikipedia.

The big musical acts of the 2012 parade are Flo Rida, Trace Adkins, Colbie Caillat, Chris Isaak, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Karmin. Broadway is sending Annie, Bring It On, Elf, Cinderella, and Nice Work If You Can Get It.

There are several other acts, though, including two I will choose to feature: Mannheim Steamroller and Don McLean.

Mannheim Steamroller is best known for their modern recording of Christmas music. They made an appearance in the 2011 parade and played “Deck the Halls.” Since Thanksgiving is essentially pre-Christmas, it is fitting that they perform. Here is “Deck the Halls.”

While Arlo Guthrie is not listed as a performer this year, Don McLean will provide viewers with a live version of “American Pie,” which, like “Alice’s Restaurant” is just quintessentially American. McLean will appear on South Dakota’s float because, why not.

Burton Cummings and Don McLean at NYCB Theater at Westbury- An “American” Night

16 Jan

Theater At Westbury

I am always envious of those who live near big venues because often a long travel can be a deterrent from seeing a concert. What I seem to forget is that I do live near an excellent venue that I should appreciate. The NYCB Theater at Westbury, which is a quick five-minute drive from my house, is one of the premier concert venues in Long Island, and while it may not attract The Rolling Stones (it does only accommodate 3,000), it does bring in its fair share of great artists – two of whom I went to see this weekend.
At face, Don McLean and Burton Cummings seem like an odd concert pairing. One made his contribution as a laid-back American singer-songwriter whose iconic hit “American Pie” will forever be recognized as one of the most influential songs of the 20th century. This of course is Don McLean. Cummings, on the other hand, is a vivacious Canadian piano player with a powerful croon and flute-playing skill. He and his band The Guess Who, during the years of 1965-1975, were not only one of the most productive bands in Canada, but also were one of the hardest working acts in all of rock music. They released several hits like “These Eyes,” “Undun,” and, of course, “American Woman.”
So when my brother, father, and I arrived to Westbury we were ready for a rocking “American” night that would feature two rock classics. That is exactly what we received.

Bye Bye Ms. American Thumb

 Westbury has a habit of saying concerts are going to begin at 8 p.m. and then not starting them until 8:30 p.m. Yes, this happens at other arenas too, but Westbury’s tardiness is constant. This is not a problem. They clearly want guests to spend as much time buying drinks in the lobby area as possible. I can’t blame them. Prior to the concert on Saturday, we thought we obviated the need to arrive at the venue 30 minutes early. If we strolled in at 8 p.m. – and watched as much of the exciting Saints vs. 49ers game as possible, we would be none the worse for wear. Yes, we certainly were going to outwit the theater.
The concert started promptly at 8 p.m. We had to scurry to our seats in the dark and be “those idiots” who stroll in late and now obstruct the vision of everyone in the section. Luckily, we had end seats so we were able to just sit down and begin to enjoy Don McLean, who came on first with a small band. He wore jeans and a puffy blue button-down. His hair is still there, and, more importantly, so is his voice.
McLean seemed like he was enjoying himself on stage – a consummate troubadour always likes to tell stories. His acoustic was well-played, despite some sound problems which made the low-end a little choppy and clunky. Unfortunately, he didn’t play “Vincent,” my favorite song by him. He did play “And I Love You So,” which is one of the more popular tracks off of his debut 1970 album Tapestry (Carole King’s Tapestry was released in 1971 – by the way). He also played his cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” which, in my opinion, is one of the only covers that does the original any justice. Do keep in mind Orbison has an operatic voice and the end of the song is like the climax of “Unchained Melody” – untouchable for most singers.
Why does McLean’s version work so well? McLean is a rockabilly throwback who mixes this style of music with 60’s rock n’ roll (he actually said this during the concert). His voice is tinged with Orbison-like rockabilly and tenderness.
Of course, McLean ended the concert with “American Pie” and wow it itself was worth the price of admission. Everyone in the crowd seemed to know every word and we were singing with McLean, who knew it. He encouraged everyone to sing along – even repeating the first verse after getting a standing ovation when everyone thought the song was over. Now I can tell everyone I saw McLean perform “American Pie” live. Awesome.
 

After a short intermission, Burton Cummings was introduced with his band, and he came out ready to rock. Cummings was upbeat, energetic, excited, fill in the adjective. His voice is supreme. It has an edge that can be adjusted for blues and it has a soft side for softer songs. Let me premise this by saying it was an absolute pleasure to share a night of music with such a legendary musician – who not enough people know about.

And that’s the thing. He, with the Guess Who, wrote songs like “No Time,” “Undun,” “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Hand me Down World,” “American Woman,” fill-in the song. He co-wrote several hits with Randy Bachman, who later formed BTO. Cummings was the lifeblood of The Guess Who and is one of the best musicians from Canada, ever. That is a bold, declarative statement – but I truly believe it. (Wondering What John Phillips of  Is It Possible to See It All thinks of that).

Cummings trucked through favorites and chatted with the crowd expressing his gratitude and strong dislike for the band that is currently touring as the Guess Who right now – which is justified as he truly is the band. His supporting band was strong and fun. It truly made for an exciting night. A night that was capped by an awesome performance of “American Woman.”

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