.. e music. The Byrds sang a song called Eight Miles High, but they were falling fast and landed foul on the “grass”, marijuana (Jordan), which was also the sweet perfume (Kulawiec). During the mid-60s the Beatles predominantly influenced rock music the most. Dylan is the “jester on the sidelines in a cast,” the sidelines being the outside of the rock music scene and the cast being from a motorcycle accident he claimed to have which was keeping him out of the scene, which some say never happened (Jordan).
The half time air was probably referring to the heavy drug use of the mid- 60s (half-time). The sergeants are either the Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band or the Army playing marching music because of the draft. And what was “revealed” was that drugs, in this verse and in this corresponding era of rock and roll, was the final ruin of rock and roll. McLean has traced rock’s demise in stages: it was at its pinnacle in the Buddy Holly era, it fell to the Teen Idol era, then the social protest era, and seemingly it hit bottom in the self-destructive era of hippies and drug use (Jordan) . The fifth verse is mainly about two things: Woodstock and The Rolling Stones.
McLean is not too positive about his generation. The one place was obviously Woodstock, and his generation lost in space (high), had no time left to start again. After the peaceful festival there was a free concert given by the Rolling Stones at Altamont Raceway in California. While performing “Sympathy for the Devil” where the devil is laughing at the terrible events that are going on, chaos broke out in the front of the arena and a young man was beaten and stabbed to death by the Hells Angels, the hired security guards for the Rolling Stones (on the advice of the Greatful Dead) (Kulawiec). Jack Flash is Mick Jagger, the lead singer of the Rolling Stones, and when he sat on a candle stick,” the candlestick was the Beatles Candlestick Park concert which was their last live concert (Jordan).
So Jack finally burned out the Beatles flame to make room for their own popularity. McLean though is still just watching this from the sides, while his hands are, “..clenched in fists of rage,” McLean sees the good that the music was starting to do (Beatles) slip away again. When Satan is laughing at the flames “climbing into the night,” could be symbolic of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitars on stage of the Monterey Pop Festival (Kulawiec). The last verse is the sad conclusion of the epic. The speed of the music slows down and again it is about people dying.
The “Woman who sang the blues,” was Janis Joplin and when McLean asks her for some happy news and she just smiled and turned away, that meant that she was, in his mind, one of the last hopes for rock and roll, but by turning away it meant, symbolically, that she died. The sacred store is the record company. McLean is going there to ask for a contract for this song, but they say, “..the music wouldnt play,” the music wont make it because it is too folksy or perhaps too long, as it would have been since only half of the eight and a half minute song would have fit on one side of a 45, which was the measure for record sales in the 60s. The “children” screaming are the 4 students killed at the Kent State University protest. The “lovers” crying are the hippies lamenting the end of their era, and the “poets” dreaming are musicians like Simon and Garfunkel and McLean himself writing new songs (Jordan).
But there is no hope for rock and roll because, “..the church bells all were broken.” The three men McLean admired most, were “.. The Father (Holly), Son (Valens), and the Holy Ghost (Richardson), were catching the train, which symbolized that they simply left (Kulawiec). The effects of this song were tremendous. The song went to number one on the charts in 1972, about a year after its release. It was hard for it to get playing time on radio stations because it was so long and it wouldnt fit on one side of a 45 record. A few years after the songs release, Roberta Flack recorded the song, “Killing Me Softly With His Song” which is a tribute to “American Pie”.
Thankfully for McLean, folk rock was only a phase of American pop music. And although folk and rock continued to blend in the 70s, like Neil Young, folk music as it was known in the early 60s became part of history rather than remaining a popular form (Layman 38). Another wave of music that arrived was “acid rock”. Practiced by some groups like the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, The Greatful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane, this type of music would have most likely been abhorred by McLean (Gordon 379). In Bob Dylans “The Times they are a-Changin,” Dylan says Come gather round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon Youll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you Is worth savin Then you better start swimmin Or youll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin (Haskins 92) The sixties were definitely a time of change. Socially, politically and musically, the sixties had one of the greatest impacts of the twentieth century. From gains of black equality during the civil rights movement, to the thousands of Americans fleeing to Canada to escape the draft, people were doing what they never thought possible- Like landing on the Moon.
But wherever they went, the music of the decade was around them. Whether it was doo-wop, or folk or acid rock, it was there. Maybe rock and roll did die along with Buddy Holly that cold February night, but the alternatives that came in its place came plentifully. Even ska originated in the sixties. Although the Greatful Dead and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were not McLeans definition of rock and roll, it served its purpose- to entertain the masses(Gordon 380). And in no other place was that more evident than in a little town call Woodstock, where half a million people gathered to listen to the best music around and albeit, to get high.
So until there is no more music at all, not just in one genre but in all the different types, I will finally agree with McLean, and Thatll be the day that I die. Works Cited Gordon, Alan and Louis. American Chronicle: 1920-1989. Crown Publishers: New York, 1995. Haskins, James and Kathleen Benson. The Sixties Reader.
Viking Kestrel: New York, 1995. Kulawiec, Rich. American Pie by Don McLean. (1996) N. pag.
On-line. Internet. March 3, 1999. circ.upenn.edu. Jordan, M.
American Pie: The Mystery Uncovered. (1998) n. pag. On-line. Internet. March 3, 1999.
www.entrypoints.com Lyman, Richard. American Decades: 1960-1969. Gale Research Inc.: New York, 1995. McLean, Don. “American Pie”. Don McLean On-line.
(1995) n. Pag. On-line. Internet. March 25, 1999.