Wissot: President’s backers love the melody, ignore the lyrics (column)
“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.”
I loved that passage in Don McClean’s classic rock ’n’ roll song of the early 1970s, “American Pie,” as I loved the overall feeling of despair and sadness that permeated the music. I would listen to it in on the radio and hum along as I drove in my car, oblivious to what all of it literally meant.
I didn’t know what the song meant, and I didn’t care. It was enough that it spoke to me emotionally, conveying a feeling of times past, of things irretrievably lost, of the end of something good, of the sadness surrounding that good which would never return again.
I didn’t need to know what it meant. Its mood was all that mattered.
To my surprise, I learned much later that the song was about the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in a plane crash in 1959. Their deaths symbolized to McClean not only the death of the ’50s musical innocence but the end of his belief in the American dream.
As he put it in a 2015 interview, he wrote the song because “things were headed in the wrong direction … becoming less idyllic. I don’t know if you consider that wrong or right, but it is a morality song, in a sense.” (“Gloomy Don McClean reveals the meaning of ‘American Pie,’ Justin Wm. Moyer, The Washington Post, April 8, 2015).
In a sense, my disregard for the meaning of the song for those many years is like President Donald Trump supporters not caring about whether the president is lying to them or not. Some of them know he is but don’t care. It’s the feeling that he engenders in them that matters, mood being the meaning. The specifics of what he has to say get lost in translation. All they hear is the fire and fury rhetoric, the aggrieved anger, the fact that he “gets them” emotionally just like Don McClean “got me” and so many of my generation some 45 years ago.
Recall, if you will, on the 2016 campaign a very prescient columnist saying that “the press takes him literally but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously but not literally.” (“Taking Trump seriously, not literally,” Salena Zito, The Atlantic, Sept. 23, 2016).
To be fair to our president, I don’t recall as a nascent liberal back in the ’60s paying much attention to President Kennedy’s words in his better-known speeches (“Ask not …”, “ Ich ein un Berliner”) as much as I was captivated by the cadence of his voice and the sound of his Boston accent.
Similarly, and more recently, I don’t remember anything Barack Obama said in that church in Charleston, South Carolina, when he traveled there to honor the victims of a terrorist attack by a young white supremacist. But I have never forgotten how I felt when he spontaneously led the congregation in the singing of “Amazing Grace.” I “got him” that day because he did something to “get me.”
What will it take for Trump backers to question the lyrics broadcast on his tweets and rants? I wish I knew. A major economic turndown? A military conflict that worsens like Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria did? Undeniable proof in the some-time-to-come Mueller report that the president is guilty of offenses that could constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors”?
The cult of personality is a powerful aphrodisiac that defies logic, reason, evidence and all things objective. It may be as impossible to wean a Trump groupie away from their idol as it would be to accomplish the same for an Elvis Presley, Prince or Michael Jackson worshipper.
It is very hard to get the listener to listen to the meaning of the singer’s lyrics when they have fallen madly in love with the singer and the song.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.