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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

So Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie

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...

You probably recognize the lyrics above:  American Pie (1971) by Don McLean.  I love this song!  

There has always been some disagreement over what the lyrics mean, and Don McLean wasn't too keen to clear up the mysteries, but in 2015, his original manuscript was up for auction at Christie's, so he gave a little information in an interview to promote the auction.


The manuscript sold for $1,205,000!

The Manuscript
The song also made a 26 year old McLean famous quickly.


But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver 
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

1. McLean was actually a paper boy who was on the job the day the music died.

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died



2. This, obviously refers to the deaths of Buddy Holly (age 22), Richie Valens (age 17), and the Big Bopper (JP Richardson) in a plane crash on February 3, 1959.  Waylon Jennings, a member of Holly's band, had given up his seat to Richardson who was ill at the time.

3. McLean believed the music industry started heading in the wrong direction after this.  "There is no poetry and very little  romance in anything anymore," he said.



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." 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? Well, 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. 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.
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." 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,


4. The line "moss grows fat on a rolling stone" likely refers to the tight outfit Mick Jagger wore at a show that 
displayed a roll of belly fat.
Oh, and while the king was looking down, The jester stole his thorny crown. The courtroom was adjourned; No verdict was returned. And while lennon (lenin?) read a book of marx, The quartet practiced in the park, And we sang dirges in the dark The day the music died.


5. The King refers to Elvis Presley.

6. The Quartet likely refers to the Beatles.
The dirges in the dark refers to the 1960's peace marches.

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." Helter skelter in a summer swelter. 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.


7. Helter Skelter refers to the Charles Manson murders.
Eight miles high and falling fast refers to the Byrds' popular song "Eight Miles High."

8. The jester here is Bob Dylan.
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?


9. While sergeants played a marching tune likely refers to the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

10.. From "We all got up to dance" to "the marching band refused to yield" refers to the huge numbers of young people that went to Chicago in 1968 for the Democratic National Convention thinking they would be able to take part, but the Chicago police did not allow them to.
We started 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." 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.


11. Jack Flash refers to the Rolling Stones.
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 He was 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." 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. 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.


12. McLean was a practicing Catholic, thus, the trinity that he admires, but it may also be another reference to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.
And they were singing, "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." They 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
Singin' this'll be the day that I die

13. And here is a missing verse that McLean decided not to include in the song:


And there I stood alone and afraid 
I dropped to my knees and there I prayed 
And I promised him everything I could give 
If only he would make the music live 
And he promised it would live once more 
But this time one would equal four 
And in five years four had come to mourn 
and the music was reborn.



The Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts named "American Pie" the “Song of the Century."
At 8 minutes 32 seconds, this is the longest song in length to hit #1 on the Hot 100.

References:
People Magazine
Los Angeles Times
The Telegraph
Songfacts

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2 comments:

  1. I love this so much! I had to read it in tune with the song in my head. Thank you for sharing the background on it. The song is much denser than I thought it was.

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