The Day the Music Died: Part 1 – American Pie

31 Jan


….A long, long time ago….

Singer/song-writer, Don McLean penned one of the most recognizable songs ever recorded.  American Pie is part of our musical and American lexicon.  Not only does the song lament the change in music with the passing of Buddy Holly, but it catalogues the changes and additional “deaths” of music through the decade of the ’60s.  There is a real dichotomy in this era.  The mutation of music in the 1960s provided revolutionary new sounds, electric music and much different attitudes.  While many would look at this as positive progression, many also mourned the loss of the music of the past, as well as the innonence of the time.

  American Pie, Don McLean

McLean has never commented extensively on the meaning of the song, preferring to let the aire of mystique remain.  When asked what the song means, he generally gives the elusive answer of “It means I’ll never have to work again” or “It’s the story of America”.

For my personal experience, I spent many a high school night memorizing every word of every verse, rewinding my cassette recorder over and over again to get every word.  On the way home after a night out, my friends and I would pop the tape into the car cassette player and passionately belt out the lyrics.  I imagine that American Pie has been a staple on playlists across America for the last 35 years.

Perhaps the most eloquent explanation of American Pie is the original Rolling Stone review from ’72 by Lester Bangs:

Don McLean’s “American Pie” has ripped out of nowhere and taken the country by storm both in its album and truncated single versions. It took exactly two weeks to shoot to the top of the charts, everybody I know has been talking excitedly about it since first hearing, and, even more surprisingly, it has united listeners of musical persuasions as diverse as Black Sabbath and Phil Ochs in unbridled enthusiasm for both its message and it musical qualities.

All of which is not so surprising once you’ve heard it, because it is a brilliant song, a metaphor for the death and rebirth of rock that’s at once complex and immediately accessible. For the last couple of years critics and audience alike have been talking about the Death of Rock, or at least the fragmentation of all our 1967 dreams of anthemic unity. And, inevitably, somebody has written a song about it. About Dylan, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Stones, Byrds, Janis and others. About where we’ve been, the rush of exhilaration we felt at the pinnacle, and the present sense of despair. Don McLean has taken all this and set it down in language that has unmistakable impact the first time you hear it, and leaves you rubbing your chin–”Just what did that line mean?”–with further listenings because you know it’s all about something you’ve felt and lived through. A very 1967ish song, in fact, in the way it makes you dig for deeper meaning, but not the least bit mawkish.

It opens with a slow, mournful sequence about reading the headlines about the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper while delivering papers as a child, then into the chorus: “Bye bye, Miss American Pie/Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry/Them good ole boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye/And sayin’ this’ll be the day that I die.” Then all at once it rears up and charges through the years in a giddy rush: “I was a lonely teenage bronckin’ buck/With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,” the “Book of Love,” sock hops in the gym and puppy jealousy, and then into the heart of the myth, where Dylan is a Jester “in a coat he borrowed from James Dean,” laughing at the king “in a voice that came from you and me.”

The halcyon days of Sgt. Pepper are brilliantly caught: “The half-time air was sweet perfume/As the Sergeants played a marching tune,” but suddenly the Jester is on the sidelines in a cast, the stage is taken by Jack Flash (“Fire is the devil’s only friend”), and Altamont, the Angels and the despairing resentment the Stones left many fans with pass in a dark panorama. Finally coming down to the levee again, where the good old boys are draining the bottles and talking as if it’s all over, as they did when the plane bearing “The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost” fell and as they will again and again through the years. It’s just the old Calvinist sense of impending apocalypse and perdition, but they’re good old boys anyway and we can’t resent them because we too “believe in rock ‘n’ roll/And [that] music can save your moral soul.” Because they’re us.

“American Pie” is a song of the year, and its music is just as strong as those lyrics, propelled with special resonance by the piano of Paul Griffin, who played with the Jester when his myth was at pinnacle. The single version is considerably shorter than that on the album, and I only wish that I could recommend the latter unhesitatingly. Unfortunately, the eight-minute hit is the only tune of real substance and vitality on it; the rest is given over to a series of moody, rather bland songs stereo-typically deriving from the Sixties folk tradition and the current proliferation of songwriters specializing in introspective, watery poeticizings. Shucks, I almost wonder from struggling to keep my attention on them whether “American Pie” won’t be the only important song Don McLean will ever write. But maybe that’s being premature and petty; because he did write it, and we needed it, did we ever. If you’ve ever cried because of a rock & roll band or album, or lain awake nights wondering or sat up talking through the dawn about Our Music and what it all means and where it’s all going and why, if you’ve ever kicked off your shoes to dance or wished you had the chance, if you ever believed in Rock & Roll, you’ve got to have this album. (RS 100)


I have to disagree with Lester on the rest of McLean’s American Pie album.  There are several great tracks on this album, with Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) as a particularly compelling song about artist Vincent Van Gogh.

  Vincent (Starry, Starry Night), Don McLean

Don McLean was friends with folk legends The Weavers, as well as Pete Seeger and briefly attended Villanova with Jim Croce.  McLean’s style is very much in the vein of old-time singer/songwriters with tunes that are easy on the ear and hard on the mind.  His songs MEAN something.  They’re not catchy and snazzy, they are deep.

A young girl named Lori Lieberman attended one of Don McLean’s performances and was so touched by it that she wrote a poem, entitled Killing Me Softly with His Blues.  Composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel later turned that poem into a song immortalized by Roberta Flack as Killing Me Softly. 

   Killing Me Softly, Roberta Flack

It was later re-mixed and covered by The Fugees.

MUSIC MAVEN Trivia:  Lori Lieberman went on to provide music for the critically acclaimed Schoolhouse Rock…”I’m just a bill, only a bill…”

NOTE:  I refuse to post  covers of American Pie, as among those that attempted it, the Madonna and The Brady Bunch (a kid you not) versions are hideous.  Garth Brooks does a minimally decent rendition but it doesn’t come close to Don McLean. 

Don McLean immortalized the great Buddy Holly, paying apt homage to the legend’s musical importance and ensuring  Holly is known to new generations.  American Pie is proof that songs with meaning, songs than resonate with listeners, are recognized, treasured and endure forever.

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment in The Day the Music Died series.  Until then, if you’re so inclined, take a look at Music Maven’s take on American Pie‘s lyrics, verse by verse.


MUSIC MAVEN’s American Pie Lyric Intrepretation (compiled from personal opinion and vast interwebs exploration) 

 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.

 Don McLean wrote American Pie as an observer; a character in the song, giving the listener an outward view through his lens.  He was a child of the 1950’s, the first of the Baby Boomers.  Post-war America was idyllic during his formative years and the innocent musical strains of Sinatra, Como, and Crosby were the easy, soft strains of his childhood.  Congruent with the music of the day, America itself was in a cycle of unprecedented moral and financial prosperity, during this time.  Don McLean grew up in the utopia of the magic decade of the 1950’s, where music was starting to evolve.

In 1959, Don McLean was a 14 year old paperboy in Southern New York.  He had developed a strong interest in music and was particularly influenced by a lanky, awkward-looking Texan named Buddy Holly.  Just after midnight on February 3rd, 1959, Buddy Holly was killed, along with “Big Bopper” JR Richardson and teen heartthrob, Ritchie Valens.  Don McLean was crushed. 

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.

 Like many young musicians of the day, Don McLean was deeply affected by Holly’s death.  Holly’s wife of six months, Maria Elena, was pregnant at the time and miscarried shortly after her husband’s death.  As an impressionable teenager, Holly’s death was, no doubt, a shocking blow to McLean…the day the music died.

So bye-bye, miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And 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.

American Pie is the innocence of American society.  Little by little, that innocence eroded, beginning with the death of Buddy Holly in 1959.  Dinah Shore’s iconic “Drive your Chevrolet through the U.S.A” commercial was an enigma of the times and serves as McLean’s symbol of the innocence and “apple pie” persona of the 1950’s.

See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet.,
America’s the greatest land of all
On a highway or a road along a levee…

The levee is dry, indicating that the way of life and the music of the 50’s is gone.  I happen to think that “The good ole boys drinkin’ whiskey and rye” is actually “whiskey in Rye” referring to Rye, NY, close to where McClean is from.  The last two lines of the chorus refers to Holly’s That’ll Be the Day” and represents people paying tribute to Holly.  It also is saying goodbye to an era, whose end McLean makes synonymous with Holly’s passing.

In the broader sense of the song, the chorus represents the change in society and music through each verse.  While the first verse and chorus references Holly’s death and the loss of a great talent, subsequent verses are McLean’s narration of changes in music through the years up until American Pie is written in 1971.

Did you write the book of love,
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,
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Here, McLean starts to intertwine music and faith and the correlation between America losing some of both.  The Book of Love was a hit song in 1958 by The Monotones.  McLean includes The Bible Tells Me So, which is definitely not 50’s Rock, but likely had some meaning to him during the innocence of his youth.  Next, we see the introduction of Rock N’ Roll, early on in the 60s.  McLean couples music with religion as many were apt to do during the 60s, by asking the question “can music save your mortal soul?”.  Jitterbugging and hand-jivin’ were out, along with that music, but slow ballads were prominent in the very early 1960s.  Perhaps McLean was referring to the change in “dance music” from his “time”, when he refers to learning to slow dance.

 I know that you’re in love with him
`cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.
You both kicked off your shoes.
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.

The “him” in this verse is the new Rock N’ Roll, or should I say Rock, as well as the infusion of R&B, but could also be a reference to Elvis, who was at his peak during this time and had a lot of R&B influence.  McLean is stating that music is changing and that people are adopting the new music.  

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.

McLean gives us an indication of his age at this point, which would have been 17 or 18, which would have right before the British Invasion.  I think McLean was still a fan of the past music.  He uses “pink carnation and a pickup truck” to point back to 1956’s White Sport Coat & Pink Carnation by Marty Robbins and the un-hip pickup truck as a vehicle in the days of the Mustang and sports cars.  He is stating that he’s looking for the music of the past, something like Buddy Holly, but he’s out of luck.

I started singin’,
Bye-bye, miss American pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, this’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die.

The chorus again marks the upcoming change in music, religion and society, once again.  The last verse referred to the early-60s and now McLean brings us to 1969.  Realizing the dramatic musical changes from 1964 to 1968, he’s got a lot to cover.

Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone,
But that’s not how it used to be.
When the jester sang for the king and queen,
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me.

This verse introduces Bob Dylan, who is ‘The Jester’.  The second line refers to Dylan’s Like a Rollin’ Stone.  The “moss grows fat” part refers to Dylan fading from the limelight and his early, significant works.  Dylan didn’t tour from ’66 to ’74 and much of his music went to electric-infused guitar and away from the traditional folk music, inspired by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.  McLean was much more in tune with folk music and for songs that had a meaning.  He yearned for the Dylan that had music of purpose and was starkly different than the new Rock taking prevalence.

Dylan famously participated in Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in ’63, with President and Mrs. Kennedy (possibly the “King & Queen”), in attendance.  Dylan also played a performance at the King & Queen club in the U.K. during his first tour there in 1963, which could be McLean referencing Dylan’s popularity in England.  The coat refers to the cover of Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album, which mimics a famous Dean photo.

   – Dylan’s performance at the March on Washington

Oh, and while the king was looking down,
The jester stole his thorny crown.
The courtroom was adjourned;
No verdict was returned.

The king in this refrain is Elvis.  Dylan became the top of the music world and music was changing from Elvis’ early Rock & Roll to songs with a bit more substance and meaning in times that were heavy, to say the least.  The thorny crown, once again, infuses religion and the God-like status that Elvis had at the height of his popularity.  Many think that the court was the results of the Warren Commission after the JFK assassination that left the country wondering what really happened and giving birth to distrust and cynicism of government.

And while Lennon read a book on Marx,
The quartet practiced in the park,
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died.

The Beatles are introduced.  John Lennon was famous for his studies of alternative viewpoints and quest for better understanding, including communism.  The quartet was The Beatles and the park Shea Stadium and the dirges in the dark likely refers to the Northeast blackout in November 1965.  All of these events would have covered the period up to 1965 or so.

We were singing,
Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, this’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die.

After each chorus, i.e., timeframe, music has “died” a little.  On to the latter ‘60s.

 Helter Skelter in a summer swelter.
The birds flew off to 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.


 Helter Skelter refers to the Beatles song from the White Album that supposedly inspired Charles Manson’s killing spree in the summer of ’69.  McLean starts to get fast and furious with musical and social references.  The Byrds’ Eight Miles High, was released in ’66 with much controversy due to drug references.  It could be that some of the members were treated for drug addiction (fallout shelter), landing foul on “the grass”.  The “players” were various musicians of the day trying to move music “forward”, while Dylan was recovering from a serious motorcycle accident.

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?

Sweet perfume is likely the predominant use of marijuana, particularly on the music scene, but could also be tear gas from various protests of the day.  Sergeant’s refers to The Beatles’ revolutionary Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which like most music of the day was not dancing music.  Various acts and musicians tried to push The Beatles out of the top of music, but they refused to give up the position until they decided to break up.   Don’t rightly know exactly what was “revealed” around this time or what he could have been referring to here.

We started singing,
Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, this’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die.

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 devils only friend.

Woodstock is the “one place”.  Lost in space could refer to the TV program of this time but more likely the quest to put a man on the moon.  Jack is a reference to The Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash and their concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  The last line is also about The Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil

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

It is evident that McLean did not care for Mick Jagger and I believe this verse is about him.  It refers to The Stones’ free concert at Altamont Speedway where members of the Hell’s Angels had been brought in for security.  18 year old, Meredith Hunter, was fatally stabbed to death in the crowd allegedly by some of the Hell’s Angels while The Stones unknowingly played on.  Hunter allegedly was making his way to the stage with a gun.  The crime remains unsolved.  For McLean, a bit more of the music dies.

He was singing,
Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, this’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die.

As the song starts to wind down, we’re now at McLean’s present day.  Perhaps the next verse inspired McLean to capture his feelings about how the music had changed and how another passing brought back the painful memories of Holly’s death and how the loss of hugely talented artists contributes to the demise of the music.

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
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.

Janice Joplin dies in ’70 of a fatal heroin overdose, a victim of crippling depression.  The “sacred store” is The Fillmore West in San Francisco, which closed in 1971.  Owner, Bill Graham, is likely the man McLean is referring to.

And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
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.

 This last verse refers to the upheaval and strife of the times (then 1971).  Riots, race wars, protests, clashes with police, all took its toll on the American psyche, particularly for McLean’s generation.  I believe that the “church bells being broken” is the decline in religion among the populous and the three men he admires most are actually the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Taking the “last train for the coast”, means they have abandoned those who abandoned them.  And, the music, along with a little more of American’s soul, dies.

 And they were singing,
Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, this’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die.










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17 responses to “The Day the Music Died: Part 1 – American Pie

  1. morewines

    January 31, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Nice tribute MM. I hope I can post comments again.

  2. shrewspeaks

    February 1, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Whew…nice stuff…

    I have a few different interpretations…think of them as alternate views or double meanings to the lyrics you have so brilliantly dissected.

    The chorus for me has always been that lost generation of young men who did not go to college through the 60’s but became the backbone of the service for the Vietnam “Conflict”. They are in the background through out this entire timeframe of this song. Many musicians and hippies spoke so passionately about the war, but never really thought about the young men there. Now we know the vets were not welcomed with open arms. I remember hearing a friends mother tell us that the guys she know who went to Vietnam first were really cool guys on the edge of society…Rebels…but when the came back from the war they were seen as out of touch, throwback greasers who still listened to solid gold “Holly” and not with the times. I remember my friends mother saying “they were blamed for going, they were blamed for coming back, hell they were even blamed for what they listened to”.

    Now, I believe the King looked down and the Jester stole his thorny crown part still is Martin Luther King and Dylan. Dylan had at the civil rights march unified so many people. Many music lovers who just started to wake to injustice through folk music and were now moved to act. Then Dylan goes and gets introspective “Hey Mr Tambourine Man” and throngs turn the heads to follow Dylan…then the OUTRAGE at Newport with “Maggies Farm”. McClean is a true folky…in his eyes DYLAN had the world stage. Millions of ears poised ready to follow the piper anywhere and do his bidding. Then Dyaln says he I ain’t that guy I just want to play this here guitar. Through the boos and jeers, Dylan becomes a martyr much larger than the causes these same crowds of people showed modest interest in. In a way the civil rights fight was a lot less vocal for the folk scene than Dylan going electric. Hence “stolen thorny crown”

    Beatles…do you recall what was revealed? Just a nanosecond before Sgt’s Pepper came out the general populous was burning the Beatles Albums because of Lennon’s comment on “we are bigger than Jesus”. I think this is McClean admonishing the listeners for turning so quickly and running back to the Beatles.

    Ah the Father Son and Holy Ghost…men I admire very much…I believe they are men…JFK, RFK, and MLK. The three great movers of the 60’s who’s tragic deaths left holes and vast amount of unfinished business; much of which is only starting to heal now in this decade.

    My humble take.

    MORE, MORE, MORE!!!!

  3. music maven

    February 1, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Noice, Shrew. I can see most of what you are saying and you’re likely right that the King is MLK. Not sure about the Father, Son & Holy Ghost, but your assertion is a common thought among many.

    Based on McLean’s own comments, American Pie is his narration of events, both musical and political:

    “I’m very proud of the song. It is biographical in nature and I don’t think anyone has ever picked up on that. The song starts off with my memories of the death of Buddy Holly. But it moves on to describe America as I was seeing it and how I was fantasizing it might become, so it’s part reality and part fantasy but I’m always in the song as a witness or as even the subject sometimes in some of the verses.

    You know how when you dream something you can see something change into something else and it’s illogical when you examine it in the morning but when you’re dreaming it it seems perfectly logical.

    So it’s perfectly okay for me to talk about being in the gym and seeing this girl dancing with someone else and suddenly have this become this other thing that this verse becomes and moving on just like that. That’s why I’ve never analyzed the lyrics to the song. They’re beyond analysis. They’re poetry.”

  4. shrewspeaks

    February 1, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Are you calling me common?


  5. shrewspeaks

    February 1, 2009 at 9:49 am

    But seriously…McClean has always had such a love hate relationship with this song. He practically chews nails when asked to explain the lyrics or comment on other’s views of what they might mean. In the quote you provided above, McClean plainly states that this song is personal, poetic, beyond analysis. The irony that McClean doesn’t want to acknowledge about his own song being a collective unconscious for a generation and that the lyrical poetry is open to personal reflection. He has refused to play this song live for decades. Almost throwing off the shackles of being a narrator for a generation…hmmm…very a Dylan-esque.

    On a side note…when American Pie was released it deposed three year old Shrewbie’s favorite song at the time.

    YES, Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” lost favor for the 8 minute album epic that my sister brought home from one of the original Sam Goody’s.

  6. music maven

    February 1, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Like you, I had always heard that McLean was a bit outdone by American Pie and had come to see it as somewhat of a curse. However, in my research (from his official website), I learned differently….

    “Because of an off-hand funny comment I made backstage at a concert years ago, a story circulated that the song {American Pie} has been a burden and even that I didn’t sing it for a while. That’s completely false. I am very proud of ‘American Pie’ and the many satellites that grow from it and revolve around it. For many years I carried my songs around and now they carry me around. I have always sung ‘American Pie’ for my audience and would never think of disappointing them since it is they who have given me a wonderful life and untold affection for almost 30 years.” – Don McLean, 1999

    and in a Music World article from 2000, Don says: “I have never said a bad thing about the song, I was poor when I wrote it, and it made me a millionaire overnight. Believe me, I’m not upset about this song.” – Don McLean, 2000.

    I, too, am a lover of Your Mama Don’t Dance. While it might have been #1 on the Shrew chart, it never reached #1. It’s highest chart ranking was #4. On the Billboard charts, American Pie deposed Melanie’s Brand New Key. I vividly remember this song and can see my friends and I singing this on the playground. Crazy how songs can bring back a previously hidden memory.

    Just a little more trivia….After four weeks at #1, American Pie was replaced by Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together

    Great music. And, various genres. Pop, folk, then R&B.

  7. shrewspeaks

    February 1, 2009 at 10:32 am

    WOW Melanie’s Brand New Key….which I remember being played on the Sonny and Cher show an an animation.

    Funny about the McClean quotes. I was helping the student union of my college look at booking acts and McClean was ahem economical. When the union contacted him his rider included a passage about not playing American Pie. This was in 1990.

  8. blueberry

    February 1, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I’m enjoying this very much and learning/remembering too. Thanks.

  9. music maven

    February 1, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Well, based on the quote from Music World in 2000, his affinity for American Pie was certainly tied to its monetary value. Perhaps as he has aged and faded further from the limelight, performing American Pie has become more acceptable for McLean.

    He certainly looked comfortable singing it with Garth Brooks in Central Park (1997). Interestingly, gabillionaire Garth Brooks has evidently been pressuring YouTube to delete his performance videos. Just a few days ago, the “We Are One” performance of American Pie from the Inauguration festivities and the Central Park performance with McLean were available. Now, those and many other Garth performances “are no longer available”.

    Artists are getting so short-sided and self-grandising, IMHO, by limiting their music. Of course, Garth’s ego is so big that he thinks the public will pay for every drop of Garthness available. He’s going to learn that “out of sight, out of mind” is particularly cruel in the music business. Limiting his music and performances to only HIS distribution (for profit) is only going to expedite his status to “has been”.

    **steps off soapbox**

  10. music maven

    February 1, 2009 at 11:08 am

    blueberry — glad you’re enjoying the show….that’s what it’s all about.

  11. shrewspeaks

    February 1, 2009 at 11:50 am

    So…in the grand scheme when you look at monumental works that not only establish an artist but see to define the area…what place does American Pie hold next to…Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be The Day, Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, Beatles Sgt Pepper…etc etc.

  12. music maven

    February 1, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    While I wouldn’t compare Don McLean to any of the artists you mention, for me American Pie certainly is right up there with the songs.

    Evidently, Rolling Stone does not concur. Like a Rolling Stone is Rolling Stone’s #1 song of all time. That’ll Be the Day is ranked #39. Sgt. Pepper’s is RS’s #1 album of all time. American Pie isn’t even on the list of the Top 500. WTF?

  13. shrewspeaks

    February 1, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    I can see that…it’s like the outsider looking in. The song didn’t move music forward. It just kinda lamented that things did change.

    Don’t get me wrong I love it too…but isn’t it weird that it is an entity of it’s own?

  14. JenAdams

    February 1, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    MM and shrew – you might enjoy this analysis by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten. He has many similar theories…

  15. colette

    February 2, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Wow, a lot of stuff here. I thought it was strange that this song (which is definitely a dirge, IMO, more than a celebration) would be sung at Obama’s inauguration — and by Garth Brooks!?!

    I do think there’s a good Dylan analogy on this atypical song of Don McLean’s. (He’s a really good citizen and a decent musician, but this song was way beyond Don’s usual comfort zone.)

    Dylan, like any great poet/troubadour, didn’t impose logic on many of his songs. He let the imageries and stories spin out of himself, and he trusted what he was concocting without needing or wanting to assign specific meaning to it. Such is true of many a poetic writer, from Blake to Rimbaud etc.

    I do agree mostly with Mr. Bangs — the song is steeped in Americana. But my fairly simplistic interp is that it’s a reverie, a dreamscape of Americana, written at a time when the big dream many of us had about peace, love and understanding started to corrode. IT was a terrible loss to many idealistic people of my generation, and essentially I believe McLean was memorializing our musical and social innocence, going back to the burst of creativity that was rock in the 1950s.

    And 1972 was a hell of a year. The Vietnam War got worse, Watergate happened and it really shook the whole country, Nixon left in disgrace. And several great rock icons had just joined the “27 club” — that is, they died at age 27: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim MOrrison…. (Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain also belonged to that wretched club…)

    McLean was trying to make sense of all these things, plus the loss of the Kennedys and other political martyers, and somehow mark the end of something we needed to grieve for. At least, that’s how it always felt to me. And in my mind I link to a few songs by Dylan from roughly the same period, especially this one:

  16. colette

    February 2, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Tried to post earlier, hopefully this one will take. What an interesting discussion, about a genuine musical signpost.

    I like Don McL’s explanation because it conveys the essence of surrealism — events and people that really existed, mingled with the dream world of spontaneous imagery and imagination, the personal & political & musical all jumbled up ways that the listener herself as to untangle.

    Yes, to me the song iis a nostalgic and painful farewell to a kind of American innocence which our cultural can never cling to — try as we might. Europeans see this in us, and are attracted to the relative youthfulness and enthusiasm of our nation and the many cultural innovations we come up with — not least of all rock ‘n roll, and the shining figures of the Kennedys, MLK, etc.

    But as Obama just said in his inaugural speech, quoting the Bible, it’s time “to put away childish things” and mature as a society. I think Don Mc’s song intuited that, and explored it on an artistic level. and by childish I don’t mean fun and great party music — I mean our collective innocence about what we expect from the world, versus what the world actually is.

    Consider the year of 1972. Nixon was reelected, then came the whole disillusioning carnival of Watergate. Three great rock icons had just died, a real shocker if you saw them as part of a transcdent youth culture movement: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison (all 27, by the way, which Kurt Cobain also was at his death). There had been riots in major American cities borne of social frustration.

    The world was getting rougher, more cynical, the Vietnam War escalated. And people like me were coming of age in a much less hopeful moment of history than they expected or longed for.

    The great thing is that Don McL captured it all in an epic song (like an epic Homeric poem) in a way that wasn’t 100 percent literal, evoking an era, a tenor, a dreamscape you can project your own experience into, while marking a major cultural transition. I love pivotal songs like that, and hope to do a set for MM on them. Here’s another one, from the master of surrealistic rock poetry, the very prescient Mr. Bobby Z: — Bob Dylan, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

  17. Ben Jekaw

    May 9, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Sweet perfume is likely the predominant use of marijuana, particularly on the music scene, but could also be tear gas from various protests of the day. Sergeant’s refers to The Beatles’ revolutionary Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which like most music of the day was not dancing music. Various acts and musicians tried to push The Beatles out of the top of music, but they refused to give up the position until they decided to break up. Don’t rightly know exactly what was “revealed” around this time or what he could have been referring to here.

    =>What was revealed here by John Lennon was that he thought he was more popular than Jesus Christ! That makes the people think he’s the anti-christ. The beatles popularity slowly fades away because of the declaration made by Lennon.


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