Analysis of American Pie

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As the song begins, the narrator seems to feel nostalgic about the music written by a certain person, and he describes the way that music made him smile (1-3). He misses the music from the past that could make people smile, and that could help them forget their troubles. McLean seems to be referring to the 1950s, which is clearer in the chorus of the song. As the speaker goes on, he says, “But February made me shiver / With every paper I'd deliver.” Here it is widely believe that Don McLean is referring to the death of Buddy Holly. He is said to have been delivering newspapers on his paper route the February that he learned of Buddy Holly’s death. The speaker identifies Holly by the month of his death, and the, “widowed bride,” (12) that Holly left behind (Fann). The death of Buddy Holly seems to have had a profound effect on Don McLean, as the lyrics appear to show. In the chorus, we see more clearly how McLean misses the 1950s, as he references many events that occurred at the time.

The chorus begins with McLean saying, “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie” (16). Here the speaker could be referring to the American Dream, which he believes has gone under a change since the 1950s. He seems to think that the idea of the American Dream is different now, in 1971. Another option for what the speaker means here is the fact that Don McLean dated a Miss America contestant once. In line 17, McLean says, “Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry.” In the 1950s, Chevrolet was the major automobile company. When McLean says, “the levee was dry,” (17), he is possibly referring to the fact that a relationship of his has fallen apart (Fann). He seems to be upset over this fact, but he is accepting of it. In the next line, the speaker says, “This’ll be the day that I’ll die” (18). There is a song written by Buddy Holly called, “That’ll Be the Day,” where Holly later says, “that I die.” Again, McLean is returning to his beloved songwriter, Buddy Holly. We can see here that McLean truly does have an appreciation for Holly as he quotes him in a song of his own.

In the next verse, McLean mentions, “The book of love,” which is a song written by the Monotones in 1957. He clearly appreciates this song and its style. In lines 22-23, the writer says, “And do you have faith in God / If the Bible tells you so?” Here McLean is probably making a reference to an old Sunday School song which goes: "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” When the speaker says, “And can you teach me how to dance real slow,” I believe he is referring to the fact that in the 1950s, it was more common to dance slowly to music. However, in the 1960s, this changed and people focused more on fast dancing than the slow dancing of the 50s. In the last line of this verse, the speaker brings back his main theme of this song, which is the transformation of music after the 1950s. He says, “But I knew I was out of luck / The day the music died” (33-34). He is clearly talking about the fact that he is unhappy about the music of the 1950s and earlier “dying.” He enjoyed that music, along with the slowness and rhythm of the music.

Verse three consists of McLean speaking about Bob Dylan, who he uses to contrast the older music of Buddy Holly. He liked the more early folk type of Bob Dylan, but he notices that Dylan underwent a change like the rest of society. By the end of the verse, McLean is speaking about the Beatles and their impact on him (Fann). His first reference to Bob Dylan comes when he says, “And moss grows fat on a rolling stone.” Here McLean is speaking about Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone,” and how this song was Dylan’s first major change from 1950s style music. It could also be referring to the saying, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” which talks about how people are always moving and never put their roots in one place. Here the saying more likely means that people have drifted from the old musical style and...
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