The Way that Kindness Died: An Updated “American Pie” by Gavin Lakin – Post 22

In 2015, James Morgan, BBC correspondent wrote on the topic of the lyrics of Don McLean’s 1971 song, his best-known work that was named Song of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America in 2001. Citing Jim Fann, author of Understanding American Pie, the line “The man there said the music wouldn’t play” speaks directly to the ‘cynicism of this generation had annihilated the innocent world the narrator had grown up in.’ That kind of music simply wouldn’t play anymore.”

For nearly fifty years since Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died tragically on that chilly February night in an Iowa cornfield, until the original handwritten lyrics were auctioned in New York, McLean kept the song’s meaning close to his vest: “I wanted to capture, probably before it was ever formulated, a rock and roll American dream.” However, he gave us all some answers after its sale: “Basically in ‘American Pie’ things are heading in the wrong direction . . . It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.” Needless to say, the conspiracy theorists interpreted the masterpiece in their own unique ways.

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Our sparkling democracy; the beacon for the world, right? Well, let’s have a look. Civil War? Indian Wars? Ft. Laramie Treaty (Government promises to Native Americans completely disregarded)? Chinese Exclusion Act? Executive Order 9066 (Japanese-American Internment during WWII)? Initiating the Atomic Age? Jim Crow? HUAC? Vietnam War? Watergate? Please, tell me when to stop.

Then: Egregiously poor decisions and misguided leadership, with puppeteers pulling the strings all in the Herculean effort that the rich remain rich through monopolies. And the rest of us? Not their problem. Keep the disenfranchised down where they belong. In fact, while captains of industry are at it, go ahead and create more divisiveness through manipulating the economy, employment, technology and obliterating the pride once omnipresent on products marked Made in USA.

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The man there said the music wouldn’t play.

Now: 2017 has been the most vitriolic, violent, persistently disturbing and fear-inducing human fault line on record during the modern era. The fissures, cracks, rifts, the palpable divisiveness amongst our fellow countrymen and women exceeds—in cruelty and impulsive action—anything America has ever experienced.

Including the above atrocities.

Perhaps Americans have lost what being exceptional means. Or conversely and quite the intriguing point, as Salman Rushdie commented on Bill Maher’s program a few weeks back, when was America ever great?  And how do we define great? The “man” in the White House wants to make America great again. His great spurs hate. Can’t see how that’s the old America.

For it will not be government or leaders that will save us, or technology gurus and demigods, or even futurists with visionary acumen; it will be the impact of the arts across the genres. Music, with its universal language. Film, where two hours can unite us. When we aren’t binge watching, television can be an event that grasps the nation’s attention. Visual arts such as photography, art, performance art, even flash mobs, if even more a few moments of one’s day, derailing us from our inner white noise. Theater, with its “in the moment” realism, constantly expressing the human condition.

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Dance, its own communication that reaches deep into the soul. Sharing with others in your book group your takeaways from a novel, accessing our emotion in a way that only the written word can.

Kindness is endemic. With a nudge, it can become the most necessary pandemic this planet has needed. It isn’t about “random acts.” That’s a catchphrase. It’s about a cultural commitment. I am not claiming to have the answers. There are literally hundreds of books, articles, research in journals all identifying this downturn of society and approaches to recapture it—only this time, we must embed it into our very sociological foundation.

Dacher Keltner, from his book Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, has plenty to say on the subject:

“This kind of science gives me many hopes for the future. At the broadest level, I hope that our culture shifts from a consumption-based, materialist culture to one that privileges the social joys (play, caring, touch, mirth) that are our older (in the evolutionary sense) sources of the good life. In more specific terms, I see this new science informing practices in almost every realm of life. Here again are some well-founded examples.

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Medical doctors are now receiving training in the tools of compassion—empathetic listening, warm touch—that almost certainly improve basic health outcomes. Teachers now regularly teach the tools of empathy and respect. Executives are learning the wisdom around the country of emotional intelligence—respect, building trust—that there is more to a company’s thriving than profit or the bottom line. In prisons and juvenile detention centers, meditation is being taught.”

Dear Don McLean,

Let me inform you about the vagus nerve When active, located at the top of the spinal cord, it is likely to produce a feeling of warm expansion in the chest, as when we are moved by someone’s goodness or when we appreciate a beautiful piece of music. Though I have humbly rewritten your iconic song lyric, with its implied tone of “loss” and “death” so to speak, I am eternally optimistic that our scientific nature is very much alive and won’t be seeing “Satan laughing with delight” but, in the end, our better selves “will catch the last train to the coast.”

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The Way that Kindness Died

 

Not so many years ago

I wasn’t much more than a child

I said “please” at every chance

“Thank you” in each circumstance

This was just the fashion, just the style

 

But then there came the red lights flashing

Answering machines amassing

Six rings and you’d listen

I noticed something missing

 

I felt a rift was growing wide

Just the slightest shift inside

It felt as if a best friend lied

The way that kindness died

 

So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky

 

Did you look out for #1?

And did you scream when all was done

Did the movement make you grow?

Can you believe LPs were tossed?

Replaced by tape and tangled gloss?

And not long after came the video

 

Well, I know the puppets loved the din

As the disco balls would spin

The twenty rolls and booze

Man, it was hard to refuse

 

I was a friendly teenage naïve pup

People, I would lift ‘em up

But I could sense the turning tide

The way that kindness died

 

So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky

 

Then some eight years trickled down

An actor wore his Bonzo crown

And we were rapt by MTV

I felt it start to slip away

True enough, Spandau Ballet

And big hair, shoulder pads and the CD

 

Meanwhile out in Northern Cal

A microscopic chip, not HAL

All inertia turned

The algorithm learned

 

And while we went about our days

These Einstein’s and Da Vinci’s played

And demarcated all the ways

The ways that kindness died

 

So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky

 

Shock and awe and oil-melter

One thousand points of light they dealt her

Surgical strategic blasts

Landing in the sand

Pawns racing through the land

The puppets watch from their ivory masts

 

Now the end game was a dot.com boom

With all of us, the lemmings’ doom

We bought every floppy

And made another copy

 

Few could see the trap concealed

The rest of us were wheeled-and-dealed

Do you recall how fate was sealed?

The way that kindness died

 

So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky

 

Oh, we clamored Y2K

A thousand years of hell to pay

Not even silicon could save us then

So come on, Tech be fly, be sick

Rescued us from the tick, tick, tick

‘Cause the puppeteers would never bend

 

The narrative turned back a page

I felt a generation age

No letters in the mail

And caller ID failed

 

And road rage by the traffic light

Kids gunned down at school in fright

“Have a nice day,” a flat soundbite

The way that kindness died

 

So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky

 

I met a girl who shared her views

Loudly, in the Starbucks queues

On her mobile phone she had her say

Soon the newest slimy trail

Was “Hey, I’ll shoot you an email”

A cup of coffee face-to-face had gone astray

 

And when the planes flew through the glass

In that moment normal passed

Where all the rules had changed

America’s twilight rearranged

 

And my trio of admiration

Presence, Care, and Consideration

They caught the last boat to Libation

The way that kindness died

 

So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky

 

So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

And thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky.

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