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Boomer Anthems: American Pie

“For some reason I wanted to write a big song about America and about politics, but I wanted to do it in a different way. As I was fiddling around, I started singing this thing about the Buddy Holly crash, the thing that came out (singing), ‘Long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.’

“I thought, Whoa, what’s that? And then the day the music died, it just came out. And I said, Oh, that is such a great idea. And so that’s all I had. And then I thought, I can’t have another slow song on this record. I’ve got to speed this up. I came up with this chorus, crazy chorus. And then one time about a month later I just woke up and wrote the other five verses. Because I realized what it was, I knew what I had. And basically, all I had to do was speed up the slow verse with the chorus and then slow down the last verse so it was like the first verse, and then tell the story, which was a dream. It is from all these fantasies, all these memories that I made personal. Buddy Holly’s death to me was a personal tragedy. As a child, a 15-year-old, I had no idea that nobody else felt that way much. I mean, I went to school and mentioned it and they said, ‘So what?’ So I carried this yearning and longing, if you will, this weird sadness that would overtake me when I would look at this album, The Buddy Holly Story, because that was my last Buddy record before he passed away.” — American Pie by Don McLean Songfacts

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
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
So

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking 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 and 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
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
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 rolling 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 singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking 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

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While 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 singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking 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

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 singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
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
And they were singing

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking 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 ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die

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  • Casey Klahn September 2, 2017, 11:17 AM

    He was 15 and went to school and someone cheeked him about his opinion. Normal kid’s stuff, but I have 2 in those grades, now. Easy to forget how feelings run so deeply when you’re tender in age.

    Old Don gave em the comeuppance real good with this generational hit. That’s the sweetest revenge, huh? His comments on Vincent, his famous Starry, Starry Night song, also have that in yer ass attitude. DM is the eternal teenager, I guess. I also notice in his old videos he’s always baked on stage.

    Just telling some truth this morn, I guess. I love his songs, and his art is universally loved. Best wishes, Don.

  • SteveS September 2, 2017, 2:26 PM

    “And then one time about a month later I just woke up and wrote the other five verses. ”

    I’ve long been fascinated by how inspiration seems to strike unbidden and at random times. You can be grinding away, working on something and not really getting anywhere. Then, one day, you’re brushing your teeth and BAM! Suddenly, you see it all.
    S.

    It seems as if heaven had sent its insane angels into our world as to an asylum, and here they will break out in their native music and utter at intervals the words they have heard in heaven; then the mad fit returns and they mope and wallow like dogs.
    –Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • ahem September 2, 2017, 8:03 PM

    God, I’ve always hated this song. Only bested for worst somg ever by ‘MacArthur Park’, which is slightly more obnoxious.

  • Chuck September 3, 2017, 5:02 AM

    Gerard, You did it again We must be about the same age. And as I say whenever asked (which is rare these days) “Ya had to be there.”