We Sang American Pie - Lyrics
Words and music by Angie Nussey
I remember the smiles on our faces when we
had discovered our choices would soon be our own.
Laughing and hoping for romance and flavour
we looked at our lives and thought we were full grown.
And we sang La Isla Bonita.
The old cassette player would blast out the music.
How fast the moment went by
in that youthful and daring, trouble-free time in our lives.
We met again later deep in the city
with dreams and adventure, amusement to spare.
We found an apartment, three of us girls
and we ate our perogies while watching old Seinfeld shows.
We sang “He Ain’t Heavy.”
I remember the day we discovered what it really meant.
How fast the moments go by
in those desperate, delicate, beautiful times in our lives.
We blinked and then somehow, decades have passed.
We watched one another write songs of our own.
Still, there are times when we sit by the fire
and talk about how we have more time to grow.
We sang American Pie
though the ending’s confusing we still could relate to it.
How fast the moments go by
in those busy and precious, hard to find times….
We sang “No sugar tonight” we’d divide up the ending so all parts were covered.
We sang “Tupac” and “Love Shack” not one of us could rap but all of us would try.
We sang “I Like Big Butts” and we’d dance in the kitchen and laugh at each other.
We Sang “Take Me Out” as we put on our make-up and tell all our secrets we sang.
Oh we sang, we sang and we sang! Oh, we sang...we sang!
We sang “Me and Bobby McGee” at 2 in the morning on Anderson Drive.
We sang “Walk This Way” and “Twice as Hard.”
We sang “Karma Police,” “No woman No Cry,” no woman no cry!
We sang. We sang and we sang.
“If you have music in your life, you’re never lonely.” - Del Nussey
I have a friend named Sacha. I call her Howling Wolf because she sings with such wild abandon that whenever we sing together, my wild side is utterly unleashed! Music has a magic to it, but singing with others has an even deeper kind of magic. I wrote “We Sang American Pie” to honour music, laughter, joy, friendship, and all of the artists that enhance this experience of life.
I grew up in Lively, Ontario. We lived in a small house on 2nd Avenue with a gigantic stand-up piano in the living room. My parents were both musical. Mom loved to sing. Dad could play any instrument he touched. Both of my parents were brave and creative, but my Dad had a bit of “next-level” creativity in him. He built and flew airplanes and was one of the first in our town to try hang-gliding and windsurfing. He nearly killed himself a few times on these high-risk adventures, but after a crash or a fall, he’d always get up, dust himself off, and try again. He wasn’t concerned about making mistakes or looking “foolish to the crowd.” This is how he lived life and also how he wrote songs. He’d blurt out lyrics like, “it’s time to clean the hallway because there are sooo many sho-hoo-hoes lyin’ around!” When I was young, these songs drove me crazy. But, as I look back, I realize he was showing me, by example, that adults can be silly whenever they want. I know now that my songwriting style grew from copying my Dad and blurting out any old words that came to mind, just for fun.
I can’t remember which of my parent’s records captured me first. It might have been Olivia Newton-John, Nana Mouskouri, or Roger Whittaker. But, once I heard ABBA, my search was over. By the time I was 6 years old I was completely hooked on music. My babysitter loved Andrew Lloyd Weber. We’d fill the car with our voices singing “Jellicles can and Jellicles do!” on our way to Bingo. Then Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album eclipsed all other music for a short while, but soon enough I would find other artists to explore. One day, when I was about seven, Dad handed me one of those old-school tape recorders. And THAT WAS IT! I was on my way to stardom! I recorded many songs on that tape recorder and quickly ran out of tapes. I didn’t like listening back to them, which is still the case in my adult life, but I sure loved to record them. As I got a little older, New Kids on the Block came onto the scene, then Young MC, Tone Loc, Billy Idol, AC/DC, Guns and Roses, Led Zepplin, Def Leppard...and then, of course, Madonna. I loved it ALL!
Turn The Page
Mom and Dad divorced when I was 14. When we moved out, the first big purchases Mom made were an upright piano and a high-quality stereo. The new life (and stereo) introduced me to Bonnie Raitt, Cat Stevens, Eric Clapton, Johnny Lee Hooker, Van Morrison, and my favourite album of all time, Paul Simon’s Graceland… an absolute masterpiece to me. I was moved by the blending of traditional African songs and instrumentation with English lyrics and melodies. I don’t think another artist could have pulled it off quite as beautifully and respectfully as Paul Simon. Almost every night, we would crank up that little stereo and dance or sing along while we washed the dishes and cleaned up. This is how I learned that music can make any task more fun.
With two single working parents, my sister and I had a lot more time on our own. This gave us space to experiment with singing, dancing, music, and art. My sister was quite reclusive and would spend many hours in her bedroom drawing or painting. This gave me privacy to sing and play piano and to make mistakes with the kind of wild abandon usually only seen in very young children or very drunk adults. To this day, I appreciate it when Quentin leaves our little house from time to time so I can play the piano without concern for anyone else who might be within earshot.
Edge Of Seventeen
It was my first year of high school… we were in my friend’s basement listening to Janis Joplin as I smoked my first and LAST cigarette. We played “Me and Bobby McGee” on repeat for about three hours, until I stopped feeling like I was going to puke.
As high school progressed, my dream of becoming a musical superstar changed. Instead, I decided I was going to pursue a career in medicine or science. This decision gave me the freedom to write and sing without the pressure that comes with ambition and expectation. I wrote many songs in those years...and shared them with no one. Right around this time in our lives, my friends and I would go to local festivals to see bands like April Wine, Big Sugar, Tragically Hip, and Blue Rodeo. The Black Crowes came next, followed by a powerful stint with Cher. Many teenage nights were spent singing Cher songs into my hairbrush! Then came Aerosmith. At 17, my best friend Karen and I convinced our parents that we were mature enough to take the 12-hour round trip bus ride from Lively to Toronto for our first BIG concert. It was EPIC! The opening act was a band called Jackyl and during one of the opening songs, the lead singer came running into the audience with a chainsaw. Hard to believe, but true! He ran right up into the stands where we were sitting. He was so close that I reached out and touched his leather-covered leg! Security slapped my hand away, but it sure left us with a great story for the bus ride home. Back in Lively, we stumbled off the bus at 2 a.m. after drinking a bottle of stolen whiskey. We walked around town, singing “Love in an elevator!” at the top of our lungs. I’m sure the entire town heard us that night.
We Don’t Need No Education
Coming out of high school, I was excited to move towards a career in medicine. I wanted to help people. I thought that becoming a medical doctor would be a wonderful way to contribute to the world. In my first year of undergrad at Laurentian University, I struggled with supra-ventricular tachycardia (a fairly common heart condition). It got so bad that I ended up in the hospital many times. I was placed on heavy drugs which forced my heart rate to stay low. Eventually, I went for surgery in Ottawa. It was in the groggy hours recovering from surgery when I realized I didn’t like hospitals...the sights, the sounds, the smells… it was all so repulsive to me. An inner knowing came over me and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to devote my life to a career that meant I would have to spend many days in this environment. I spent the next few months in a complete fog, barely passing my courses in school. Then, one day, I admitted to Mom that I wasn’t sure about school anymore. After a bit of discussion, she said something like, “you know, honey - you’ve always loved to sing.” And that was it. An immediate and unmistakable feeling of relief came over me and I was certain that I had to move toward a more musical life. Soon after this decision, Garth Brooks’ “The River” and “Standing Outside the Fire” became my anthems. Both of these songs seem to scream: “Get out there and live your best life!”
I ended up finishing a degree in Liberal Science but spent every spare minute of my university years working on musical endeavours. I learned how to play guitar and I began vocal training with a local teacher which led to being accepted into Laurentian University’s voice training and choir programs (as electives). I was a horrible choir singer because my voice was always rusty from belting out rock and roll tunes at the local bars every weekend. But, I stayed in the choir and sang as best I could because it was another outlet for my “howling wolf.” The magic of singing with fifty other people took my breath away. I loved Handel's Handel's Messiah...not so much the lyrics, but the music… oh, the music! It was otherworldly.
With A Little Help From My Friends
After University, I moved to Guelph, Ontario for one year. My friends in Guelph introduced me to the music of Ani DiFranco. Ani was a bit of a game-changer for me musically. An independent and charismatic artist, her work ethic, business savvy, and amazing talent were awe-inspiring. At that time, Jewel, Alanis Morisette, Jann Arden, Sarah McLaughlin, Shania Twain, Celine Dion and Melissa Etheridge were resonating with me. I had also met some local musicians who began influencing my musical style. My friend, Matt Osborne was an artist who seemed to have a permanent joke running in his mind. He had that glimmer in the eye like he knew a secret. He’d get up on stage and do an acoustic cover of a Meatloaf song and then have the crowd spellbound with one of his original songs. Matt was a great reminder that we can be zany and poignant at the same time if we just close our eyes and let go.
After living in Guelph for about a year, I moved to Toronto and shared an apartment with my two best friends. We had a computer with speakers in our dining room and we’d blast out songs like “I like big butts,” and “Take me out”. One night, we were singing along to “He Ain’t Heavy,” by the Hollies. We laughed as we sang, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” imagining carrying a heavy brother and pretending he wasn’t heavy. Then, one day, I listened to the song with fresh ears and discovered the true meaning of it. I realized the lyrics were about helping others without resentment and how the writers (Bobby Scott and Bob Russell) wished for all people to experience love on this “long, long road for which there is no return.” The depth and compassion caught me off guard. I ran to the kitchen and, through teary eyes, and asked the girls if they knew what the song was about! We gathered on the floor in our dining room and played the song on the computer and listened to it, as though for the first time. We all cried as the song re-introduced itself to us.
In my mid-twenties, I developed a fascination with Tom Waits. What I admired most about him was that he just put out art without seeming to care about how it would be received. Something that seemed rare in the music industry. “Heart Attack and Vine” became a powerful album for me. Then came David Gray... another influential game-changer as his album “White Ladder” was both self-financed and recorded in his London apartment. It gave me the idea that perhaps, one day, I would be able to record music in my own home studio… a dream that came true almost a decade later.
I’m A Believer
I was 27. I was in the middle of a break-down, as well as a break-up when I re-discovered Bob Seger’s “Greatest Hits”. I spent many afternoons rollerblading along the lakefront in Toronto with my headphones on, listening to “Roll me Away” on repeat. That song, album, and artist carried me through the challenging year. This is how I discovered the healing power of music. I had already understood how easily you could change an environment using music. I had worked for 6 years as an entertainer, hired to create ambiance at a wedding or to keep people dancing in a bar. But, allowing music to alter my own energetic state had not been consciously explored until this time. I was deeply depressed, lying in bed and forcing my fingers to find a song on my mp3 player. Begrudgingly, I’d hit “play” and then wait for the energy to work its way through my body. It’s impossible to hold yourself in a victim role while listening to Aretha Franklin singing: “R.E.S.P.E.C.T. find out what it means to me!” I’d pull myself out of bed and start moving. I would do this day after day until I didn’t need the music anymore.
As I started to feel better, it was Dolly Parton who helped me step back into a more joy-filled life. One day, I was driving down Hwy 6 from Tobermory with my arm out the window singing “Wild Flowers”. I was feeling the best I had in many years. To this day, I thank Dolly for her magnificence and for being, in my opinion, one of the most influential women of our time. And she did it all with a wink and a smile. I admire artists who can hold love in their hearts despite all else that’s going on around them.
The breakdown turned into a breakthrough as I neared my 28th year. I had become drawn towards a meditative path. It just so happened that, while playing a gig in Toronto, I met a traditional flute player named Ron Allen who gave me two of his calming, instrumental albums in exchange for two of my not-so-calming folk-rock albums. Ron and I quickly became friends. His life experience was convoluted and interesting. He’d say things like: “Hey, you wanna lose 4 years of your life? Take heroin.” Ron had a different kind of “howling wolf” that was expressed through playing the flute. It was undeniable and mesmerizing. In my library of songs, the most played (by a long shot) is “Circle of Dreams” by Ron Allen and One Sky. Listening to him feels like kindness to the ears and calms my heart within seconds.
As I allowed Ron’s music to help clear my mind and heal some of the pain that was still moving inside me, I started to wonder if perhaps the medical field was not so different from the music field in terms of healing. Up until then, I had never considered that my decision to pursue a musical career over a medical one was, perhaps influenced by the same motive: to help others. The idea was fleeting at the time, but it returns for questioning to this day. Playing music as a profession has felt like a guilty indulgence and, most of the time, I just feel very lucky to be doing what I do. But, there are moments when I wonder if something deeper, more intentional has been directing me all along.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve written and recorded seven solo albums. Some from a place of ego, trying to impress others, and some from the heart, trying to express myself. I’ve been gifted with the opportunity to not only enjoy music but also to participate in a variety of musical experiences with hundreds of amazing artists. Recently I have been performing with Katherine Wheatley and Tannis Slimmon, two of my favourite Canadian voices. We perform as a trio called Boreal. I love when we get into a groove and our voices ring together perfectly. The experience is so profound that, at times during rehearsals, we need to take a moment for breathing or crying. It reminds me of my days in the choir. Pure magic.
My latest solo album, “I have no idea what I’m doing” was recorded with the album title in mind. If I seriously have no idea what I’m doing, why not just let go and play? This album was recorded in my home studio and I savoured every minute of the process. Many talented friends came by, one by one, to carefully record parts for each song. The experience as a producer taught me to wait for the “goosebump” moments to arrive. It became an exciting waiting game...always curious as to when and how it would happen. Amazingly, it happened, at least once, with every artist who was involved in the project. This playful anticipation was reminiscent of how it had all begun with my dad’s crazy songs and the giant stand-up piano in our home on 2nd Avenue.
So, cheers to music, friendship, laughter and tears. May you free your own howling wolf. May you sing with wild abandon. May wonderful memories return to you often. And may the songs you sing with friends be reintroduced to you over and over again throughout the years in this curious and magnificent experience called life.