If you were alive and aware in that decade, how could you miss the Kent State shootings in 1970? The Munich massacre at the Olympics in ’72? The end of the Vietnam war? Or the peace accords that promised harmony among different countries?
If you were young enough in the 70s, how could you ignore the disco craze spawned by the release of Saturday Night Fever? Did the tragic death of Elvis Presley not touch you? Did you shed a tear at the break up of the Beatles?
Such is the context in which I set Hello Agnieszka (Book 2, Between Two Worlds), amidst upheavals of a decade when the hopes of a generation are eroded by man-made catastrophes, both at home and abroad.
An iconic song defines the 70s. Don McLean’s American Pie, #5 in the top songs of the 20th century, is the only song from 1970 to 1999 to make top 25. Search the internet and you’ll find that people still debate the meaning of this song. In fact, it’s been the subject of college theses.
On the surface, the song is an ode to figures, particularly in music, who changed the course of cultural history. But the song goes beyond that. “Bye, bye Miss American Pie,” to me and many others, bids farewell to innocence and a simpler life, and hello to the unknown and complicated.
When I wrote Hello, Agnieszka, I often played American Pie because I refer to it in the story. The themes of the song jive with those in the novel, a coming-of-age story set in the 70s. It chronicles the loss of innocence of the main character.
Her friend, Lenny, introduces her to the song, so 16-year-old Agnieszka’s world begins to expand outside the little perimeter of her previous existence, . My choice, as you can see, is not random. Neither is it only because I happen to like the song.
The opening up of Agnieszka’s world includes her first serious exposure to modern music. Before that, while music filled her days , it’s classical music she’s steeped in. To me, it’s only fitting that her first experience of a contemporary song should be American Pie, one of the very best pop songs ever written. You could take it to mean something different from how somebody else sees it. That I think is a mark of any great piece of art.