In January, MainStreet.com named Grand Rapids, Michigan, 10th on its list of America's "dying cities." It's possible nobody would have ever learned about this dubious distinction, but Newsweek picked up the story on its website, giving folks living in the Midwestern city -- and nearby Detroit and Flint -- something to be bummed about in addition to massive unemployment and home foreclosures.
To prove they're still thriving and have the same taste in classic rock as Madonna, 5,000 residents of Grand Rapids turned to the power of music and motivated to break the world record for largest lip dub on May 22nd, lip synching to Don McLean's sombre "American Pie."
"We disagreed strongly [with the article] and wanted to create a video that encompasses the passion and energy we all feel is growing exponentially in this great city," the clip's director and executive producer Rob Bliss wrote in a statement posted on YouTube (via Buzzfeed). "We felt Don McLean's 'American Pie,' a song about death, was in the end, triumphant and filled to the brim with life and hope." McLean's 1971 track is indeed morbid -- it chronicles the tragic 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (known as "The Day the Music Died") and makes references to the deadly 1969 Altamont free concert where a Hells Angel stabbed a Rolling Stones fan. "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" it's not, but it is good for a vigorous dorm-room sing-along.
Bliss wrote that the nearly nine-minute video is the longest and largest of its type -- take that Today show and Emerson College! -- cost $40,000 provided by local sponsors, and involved a near total shutdown of the city's downtown. The one-take, one-camera video set to an acoustic version of the song is indeed a huge survey of the city's landscape, featuring four fire trucks, a wedding, a marching band, kayaks, and about a million amateur acoustic guitar players (that's a rough estimate, but if the car manufacturing business in Michigan is slumping, the cheap acoustic guitar trade is thriving).
Our favorite moments:
• Giant pillow fight at 2:17
• Guy carving an ice sculpture with a chainsaw at 3:48
• Football team literally trying for a forward pass at 4:49
• Nerf gun attack at 6:16
• Helicopter that hovers above the whole scene at 8:30
"It's a remarkable video that truly shows off the sense of community and pride of Grand Rapids residents and we at MainStreet were genuinely moved by it," MainStreet.com wrote on Friday. Newsweek also issued a response to the video to clarify that the magazine hadn't compiled the intial dying-cities list, but published it "as part of a content sharing deal." Film critic Roger Ebert called the clip "The greatest music video ever made" on his blog.
We'd call it impressive in scope and enthusiastic in spirit. But the best lip dubs require total commitment to looking goofy and performing wacky feats and the Grand Rapids crew look like they're holding back, letting the massive size of the production provide the wow factor. Also, according to the most recent census information available online, at least 20 percent of Grand Rapids' 193,000 residents are African-American, a demographic fact that's not evident in the video. But as far as indigant responses to magazine lists go, this is an unprecedented feat -- see what you could have done, Black Keys?
- Grand Rapids
- Don McLean