“Quite possibly be the greatest song in music history.”
-Garth Brooks (Speaking of American Pie)
“When I first heard American Pie. I was so blown away. It is like a journey.”
-Brian Wilson (Beach Boys Founder)
“But with the way it has captured the interest of so many people over the years, you start to see how this has become a significant piece of American culture. American Pie helped define a generation of Baby Boomers.” -Dr. Raymond Schuck- (Bowling Green Professor and author)
“Life Isn’t About Finding Yourself. Life is About Creating Yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw
Creating the Rest Of Your Life
When Don McLean created the song “American Pie,” he may not have known it then; he was making it for the rest of his life. But, as McLean would later say about the song’s meaning: “it means I never have to work again.”
The Sacred Store
In the first of many worthy trivia points about the lyrics in the documentary; The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s American Pie, we learn “The Sacred Store” out of the song “American Pie” was a natural place on the corner of Main Street and New Rochelle called The House of Music. This is where McLean’s musical education began as he bought records and procured his first guitar. The death of Holly and his compatriots on that snowy Iowa night was second only to the loss of Mclean’s father, leaving an indelible impact on his young life.
Perspective On the Times
Here is a crucial element to understanding the song’s motivations and lyrics. McLean came of age during the ’60s following the social-minded folk traditions of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. The latter gave him his first significant break, and he became a kind of mentor. Their friendship is at the heart of Don’s inherent dislike of Mick Jagger’s Dionosyian lyrics. McLean was able to travel to the Newport Folk Festival in 1969 — and rubbed shoulders with some of his heroes like The Everly Brothers — men who knew Buddy Holly firsthand. Irony of ironies, Holly wanted to forgo the bus and take a plane to get some laundry done. McLean says, “He died thanks to some dirty laundry.” It tears down any mythic illusions we might have.
The Connection Between Pie & the Fans
Some of the fascinating passages of the documentary are about the artistic muse enabling McLean to conceive this epic magnum opus. The opening sets up a story for him to delve into.
But the final piece of luck I was never aware of listening to in the song is the impromptu piano playing of Paul Griffin. The man’s just feeling the song, and it allowed the recording to leap into a different stratosphere. This is how music magic is born. Mr. Griffin made it all work together.
The mythology around the song runs deep and wide, going so far as to spill out into the audience. American Pie is so resonant to so many people, and it’s earned the effusive praise of fans over the years. The documentary highlights some of the song’s fans, including Garth Brooks, who got to welcome McLean on stage during a famed 1997 concert. Even Weird Al sings the track’s praises in the documentary since he famously turned it into a Star Wars parody.
However, there is one last figure who turns up. It’s a curious inclusion, only to become increasingly evident with time. Because we also get introduced to Connie Valens. Her name reveals her connection. She is, of course, the younger sister of Ritchie Valens and, therefore, our link to the three musicians who were lost that fateful night. For her, McLean’s song was something to cherish because it helped to celebrate and keep the memory of her brother alive.
It’s About Love
Despite all the analysis and armchair psychology associated with this song, the real meaning behind the obtuse and mythic lyrics of the song American Pie is an absence of love. Yes, the album was released in the fall of 1971, and there was much bad news to report in the music world: the Beatles, the high priests of all things concerning love, dissolved in April of 1970. The incredibly talented Jimi Hendrix had passed away from a drug overdose at, you guessed it, 27. Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, dead at 27 from alcoholism. Janis Joplin (the girl who sang the blues) also died at the tender age of 27. Very importantly, Black Sabbath released the 1st mega-selling Heavy Metal album, entitled “Black Sabbath.” There weren’t many “love” songs on that LP.
All You Need Is Love
In The movie Interstellar, Professor Brand, played by Anne Hathaway, urges the pilot of the craft, played by Mathew McConaughey, to land on a world because her beloved is hibernating on that particular orb. So, the two protagonists are speeding into space through a friggin’ wormhole to find a planet suitable for humans. Oh yea, their primary motivation is love. The idea of love is that the individual, me, myself, becomes the family, we, us, and ours. During that period that McLean sings about, a certain cynicism was on the rise, and romance, or love, was directly affected.
Ode To Buddy
The music of Buddy Holly was so direct and heartfelt that it is almost infantile, in the very best sense of that phrase, with it is coos and chorus of “hey, oh, hey, hey.”
Holly is the most crucial figure in the song American Pie and the motivating factor in the music itself. Now, Buddy Holly was an unfettered genius, no doubt. A rock pioneer who created the modern musical configuration of rhythm and lead guitars, bass, and drums. I can understand why McLean, a young newspaper boy, would be so affected by this intrusion of harsh reality into his quiet, happy life. There is a loss of innocence at the core of American Pie. That emotion is the primary driving engine behind the song.
Must See Documentary
The fact of the matter is if you love music, and have a thirst for rock ‘n’ roll’s primal origins, then this documentary is must-see-TV. I’ll leave you with the song’s impact on our collective culture.
“I’m very proud of the song…. and the song really 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….”
“The song was written as my attempt at an epic song about America, and I used the imagery of music and politics to do that. Also, I was influenced by Sgt. Pepper and the album American Pie was my attempt to do that, but the song overshadowed the album….”