Having thought and read about American Pie for two days now....
Why? That's what my hubby asks.
Why? I reply. Until I looked at those lyrics, I had never realized that this is quite an interesting song. I was hooked, and heck I had the time to spend analyzing! I notice it has been interpreted by others. Clearly there is something to this song that interests people. So, I am going to throw my two pennies in. ;)
The song is clearly retrospective and introspective in the beginning. The writer is reminiscing.
Fond memories of music he loved and how he wanted to make people dance.
"A long, long time ago"
Then something happened that shook his world, it is the death of Buddy Holly in Feb. 1959.
"But February made me shiver"
Buddy Holly left behind his bride of just 6 months who also happened to be 2 months pregnant.
"When I read about his widowed bride"
He will revisit the theme of death, not necessarily of individuals, throughout the song
"The day the music died"
He then recounts some of the music from the '50's
He also touches on the conflict between music and religion.
Presenting it as an either/or.
"And do you have faith in God above,
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock �n roll,
Can music save your mortal soul"
The song moves through 1959 to 1969
But not only that, it introduces the Jester to us and give us an hint of what is yet to come. The Jester is Bob Dylan. He symbolizes the emergence of folk music in that 10 year period "How does it feel, to be on your own, Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone
"Now for ten years we�'ve been on our own"
"And moss grows fat on a rollin'� stone"
The king and queen reference is interesting.
"But that'�s not how it used to be.
When the jester sang for the king and queen"
Some think it is Elvis and Connie Francis being usurped by Bob Dylan. I don't know? It seems strange at this point in the song to go back to the big hitmakers of the 50's.
What I see it as and the clue to me comes from a line that follows this next one.
"In a coat he borrowed from james dean"
This line from what I read makes mention of similar coats worn by James Dean and Bob Dylan
This is the clue line
"And a voice that came from you and me"
I interpret this as Bob Dylan playing the Jester's role of politically taking to task the King, often done under the guise of humour or entertainment.
It is Bob Dylan (the Jester) speaking to leaders, or the powerful in a voice of the people, a voice that came from you and me.
The jester stole his thorny crown.
This line, again touches on the religious. The thorny crown worn by Jesus. Usurped again by music, this time in the form of folk music. Not Buddy Holly, but Bob Dylan.
"And while lennon read a book of marx"
Some interpretations have that spelling as Lenin read a book of Marx, others as above postulating it as John Lennon. Either way, I see it as revolution, change is coming.
"The quartet practiced in the park,
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died."
Here I am going in another direction from the common interpretation which has most people saying this is the Beatles, I disagree.
This to me is the Rolling Stones.
Introduced to us in tandem with Bob Dylan.
Also connected to Buddy Holly through the song "Not Fade Away"
Before his death Buddy Holly had been taken with the R& B sound. (The song contains a Bo Didley riff) The song Not Fade Away, was written by Buddy Holly.
It was then covered and released by the Rolling Stones in 1964, 5 years after Buddy Holly's death. In the Stones video for Not fade away, we see Brian Jones, soon to be deceased Rolling Stones founding member, who died under very questionable circumstances.
The lyric above from American Pie is in my mind the concert in Hyde Park done by the Rolling Stones shortly after Brian Jones death. The four (quartet) remaining Stones held there funerary tribute in the park and the audience would have sang dirges (funeral songs, possibly until dark)
There were 250,000 thousand in attendance and Britian's Hell's Angels acted as security. This scenario will present itself in the upcoming lyrics of American Pie
"Helter skelter in a summer swelter"
This line was either ignored totally in some of the interpretations I saw, or again attributed to the Beatles. It is not about the Beatles. This is Manson & the Tate/LaBianca murders in July 1969. This is California, in the heat of the summer. The Beatles are secondary to this because Helter Skelter was scrawled on the walls, which did get them involved to an extent.
Like I said this is California and these next lines make it clear.
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter,
Eight miles high and falling fast.
It landed foul on the grass.
The players tried for a forward pass,
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast.
The birds in this song are the band, the Byrds, a band out of California, and a clear reference to their song "Eight miles high"
The Fall-out shelter is a reference to the nuclear delusions and madness of that era.
The Jester on the sidelines is Bob Dylan, referencing an accident he had had for one, but also sitting on the sidelines while the band the Byrds release his work, with electric guitars, thereby electrifying folk music and temporarily leaving Bob Dylan sidelined.
This next part of the lyrics are interesting. Some see Sargeant Peppers and the Beatles in it.
Others refer to Vietnam.
"Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune.
We all got up to dance, Oh, but we never got the chance! `
Cause the players tried to take the field;
The marching band refused to yield.
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?
The football field as the battleground, The Sargeants (military draft) calling the "marching" tune.
With the youth just wanting to be young, enjoy their youth and dance.
It could be the draft for Vietnam, but I think it is a battle between authority and freedom.
With freedom losing out. (the music dying)
The next two stanzas of the song clinch the end. The end of innocence, the end of the hippie movement, the crushing of the counterculture, and the anti-war movement. They all symbolically die at the Altamont Speedway. Where here again, we see familiar players.
Oh, and there we were all in one place,
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again.
So come on: jack be nimble, jack be quick!
Jack flash sat on a candlestick
Cause fire is the devil�s only friend.
Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in hell
Could break that satan�s spell.
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite, I saw satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
The free show at the Altamont Speedway. Jack Flash, is Mick Jagger. This is the 1969 tour of America, the Stones were rumoured to be mixed up with Satanists? Truth or Promotion, who really knows? On the "Get yer ya yas out' disc, recorded at Madison Square Gardens one can hear fans telling Mick Jagger to 'sing you devil'
Was Don Mclean present at the Altamont concert ? Was he jealous of Mick's performance? Hm?
He had moved to California prior to this time period.
"No Angel born in Hell" is referencing the security at the Altamont concert, provided by the US Hells Angels. Though there had been no problem with the "angels" at the Hyde Park show, the Altamont show was entirely a different story. The 'angels' were brutalizing the hippies, until during Sympathy for the Devil, Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by a member of the motorcycle gang. Despite what was happening in the audience the band played on and for the most part, the fans were mesmerized. This murder is noted as a sacrificial rite in the song American Pie. Was Don Mclean aware of the odd goings on in California at that time? The cults, the satanists? The music that died was more about the end of the counterculture movement in the '60's represented by the music of that era.
These next two parts describe the fall-out of the tumultuous decade that began in 1959 and end in 1969.
I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
Unsure if this is Janis Joplin? She most definitely did sing the blues. But how about Joni Mitchell, a folk singer. She released an album Blue in 1971, the same year Mclean released American Pie. Joni is also linked to David Crosby (Byrds) The Blue album was a rather grim, or stark and unhappy record .
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'�d heard the music years before,
But the man there said the music wouldn'�t play.
Who knows, maybe a favourite record store was no longer there? Being unable to reconnect with youthful innocence?
And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
Interesting, he describes all sorts of verbalisation's, screaming and crying, but no words being spoken. Silent disillusionment and broken spirits.
The church bells all were broken.
Even the bells held their silence. No death knells when the music died.
And the three men I admire most:
The father, son, and the holy ghost,
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.
Much debate on this part:
Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper ?
or JFK, RFK and MLK?
or the Holy Trinity?
It's tough. I would rule out Buddy Holly etc., at this point in the song. These last two stanza describe the fallout phase of that decade so they don't fit.
The three assasinations would work so that is possible.
Or is it the possibility of a religious revival born out of the death of the music? Mclean repeatedly touched on the theme of conflict between popular music and religion. Could he have thought that with the death of the music scene, that religion would fill the void?
Last but not least the chorus:
So bye-bye, miss american pie.
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin� whiskey and rye
Singin�, this�' ll be the day that I die.
this�' ll be the day that I die."
A wake. I saw someone else describe it as that. To me, it seems about right.
People sittin around drinking and reminiscing. Saying Good-bye to that which is gone.
Well that was alot of fun! I hope you enjoy the good tunes contained in the post!