I remember the first time I heard this song.
It was 1989 and I was in the 8th grade. It was a few weeks before my first trip to the nation's capital. I didn't understand the lyrics then, but I knew what I felt when I heard the song. I felt like I had been born too late. Like I missed whatever the living was to be had in the world. I felt the zeitgeist of the time through this song. And I was sad that I missed it. I missed hearing John and Bobby and Martin and Malcolm. I missed the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the birth of Rock and Roll, the anti-war protests. I missed 1968. I missed Woodstock. I missed 1969. I missed the summer of love. I felt I was born to a time where nothing of any significance would happen afterward.
And honestly, the generation before me didn't help. They had their stories and insights about how they survived and struggled. How my generation didn't understand what kind of challenges they faced, how they rose to the occasion and how my generation lacks the drive to affect changes in the world. The generation before me had changed the world that I am now privileged to live in and would never let me forget that.
I'm not ungrateful. I got to go to integrated schools and secure advance degrees because of it. But the promise of the future they had fought to secure for me slowly disappeared. Now it's obvious. We're all painfully aware of the fragility of our society in this economic crisis.
This month is the 50th anniversary of the inspiration behind this song. It was in February 1959 that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens died in a plane crash over Iowa. Don McLean makes an allusion to this tragedy in the song. It seemed to have defined him and the subsequent years of his generation. For us, September 2001 is still defining the kind of people we're becoming.
And now, I find that I'm thinking a lot about generations. And it took me some time to entertain the idea that my generation's time is Now. We're here Now. I'm not entirely sure what we'll bring into existence, but what I do hear in the ether is a desire for balance and correction. I hear in conversations I've had with friends and strangers over the past month the desire to restore balance and re-imagine what it means to be American. American identity can't solely live in the idea that we are what we consume. There must be a deeper spirit that dwells here. Don McLean came of age when his nation was in crisis and as a songwriter, gave us this gift. What will we create when we emerge from this period of difficulty? What piece of the American pie will we leave the generations to follow us?