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Boomer Anthems: American Pie

Say goodbye to the pie. Some may think this is one of those songs that should be stored in a vault and left unplayed for 100 years.  They’re not wrong, only misunderstood.

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
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

[Chorus]
So bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

[Verse 2]
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 singing

[Chorus]
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

[Verse 3]
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
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 read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
We were singing

[Chorus]
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

[Verse 4]
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
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?
We started singing

[Chorus]
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

[Verse 5]
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
We were singing

[Chorus]
Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

[Verse 6]
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
And they were singing

[Chorus]
Bye-bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing, “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
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die”

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Casey Klahn March 14, 2019, 9:19 AM

    My son thinks Boomers are out of sync or yesterday’s news. he’s not wrong, but anyway he loves this sonf. DM was a great entertainer at least as far as writing and the initial fresh performances. Later on, he was baked on stage.

  • Richard March 14, 2019, 9:30 AM

    With all of today’s background noise, vulgarity, and short attention spans, I’m not sure there’s even a place for a contemporary troubadour like Don McLean or Jim Croce. Sadly we’ll never know what we might have had as a result of Buddy Holly’s early departure.

  • jwm March 14, 2019, 10:02 AM

    I’m not sure which is stronger: the ear worm, or the the flash of nostalgia. June 1970. Sunrise after the HS graduation all night party. Still buzzed and getting an omelete at Hacienda Coffee shop at sunrise in the morning. This song was on the radio. Trip to San Francisco coming up soon. Acid in the Haight. It was a good summer.

    JWM

  • Sam L. March 14, 2019, 10:27 AM

    I’ve always loved that song, and the way he sang it.

  • Marica March 14, 2019, 11:38 AM

    Good song to have in my head. Thanks. And Happy Pi Day to all!

  • Prusmc March 14, 2019, 12:02 PM

    Never followed the written words until now. But realize that it was John Lennon not Nicolia Lenin who was reading a book on Marx.

  • Jack March 14, 2019, 12:18 PM

    Prusmc, why do you think it took you that long ?
    Heads up, there are a lot of obscure references, innuendo and allegory in that old war horse of a tune and when it first came out people couldn’t get enough of it. Still a great anthem, too.

  • DAN March 14, 2019, 1:17 PM

    you always knew the DJ was taking a can break whenever that song came on it was long enough.one of the longest at the time.

  • Farmer Dave March 14, 2019, 5:53 PM

    Thank you, Vanderleun.
    Prusmc, the last verse refers to the Rolling Stones/ Devils Angels fiasco at Altamont Speedway.
    Things got bad there, that night.

  • Vanderleun March 14, 2019, 6:18 PM

    That reminds me. I was at Altamont. I need to write about that one of these days.

  • Bad_Brad March 14, 2019, 7:21 PM

    Altamont? Speedway? Are you a drag racer my friend?
    American Pie gets slammed even by people that should no better. I stopped short of saying people our age because no matter how many rings you could count on one of my hacked off limbs, I’m 25.

  • Mary Ann March 14, 2019, 7:46 PM

    Vanderleun, yes, please write about Altamont.

  • H March 14, 2019, 8:41 PM

    A friend was a kid in Clear Lake when the plane crashed. His daddy took him and his brother out to see it. He said the twisted wreckage was shockingly small and looked nothing at all like an airplane.

  • Walter Sobchak March 14, 2019, 8:50 PM

    A bunch of years ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article seeking to explain the meaning of the song. Don McLean wrote a reply. It was completely incoherent. A number of explanations are possible. One is that McLean went to Bend City after he wrote the song. Another one is that he was just trolling us. A third one is that he had no idea what the song meant. He wrote it by channeling a power from another dimension. Having used him for that purpose the power had dropped him.

  • Jim March 15, 2019, 12:18 AM

    I remember when this song was popular in ’71 or so, was in 7th grade. My Mom sent me off to get a haircut at Zayre/Shoppers City in northern ‘burb of Minneapolis. I trudged up to the mezzanine level of the store to the barber shop and this song was playing. I was supposed to be growing my hair to the same length as Jim Morrisons’ and was not allowed to at the time. Can’t stand this song.
    Took a walk a few hours ago and brought the hand held shortwave radio along for audio enjoyment. Some international station was playing “How Do You Do” by Mouth and MacNeal. Not exactly a classic. I’d rather hear that song than American Pie.

  • Prusmc March 15, 2019, 12:33 PM

    Jack:
    Ref American Pie comment I am sure it is replete with innuendo, allegory. Maybe even a few similes, allusions and metiphores.
    I never was good at interpreting symbols except on a 1000 meter map grid. So I missed a lot. Lighten up big guy! I love the song and still do.

  • Christopher S. Johns March 15, 2019, 12:34 PM

    You are not wrong, Walter. We’re not supposed to think of these things anymore, but the song is a religious allegory about the removal of God’s divine grace from our nation – with Holly’s death acting within the song as the representation of that – and how the tumult of the 1960’s was the first manifestation of a new era ushering in a spiritual vacuum, if you will, under the influence of the devil. The song can’t be any more explicit than the conclusion of the last verse before the final chorus:

    …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….

  • Teri Pittman March 15, 2019, 12:40 PM

    I’ve read that McLean likes to do the Weird Al parody of this song.

  • Jeff Brokaw March 16, 2019, 5:45 PM

    Re: “religious allegory about removal of God’s grace from our nation” … that sure does explain a lot of the lyrical parts that I’d wondered about over the decades, and it ties the elements in the lyrics together with in a cohesive way and into a larger theme.

    Seems like maybe McLean was onto something there.

    I was born a few weeks after The Day The Music Died. I’ve always felt weirdly connected in some cosmic way to that day …

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