What is the Song “AMERICAN PIE” Really About?
Q: Aside from the Buddy Holly plane crash, what is the song AMERICAN PIE about?
A: This is a question that has no definitive answer; but basically it's autobiographical of how music and the 60's influenced the song's writer & performer, Don McLean. It begins on February 3, 1959 - "The Day The Music Died" - when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash on their way to their next gig. From there, the song mentions different people & things that happened throughout the 60's, such as Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Janis Joplin, the Manson murders, 60's peace marches, the 1968 Democratic Party National Convention & others; the song wraps up by referring back to the beginning with the line "The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost (meaning Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper), they caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died." Even so, McLean always states that listeners should interpret the song any way they want. Back in 1959 Don McLean was 15 when he learned of the plane crash while doing his job as a paperboy; he saw the story in his fresh stack of newspapers and read the story before he went on his route. When he mentioned the crash to classmates in school, they had a “so what?” attitude but it affected McLean deeply. Years and years later, McLean still gets asked that annoying question, “what does AMERICAN PIE mean?” to which he enjoys answering, "it means never having to work again for the rest of my life." He did mention on his website, “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. …..I've never analyzed the lyrics to the song. They're beyond analysis. They're poetry." A few interesting facts about the song: 1) The name "American Pie" is NOT the name of the plane that crashed and killed Holly, Valens and the Bopper...McLean made the name up; the real plane was from Dwyer's Flying Service, whose owners did not have names for their planes. 2) AMERICAN PIE is the longest song to reach #1 (for 4 weeks in early 1972) at just over eight & a half minutes long. 3) Interestingly enough – in a move worthy of the Beatles - AMERICAN PIE begins as a mono recording and progresses into stereo throughout the song, as a “hidden” way to represent going from 1950's monaural records to the stereo era.