BBHQ Boomer Essays:
|Our Boomer-In-Charge here at BBHQ, Hershel Chicowitz, writes frequently about current events... from a boomer perspective. He is sometimes funny, sometimes provocative, sometimes a little of each. We hope you get a kick out of our Boomer Essays.|
And now, for a trip down memory lane... I take you back to the late 90s.
Bill Clinton was president, Janet Reno was Attorney General, Bill Gates
was the king of Microsoft, the PC was the personal computer of choice,
America Online (AOL) was our doorway to the information superhighway...
and Monica Lewinsky was... an aspiring intern at the White House. The
boogie man was the dreaded upcoming Y2K bug, which was going to destroy
our lives; DOS was the operating system te preceeded Windows; and Lotus
1-2-3 was not a dance or an automobile; it was the spreadsheet that
amazed us all.
Join me, please...
As a baby boomer reaching ever so close to that half-century mark, I am perhaps entering a more reflective period of my life. Listening to the local “oldies” radio station adds a new dimension to the music of my youth. When I was growing up, I listened mostly to the music and the beat of the songs; I paid little attention to the lyrics. But I could sing right along with the Beatles hit, “She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah),” and both Sam Cooke’s and Herman’s Hermits’ versions of “Wonderful World” (aka, “Don’t Know Much About History.”) Of course, the older I get, the more I actually do know about history. Heck, by this time, I am history.
Many burned-out rock fans now read far more into the lyrics of a song than the artist ever intended. Was Mary in the Association’s “Along Comes Mary” a reference to the Virgin Mary, or a “code word” for marijuana? Or neither? Was Rosie in Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” a reference to rose wine or a hooker down on 42nd street where he grew up? And just what were Paul Simon and Julio doing down by the school yard? Like I say, it’s easy to carry this thing too far.
But these many years later, my vote for the strangest and most provocative lyrics goes to Don McLean for his ballad, “American Pie.” At the time it was a hit, I dug into it only far enough to see a reference to the death of Buddy Holly. But, written at the tail end of the hey-day of rock n’ roll, Don McLean jam-packed the song with eerie connections to the entire rock “generation.” Rock fans and anthologists have been analyzing it ever since. Of course, that does tend to take it to the absurd. And if it does not, I am about to do just that.
I recently reviewed the lyrics from the perspective of a baby boomer and computer user near the end of the century. And in this psychedelic light, “American Pie” becomes a paradigm for the computer industry and offers a prophetic look at the future of the PC (personal computer). Let me explain, using lyrics taken directly from the song:
“A long, long time ago,
“And I knew if I had my chance,
Strangely enough, these are nearly the exact words uttered by Apple founder Steven Jobs when he and co-founder Steven Wozniak created the Apple II. Of course, the key words here are “for a while.”
“But February made me shiver,
I see this as an obvious reference to the absense of huge sales of the Apple Macintosh following their terrific “1984” Super Bowl television commercial. Indeed, things got worse for Apple from then on. But other researchers here at BBHQ see it unmistakably as a lament by America Online’s (AOL) Steven Case after AOL was flooded last winter with new users that it could not accommodate. AOL crashed. Five million AOL users indeed “couldn’t take one more step.” But either way, you must remember that Don McLean wrote “American Pie” in 1971. This is indeed amazing!
“So bye, bye; Miss American Pie;
“Miss American Pie” represents millions of innocent, early, enthusiastic PC users. The automobile here is not a beemer; it is not a Mercedes; it is a Chevy, an all-American car. Of course, this is a metaphor for WordPerfect, at one time the biggest and best word processing software in the country. And the levee is Windows. Millions of WordPerfect users drove their word processor right to the levee of Windows; and stalled there, dead in their tracks, as WordPerfect, DOS-based software, was suddenly obsolete.
“Them good ol’ boys were drinking whiskey and rye,
The “good ol’ boys” are the software gurus of the 80’s and 90’s as the year 2000 approaches. They all expect to suffer a horrible death when the Y2K bug catches them. Their solution: whiskey and rye. “This’ll be the day that I die.”
“Did you write the book of love?” Windows ’95, of course.
“Do you believe in God above?” Bill Gates; who else?
“Can music save your mortal soul?” Again, if “music” is the PC, this is what Bill Gates (God) hopes you believe.
“And can you teach me how to dance real slow.” Well of course, this relates to Internet users loading Microsoft’s home page using a 28.8 kb modem. You have to know how to dance... “real slow.”
“I was a lonely, teenage broncing buck,
These broncing bucks are early, faithful PC users, “bucking” the entrenched system of typewriters and mainframe computers. Notice again the reference to the pickup truck: WordPerfect. And indeed, the early user was out of luck the day the PC died. Wisely, McLean does not pinpoint the exact day that will occur. Or perhaps it already has?
“Now for 10 years we’ve been on our own,
Surely that is how diehard DOS users feel. On their own for nearly a decade, they pine wistfully for the good old days when DOS was the center of the universe.
“When the jester sang for the kind and queen,
At this point, Attorney General Janet Reno enters the picture. The king and queen are, of course, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Jester Reno gleefully advises her rulers that she will target not the campaign finance scandal, but a diversionary threat to the Clinton administration: Microsoft. Reno gets appointed for another term. Referencing James Dean’s coat is a not-so-subtle dig at the attorney general’s ill-suited wardrobe.
“And while the king was looking down,
Not wanting to make it too obvious, McLean switches metaphors here. In this verse, the king is Bill Gates. While he was busy developing Internet Explorer 4.0 and had only two Washington lobbyists on the payroll, Attorney General Reno was planning her attack on the king of software. McLean forsees that in the end, Microsoft will be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars into a government fund ostensibly for children’s education. The government will in turn spend millions and millions of dollars for computers for children... the primary beneficiary of this program being... Microsoft. And in the end, the government will not force a breakup of the company. Thus, “no verdict was returned.” Just how much of this money will end up as Democratic party campaign contributions remains, intentionally, a bit murky.
“Helter Skelter in the summer swelter,
The first line here refers to the computer geeks who went absolutely nuts that hot August day in 1995 when Windows ’95 hit the streets. Helter Skelter, indeed! The Byrds (non-Windows users) seek refuge (a fallout shelter) from Windows ’95 in the form of IBM’s PC operating system: OS/2. Starting off high, OS/2 did fall far and fast.
“It landed foul out on the grass,
When OS/2 flamed out on the grass, the “players” (IBM executives) tried a forward pass (by purchasing Lotus Corporation). And the jester on the sidelines indicates that the attorney general will not take any action against IBM. (The cast is a cruel reference to the Attorney General’s debilitating Parkinson’s disease.)
“I met a girl who sang the blues,
Either Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno, or Monica Lewinsky here... I’m not sure which.
“I went down to the sacred store,
The sacred store is America’s retailer: Sears... at one of their few Business Systems Centers still in existence. And of course, the manager confirmed that the era of the “personal” computer was sadly over: the music wouldn’t play.
“And in the streets, the children screamed,
This particular lament is perhaps a bit of an overstatement. But the church bells are broken obviously as a result of the Y2K bug.
“And the three men I admire most,
...Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, and the ghost, the man no longer visible in the computer industry, Steven Wozniak.
“They caught the last train for the coast.”
With their billions in tow, the three men fled the country, escaping to an island in the Caribbean.
“The day the music died.” A sad ending to a sad story.
Indeed Don McLean was a musical genius, and a true prophet. And there can be no doubt I am right on target with my analysis. Or maybe I am just way overdue for a long vacation and some serious couch time. You be the judge.
So bye, bye; Miss American Pie.
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