Home>Highlight>The O’Toole Chronicles: Korean Style American Pie

South Korean President Yook Suk Yeol sings American Pie at the White House on April 25, 2023. (Photo: C-SPAN).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Korean Style American Pie

By Kevin O'Toole, May 09 2023 12:01 am

The world recently witnessed something special, and I’m not sure everyone paid enough attention.

Last month the South Korean President, Yoon Suk-Yeol, was welcomed by President Joe Biden to the White House. What was striking was that these two leaders had a seemingly cordial and friendly relationship, a genuine affection for one another. We don’t see enough of this anymore.

In stark contrast to the rage politics that has descended upon us as of late, both nationally and abroad, it was cool to see two world leaders having a civil and friendly conversation, showing the world some fun as they engaged in friendly banter. Where did all this statesmanship go? That is a whole different discussion.

Getting back to this meeting of two political allies, and unless I missed it, the meeting was devoid of secret negative messaging and devoid of threats. It had the appearance of two friends getting together for a good time. The world needs to see more of this reassuring behavior and conduct from our leaders.

After some playful back and forth between these two leaders, the usual morphed into the land of strange and unusual. President Biden asked his South Korean counterpart if, in fact, the rumor was true that he liked the song, American Pie by Don Mclean. The visiting President looked a little surprised when President Biden handed him the microphone. What was the right move?

Unless this was prearranged, I’m not a huge fan of putting a friend on the spot and asking them to sing impromptu in front of millions of people.  But the State Department typically works these things out in advance.

President Yoon Suk-Yeol was amazing as he listened to his translator interpret the presidential request. Without missing a beat, the shy visiting President graciously received the microphone that was offered, and he said it has been a while since he sang this song, one he sang when a student, but that was a long time ago.  He then kicked it like nothing else – all acapella…

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 new on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about the widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

The President blew the doors off and the usual stiff and dignified guests in the White House acted like they were at a Bruce Springsteen concert. They thought that he was going to just sing a line or two, but they erupted when he flawlessly sang the entire first verse, all from memory. WOW.

Immediately, many had a real connection to this President turned singer. By this one act he showcased guts, determination, and a humanity that was gladly welcomed. He showed a self-deprecating warmness and sincerity that couldn’t be faked. Which politician wouldn’t want to replicate this priceless success and connectivity?

The impromptu signing was an internet sensation and the political levity and fun was a shot heard round the world. Leaders in politics could learn a lot from this one gesture. For that matter, the world around us can learn a lot from this spontaneous activity. Life is moving fast, and maybe we should add a bunch of fun and collegiality, even with people that we may not totally love.

Just saying.


Spread the news: