Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Generation Lost In Space

One of the very first memories I have of the internet is reading an analysis of American Pie.

Let's stop a moment and take stock of the situation.

I am old enough that the internet wasn't even a thing when I was a kid, assuming I wasn't from the Department of Defense or worked at the tech help desk in Seattle. It wasn't until my mid-teens that we started getting random disks in the mail for a variety of internet services; at one point, a computer I purchased had a packet with, like, twelve different packages to sign up for. (Ah, CompuServe and AoL!) Imagine my sadness and shock when I realized you had to pay for internet access!

Anyway, I was soon off to college, where I had (intermittent) internet access. I had shitty dial-up in my dorm room, and somewhat better (if much less private) access in the computer lab.

Kids, remember how you hate it when old people talk about how candy bars cost a nickel and party lines existed and records were a thing? I'm about to sound like that about the internet.

The internet was not like it is today. Data speeds were much, much slower and the computing processing power paled in comparison to today. As such, there were no streaming services, no YouTube, no...well, not much of anything. The best you got was text, static graphics, and maybe gifs if they looped in an abbreviated enough time frame as to not shut your computer down from overheating.

Those heady, wild-west-ish days for us regular folks were a treasure trove of sketchy information. For those of us who either weren't old enough to have gotten on the gravy train at the beginning, or techie enough to understand, we were looking at primitive Angelfire web sites and delving into the (admittedly brief) lore created by Usenet and BBSs.  Wikipedia didn't exist, so information was largely scattered and patchworked; some places (Yahoo, famously) tried to corral them all into organized directories. (That's right--at one point the internet was small enough that you could petition Yahoo to get your web site added to their directory of subjects.) We were taking unnecessarily complex purity tests, locating FAQs for our analog board and card games, and reading elaborate analyses of popular culture.

Which leads us to one of the first things that I remember: an analysis of the song American Pie.

The song--by Don McLean--well, the only song by Don McLean; Vincent doesn't count--was notoriously enigmatic upon its release in 1972 and had just grown in this notoriety for decades. It was a chart-topper in its day, but unusual in that it was much, much longer than standard radio fare. And its lyrics were dripping in half-obvious symbolism. Ostensibly about the "day the music died"--when Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper all died in a plane crash, its lyrics soon spiraled out into a sort of oral history of rock music from the 50s until the early 70s, coded in mysterious allegories (and, of course, blatant allusions).

I was a fan of the song, so imagine my surprise when I found that someone had done a line-by-line analysis of the lyrics. Online! That I could read! For free! And print out! Of course I printed it out, because why not? Paper was free in the college computer lab, and no one would care if I printed out 30 pages of analysis from a classic rock song instead of working on my symoblic logic homework.

It seems quaint and primitive now, but this was awesome to me at the time. It is very, very hard to remember what life was like without having an internet at the ready. Hell, now, we all have little internets in our pockets. Literally twenty years ago our internet was 25 leather-bound books that a pushy salesman pressured our parents into buying by convincing them it would help us get into college. And it's not just the internet--to think at one time I didn't know all of the cultural references in the song at one point of my life is fascinating. They're low-level trivia questions now, but at the time it was an education unparalleled.

Anyway, I decided to see if that analysis was still up in its regular old site, and I think I found it--here. It's there, I think, it all its starry-background HTMLy goodness. I vaguely recall the one I had was just in plain text, so the whole thing printed out like a common textbook, which doesn't mean I didn't collate that thing to bring into class so I didn't have to pay attention.

The internet made me an unparalleled genius. Well, at least in the realm of hackneyed classic rock songs with a lazy chord structure. Or at least one of them.


  1. For the first half of this post, I assumed you meant the movie. I thought, "Is there really that deep of meaning behind it?"

  2. The apple pies have a deeper meaning than you think!

    I actually forgot the proper name of the song and called it "The Day The Music Died" and then I had to g9 back and fix it. Because I'm an idiot.