The immensely popular song “American Pie”, written by Don McLean, describes the “day the music died”, and the decline of society In the following decade. This date, specifically February 3rd 1959, Is marked by the deaths of Influential musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valves, and J. P. Richardson. McLean wrote the song to describe his feelings towards the deaths, and to describe the history of American music up to the date “American Pie” was written, using symbolism to describe events without directly naming them or those involved.
McLean uses many different themes, including theology and time to describe this Journey. Don Manacle’s “American Pie” uses symbolism to tell the story of American music and the “day the music died”, and the events that lead up to the apocalypse. The first line in the song “A long, long time ago” (McLean) suggests a feeling of timelessness, which is often used in mythic stories and events. This line also refers to the narrator’s (presumably McLean) youth, before he was a well-known musician. The following lines describe Manacle’s desire to bring Joy to people through music and dance. And I knew if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance, and maybe they be happy for a while” (McLean). Music Is often used symbolically as a connector with the universal and with the cosmos. “Music with Its different harmonies, tones, Tempe and instruments is a means of identifying with the life of the cosmos with all its fullness” (Chevalier 688). Dance can also be seen as a manifestation of the spirit and of life (272-273). During the time that McLean was a youth, dance was seen as a serious sign of affection, to a greater and more meaningful extent than It would later.
Dance Is a constant theme In the song, and as It progresses It Is diminished to a more travel role, to Manacle’s dismay. The next section dramatically alters the tone of the song from upbeat “Moguls used to make me smile” (McLean) to somber “But February made me shiver” (McLean). Symbolically, cold weather deteriorates both physically and spiritually whomever it engulfs, showing Manacle’s changing physical and emotional state. The verse continues with references to a newspaper on a doorstep which bears bad news for the narrator McLean.
Paper Is an archetype of fragility and of the timeless part of an Individual (Chevalier 735). Thus, the bad news of the newspaper reflects the fragility of the good mood of the first verse. Also, the doorstep on which the newspaper rests suggests to a gateway. “Gateways symbolize the scene passing from one state to another, from one world to another, from the known to the unknown, from light to darkness” (422). On top of this, McLean is unable to take a step, symbolizing an end to any forward progression. Progression is also an important theme in the song, usually to describe society during the decade following 1959.
The abundance of transcendent Imagery In this verse complements the change of American music and society following the “day the music died”, referenced in the ext section. “l can’t remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride” (McLean). This line references those killed on February 3rd 1959 by taking mention of their wives. Tears are an obvious symbol of grief and death (Chevalier 977), and here make allude often used in reference in the search for their dead husband, and is also a synonym for the gallows and guillotine (1109). This symbol represents the grief felt by those “ho lived during this time, and their search for peace.
These symbols combined with the next line “Something touched me deep inside, the day the music died” (McLean) presents to sorrow and the search for reason felt by society following the deaths of the three musicians. The “American Pie” of the first line of the refrain may symbolize American society itself. “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie” (McLean). The words bye, bye may reference a loss of innocence caused by the deaths. Also due to the deaths of the musicians, society was in a stage of grief. The refrain continues “drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry” (McLean).
Any automobile suggests a dream or a change in psychological development (Chevalier 58). Also, oil is normally seen as a symbol of rookeries and divine blessing (714). Therefore, the dry levee shows the absence of prosperity of the American dream following February 3rd. “And them good 01′ boys Nerve drinking whisky and rye, singing theists be the day that I died” (McLean). The boys symbolize the youth and innocence of America, and the alcohol symbolizes their corruption and sadness following the deaths of the musical idols. “Did you write the Book of Love? ” (McLean). Books traditionally symbolize knowledge, and also represent the universe.
Therefore, the Book of Love represents universal love. And do you have faith in God above, if the Bible tells you so” (McLean). This may be a criticism of Christians during this time, when many people were Christians simply because the Bible tells them that it is the right religion. The Christian religion is the central theme around which the entire song revolves. Many references are made to both God, and later Satan. McLean may be telling those that do not truly believe in Christianity to reexamine their faith. “Do you believe in rock On roll, can music save you mortal soul, and can you teach me how to dance real slow? (McLean). This next section refers back to the music and dance of the first few lines of the song, but it is now mentioned as a means of salvation, instead of a means of Joy. The next section refers to lovers dancing in a gym. As mentioned before, dancing is identified with life, and lovers are symbols of emotions and egos (Chevalier 520-621). “You both kicked off your shoes” (McLean). In Western tradition, shoes show funerary significance. These symbols once again show the death and negative emotions following the day the music died. L was a lonely teenage bronchi’ buck, with a pink carnation and a pickup ruckus” (McLean). A buck, or deer, is a common symbol of the spirit (Chevalier 283-284). A flower is also seen as a symbol of spiritual perfection (395), and as mentioned before, any automobile suggests a dream or psychological development. These symbols show how Manacle’s spirit was in a state of perfection prior to the events of February 3rd. “But I knew I was out of luck the day the music died” (McLean). This line foreshadows sadness, despair and grief felt not only be McLean himself, but by all people. Now for ten years we’ve been on our own, and moss grows fat on a rolling stone” (McLean). The number ten shows a return to oneness (Chevalier 981) and any images in every civilization showing the transition from vegetable to animal, to human, to divine” (1061). Also, a stone shows the link between the soul and the stone (932). Because McLean says “we”, he is suggesting that all of society is returning to its spiritual oneness, and is recovering from the deaths ten years prior. “But that’s not how it used to be, when the Jester sang for the King and Queen” (McLean).
This line places the narrative back into the past, within a royal court. The Jester, or fool, symbolizes forward progress (Chevalier 397). The King and Queen symbolize the center of heaven, earth, and mankind (566-567). “In a coat he borrowed from James Dean” (McLean). In the movie “Rebel Without a Cause”, James Dean wears a red coat which, in the movie, symbolizes forward progression (Ray). “And a voice from you and me” (McLean). This section shows forward progression, possibly trying to overtake the norm of society, the king, using the people as his tool, as referenced by the “voice from you and me”. Oh, and while the king was looking down, the Jester stole his thorny crown” (McLean). This is obvious Christ imagery, as the Jester has stolen the crown symbolic of his supremacy) from the king, but he must also face the responsibilities of his actions. “The courtroom was adjourned, no verdict was returned” (McLean). This may refer to the Jester’s theft of the crown, and how it was accepted by society, as the Jester was not convicted. “The quartet practiced in the park, and we sang dirges in the dark” (McLean). The number four represents what is solid in the world, the material wealth of all (Chevalier 402-403).
The fact that they were playing music in a park shows the life and power of nature and of God, the creator of both life and nature. The dirges in the dark symbolizes the funerary setting and the sadness felt following the deaths, as the narrative is still set prior to the moss on the rolling stone. “Helter Shelter in a summer swelter, the birds flew off with a fallout shelter” (McLean). Helter Shelter most likely refers to a Battles song. The Battles may also be the quartet mentioned in the previous verse (Ray). “The flight of birds leads them, naturally, to serve as symbols of the links between Heaven and Earth.
In Greek, the word itself could be used as a synonym for forewarning and for a message from Heaven” (Chevalier 86-87). The birds therefore are a symbol of a message from heaven, possibly a message from God in order to save the people from their self- destructive and grievous path. “Eight miles high and falling fast, it landed foul out on the grass” (McLean). Eight is a symbol of cosmic balance, and of completeness (Chevalier 342-343). Therefore, the message from heaven was unable to reach Earth, but it instead crashed onto grass, a symbol of the transition from human to divine, and of the divine to human (1061). The players tried for a forward pass, with the Lester on the sidelines in a cast” (McLean). The players symbolize a force in opposition to the Jester. The Jester, representing forward progression, is unable to progress due to an injury and is on the sidelines observing. “Now the half-time air was sweet perfume, while sergeants played a marching tune” (McLean). Perfume is a symbol of “one of the elements of a sacrificial offering designed to make it acceptable to God” (Chevalier 748). The scene is set for a type of sporting event, due to the players mentioned previously, and the mention of half- time.
The sergeants, most likely represent governments or other figures of power, salvation during the ass’s, the sergeants, or those who held power, interfere. Following, the audience gets up to dance, but is unable to because the band refuses to yield to the players following half-time. Once again, dancing symbolizes the Spirit of Life (272). The marching band, in the form of the army, is unwilling to let the people continue their lives, and interferes with the game. This section can also be interpreted as a reference to the Vietnam War.
The crowd may represent those that wished that the war would end. The sergeants would still represent the heads of power, preventing what the crowd wanted from taking place. “Oh, and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space” (McLean). Space, inseparable from time, is simultaneously the place where all is potentially in this sense it symbolizes the cosmos or ordered universe” (Chevalier 900). This is an attempt by McLean to show that society was lost in the universe; unable to continue their lives due to interference by the leaders of society in the previous verse. With no time left to start again, so come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candlestick” (McLean). The absence of time is again referring to the game that was delayed in the previous verse. “Jack Flash” is the name of a song by the Rolling Stones, and a candlestick is a “symbol of spiritual illumination, of the seed of life and of salvation” (Chevalier 151). Therefore, McLean believed that the rock style of the Rolling Stones was preventing spiritual illumination, and was preventing society from finding their way through the ordered universe. ‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend” (McLean). “The destructive aspect of fire implies a negative aspect and to be Lord of the Fire’ is a function of the Devil” (Chevalier 380). This connects the intentions of the Rolling Stones to prevent society from finding their way to the Devil. This also connects the Devil with the figureheads of the last verse, as they were preventing the people from the Spirit of Life, and from petitioning God for aid after his message was ignored. “Oh, and I watched him on the stage, my hands were clenched in fists of rage” (McLean).
In this next section, McLean is most likely referring to the Devil performing for all the people to see. “No angel born in hell could break that Satin’s spell” (McLean). This symbolizes the inability of the society to break Satin’s hold on the people, and he now refers to the people as “angels born in hell”, because they eave fallen under Satin’s spell. “As the flames climbed high into the night, to light the sacrificial light, I saw Satan laughing with delight, the day the music died” (McLean). The flames symbolize the hold Satan has on the people, and the sacrificial light represents full control over society.
So as Satan gains control over the people, he is reaching his complete goal; total control over humanity. Also, Satan is connected to the deaths of the musicians, as he was “laughing with delight” at their deaths. Many critics have speculated that the devil mentioned in the verse are the Rolling Stones. Many of the songs in the Rolling Stones’ settles mention the devil, which may have caused McLean to believe that they were devil worshipers. The next section of the song describes McLean following Satin’s control over the population. L met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news, but she Just smiled and turned away” (McLean). “Song is the symbol of the word which links the creator’s power to what it has coordinated gives it expression in Joy her creator, but when asked for good news, she is unable or unwilling to give any. “l Net down to the sacred store where I’d heard the music years before, but the man here said the music wouldn’t play” (McLean). The sacred store refers to a music store. McLean wishes to hear the music, and therefore the life of the cosmos :chevalier 688), again.
Unfortunately, due to Satin’s hold on the society, the music cannot be played again, which shows the absence of all life and spirit in the society. The last verse describes the consequences of the actions of the people. “And in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried, and the poets dreamed” (McLean). Children are often seen as a sign of innocence, and in Christian tradition, they are also symbolic of angels (Chevalier 189-190). Therefore, the innocence of the people is lost and the angels, servants of God, cannot aid mankind. He lovers may be a reference to the lovers mentioned dancing in the gym. The lovers, representing emotions and egos (620-621), are crying, which shows the emotions of grief and death (977). The dreaming poets represent a hope for a better life. “But not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken” (McLean). The Church bells are one of the most profound symbols in the entire work. “It undoubtedly symbolizes the divine command to study the Law, obedience to the Nor of God and, at all events, intercommunication between Heaven and Earth” (Chevalier 82).
The broken church bells represent God cutting himself off from society. Because of this, the world as all know it is doomed. “And the three men I admire the most, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died” (McLean). Three symbolizes the spiritual order of God and the Trinity(Chevalier 993), and in this case shows the connection between McLean and God. “Trains seen in dreams are images of social life as a member off group and of the fate that governs us” (1023).
This once again shows God cutting his connection with Earth, leaving it to its fate following its unfaithfulness. Along with the social connotations, there are many musical references in the song. Many musical critics claim that the Jester mentioned in the third verse represents bib Dylan, and Elvis represents the king. The crown of thorns represents musical supremacy following Elvis’ death, with Dylan in control, and the price of fame. This argument is strengthened by the fact that Dylan wears a red windbreaker similar to the one worn by James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” in his album The
Freewheeling’ Bob Dylan. The quartet mentioned is the Battles, and the park represent their famous farewell concert and Candlestick Park in 1966. The birds represent The Birds, a band mostly known bridging stylistic the gap that fell between bib Dylan and the Battles. The Birds’ single, Eight Miles High, is also mentioned. The players attempting a forward pass represent many bands attempting to gain control of the musical market during Dylan absence while he was injured in a motorcycle accident. All musical reference following the fourth verse represent the Rolling
Stones, and their ties with the devil during their Alton Free Concert, during which an African-American man was killed by one the of Hell’s Angels security guards AR the concert (Fan). Don Manacle’s song “American Pie” is an epic and mythic tale that tells the story of the American musical society immediately prior to and following February 3rd 1959, depression following the deaths of three famous musicians, and the progression Nothing musical hierarchy that followed. Because the society was unable to return to the way it was before February 3rd, it went against the will of God by ignoring opportunities for repentance.
Therefore, society sold their souls to the Devil in order to fulfill their musical and emotional emptiness. Because of this, the musical and social world declined into chaos, and the “apocalypse” destroyed what was once a beautiful, musical world. Historically, the song tells of how the world of music turned from the folk oriented Elvis and Bob Dylan, and moved toward the rock style of the tattles and Rolling Stones, which lead to the decline of music and society. There is much to learn from Don Manacle’s “American Pie”. Throughout time, sic has been an archetype of “the cosmos and all its fullness” (Chevalier 688).