Allegory of American Pie by Don McLean A Piece of the “Pie” Ask anyone what was the defining moment in the rock history of the 1960s was and all you will get is a one word answer: Woodstock. The three day rock festival that defined an era was only one of many music festivals of the 60s. But Woodstock has come to symbolize, “an era of peaceful, free- loving, drug- taking hippie youth, carefree before harsher realities hit..” (Layman 40). The Woodstock festival ended a century filled with many metamorphoses of rocknroll, from the era of pop music to the rebirth of folk music to the invention of acid rock. But some cynics say that rocknroll died with the death of Buddy Holly before the 60s even began.
One such person is Don McLean. The poet behind the haunting epic song about the death of danceable music, McLean wrote the ever popular song, “American Pie” (appendix 1). The most important song in rocknroll history, “American Pie”, is the song about the demise of rocknroll after Buddy Hollys death and the heathenism of rock that resulted. Although McLean himself wont reveal any symbolism in his songs, “American Pie” is one of the most analyzed pieces of literature in modern society. Although not all of its secrets have been revealed, many “scholars” of the sixties will agree that the mystery of this song is one of the reasons it has become so successful- everyone wants to know the meanings of its allegories.
Proof of “American Pies” truth lies in the allegory of the song. Many People enjoy the song but have no idea what it means- Who is the Jester? What is the levee? When the deeper story is found, the importance of the song is unearthed. “American Pie” is not only a song, it is an epic poem about the course of rocknroll in the sixties. The song is centered around the epics hero, Buddy Holly. Holly was a 50s rock and roller who experimented greatly with chords and beats. Many people say that if Holly hadnt died, no one would have needed the Beatles, who in their time also revolutionized rock.
But in any sense Holly was a rock pioneer. He wrote his own songs and popularized the use of the two guitar, bass and drums line-up (Jordan). Holly directly influenced most of the most prominent folk and rock musicians of the 60s including Bob Dylan, the Beatles and many others. The Beatles name actually originated from Hollys band, the Crickets (Jordan). In February of 1959 tragedy struck.
Holly was on tour with a collection of performers, and he wanted to fly to the next stop instead of taking the bus. He chartered a plane and a pilot to fly him and two others to Fargo, North Dakota (Verse 1). Originally it was to be Holly, Waylon Jennings, and Tommy Allsup. But J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”) talked Jennings into giving him his seat and Allsup lost his seat to Richie Valens (“La Bamba”) on a coin toss (Jordan). The pilot, Roger Peterson, was a visual pilot, and not certified to fly an instrument plane flight.
But on the night of February 3, 1959 the plane when up during a flurry. The pilot lost control and while he believed he was steering up, the plane went straight down. When the plane crashed all four men died instantly (Jordan). The day that the plane crash henceforth became known as “The day the music died”. The chorus in American Pie is the main theme of the song.
American Pie is the pure American art of rock and roll. The Chevy is the icon of America. The levee is the source of music and since the decline of original rock and roll, there is no water (or talent) in the levee: its dry. “Thisll be the day that I die,” was taken from a Buddy Holly song entitled “Thatll be the Day” and a line in the chorus read, “Thatll be the day that I die,” (Kulawiec). The next verse of American Pie, McLean demonstrates what happened after Hollys death.
The birth of teen idols such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian arose. Although the verse seems positive, the narrator is left outside of the “dance”. While you (The youth of America) were dancing in the gym with him (The teen idols) “..I knew that I was out of luck..”, because the love that he wanted from you was given to him (Jordan). Another line in this verse is important. “Can you teach me how to dance real slow..” Slow dancing was important in the early days of rock and roll, but they lost popularity when acid rock and long guitar solos became popular (Kulawiec). The third verse begins with the narrator in the present (1970). The “moss grows fat on a rolling stone..” which could be Dylans song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” or the band, the Rolling Stones, but either way the phrase is a negative one.
The “rolling stone” is not rolling and is stagnant, there for it is growing moss. The music is getting stale, or growing moss. Then McLean alludes that ..”Thats not how it used to be..” referring back to the time of Buddy Holly (Jordan). The jester in this song is Bob Dylan. His songs are very cryptic and like a jesters riddles.
The coat he borrowed from James Dean was from the cover of one of his albums where he is wearing the symbolic red windbreaker James Dean wore in Rebel Without a Cause (Kulawiec). The crown he stole is obviously from Elvis. Though Dylan had stolen the crown “..the courtroom was adjourned, no verdict was returned..” meaning that although the crown was his, there was no true king at that time. The quartet practic[ing] in the parks..” were the Beatles and their growing fame in Europe before the British Invasion. One of the biggest plays on words is the in about “Lenin read a book on Marx,” playing on the names of Vlademir Lenin and John Lennon.
Not only do they have similarly names, but they both share the same ideals about communism (Jordan). The fourth verse is the most important. It contains the most information on the demise of rock and roll of the song. “Helter Skelter in a summer swelter” clumps together the British Invasion and the social unrest that the American students felt during the mid 1960s. Helter Skelter itself was a song made much later after the beginning of the British invasion, but it was just meant to show the cluster of events of the mid 60s. The social voice that came through in the folk-rock sound of Dylan, is now full of messages, many of them open, many of them hidden.
The plain messages include the dangers of nuclear war, the Vietnam war, the evil capitalistic system. Associated with these social protest songs are the summer swelters: riots in LA , Detroit, and at the Democratic convention in Chicago; the Charles Manson murders (which Manson claimed were connected with the song Helter Skelter); the marches for civil rights and against the Vietnam War (Jordan). The underlying message that McLean was trying to convey was that drugs were ruining th …