Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie

What can I say that hasn't been said?

The music died a long time ago.

If I were still married, I might be sitting in a rocking chair, chewing my cud and gazing at the redwood trees. But that dream turned to dust a long time ago.

If my children had chosen to procreate, I might be bouncing the little tykes on my knee and answering to the name of "Gramps." But they didn't and my name remains "Pop" or "Pa."

If my students hadn't complained to the Provost when I generously gave them a B- rather than the A they thought they deserved, I might be responding to "Professor" and "Dr. Will." But the students who hated to read, as well as the dysfunctional halls of Academia, depressed me. So I gave up the life of a scholar and moved out of the ivory tower.

If I'd achieved enlightenment, or if God had chosen to pay me a visit, I might now be robed in white or saffron, seated before icons, candles and incense, with my followers at the ready. But the still small voice remained silent and the dysfunctional institution of the Church imprisoned my spirit. So, tearing up all of my identity cards, I disrobed virtually in the internet square and set out on a final pilgrimage.

Tonight, I leave America.

While my move is not primarily political, six years of George Bush have put the last nail in the coffin of the American dream. My first vote was cast for John Kennedy, and while he might not have been perfect, his reign infused my generation with hope and gave value to the political arena. Don McLean's song was probably about the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, casualties of a 1959 plane crash, but it serves equally well for the deaths of the two Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. Something essential had perished in the American psyche by 1968. The beats and the hippies looked for alternatives, but the disastrous American War in Vietnam (that's what they call it) confirmed for all the world to see that this country's goal was not democracy and freedom but rather corporate control of global markets. Our military has attempted to destroy whatever threatens that control, be it communists or terrorists. But its track record in this so far is pretty poor.

I drove my Chevy to the levee but Katrina knocked a hole in it and flooded the city of New Orleans. Global warming and deteriorating infrastructure will get us before the terrorists do. Anyway, who drives a Chevy today? Everyone knows that the Japanese make better cars and that the Detroit manufacturers are stuck in the rut of selling huge 4-by-4's which boost their profits and pollute the atmosphere. I gave my trusty Toyota truck to my daughter, and I hope it lasts another 200,000 miles. The skyrocketing price of gas, though, might slow her down. Gas is more expensive now than the "whiskey and rye" drunk by the good old boys in McLean's song. Come to think of it, even bottled water is more expensive!

Buddy Holly sang:
Well that'll be the day
When you say good-bye
Yes that'll be the day
When you make me cry
You say you're gonna leave
You know it's a lie
'cause that'll be the day
When I die
And after Holly's death, Don McLean, in his anthem for the "day the music died," had his good old boys singing:
"This’ll be the day that I die.
"This’ll be the day that I die."
So much death. A reader commented that I seem to be quite often preoccupied with the subject. It's pretty much a taboo topic in the west. Unless you're well past the age of consent, like yours truly. My parents are dead, and I've seen some good friends die. The American dream is dead, and U.S. soldiers are dying alongside Iraqi insurgents and innocents. The music died for Don McLean, but lots of people, including my kids, would disagree with him. Tommy Makem, who made good Irish music with the Clancy Brothers many years ago, died yesterday, and those great directors, Ingmar Berman and Michaelangelo Antonioni, went off to that cineplex in the sky last week. A number of motorists in Minneapolis died a few days ago when the bridge they thought safe dropped out from under them into the Mississippi River. Who or what can you trust these days? The Buddha taught us not to hang on to happiness. Which I suppose is some consolation when the world is crumbling around you.

Come to think of it, McClean was wrong. The music didn't die, not when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed. Or when Janis, Jimi and Jim OD'd. It's right there, on my iPod, just about all of it. What died was our innocence, and that's a part of growing up anyway. Coming to terms with death (I think of the knight playing chess with the Grim Reaper in Bergman's "Seventh Seal") is necessary. Holding on to hope in an eternal life is a mistake.

And so I prepare to embark on a new adventure tonight. Can I trust the thin skin of steel that will surround me as I cross over the entire Pacific Ocean? Does the swan expect to live on after its song is ended? I carry a long life and many memories with me to my new home in Thailand. And I'm only an email away.

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