The Meaning of American Pie by Don McClean (Part 2 of 2)

Hey, welcome back. Last time, we looked at verses 1-3 of the amazing, iconic song, Amercian Pie by Don McClean. So let’s continue our journey trying to get into Don McClean’s head. It’s a fascinating place in there.

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 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?”

This verse talks about the most crazy, explosive part of the 60s, between 1966 and 1969. The Beatles started to replace Bob Dylan as the voice of a generation, and a revolution was taking place in the States. The war in Southeast Asia gave the counterculture even more reason to rebel, and rock ‘n’ roll was being shaped, to include eastern mysticism, drugs and increasingly radical ideas.

Social movements and the war are discussed here, and a football field is used as a metaphor for everything that was going on. The “marching band” symbolizes the counterculture (The Beatles), as well as the armed civil militia.

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.”

Here’s the climax of the song!

“Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again.”

This verse starts by talking about an event during the height of the hippy revolution, when 300,000 “flower children” gathered at Altamont. They were high, drunk and violent, “lost in space”, but they were also stuck because there was no momentum left to start another revolution afresh in a more positive way and achieve something.

“So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend.”

Mick Jagger’s song Jumpin’ Jack Flash is referenced in this section. Why? Well, Mick Jagger is a great symbol for the narrator’s point here. Mick Jagger was regularly associated with the devil. The Rolling Stones were becoming more aggressively nihilistic, rejecting religious and moral principles to the extreme.

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.”

Here the narrator is sadly walking among the ruins of his generation.

“I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away.”

This could be a reference to Janis Joplin, who died of a heroin overdose in 1970. This incident was accompanied by the death of Jimi Hendrix and The Doors’ Jim Morrison, who also overdosed around the same time.

Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin

 

“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.”

The sacred store could be a record store, and the listening booths being discontinued within them. But this closing verse also speaks of the way the flower child generation had destroyed the innocent world McClean grew up in. So this is a farewell tale, and a sad one at that 🙁

So why was this song so popular? During this iconic time, there was a lot going on culturally, and this song is a commentary on those unique times. It’s also a touching personal story giving us an insider perspective on the loss of innocence, the demise of a radical generation, and what was actually going on 40 years ago!

What do you think? Is there more to American Pie?

The Meaning of American Pie by Don McClean (Part 1 of 2)

 

Rolling Stones Deliver Historic Concert in Cuba and Rock 500,000 Islanders

 

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