A long long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
This refers to the 50s, the time when Buddy Holly was alive. It also is about McLean's desire to entertain people. Many teenagers at that time dreamed of playing at High School dances.
"I still remember this light going off in my head as I was sitting up in my little room writing my songs & em thinking about Buddy Holly and just how sad that was and how much - & I loved that guy, & how much I loved his music & how much I felt for him"
"..emotional thing I started to write this A long, long time ago, about how it felt when I was a paperboy & I opened up these papers & a lot of things are in the chorus that's a whole other thing .. & this whole fantasy came out & the song was written" - Don McLean, BBC Radio 2 interview, November 4th 1993
Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. He had been married to Maria Elena for less than a year. She was pregnant. Soon after Holly's death, she had a miscarriage. The marriage had been kept a secret due to a race difference and the public opinion particularly in the wake of Jerry Lee Lewis's marriage to his 14 year old cousin.
The year after the plane crash, McLean's father passed away.
"As you can imagine, over the years I've been asked many times to discuss and explain my song "American Pie". I have never discussed the lyrics, but have admitted to the Holly reference in the opening stanzas. I dedicated the album American Pie to Buddy Holly as well in order to connect the entire statement to Holly in hopes of bringing about an interest in him, which subsequently did occur. "
"Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence. " - Don McLean,Castine, Maine
Holly was seen as an influence of Bob Dylan, The Beatles and McLean. He was seen as a person who was not afraid to be himself, despite the clean cut thick rimmed glasses image.
The Beatles name may have been inspired by Holly: "Stuart (Sutcliffe) did think up the name Beetles because it was an insect and he wanted to associate it with Buddy Holly's group The Crickets as the Quarry Men used a lot of Holly's numbers in their repertoire. John did add the 'a'. (Ref: internet) Though this is the most plausible explanation, a more bizarre one comes from John Lennon & also mentions a pie! "It came in a vision--a man appeared in a flaming pie and said unto them. From this day on you are Beatles with an A. Thank you, Mister Man, they said, thanking him." - John Lennon, Mersey Beat, July of 1961
Don McLean's only other job apart from being a singer and songwriter was a paperboy. (see earlier quote)
The plane crash that killed Buddy Holly also killed Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. (Jiles P. Richardson) All were well known at the time & had collectively sold 10 million records worldwide in the 12 months before their deaths.
Thanks to Don, February 3rd 1959 became known as "The Day The Music Died"' The pilot Roger Peterson was not certified to fly instrument flights. When the weather deteriorated with clouds and light snow, he tried to make the plane climb, but instead it fell earthwards and killed all four of them.
So, bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levee
But the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die
The title of the song, is commonly thought to be a reference to the plane that Buddy Holly was killed in. It was reputed to be called 'Miss American Pie'. However McLean refutes this theory "The growing urban legend that "American Pie" was the name of Buddy Holly's plane the night it crashed, killing him, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper is equally untrue. I created the term." - Don McLean, 1999
The plane was a Beech Bonanza model 35, S/N-1019 identification N3794N which crashed approximately 5 miles northwest of Mason City Municpal airport, Iowa. The plane didn't have the name "American Pie" or "Miss American Pie" it only had a serial number.
Waylon Jennings gave his seat up to Richardson, who was running a fever and had trouble fitting his stocky frame comfortably into the bus seats. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn't going to fly, he said, "Well, I hope your old bus freezes up." Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your plane crashes." This friendly banter of friends would haunt Jennings for years. Tommy Douglas Allsup told Valens, I'll flip you for the remaining seat. On the toss of a coin, Valens won the seat and Allsup the rest of his life. (Ref: Internet)
McLean has been quoted as saying: "I only dedicated the album to Buddy I never said it was about him but radio people sensed right away that there was this connection between the day the music died & the dedication on the album. They would play American Pie, they would play 'That'll be the day' & I remember hearing it on the radio & thinking well this is great this is amazing what music can do. I am bringing Buddy back to everybody" - Don McLean, VH1 Interview
"Bye Bye Miss American Pie" could be saying goodbye to the "apple pie" image of 1950s America as things changed in the U.S. (Ref: Doug L)
Chevrolet (Chevy) cars were a particular symbol of the American middle class.
"The levee" refers to the man made banks that hold back a river. Or as described by Don himself "A levee is a pile of dirt." Apparently going to the levee is common practice among teenagers then & now as a place to drink and hang out with friends. (Ref: Doug L) Don even mentions this in a radio interview. The music of the area, such as country and rhythm & blues, were the source of rock & roll. McLean may also be hinting at the source of the music having dried up for him.
But is McLean either using double meaning or trying to mislead us here? Rye is whiskey distilled from Rye, though this makes for a good play on words, there is another explanation that seems to work better. Rye is a place in New York. Don McLean's home town was nearby New Rochelle. "The Levee" was a music playing bar in New Rochelle that closed, so Don & his rock & roll music loving buddies had to drive across the river to drink & listen to music in Rye. (Ref: Doug Staub, Mark Jordan, Marc Mullinax) Listening closely, it sounds like Don may be saying "them good old boys were drinking whiskey in Rye not and Rye".
There are also a number of other references to "the levee" neither of which resonate for me as well as the above. The Grateful Dead's song, Friend of the Devil, written & released in 1970 on the American Beauty album contains the lyrics "I ran down to the levee, but the Devil caught me there!" (Ref: Ed Chapin) Another reference comes from an old chevy TV ad though this has not been confirmed: "On a holly on a road or on a levee.. performance is sweeter nothing can beat her life is completer in a chevy". (Ref: Miya)
One of Holly's songs was 'That'll be the Day.' It contains the words 'That'll be the day that I die.'
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