Thursday, April 09, 2015

Don McLean, American Pie and the $1.2M sale of the song lyrics

A long, long 
time ago ...

... a young teenage boy, struggling with events of the day and a relationship with his father, found solice in the music of Buddy Holly. Delivering newspapers for his hometown paper, the Standard Star, he cut open the string holding a stack together. As the papers spilled over he saw, in the right hand column, the headline of his hero dying in a tragic plane crash.

Buddy Holly was only 22 years old.

Years later, as he began his fledgling folk music career, he was living in a quaint, small gate house in Cold Spring, NY. It was there he began sketching out the musical ideas for an epic journey through his own past and into America's future. But it didn't all happen right away. Two months after dabbling with some lyrics, a chorus appeared, almost out of nowhere:

Bye bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry
Them good ol' boys are drinking whiskey and rye
singing 'this'll be the day that I die,
this'll be the day that I die ..."

As the thunder of the song grew louder, Don found himself performing in more cities. He already had one record out and it was time to record his  next. As he was preparing for his second album session, the record label folded and he lost his deal. Believing all will eventually work out, he kept on writing songs for this next album. Then, while in Philadelphia, lightening struck ...

... one of the final songs for this new album was the completion of the song he started in Gate house in Cold Spring: American Pie.

It was an epic rock'n'roll, folk song history lesson that was as much literature as it was music ... and it was over 8-minutes long.

Six weeks at #1, several world tours and many decades later, the news hit this week that Don decided to sell, not the "song," but the original 16 pages of lyrics and notes to American Pie ... and somebody bid an astounding $1.2 million dollars for the honor.

Since then, I've read a couple of critical stories about Don's decision to sell, most offensive was an article in the Washington Post by Justin Moyer. It was uncalled for,  no matter how well meaning he might be as a fellow writer. Heck, the headline referred to Don as "gloomy."

Dude, he just scored $1.2 million bucks. How "gloomy" could he be?

To Justin and any other critic of what any artist does with their property: please be more respectful. I'm sure you're a nice fellow and just trying to be interesting. But you are criticizing someone who has achieved an unbelievable accomplishment. They created something of value far beyond anything you can dream of or do yourself. Why do people feel they need to put down anyone for doing what they themselves can not?

Don McLean owns American Pie. He is the artist who created it. The man has a wife, home and children he wants to take care of and secure their future. I wonder what creation of value Justin Moyer or any other critic has that would come within a tenth of America Pie's value?

American Pie was born out of great heartache and loss, it's birth was staggered and painful. It is viewed as one of the most important songs of the 20th century and deservedly so. If Don chooses to sell the pieces of paper the ding-dang thing was written on, all power to him. He is the envy of every songwriter.

And most of America, while singing American Pie, will never know who Justin Moyer is.

Don McLean did more than the right thing.
He did the thing that was his right to do.
'nuff said.

To all the critics out there, I want to paraphrase Finnish composer Johan Sibelius:

 "Fear not the words of a critic; 
for no one has ever erected a statue in honor of one ..."

Folk on, 


Saturday, March 07, 2015

Selma, Seeger and a Song

SELMA 50 years ago. 

I think it is great that President Obama is speaking at the Selma bridge today. That is not a political view, but a human one. Fifty years ago, those marching over that bridge, those who embraced that struggle, would never ... NEVER ... have dreamed such a day as today was possible.

What will often go unnoticed was the banjo player marching along with Dr. King that day. Pete Seeger heard the song WE SHALL OVER COME at the Highlander Folk School and taught it to Dr. King, who in turn began having it sung at rallies. It was sung at Selma as the marchers were beaten and hosed down on that bridge. And it was sung by millions as the struggle for equal rights continued. It's been sung in schools and festivals and front porches around the world.

It was never a hit song. It was never on the charts. It was never on MTV. It was simply good.

I don't think we have "equal rights" today. We are more equal-er than we were, but still there is more to do. I don't personally believe the human race is in the emotional or spiritual shape to embrace that kind of freedom. 

Someday. But not today.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Chris Thile subs for Garrison Keillor on APHC

"I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it." - Garrison Keillor

As we come up on WoodSongs 800th broadcast I can get a small idea of why Garrison Keillor would want to take a break, step back and listen to A Prairie Home Companion like any fan would ... sitting at home with the radio on while doing other things.

It gives you a whole new perspective of what, why and how you are doing something. Sometimes, your brain needs a ding dang break from doing something so well for so long. Garrison is the king and he deserves it.

And what better sub-host could he pick than Chris Thile? Chris has been on WoodSongs nine times in various musical incarnations. He's creative, personable, fun, happy and fearless. And APHC is about the art form, not the ratings. Because of that, they have great ratings because good art is all this audience cares about. Having  a seasoned "pro" host wouldn't serve the art form as well as having a genuine, respected artist at the helm like Chris. Garrison has done his fans and his show well. And I hope everyone tunes in, it will be a special night indeed.

I'll probably add more to this later. For now, I'm getting ready to relax and tune in A Prairie Home Companion with the wifey and the twins here at the log cabin.

We'll be listening while doing other things, too :)


So the weekend has past and we are getting ready for a WoodSongs broadcast tonight. I got to listen to most of the first hour of Chris Thile's premier as guest host ... and then the last 15 minutes or so.

Chris did a great job. Actually, he did a fantastic job. He was fun, he sounded relaxed. The music was impeccable as expected, Sarah sang like an angel ( I liked the jokes about their last names), the poet was entertaining and brilliant. Garrison's staff did a bang-up job helping Chris navigate from segment to segment ... and the guy ended exactly on time.

I think Garrison picked well asking Chris to to guest host. I understand Garrison called Thile and left a message on his cell phone about it. Considering Chris' touring schedule, Garrison got lucky.

I'm not a big fan of critics. These are folks who are often incapable of doing what they are criticizing who are given a media forum to tear down. Or build up. And I'm sure somewhere out there a reviewer will have something harsh to say. No one is ever 100% approved by the media, no matter how great or sincere.

But Chris reached well beyond his comfort zone. Garrison entrusted his legacy and years of creative sweat and placed them all on a "rookies" shoulders.

Bottom of the ninth. Based loaded. Mandolin player at bat.
Grand slam.

'nuff said.

Monday, January 26, 2015

MOUSIE HIWAY: The Adventures of BANJO MOUSE in Appalachia

It was a fun, exciting goal ... put on hold for a while. MOUSIE HIWAY: The Adventures of BANJO MOUSE in Appalachia is the first in a series of children's books that involve music, a good story, a fun character and a valid lesson.

Alas, life, schedules and energy are not my friend at the moment so the project is on hold. MOUSIE HIWAY, the first of the series is about a banjo playing mouse that travels Appalachia, meeting other musicians and forming the Mousie HiWay Band. I hope to pick up the project again soon. This feels funny because I never stop anything. Ever.

The story and accompanying CD (I would read the story and have the music going on behind me until the end when the whole bluegrass band plays the song "Mousie HiWay") would introduce the sound of the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dobro and bass to young ears in a fun way.

I'm not aware of another bluegrass-related children's book like this.

Anyway, I like the story. And the rhymes. And it's based somewhat on fact. It's true: I did live in Mousie Kentucky and Blue Moon Mountain separated the little hamlet from Hindman, KY, the county seat and yes, I traveled the hollers with my banjo.

So, here is it, read it with a tempo, find the phrasing. I'm including an early sketch of the Banjo Mouse character. You have my permission to read it to your kids if you want, but not to reprint this in anyway. Actually, it would be great if you created your own pictures to go with the story. Make your own children's book. Heck, why not? How hard can it be?

Send me pics if you do:

If all goes well, I hope to have a book and hold my twins in my lap someday, reading this to them.


The Adventures of Banjo Mouse in the Appalachian Mountains

words and characters by Michael Johnathon
c2015 Rachel Aubrey Music, INC/BMI

Banjo Mouse
Fiddle Fox
Doggy Dobro
Mando Mouse
Little Bitty Beaver

This is the adventures of Banjo Mouse
He didn’t have a bed and he didn’t have a house
But he had a lot friends where ever he’d go
'cause he knew a bunch of songs on the ol’ banjo

Then one night in the Appalachian hills
He heard a lonesome sound and everything got still
In the silvery moon just sittin’ on a rock
He found a new friend named Fiddle Fox

Well, he and Fiddle Fox played all night long
They played a lot of tunes, sang a lot of songs
But when the sun came up they had no place to go
till they met a new friend named Doggy Dobro

When Doggy played the dobro he could bend those notes
He would bend them up high and bend them down low
with the fiddle and the banjo they would laugh and shout
It was a dream come true for Banjo Mouse

But now, the whole band knew there was something still a-missin’
You could hear it so plain, you could hear it if you listen
So they mumbled and they grumbled till they figured it out
When up from a holler came Mando Mouse

Mando Mouse was Banjo’s cousin
He could play his mandolin, even when he’s runnin’
He could play it so fast he had everyone a-shoutin’
And it echoed through the hollers of Blue Moon Mountain

Now, Banjo Mouse knew they wouldn’t get far
They had a real fine band but they needed one more.
So he wondered and he pondered and he wished upon a star
And from a cabin on a hill came Kitty Guitar

She was a six-string Kitty she could pick and sing
Banjo Mouse could made the banjo ring
No one played the fiddle like Fiddle Fox could
and Dobro Doggie made the song sound good

But Banjo Mouse stopped and said “hey wait a minute...”
we have a real fine band but there’s something not in it
We all want to play a real big show
but the show won’t go unless we play it down low

And then though the bushes came a rumblin’ sound
it shook all the trees and it ratted the ground
and down from the mountain with a smile on his face
came a little bitty beaver with a great big bass

Well, from Blue Moon Mountain to the hollers all around
the people all gathered for that bluegrass sound
and they sang and they cheered again and again
Everybody loves the Mousie HiWay Band!