Bye Bye Miss American Pie
The story of America from 1955-75 told through thirty jukebox tracks that have become synonymous with the period, including five by Bob Dylan.
Twenty years that cover the rise of the civil rights, anti-war and counter-culture movements and the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King More
“Given that external reality is a fiction, the writer's role is almost superfluous. He does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there.”
(J. G BALLARD)
“To the victor go the spoils,” which usually includes getting to write the history of the period. So who were the winners in 1960’s America and could we trust them to write an objective version of events? Well given the conservative status quo was the victor, probably not.
But is there such a thing as an objective historical account or is it all polemics? And what about photographic evidence? The “camera never lies” but doesn’t that depend on where you point it?
It’s often said that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there. So who was? Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Don McLean certainly were because the events of that turbulent decade clearly resonate through the lyrics of their songs. And then there were the bands, the Byrds, the Doors, the Beatles and the Stones all picking up on the vibes around them to record the soundscape to the decade.
Therefore my history of America from 1955-75 is related through 30 tracks on a jukebox, songs that helped shape the social and political landscape of the period. It is a work of “faction” where fictional characters interact with real life characters during actual historic events.
At the start of the sixties when Kennedy came to power and Martin Luther King was leader of the civil rights movement young people were confident positive change would follow. It was during this period that Bob Dylan wrote “Blowing in the Wind” which inspired Sam Cooke to write, “One day a change is gonna come.” But there were people in America determined to stop any such change and within a few years the two leaders had been assassinated. Phil Ochs graphically describes this in his song “Crucifixion.”
Throughout the sixties America was increasingly drawn into what was basically a civil war in Vietnam. As the body count on both sides climbed higher the protests got ever louder and one of the rebel chant’s of the period became Country Joe’s song “Feel like I’m Fixin to Die Rag.”
In 1967 there was the “Summer of Love” with its emphasis on “make love not war” backed up by conspicuous consumption of the drug LSD, which, if nothing else spawned a great song in “If you’re going to San Francisco.” The love affair with this hippy idyll would continue for another two years culminating in the Woodstock Festival with its fantastic array of counter culture talent on display. But this honeymoon period came to an abrupt end two years later when a young man was stabbed then kicked to death by Hells Angels at Altamont, just after the Stones had finished playing “Sympathy for the Devil.”
The realisation that America was never going to win in Vietnam probably dawned in 1968 when Charlie Company perpetrated one of the worst atrocities of the war at the village of Mai Lai. Men, women and children were bayoneted and shot in an orgy of violence as American soldiers, frustrated at their inability to locate the enemy, took their anger out on the villagers.
By the end of the decade the war had been brought home to the streets of America with groups like the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground, using the atrocities perpetrated against civilians in Vietnam to excuse their own violent tactics in attempting to bring about radical change in America. And then there were the drug related deaths of three of the biggest stars of the counter culture movement when, in the space of 12 months Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all departed the stage.