From Cynthia Ann Parker to Don McLean

29 Sep

Last week, the students in History of American Music discussed All Shook Up: How Rock n’ Roll Changed America, a book by Glenn Altschuler about the early days of Rock n’ Roll. It was a great discussion about music, society and all kinds of stuff. We even threw a little religion in there. I guided as they talked, but I was also thinking about a book that several of those students read for another class.

Last year, I taught Expansion of the United States and had them read The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, a book by Glenn Frankel about the difficulties caused by the mixing of history and myth. On the surface, this book has nothing to do with the other one. However, there is one connection that ties them together, and it is not the fact that both writers are named Glenn. It is a chain of events that links a tragic episode in the American West to a tragic episode in Rock n’ Roll.

On May 19, 1836, Cynthia Ann Parker was abducted from her home by a Comanche raiding party. Her family had settled on the Texas frontier and faced the dangers of that decision. Her uncle searched for her but, after several years, gave up. Cynthia Ann grew to adulthood as a Comanche and raised a family. Years later, she was recaptured and brought back to the Parker family. She never recovered from being ripped twice from the world that she knew.Cynthia Ann Parker

In 1954, a novel by Alan Le May was published. It was called The Searchers and told the story of a man on an epic search to find his abducted niece. Although he studied many abductions, Le May’s story is similar to the Parker saga. However, the book ends differently than real life. The uncle does not give up. Instead, he is killed by a Comanche woman.Alan Lemay

In 1956, John Ford and his stock company traveled to Monument Valley make The Searchers, a film based on the book. John Wayne starred as the uncle looking for his abducted niece, played by Natalie Wood. It is considered by many to be the greatest of all Westerns and Wayne’s best performance. The audience does not know what will happen when he finds her, but, in the end, he takes her home.images-5

On February 25, 1957, Buddy Holly, a Texan, recorded “That’ll Be the Day“, a song inspired by Wayne’s catchphrase in The Searchers. The song reached Number One and was the first song recorded by The Quarrymen, who are better known as The Beatles. On January 23, 1959, Holly died in a plane crash with Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson.Buddy Holly

On March 14, 1971, Don McLean debuted a new song at a concert in Philadelphia. “American Pie” is believed to be about the changing musical and cultural landscape of the 1960s. It begins with “the day the music died”, which most people think is a reference to Holly’s plane crash. After all, “them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye singing this’ll be the day that I die.”Don McLean

Yeah, that is where my mind went. I connected two books from two different classes. It probably looks weird, but there are some things that cannot be denied. One of those is a direct historical line from Cynthia Ann Parker to Don McLean.



8 Responses to “From Cynthia Ann Parker to Don McLean”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong September 29, 2014 at 01:42 #

    Everything means something. Interesting set of links.It’s all great music and undeniably a great movie, though so heavily racist vis-a-vis Native American’s I can’t watch it any more. But Garry still loves it. He’s better at ignoring the racist crap than I am. Go figure, right? AND John Wayne is still his all time favorite actor and the day he interviewed The Duke was a very big deal.

    So many connections!

    • Rick September 29, 2014 at 01:48 #

      I think the movie provides a realistic view of how settlers viewed the Native Americans. They saw them as subhuman. Of course, it was fine for white men to abduct Native Americans kids. Garry needs to write about this John Wayne interview of which you write.

      • Marilyn Armstrong September 29, 2014 at 02:07 #

        He say he will. Give him a few days to work up to it 🙂

      • Garry Armstrong September 29, 2014 at 15:27 #

        Rick, I will write a piece about meeting the Duke. It still ranks as the most memorable day in my professional life that includes meeting and hanging with many legends from various walks of life. I need to refresh my memory about some of the events surrounding that day. It was **40** years ago. Hang loose, Pilgrim.

      • Rick September 29, 2014 at 17:15 #

        I can’t wait to read about it. I am not sure I could have gotten the words out to ask a question.

    • Garry Armstrong September 29, 2014 at 15:23 #

      I absolutely love the connections in this post. They are spot on. As for Marilyn’s take on “The Searchers”, I understand her feelings. But, yes, I still think “The Searchers” is perhaps the best western ever. Certainly, it’s John Wayne’s finest performance. The racism is there in many forms. I’ve expressed my dislike of it and been reminded of its reality. I don’t ignore “the racist crap”. I’ve lived with it all my life. I even shared my feelings about “The Searchers” with John Wayne when we met. He understood.

      • Rick September 29, 2014 at 17:15 #

        Racism seeps through every character in The Searchers. It is obvious in Ethan but also comes from the other characters. I have no idea what John Ford knew about history, but I can imagine Cynthia Ann’s family having that same form of racism.

        My favorite scene is when Scar tells Ethan that he speaks good Comanche. It was his way of showing equality in the situation.

  2. Marilyn Armstrong September 29, 2014 at 01:44 #

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