The Meaning of American Pie

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  • Topic: 1950s, Buddy Holly, American Pie
  • Pages : 3 (992 words )
  • Download(s) : 386
  • Published : October 27, 2008
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In the autumn of 1971 Don McLean's elegiac American Pie entered the collective consciousness, and over thirty years later remains one of the most discussed, dissected and debated songs that popular music has ever produced. A cultural event at the peak of its popularity in 1972, it reached the top of the Billboard 100 charts in a matter of weeks, selling more than 3 million copies. By identifying this great success it illustrates that it was no ordinary song. With its boldness, originality and it being thematically ambitious created uncertainty. Presenting the idea that we weren’t entirely sure what the song was about, provoking endless debates over its epic cast of characters. But however open to interpretation the lyrics may have been, the song's emotional resonance was unmistakable: McLean was clearly relating a defining moment in the American experience—something had been lost. Opening with the death of singer Buddy Holly and ending near the tragic concert at Altamont Motor Speedway, we are able to frame the span of years the song is covering—1959 to 1970—as the "10 years we've been on our own" of the third verse. It is across this decade that the American cultural landscape changed radically, passing from the relative optimism and conformity of the 1950s and early 1960s to the rejection of these values by the various political and social movements of the mid and late 1960s. American Pie appears to chronicle the course of rock 'n' roll, it is not, as is sometimes suggested, a mere catalogue of musical events. In using the cast of rock 'n' roll players from the 1960s and setting them against the backdrop of Buddy Holly's death, they become polarized—metaphors for the clash of values occurring in America at this time: Holly as the symbol of the happier innocence of the fifties, the rest as symbolic of the sixties growing unrest and fragmentation. And as each verse sums up chronological periods in time—the late 1950s, 1963-66, 1966-68, 1969, 1970—another blow...
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