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American Pie by Don McLean

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
And they were singin'

Janis Joplin is most likely the "girl who sang the blues." The 'unhappy news,' is likely to be her heroin overdose in October 4th, 1970, which resulted in her death. Amazingly enough this is the one line of the song that hasn't caused many alternative interpretations though I do still wonder if others exist.

'The sacred store' is most likely a record store. The stores abandoned the practice of allowing customers to preview records in the store in little booths. Records also changed format in the 1960's. Buddy Holly's singles were released on '78 records (playing at 78 revolutions per minute). By the end of the 60's a '78 was virtually unplayable with the music industry long since moving to '45s for singles and '33s for albums. (Ref: Denis Morgan)

Fillmore EastMore specifically the store is likely to be Fillmore East. Bill Grahams site for concerts, said by some to be the greatest rock & roll venue of all time. However it shut down due to the small size of acts it attracted. (Ref: John Clark) Again this seems to refer to Don's own experiences: "Where I'd heard the music years before". Presumably "The music wouldn't play" as the venue was shut down & no one wanted to hear the music of Buddy and others. The concert list of the venue makes for some interesting reading.

 

"American Pie' was recorded on 26 May 1971 and a month later received its first radio airplay on New York's WNEW-FM and WPLJ-FM to mark the closing of The Fillmore East. (Ref: internet)

Another take on this line, is that the "Sacred store" refers to the relative holiness of 50s music. "The music wouldn't play" because by then 50s music was no longer popular. (Ref: M Green) Alternatively it could be The Weavers who were blacklisted & their music taken of the shelves in record shops. (Ref: John Wilson & Missy)

The children screaming seems to refer to Vietnamese children. At the time Life Magazine published horrifying photos of the children during the war. Perhaps most famous was of a young girl who was covered in Napalm. However horrifying, the photo was, there has been much debate as to whether the Napalm in this case was dropped by U.S. planes.

Berkely demonstrationsThe children screaming, could also be the Vietnam protests and riots. The 'Flower Children,' who were beaten by police and National Guard troops. This was most prevalent at the People's Park riots in Berkeley in 1969 and 1970.

"Lovers" could be the widowed wives of soldiers that died in the war. Not a word being spoken could be people not talking about the crisis of war because of the pain of thinking about lost loved ones. (Ref: Brett) Perhaps it could also be the protesters being silenced by the National Guard.

"The lovers" could also be the hippies, who "cried" as they campaigned for peace. 'The poets,' were perhaps also dreaming of peace, and in the 60s could express their feelings more freely through poetry.

Time Oct 22, 1965 The broken church bells could refer to the dead musicians who can no longer produce music, but also the 'Is God Dead,' question posed in Time Magazine on October 22nd 1965, asking if this was the end to organised religion.

Time Magazine initially wrote an article based on Thomas J.J Altizer, associate professor of Bible and religion at Emory. From this the state of God's health started being debated in the New York Times, Daily News, sermons, talk shows, theological journals & even bumper stickers! Then Time revisited the issue posing the question "Is God Dead?" Altizer's name became synonymous with a God-killer & Altizer along with young theologians called themselves Christian Atheists. (Ref: internet)

In this era people drifted from the traditional religions to Eastern religions, New Age religions, cults and various other things. This was due to many factors including the churches not keeping up with the times. They said that sex was evil, birth control was a major sin, dancing was bad, and so on. Then suddenly in the late 60 s the church decided to change, and masses were no longer held in Latin, musical instruments were brought into churches to appeal to the young. This type of thing still goes on today, with shortages of priests and nuns, and a declining attendance rate & an interest in Eastern Religions continues to grow.

The church bells reference could also be about Holly et al having produced 'holier' music. (Ref: M Green) This also is about the musicians having died & lost hope of saving America in a new era where free love & drugs prevailed. (Ref: M Green) This continues the theme of degeneration with the relative holiness of 50s music not being played & no longer popular.

"The three men I admire most" line troubled me for some time, and I have come to the conclusion that apart from the religious references to the trinity of God which reflect McLean's beliefs, the answer for me is simple. I believe "The Father, Son & Holy Ghost" refers to Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper. (Ref: Asad Jaleel) While McLean obviously admired Holly, the other two, were also killed and may have been seen by McLean as part of the innocence of Rock that now was destroyed. What their death stood for meant the end of an era in music & the end of song. Holly was linked to the innocence of the time and the song reflects Don's admiration for him.

The train reference could be a synonym for having died, as in 'went west,' and this would then make it clear that it was the three that he referred to, as the last verse again mentions the plane crash or "The Day The Music Died."

"Gone west" could also refer to the "Is God Dead' article. (Ref: Robert O Connor, Dick Cleary)

There have been many other explanations for this verse, particularly with reference to "The Father, Son & Holy Ghost".

JFK, Martin Luther King & Bobby Kennedy were all assassinated. (a popular song of the time Abraham Martin & John makes the reference to Bobby as well) Many people of the generation felt these were the three men who would have
changed the direction of many of the issues. They were the political voice of that generation and the feeling of hopelessness that reigned during the time after the assassination of 1963 and especially so after the assassination of 1968 making it another "Day the music died". (Ref: Tresha O'Connor, Doug L)

Alternatively "The Father" is Martin Luther King, JFK is the "Son," and Malcolm X is "The Holy Ghost."' While this seems idealistic, it does not seem to fit quite as nicely as the rest of the song, where McLean relies heavily on other musicians, and less on other famous people.

Chuck Barry could also be, "The Father" of R&R, Rick Nelson, the "son" of the Nelsons on TV and Pat Boone the "Holy Ghost", well known as a clean cut Christian artist.

Albert Grossman could also be "The Father." He was Dylan's manager as well as managing many other stars. Therefore Dylan is the "Son," and Holly is the "Holy Ghost."

{Refrain}

Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levy
But the levy was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing this'll be the day that I die

They were singin'
Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levy
But the levy was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing this'll be the day that I die

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