Weird Al Summarizes “The Phantom Menace”

If you are like me, you may be or have been re-watching all or some of the Star Wars movies to get ready for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Of course, everyone loves Star Wars (A New Hope) (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983). And maybe you do not mind Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). But what if you really do not want again to watch The Phantom Menace (1999), generally considered the worse of the lot?

Fortunately, we have a solution from Weird Al Yankovic, who summarized Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in his song “The Saga Begins,” which appeared on his 1999 album Running with Scissors. Set to the tune of Don McLean’s epic “American Pie,” Yankovic’s parody song presents the story from the point of view of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

“The Saga Begins” is pretty funny in the way it rhymes all of the strange Star Wars locations like Boss Nass, Coruscant, Naboo, and Tatooine. More surprisingly, Yankovic does a really excellent job of covering the plot points. And of course there is that memorable “American Pie” tune that just makes us want to sing along.

Oh my my, this here Anakin guy,
Maybe Vader someday later, now he’s just a small fry;
He left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye,
Sayin’, “Soon I’m gonna be a Jedi, soon I’m gonna be a Jedi”

Weird Al also made a cool video to go with the song. Maybe you do not want to watch The Phantom Menace because there is too much Jar Jar Binks or because that kid’s pod race goes on way too long. Maybe you just think the movie is irrelevant to the series or that the film is a “failure on every possible level.” Or maybe you loved the move. Either way, you probably will enjoy Weird Al Yankovic’s “The Saga Begins.”

What is your favorite Star Wars film? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • All Six “Star Wars” Movies At Once
  • The Star Wars Holiday Special 1978
  • Imagining a Modern Trailer for “The Empire Strikes Back”
  • Don McLean Live at Glastonbury
  • Who Flipped a Coin With Ritchie Valens?: The Day the Music Died and the Coin Toss Controversy
  • The Day the Music Died & American Pie
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Don McLean Live at Glastonbury

    I recently discovered that YouTube features a number of full high quality performances from past Glastonbury Festivals in England. Some of the clips are of individual songs instead of full performances. There are some good ones of Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Buddy Guy, The Gaslight Anthem, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Regina Spektor and OK Go.

    For one that you might not expect, check out this 2011 performance by Don McLean, who of course performs “Vincent” and “American Pie.” Here is “Vincent.”

    And here is “American Pie.”

    To see Glastonbury performances from the other performers, head over to this YouTube link.

    What is or favorite YouTube concert? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Weird Al Summarizes “The Phantom Menace”
  • The First Farm Aid
  • Who Flipped a Coin With Ritchie Valens?: The Day the Music Died and the Coin Toss Controversy
  • The Day the Music Died & American Pie
  • This Week in Pop Culture Roundup (4 Dec. 2011 Edition)
  • Joan Baez in Concert
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Who Flipped a Coin With Ritchie Valens?: The Day the Music Died and the Coin Toss Controversy

    February 3 marks the anniversary of the day Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson, and Ritchie Valens perished in a plane crash. You probably know the general outline of “the day the music died.” But you may not know the controversy surrounding the legendary coin flip connected to the tragedy.

    The Day the Music Died

    In early 1959, Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and Dion and the Belmonts toured through the Midwest in what was called “The Winter Dance Party.” Also on the tour was Holly’s new back-up band replacing the Crickets: Tommy Allsup on guitar, Waylon Jennings on bass, and Carl Bunch on drums.

    Some of the performers were tired of traveling through the cold in an old bus that kept breaking down. The poor conditions led to drummer Bunch going to the hospital with frostbite. So Buddy Holly chartered a small plane for one of the upcoming trips on the tour.

    After their February 2, 1959 performance in Clear Lake, Iowa, three of the stars — Holly, Richardson, and Valens — boarded a three-passenger plane. The plane took off in the early morning hours of February 3 for Fargo, North Dakota but soon crashed in a snow storm.

    All three passengers were killed along with the pilot Roger Peterson. The young rock and roll music industry lost three of its brightest stars.

    The Competing Claims About a Coin Toss

    Although the story is familiar, there is still an ongoing question. Besides Holly, how did Richardson and Valens end up on the plane instead of the other headliner, Dion, or instead of other band members?

    Stories conflict about the events that night before the flight. Everyone agrees there was a coin toss. But survivors still debate who was the person who barely missed getting on a plane ride to their death, all due to the luck of a coin flip.

    Holly’s former band members tell one story. But Dion wrote in his book The Wanderer Talks Truth (2011) that the events “have been completely eclipsed by urban legends, cinematic retellings, gossip, and outright grandstanding.” (p. 41).

    Who is telling the truth? Let’s consider the different versions of the story.

    On a Behind the Music episode, “The Day the Music Died,” the producers presented the story that Buddy Holly planned for the airplane to the next stop on the tour for him and his two musicians, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup. In the video, Waylon Jennings explains how he gave up his seat on the plane to the ailing Big Bopper (around 9:50). Jennings recounts that Holly had ribbed him about taking the bus. Jennings responded, jokingly, “I hope your ole plane crashes,” a retort that haunted him for years.

    In the same episode, guitarist Tommy Allsup recounts how when he went inside to make sure they did not leave anything behind, he ran into Ritchie Valens.  Then, Valens asked Allsup if he could take Allsup’s seat on the plane. Allsup then claims he flipped a coin, and Valens won the seat on the ill-fated plane.

    In other venues, Tommy Allsup repeated his version of the story of the coin toss that he lost to Ritchie Valens.

    Bob Hale, the emcee at the Surf Ballroom in Iowa for the last Winter Dance Party show before the plane crash, has a similar recollection. Hale remembers that Allsup suggested the coin flip. But Hale recalls that he was the one who flipped the coin for Allsup and Valens.  Hale remembers that Valens won by calling “heads.”

    Allsup, however, argues that Hale was not present at the coin flip. [February 2013 Update: See the comments section below for Mr. Hale’s comment on this post.][January 2017 Update: Tommy Allsup passed away on January 11, 2017.]

    Dion has yet another version of the events leading to the plane ride. According to Dion’s website:

    “Dion was, in fact, scheduled to fly in the fateful plane that went down. The headliners flipped a coin to see who was going to fly. The Big Bopper and Dion won the toss. Then he discovered that the flight would cost $36 — the exact amount of rent his parents paid monthly. He said, ‘I couldn’t bring myself to pay a full month’s rent on a short flight. So I said, ‘Ritchie, you go.’ He accepted and took my seat. Only the four of us knew who was getting on that plane when we left the dressing room that night. Of those four, I was the only one who survived beyond February 3, 1959.'”

    In his book The Wanderer Talks Truth, Dion explains that through the years he watched others (presumably Allsup who he never names) exaggerate their role.  Dion asserts that he only came forward to correct history when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame contacted him about the conflicting stories.

    Filmmakers created a documentary about the tour that includes Dion’s memories. 2015 Update: The Winter Dance Party video interview with Dion has been completed and is posted below. Dion’s explanation of the coin toss involving Holly, Vallens, the Big Bopper, and him begins at around 42:20, although the entire video is worth watching for his memories of the tour.

    Allsup has threatened to “whip [Dion’s] ass for claiming he participated in the coin toss with Valens.  Sometimes Allsup’s anger about the dispute unnecessarily digresses to attacking Dion’s musical talents.

    Readers of this blog know I am a Dion fan, so I hate to believe that he is lying. And to a large extent, it has been curious that as the fourth headliner he is often excluded in discussions of the fated tour.

    Then again, one may give some weight to Ritchie Valens’s sister, Connie Valens Lemos. She sides with Tommy Allsup on the issue.

    The Movie Versions of the Coin Flip

    The two major films about two of the stars on the tour do not add any insight. The Buddy Holly Story (1978) avoided the issue altogether. That movie ends with Buddy Holly on stage in Clear Lake, Iowa on the fateful night, playing his hits and having fun on stage.

    At the end of The Buddy Holly Story, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper join Holly on stage for the final song, leaving us with a happy moment. As in many retellings of the story, the film does not mention the fourth headliner, Dion.

    The film about Ritchie Valens, La Bamba (1987), also excludes all mention of Dion. A scene of a marquee on the final tour does not even show Dion’s name.

    La Bamba takes some additional literary license with the events leading up to the flight. Regarding the coin toss, in the first mention of the planned flight, the Big Bopper tells Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips) that Holly reserved the plane for the headliners. This conversation in the film is consistent with Dion’s story.

    But later in the movie La Bamba, it shows the group standing next to the plane. There, Holly explains he is flipping a coin to decide whether Ritchie or “Tommy” gets to go. “Tommy” is also called “Allsup” in the scene, so the movie follows the Allsup-Valens coin toss story.  But La Bamba moves the private toss between the two men to one conducted by Holly on the airfield. Allsup has criticized the movie’s fictionalized version of the coin flip.

    What Really Happened?

    Is Allsup telling the truth? And did Dion’s imagination insert the singer deeper into the story of “the day the music died”? It is easy to imagine a toll on Dion from decades of hearing about the music dying when he survived.  For decades that tour headliner has been completely excluded from the legendary tale in many retellings.

    Or is Dion telling the truth, which would mean that Allsup and Waylon Jennings are wrong? And what about Hale’s version that he flipped the coin?

         Arguments Supporting Allsup’s Version

    Between Allsup and Dion, there is no way to way to be sure who is telling the truth. But some factors weigh in favor of Allsup. Since Holly arranged for the flight, it seems like he might first ask his friends and band-mates Allsup and Jennings.  This conclusion makes sense considering the band had lost drummer Carl Bunch for awhile due to to frostbite.

    Also, Allsup’s wallet was found among the wreckage.  Allsup explains that  before the coin toss, he had planned to go on the flight. So he gave Holly his identification so Holly could pick up his mail waiting in Fargo. Still, even if Allsup had not planned to fly at some point, he could have given his wallet to Holly for the same reason.

    One strong argument for Allsup is that he consistently has told the same story since the crash. And most stories by other people are largely consistent with Allsup’s version of the coin flip. Bob Hale confirms that the coin flip involved Allsup and Valens, even though Allsup and Hale disagree about who actually flipped the coin. Jennings’ story also is more consistent with Allsup’s.

    Jennings’s story about Allsup seems truthful because he would have no motivation to make up a story that makes him look bad with his joking taunt about the plane crashing. Still, under Dion’s version, Jennings and Holly still could have had the exchange even if Jennings had not been one of the original passengers.

         Arguments Supporting Dion’s Version

    On the other hand, some reasons support Dion’s version of events. Holly might have asked the headliners first, expecting they most likely would be willing to have the money for the expensive flight.

    Also, according to Larrry Lehmer’s book, The Day the Music Died, Holly had asked Jennings to open for him in England but told Jennings that he was not going to tour in England with Allsup because he was going to get back together with his original Crickets. So maybe Allsup would not be the first person Holly would ask on the flight.

    There are other reasons why Holly might have first invited the headliners. For example, Valens and Richardson were both sick, so Holly might have asked them first, then included the other headliner, Dion.

    Waylon Jennings does remember that Dion was especially angry about the poor conditions of the bus that kept breaking down (Lehmer, p. 67). Thus, Holly might have thought that Dion would be the first to jump at the chance to fly. And Holly played drums for Dion for their last show, so they might have talked about the flight.

    Finally, there are questionable reports that Holly, Valens, and Richardson flew in a plane on some legs of the tour before the fateful trip. (Lehmer, p. 224) If true, it seems Holly was flying with the headliners, not his band members. If true, that practice would support the conclusion that Dion was invited on the final flight. On the other hand, many dispute the stories about other flights and even Dion does not remember any other flights.

    Trying to Put It All Together

    Larry Lehmer’s well-researched book is in the Allsup camp, recounting the version from Jennings and Allsup without mentioning the Dion controversy. Lehmer also quotes Carroll Anderson, the manager of the Surf lounge and the person who first contacted the pilot Roger Peterson, as saying that Holly said he wanted to get a flight for him and his band. (p. 95.)

    Maybe some combination of the stories is true. Maybe there was a coin toss among all of the men and Allsup and Dion both “lost” out on seats of the plane.

    Or maybe there were two coin tosses. Under both Allsup’s and Dion’s stories their coin tosses happened in different places at different times. Under this scenario, maybe Dion had a seat that he declined because of the cost.  Then later there could have been a coin flip between Valens and Allsup.

    Buddy Holly’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, similarly has suggested some merging of the two stories.  But it is reported that Allsup also has attacked the character of Ms. Holly too.

    If that is not enough controversy for the day, some people claim that the plane crash itself should be re-investigated. Some go as far to say that foul play was involved in the crash. But we will leave those “mysteries” for another day.

    Of course, the only people who know how these passengers were selected are Tommy Allsup, Dion, and Ritchie Valens. Whatever happened, the survivors’ trauma of hearing the news of the crash probably affected memories. Thus, it is likely both Allsup and Dion actually remember the story in different ways.  Neither of the men is probably intentionally lying.

    So that leaves Ritchie Valens. But unfortunately he is no longer with us and buried in California. Richardson was buried in Beaumont, Texas, although his body was exhumed in 2007, underwent an autopsy, and reburied. Holly is buried in Lubbock, and the pilot Peterson is buried in Iowa.

    Ultimately, to paraphrase Don McLean’s “American Pie,” all of this arguing about the coin toss just may be keeping Satan laughing with delight. It may not matter who lost the coin toss that night, as those who won the toss and those who were on the plane constituted our great national loss.

    What do you think happened with the coin toss? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • The Day the Music Died & American Pie
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    The Day the Music Died & American Pie

    On this date of February 3 in 1959, a small plane crashed in a cornfield near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing the pilot Roger Peterson along with his famous passengers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. The three were on “The Winter Dance Party” tour throughout the Midwest, a tour that also included Dion and a young bass player named Waylon Jennings. The tour traveled by bus, but for the trip to Moorhead, Minnesota, the three performers chartered a plane.

    In the future, Chimesfreedom plans to revisit more of the story, but for today check out this cool video that someone put together for Don McLean‘s song, “American Pie.” The song is celebrating its fortieth anniversary, as around this time in 1972 following the song’s release a few months earlier on Nov. 27, 1971, the song had climbed the charts so you could not turn on the radio without hearing “American Pie.”

    Through the years, McLean has been notoriously vague about specific meanings of the imagery in the song, but it is widely accepted that the opening and refrain of the song centers on his memories of hearing about the death of the three singers in the plane crash. In his memory, he wondered what would happen to rock and roll after such a great loss, which led to an era of Pat Boone and Fabian songs. Of course, now we know, unfortunately, that rock an roll has survived many such losses since then, but these were the early days. Anyway, the video does a good job of explaining some of the imagery, and even if it is not 100% correct about the images, it provides an interesting interpretation to much of the song. Check it out.

    What do you think “American Pie” means? What is your favorite song by Buddy Holly or the others? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Who Flipped a Coin With Ritchie Valens?: The Day the Music Died and the Coin Toss Controversy
  • Weird Al Summarizes “The Phantom Menace”
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  • This Week in Pop Culture Roundup (4 Dec. 2011 Edition)
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    This Week in Pop Culture Roundup (4 Dec. 2011 Edition)

    In case you have been preoccupied having seizures from watching The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 — or you have been preparing to suspend you campaign for president — or if you were busy writing a speech for a governor apologizing to a teenager, here are some of the pop culture stories you might have missed.

    —— Music ——

    Don McLean revealed where he wrote and first performed “American Pie,” refuting a local legend.

    In Grammy news, Adele, Kanye West, Bruno Mars, and Foo Fighters led the Grammy nominations. In other Grammy news, some pondered whether or not the Beach Boys will reunite at the Grammys. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane was nominated for two Grammys and will compete with Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand. Finally, Sugarland joined Lady Gaga for a rousing performance of “You and I” at the Grammy Nominations Concert this week.

    In another cool collaboration, Bruce Springsteen appeared on stage with Bob Seger last week for some old time rock and roll. Blogness has the story and video.

    John Lennon’s to-do list went up for auction. All you need is . . . more marmalade.

    Andrea True, singer of “More More More (How Do You Like It?),” passed away earlier this month.

    You may listen to the new CD from the Roots, “undun,” on NPR’s website.

    Hanson (i.e., The Hanson Brothers) are developing a beer named. . . “MMMHop.” I’m guessing the beer will stay with you for a long time in the same way the catchy song does.

    The Los Angeles Times reviewed Willie Nelson’s new CD, “Remember Me, Vol. 1.”

    In touring news, George Michael cancelled the remaining dates of his tour to recover from pneumonia. Meanwhile, The Red Hot Chili Peppers announced their first U.S. tour in nearly five years, starting Jan. 25.

    It’s “either a misprint or a satire.” — Elvis Costello, commenting on $339.98 box set of a Costello performance.

    The New York Times
    reviewed a new biography of Ahmet Ertegun, the great founder and president of Atlantic Records.

    Watch the ten films for the ten songs on Bon Iver’s self-titled album, released this week in a deluxe edition.

    —— Movies ——

    The Sound of Music has found a new life in movie theaters as a sing-a-long event.

    This week, Retraunaut posted some cool behind-the-scenes photos from Planet of the Apes (1967) of the “apes” hanging out. reviewed Cameron Crowe’s new movie We Bought a Zoo.

    In honor of the director’s latest film, Salon featured a slide show of Martin Scorsese’s greatest films.

    A new book recounts how actress Hedy Lamarr contributed to the cell phone technology we use today.

    The New York Times
    reviewed the new DVD and Blu-ray of the classic and controversial film, Birth of a Nation.

    Ken Russell, the director of Tommy, The Devils, and Altered States passed away. Watching each of those films in the movie theater were memorable events for me. RIP Mr. Russell.

    New pictures were released of the fictional Mars in the upcoming John Carter.

    Fans discussed how the possible Before Sunrise/Before Sunset sequel should go.

    I was sorry to hear that Roger Ebert’s recent incarnation of At the Movies is going on hiatus. I enjoyed the show.

    —— Other Pop Culture News ——

    The Waltons reunited on The Today Show for their 40th Anniversary.

    In The Office news, now you may buy Dunder Mifflin copy paper. Also, Stanley from The Office (Leslie David Baker) made a music video. In sadder Office-related news, comedian Patrice O’Neal, who also appeared periodically on The Office, passed away last week from complications of a stroke. RIP.

    The Fantastic Four
    are turning 50.

    The inventor of the Jenos pizza roll and Chun King canned Chinese food, Jeno Paulucci, died on Thanksgiving. Chun King was the only time I encountered Chinese food as a kid, and, well, I have enjoyed several meals of nothing but pizza rolls. RIP Mr. Paulucci.

    What were your thoughts on the pop culture stories of the week? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • This Week in Pop Culture Roundup (Nov. 12, 2011)
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