Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A slice of pie

It was only last week that the conclusion of my round of 33 radiation treatments seemed as remote as the U.S. economy rebounding.

Then the radiation oncologists at Kaiser gave me the green light to bring my own CDs to play in the treatment room while getting radiation.

Now I'm fretting about the treatments zipping by too quickly. Twenty-two more sessions remain, and there's no way I'm gonna be able to cover all of the musical ground that I want to cover in such a short span of time.

I played a string of hits by Elvis Costello and the Attractions last Thursday, and early '70s Bob Dylan songs the following day.

The Dylan selections sparked a conversation between the two radiation oncologists about pop music in the '70s. While I sat immobile with my head locked inside my ThermaSplint mask, I heard one of them mention one of his favorite songs from that era, Don McLean's "American Pie."

Over the weekend, I spotted a copy of "American Pie" marked at $3.99 at Amoeba Music, so I picked it up.

When I walked into the treatment room on Monday, the radiation oncologist asked "Bring any tunes in today, Mr. Serchia?"

Office Map
I gave him my routine thumb's up and raised the "American Pie" CD.

He was delighted to pop the CD into the player. He said he used to own the 45 rpm single of "American Pie" –which split the eight-minute song into two halves– and it had been many years since he last heard it.

Just before leaving the room to begin my radiation session, he turned up the volume on the CD player and pressed play. Don McLean's melancholic voice drowned out the whirring and clacking of the radiation machine.

A long, long time ago
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while.

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn't take one more step.

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

After that mournful prologue about the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper in a 1959 plane crash, "American Pie" shifts into a jaunty mode. It was unavoidable on the radio in late 1971 and early 1972, and it still sounded pretty good to me as I laid on the treatment bed getting zapped with radiation.

The session went by quickly. After it ended, I buttoned up my shirt, dropped my frog into my ThermaSplint mask and handed it to the radiologist, and gave him a thumb's up.

When I placed the CD back into the tray and closed the cover, I realized that Don McLean was making that same thumb's up gesture.

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