The Song American Pie, don’t you ever had a moment to think what is behind all these persona and events mentioned? Well, I had made my way through it and tried to put up all the pieces of this puzzling song which has really been until now. This page is solely made for the interpretation of the song “American Pie” by Don McLean. I want to dedicate this page personally to the composer of the song, Don McLean himself for sharing to us this great song to ponder and think of the current issues we are facing or have faced through the years.
The song “American Pie” is really an intriguing song which had aroused my mind every time I hear its lyrics and tune. I heard the music for several times in my youth and I later gave notice to it when I was given a task to search for famous personalities who share the same birthday as me. I came up with the name of Don McLean in my research which gave me a question of who he really is. I listed his songs and downloaded most of it. As I listened to every song, there were really great poetic lines that made me drop a tear from my eyes. He had opened my appreciation to classic rock songs of his time. I was also thankful that we coincidentally have the same birthday which in relation to my project I had learned more about him and his marvelous songs. Now “American Pie,” this title made me laugh because the only American Pie I know was the liberated college life film thriving at present time. I tried to hear the song if they were really connected but it turned out to be way different from the film sharing its same title. The song was really very long but every line had struck my emotions, trying to tell something to me which I found a hard time to figure out. This challenged me so I tried to find its lyrics and point out the meaning of each line using my analytic power for the meaning of each line and the internet for the background of each personality mentioned in the song. I also attempted to search directly for the meaning but unfortunately the internet does not also know the complete story of the song and until now it is still debated by the masses. Even Don McLean did not give the story behind it, just comments like “It means I never have to work again.” Well, this was really a big question mark for me and I had to read through the lyrics to find the passageway to the meaning of the song.
The 1st two verses were yet the simplest in form of all the lines in the song. This was like the entrance to the song where the narrator tells a story. A long long time ago meant a setting of time. The singer was like the narrator of the story he is gonna tell to its listeners. I looked for the release date of the song which was 1971. So I thought the 1st line situated the story before that year which was the 60’s or 50’s. The singer tells us that he still remembers these sweet old days of his during that period, the prosperity after the war, the emergence of rock and roll and many other events in history. He generally mentioned music and how it made him smile and let the people dance. My own personal view of that time was I think may be the best era of the world where the war had ended and technology was still not present during that time but there was music and dancing to allure the people. As I reached the 2nd verse, I approached on a big “BUT” which contradicted to the statements on the 1st verse. He had mentioned February and bad news, which I think there had been an incident during that time that made an end to this great era. I looked on the net for some info relating to Don Mclean, the month of February and a bad news before the 1970s relating to music. I found out that there was really an event that gave tears to our dear singer; it was the death of Buddy Holly and his band in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. This gave me a clear starting point on where I was going through the song. Buddy Holly and his band as I found out was one of the pioneers of Rock and Roll and influenced bands like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Rolling stones in the 1960’s. The narrator really let out his emotion and mourning of the news that sprung toward him. The 3rd verse told the happenings of the said event. How Buddy Holly’s wife became a widow at a very young age. The tragedy was really awful and shed tears reading and watching at his wife’s interview by Don himself. The loss of a friend and colleague was really the worst event that happened in Don’s career so he concluded that these pioneers were not only musicians but music itself that died which was on the last line of this verse.
Now moving on to the chorus, the title was mentioned clearly. It was Miss American pie being bid goodbye. Miss American pie might be America itself, how America life changes after the death of these great legends. Then after being bid goodbye, the singer went to the levee in a chevy. Chevrolet was one of the famous autos during the 50s and it symbolized American living as to what I saw in movies which were situated during the 50s. The levee is riverbank which suggested a place of romance but the proceeding line mentioned that the levee has gone dry. I think it meant that romance has dried out and all hearts were broken after that bitter incident. Problems in life are really hard to fix and we often resort to drinking to loosen all the problems in the mind. Some would also resort to suicide which was on the words on the last line of the chorus.
The next set of verses after the 1st chorus was a start of moving on towards a new day, a new beginning in life and love since it was lost on the 1st verses. The book of love being mentioned really suggested that the lines were about love itself to a woman. But the narrator, which was the man who loves the persona of the woman, gave her a question of faith and loyalty. Faith is seen through the mentioning God above, the Bible and the mortal soul. The singer asks the girl a few questions of faith in God and the Bible. During the 50s, Christianity prevailed America because of how they won the war and how they became the land of liberty and freedom. The far out question made by the singer was the question if the girl could dance real slow. My dear teacher mentioned about dance in the west which she said was fast and in a hurry but before it reached ton its present image; it was once slow and romantic in Don McLean’s time. The girl now rejected the singer in a how that he finds her dancing with someone else. Dance during their time was the most romantic setting of love at that time even in present time. I remember myself during our JS promenade, how I saw hearts grew and hearts shatter because of the infamous dancing. I see girls express how they like the person they are dancing with at the dance floor. I clearly relate to these lines of the song because I too, lost hope of love because of someone better than me courting also the one I am courting. Loneliness is now suggested on the last lines before the next chorus. The singer was really out of luck in love because of how the music died, he is not able to move on unlike what the girl had done. The girl was clearly America herself, since the female persona mentioned previously was Miss American Pie. At the approach of the 60s a great revolution of music is shown especially in rock and roll. It started to become what rock and roll is at present time far different from classic rock which was slow and romantic.
The 3rd set of verses was now about the world of music since there were a few musicians mentioned in these set of lines. The 1st line starts with a NOW which suggests that it was now on the present time after telling the story of the singer’s past. We now go back to the 1970s where it was really a decade after the plane crash. The singer was now on his own since he was left by his music which had died a decade ago and his girl leaving him for another man which represents present rock in that era. I found a significant paradox at the 2nd line “And moss grows fat on a rolling stone.” This was from a cliché where it is said that a rolling stone gathers no moss but on the emergence of that era, the moss could now grow on the rolling stone. I could relate this to what my teacher said that people from the west tries to defy gravity which also on the cliché, they defied nature and let moss grow on a rolling stone. The 70s was a prominent age of history where a new age of rock appeared and how science tried to defy the laws of nature. During the 50s, it was impossible, but now at this time in the song they made the impossible possible. The next lines were quite tricky because it was a set of representations depicting a situation during the medieval era where there were kings and queens and jesters. A jester was a trickster in the royal court and wanted to take over the power of the King. I started to associate the jester as a rebel since the 60s was an emergence of rebellion and protest against powerful forces. But who is James Dean? And why is his coat very significant in the line? This needed the internet so I searched for “James Dean’s coat” on Yahoo. I found a picture of Bob Dylan wearing James Dean’s coat. Again, I asked myself who is Bob Dylan? Yes, I know him; he was the singer of Tambourine Man which my teacher asked to search for. His voice was very sharp and thus giving him a unique identity because of that. James Dean was actually not a singer as I think he would be but an actor who was famous because of his movie “A Rebel Without a Cause.” This let me conclude a relation between the two as images of rebellion during that time. But since James Dean was not a singer, and only Bob Dylan was, so I think he was the Jester being described in the song where James Dean supported the image of rebellion on him through his iconic coat. Now the action came in when the Jester stole the crown of the King. Bob Dylan did not want to get the power of the government because he was a musician, but he may get the power of music and change it and make it his own as what his unique voice has started. So the King was likely Elvis Presley no doubt but the Queen, I really do not know who she is. No verdict was returned of the crime that the Jester made, meaning that until present, he still holds the King’s crown without receiving punishment for his act. After this line, my idol John Lennon was mentioned reading a book of Marx. Karl Marx in our Sociology class, was the father of social conflict, revealing social inequality in society. Lennon was not further mentioned on the next line but a quartet. In our humanities lesson on Music, a quartet is a group of musicians consisting 4 members. This suggested that the quartet was a band, and there was no other band that Lennon belongs to other then the Beatles. The Beatles, being an avid fan of theirs was I think one of the bands which followed through the flow of change in rock. Their song entitled 1964 written in the early 60s is far different from their song Let it be during the early 70s. The Beatles still stayed on rock and roll but moved along with the revolution of rock and roll. The Beatles were one of the primary influences of Buddy Holly and Elvis but now they moved on to another era of music leaving out the old with songs that fought for equality and rebellion.
The 4th set of verses was full of violence due to the emergence of rebellious America. The lines started mentioning a hot summer where birds flew off with a shelter. The shelter they meant was I think a shelter to keep them safe from the violence in which they are starting to sense on that summertime. The lines then depicted a football game. Life during that time was like a football game that time. The football field is like a battlefield during that time. From the peaceful war free 50s is the emergence of war, civil war and war against Asian countries which was the Vietnam war. The youth is also prominent in this era since they now showed acts of rebellion, against their parents and even their country. A marching band was also mentioned since they played between games to give a break from the battle occurring at the field. The band was the musicians of the new age of music, trying to counter the war. The Beatles were very involved in trying to counter the war through creating a culture of making peace, not war. But along with love and peace, they also brought up drugs in their songs like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, representing LSD, a famous drug present during that time. Drugs became an influence to music at that time where it really showed that it was POISONED due to the loss of the original rock and roll music.
The 5th set of verses now depicts the poisoning of the mind of the youth by Satan’s spell. The object of evil at that time was drugs because of the influence of music. The gathering mentioned I think was a concert or it could be Woodstock held during that time where there were thousands of young people gathered in one place to hear the new rock and roll, drinking, smoking and taking in drugs. Because of this addiction, they became lost in space and stuck on an era where they are now referred to as drug induced as hippies. The singer started to lose his temper at this point of the song where he clenched his fists as he saw Satan and his devils conquering the stage and using music as their object of evil to the youth. That is why Satan laughed in delight at this incident which was because the day the music died. The songs were also becoming Satanic where the image of rock is now labeled until today. Bands like the Rolling Stones were they had claimed they were the prophets of Satan and following them will lead you to hell. The sacrifice mentioned was maybe the numerous acts of people being occurring in their concerts. One of my teachers in high school shared this story to me about how violence and the devil were very prominent and famous figures during the 60s. Christianity was stained and lost during this time which was a tragic event in America and also the Philippines since we too were influence by America during that time.
We now reach to the final set of verses of the song showing the effects of what Satan has done to America during the said events. America was now unstable because of the incidents and happy news was like a miracle during that time. The end of the 60s, many singers and musicians under their rock and roll revolution slowly died one by one due to overdose, suicide or murder. The girl was maybe part of the revolution but unfortunately she died during that time. She just gave a smile to the singer and walked away. The smile seems to me like a realization of the refurnishing of original rock because their deaths seem to say that rock and roll was not like it used to be before. Then the singer goes to the sacred store which was probably the record store in which his favorite music during his youth wouldn’t play anymore or it could be the church where the sweet songs of Christ would not play because the people now lost faith towards the church. Chaos was describes in the proceeding lines where children screamed, lovers cried but there were poets who dreamed. I think that they dreamed to make music to lift up the good old American spirit that had died as the 60s had passed by. But there were still things that stopped these poets from speaking. It was the chaos present in which could endanger their lives that is why they just remained dreaming. The church was once again mentioned as to it is broken since the reign of Satan in America. Three people the singer admires most, they may not obviously be the Father, Son and Holy Ghost only since Don really gave the song many representations and would be strange for him to mention who they were in the next line. I think that they were one of the trios admired most by the singer since he is faithful to the church but the church was broken and so for they moved away to the coast, or another place that the Church could grow in faith. Another set of trios came up my mind in that time. What about the trio that died on the start of the song? Holly, Valens and Bopper whom the singer really admires because of their music could also be the one referred to. Another trio I think could be is the three heroes of the masses which fought for human rights during their time. All three were assassinated during that time because of their advocacy. They were Martin Luther King, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, three people who faced the violent deaths in their fight against inequality and the conflicts of society. Well, who knows who these three people mentioned by the singer were.
As I said, these representations are not from the singer itself but by the perception and view of what I could see between the lines of his song. Like the Persistence of Memory painted by Salvador Dali who never gave a word behind his paintings, here stand Don McLean who never spoke a hint for more than 40 years behind his song which until know still moves on with debates and interpretations. The song’s verses as I took and marked each significant line are like puzzle pieces but they were incomplete. My brain is quite drained from the level of analysis that McLean gave to me. The 60s was a turning point of American living in the history of the world. This was also the rise of how music was influential in society and culture. Oh how I so dream to live during the 50s as how McLean had described in his song. But I want to ride a train to the coast if the 60s will give a period on the sentences of the 50s. America was a great place before but now it has changed and revolted as what music made it. Music became the puppeteer of the puppet which was America or in the song Miss American Pie. I could clearly see why music is really in complement of culture and living of people in a society and nation.