by christie shumate mcelwee
When I woke up this morning, I was assaulted by bad news. Tragedy all around us. My heart shattered. I took my coffee to my front porch swing and sat while the late spring breeze whispered a few lines from “American Pie”: “Bad news on the doorstep/I couldn’t take one more step.” I pondered the lyrics of this iconic song, remembering how my friends and I would pour over them and attempt to find some meaning in Don McLean’s symbolism. We knew it was about the 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, but we also loved the tune and vainly attempted to memorize this 8 minute epic.
After I came inside, I pulled up the song and its lyrics, and listened to it again, suddenly coming to the realization that “American Pie” is a mourning hymn. It sings of grief and regret and loss and confusion. Where do we go when our heroes die? Can innocence be lost over and over again? What saves our souls? Who do we turn to when all seems unsalvageable? The song doesn’t give any pat answers. It just allows us to sit with our heartache.
This is where many of us are right now. We don’t know what to do with our feelings of despair. We see the numbers: positive cases, deaths, unemployment figures, shuttered small businesses. The news contains wrenching stories of hate and lies and gaslighting. Fear is everywhere and hope seems, well, often hopeless. How do we process all of this? We often search for silver linings and gratitude, listing our simple joys, but sometimes we just need to sit with this overwhelming sadness. Sometimes life sucks. Don McLean sang of how it appears as though the devil is “laughing with delight.” How do we go on if evil is cackling at our pain?
I am not a theologian or a great philosopher. I’m just an anxious, messy, and awkward woman who writes rambling words with questionable syntax and punctuation. I attempt to find some type of solace through song lyrics, poetry, and prose (along with coffee and wine).
Today I found it in “American Pie.”
I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play
And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
And they were singing
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die
music and lyrics by Don McLean