Cousin Freddy & The Day the Music Died

A long, long time ago... I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance,
That I could make those people dance,
And maybe they'd be happy for a while.
But February made me shiver,
With every paper I'd deliver,
Bad news on the doorstep...
I couldn't take one more step.
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside,
The day the music died.
Soo..Bye, bye miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And good ol' boys were drinking whisky and rye?
Singing this will be the day that I die
this will be the day that I die
Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so
Do you believe in rock n roll
Can music save your mortal soul
Then you can teach me to dance real slow
Well I know that you're in love with him
'Cause I saw you dancing in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Then I dig those rhythm and blues
I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
but I knew that I was out of luck
The day the music died
I started singin'...
Bye, bye miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And good ol' boys were drinking whisky and rye?
Singing this will be the day that I die
this will be the day that I die
Now for 10 years we've been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rolling stone
But that's not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
In a voice that came from you and me
And while the King was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned
While Lennon read the book of Marx
The quartet kept practice in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
We were singin'
Bye, bye miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And good ol' boys were drinking whisky and rye?
Singing this will be the day that I die
this will be the day that I die
Helter Skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with the fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast
It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast
Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
While sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance
'Cause the players tried to take the field,
The marching band refused to yield.
Do you recall what was revealed,
The day the music died?
We started singing
Bye, bye miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And good ol' boys were drinking whisky and rye?
Singing this will be the day that I die
this will be the day that I die
There we were all in one place
A generation lost in space With no time left to start again
So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candle stick
'Cause fire is the devil's only friend.
As I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in hell
Could break that satan's spell
And as flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw satan laughing with delight
the day the music died.
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 Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
They were singin'
Bye, bye miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And good ol' boys were drinking whisky and rye?
Singing this will be the day that I die
this will be the day that I die

© Don McLean, American Pie

I have no music in my head today, appropriate for this column opening, or not. It feels like The Day the Music Died. Bingo. Writing things out helps me process, and you my friend, are a witness. This will be the opening song for the day.... As I hunt about on the Internet for the lyrics I remember the controversy behind the song. Don McLean supposedly wrote the song about Altamonte concert (oddly enough, described in the column after this in my interview with Grace Slick). It's also supposed to reference to the February 3rd, 1954 plane crash where Buddy Holly (Buddy Holley), Richard Vallens (Richie Valenzuela) and The Big Bopper (Jiles P. Richardson) were killed. The crash occurred shortly after its take-off; they were all on the Dance Party tour. It was a small private plane that took off from Clear Lake, Iowa bound for Fargo, N.D. Plane tickets cost them $39 bucks a head. Buddy Holly had had enough of the unheated bus and opted to splurge and charter a plane for himself and his friends. Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup were touring as backup musicians.

It was the luck of the draw that night. Jennings gave his seat to Richardson, who wasn't feeling well and had trouble fitting comfortably into the small bus seats. Jokingly, when Holly learned that Jennings wasn't going with him, he said, "Well, I hope your old bus freezes up." Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your plane crashes." Last words are sure funny things. Been there, done that. Allsup flipped Valens for the remaining seat. Allsup eventually opened a club named "The Head's Up Saloon," a tribute to the fated coin toss.

It's odd, fate, that is. I have this discussion with my scientific friends all the time. All the little things that build up to the decisions we make in life, the decisions that not only effect our lives but others. Cosmic dominos. For the last few days I've witnessed many people on TV who paid attention to their intuition and just didn't go in to their offices on 9-11-01. Others who missed the plane, others who unfortunately weren't supposed to be on those planes but who changed their plans to get home early. What is this twist of fate that leaves one lucky and someone else crumpled in the rubble? Is there a master plan? I thought about all those people who called home on their cell phones to talk to their loved ones and who commented on the overhead announcements telling them to return to their offices. I got an email from my friend Indu Bingham, CEO and Co-Founder Serus Corporation and one of our Wild Women of Wonder today. It read:

My childhood and best friend, whose name is also Indu, takes the 9am train to World Trade Center and works in the adjacent building. She was in the WTC building 1 when the building was hit and she said the whole building shook, and someone said, "Run, it is bomb!" She got out and then everyone thought it was a small plane and thought it was no big deal, so she started walking to her building to go to work. Then, through the window, she saw the second plane hit and she immediately ran out and took the ferry to Statton Island. That was the last ferry that got out. As she was sailing away she witnessed the buildings collapse one after the other. She is safe but shocked. Her dream was to work in New York and she just graduated from school and started working a month ago. I was in panic yesterday morning until I heard from her in the afternoon. It was shocking news.

What is this fate thing all about? As I watched the Feds pick up suspected terrorists today at several major airports where they had presented fake credentials as pilots and airport staff, I wondered what other airplanes were slotted to go down on the 11th. Odds are there were other terrorists positioned to go, but who didn't have an opportunity to carry out their plans because they weren't close enough to their destinations after the FAA made its announcement to ground all planes to pilots on the ground and in the air. I told someone this today, she offered that maybe they were spinoff terrorists trying to make their own chaos. I don't think so. I still think we're waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Our beloved leader George Dubya had some airtime to day where he proclaimed himself to be a "loving guy," when someone asked him about his own personal wishes or prayers (or one of those other warm, fuzzy questions a guy like Bush will land on to boost his ratings. He got teary-eyed and said his thoughts were with the families of the victims. He also said we are going to "Whip the terrorists and hunt them down, capture them and hold them accountable." Did he mean "Whoop"? Or are we really going to whip them? Today, his words seemed to make no sense whatsoever. He either needs a Jolt cola or a Valium, I'm not quite sure which I'd offer him if given the chance. He is clearly in need of some sleep, or perhaps the terrorists had thought he had a long enough vacation?

I worked for most of the day. It was difficult, but I turned the TV and radio off. Now, since I started writing this, I put my CD mix I got from CD-Now (during its free CD with Pizza Hut order special). It has American Pie on it. I'm glad that title just popped up because now I can't even remember what I was going to write about originally, but this one seemed to come out just fine.

As I write this I note, my tongue is running against the inside of my lip where I'm still getting used to a new scar. My cousin Freddy died this year, he was only 44. He was a former Marine and in great shape, except that he had diabetes that he didn't know had done such severe liver damage. No one in my family knew how sick he was. I got a voice mail from him saying to come out and see him, I didn't. I should have, but I was on deadline and couldn't find the time. I planned to see him in a month. Then I got the call from my mom. All of my close family is out of state, so I went to the funeral representing the entire clan, which is a pretty tall task.

It was a torrential rainy day, it had been a difficult week, I had recently returned from a conference in San Diego where I had spoken on the subject of social collateral. I had an enlightening epiphany while I was gone, decided to make some changes and upon my return broke up with my man-friend. It was actually wonderfully mutual, we were both looking for different things from life. I don't really remember the order of all this, so (and I know he still reads my postings - I always suggest my man-friends don't visit the site, and especially that they do not read the blogs - if so, so sorry if the chronology isn't correct. It always makes me feel creepy that ex man-friends are reading my website). It was like that episode in Seinfeld where Jerry had that mutual breakup and no one believed him. It was so fabulously adult. It was the best breakup anyone could ever have, we made passionate love for the (one...two...three) last time(s) and said good-bye. You know, I've had a lot of good sex, great sex, exceptional sex, but having sex with this Guy was great. It was always a great pleasure — I never knew sex could be so tangible/intangible at the same time, but that's probably way too much information for everyone out there. Maybe I should put a parental rating on this site? Well, he wanted to know if we could still be friends, I said no. We should just leave it like that, and not cloud the good memories with the awkwardness of being "friends." That "friends" thing is way overrated, I know too few people who've made it work and even more who've invited headaches into their future relationships by holding on to the past. I thought it better to opt out of the "friends" plan, I actually didn't even need to give that one a second thought. I do have to give him the gold star rating of man-friends, though. I'd have to rate that good-bye kiss as one of the most passionate I've ever had the pleasure in partaking in. Then again, maybe with the emotions of the last few days I'm just being sappy and over-romanticizing the whole thing.... Perspectives change, ask me again in six months ;-)

But, I felt as if I hadn't crossed all my "t"s and dotted my "i"s with this breakup, I felt he was a little vague (and I definitely had been) on my reasons. So I thought about writing a little note for closure for both of us (back to this in a minute).

Back to Freddy. I drove in this torrential storm to the Santa Cruz coast, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I just don't drive in the rain. Period. But, I had called the funeral home that morning and they said the service was at noon. So it was 10:30AM. I got in my car and drove fast, I went Pacific Coast Highway so I could at least be calmed by the view as I took turns that caused me to break traction momentarily. The cliffs reminded me of that scene from Harold & Maude where Harold drives his Jaguar hearse off of the cliff, that's only natural because the scene was filmed directly where I was driving by and it was, as in the movie, a very rainy, gloomy day. I got to the service saw the guy in the casket and said to myself, this is either a very, very bad makeup job, or this is not Freddy. It wasn't. They had given me the wrong information, Freddy's service was in the afternoon. I walked to the store and picked up a card to write the break up letter and then I sat in the chapel with Freddy propped up for four hours. The doors were closed and it was just me and Freddy, so we had a good discussion — but I did miss his hearty, healthy laughter, the way he used to get all excited about topics and interrupt me mid-sentence and his big, warm hugs. I don't want to be buried — I'd rather be cremated and I have a list of everyone who is going to receive a vile of my ashes, now how's that for creative? My accountant, my attorney, my agent.... The list goes on. My last wish? That they take me someplace really cool for a last drink and then just kind of leave me around on a table in a nightclub (or place of choice) when they're done. I'll probably get snorted, tossed out, carried away until someone figures out what I am. You know, I'll go on to have random adventures. Life after cremation. I guess I was Cousin Freddy's random adventure for the day. For some reason, I was glad he wasn't laying there alone for all those hours. Maybe I was relieved for not having to sit there alone all those hours. I do miss my Cousin Freddy.

I got my letter written, funny how death in your face can bring you right to the point. I sat there licking the envelope closed. A woman came in and sat next to me. I don't know Freddy's family so well, so she could have been anyone. She put her hand on mine and said she was sorry about Freddy. I thanked her and she told me that she was the sister of the man whose service had been before Freddy's. The two men had been best friends in high school and they had died on the same day. She said his doctors had given him an overdose of medication and he had died. It seemed a reasonable question to ask, "Have you done anything about this?" She said the doctors said it would be hard to prove. I gave her some information about how to go about starting an official investigation (that's what's so nice about being a journalist, you know enough about everything to make you dangerous). Then she said, "if you hadn't told me this I would have just put it behind me." She thanked me and said fate had me there early for a reason. We embraced and she was gone.

Freddy's family started coming in and soon the chapel was full, I went to the wake afterward. Freddy's mom has this parrot, I hadn't realized what a mean little shit this bird was. Well, I went to kiss the bird and its little 1600psi beak came down on my lip. I immediately started gushing blood, I went in the bathroom and put a towel on my lip for 20 minutes. My cousin Kenny brought me some ice. Well, I thought I was going to have to leave, but I stayed into the wee hours of the morning telling and listening to Freddy stories. On my way home on PCH I wondered if I'd need stitches and if I should drive directly to the hospital before the gash started to heal. I was tired and the moon's reflection on the ocean had left me too sappy to sit in a cold emergency room waiting for some intern to stick me with needles. And how do you admit to being attacked by a parrot you were terrorizing with your kissy lips in the first place? Nah, I heal quickly, I'd take my chances. Now, whenever I feel that scar, I remember to call my mom, make time for friends and seize the day. What a gift that mean parrot gave me that evening.

Dum vivimus, vivamus!
(while we live, let us live!)
Don't let thoughts go unsaid.

I'll close with this letter from Don Mclean to Cecil Adams of the Chicago Reader newspaper. Cecil writes A column that answers all kinds of questions from readers.

Dear Cecil:
As you can imagine, over the years I have been asked many times to discuss and explain my song "American Pie." I have never discussed the lyrics, but have admitted to the Holly reference in the opening stanzas. I dedicated the album American Pie to Buddy Holly as well in order to connect the entire statement to Holly in hopes of bringing about an interest in him, which subsequently did occur. This brings me to my point. Casey Kasem never spoke to me and none of the references he confirms my making were made by me. You will find many "interpretations" of my lyrics but none of them by me. Isn't this fun?
Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.
—Don McLean, Castine, Maine

For more information about The Day the Music Died, check out the following links: (the meaning behind the lyrics)
(AUDIO CLIP) Alan Freed WNEW TV interview with Buddy Holly, discussing airplanes and crashes.
Thank you Candace Rich of for all of the great references!