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A Long, Long Time Ago...
Don McLean's "American Pie": What does it mean?

An unidentified cartoon about "American Pie" from The Ultimate American Pie Website. Artist unknown.

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Hear the original song in mp3
• Read the original lyrics
• Learn the guitar chords here

Before it was a bad teen sex comedy, the phrase "American Pie" meant only one thing: a metaphor for the lost postwar dream, a requiem for the teenage world of innocence, abundance, and supposed unity that accompanied the rock and roll movement of the Fifties. Which is exactly what folk-rocker Don McLean intended when he wrote the epic 1972 hit that bears its name. On one level, it's just a eulogy for three rock stars who happened to crash in a plane back in 1959 (Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper), but it's much more than that: McLean actually spends most of the song's 8:38 length talking about what happened in the decade following the crash; the loss of national identity, the triumph of rock excess and hubris, the gradual unraveling of beliefs. It's a eulogy, but not just for those three men.

We know this because of the imagery McLean uses in the song - you can't put the word "birds" that close to "eight miles high" and expect people not to pick up on it - but there's still a significant amount of discussion going on about the lyrics even today. Is the Jester Bob Dylan? Is the "girl who sang the blues" Janis Joplin? Is Mick Jagger Satan?

Actually, some interpretations of the song leave the rock world behind entirely. For example, a number of Christians have attempted to view the song in the light of their orthodoxy. Whatever you think of the lyrics (or the song itself, for that matter), it remains a classic, and one that holds up to repeated listenings, at least partly because those images ARE so fascinating. And Don's given you the freedom to make them into anything you want.

Here's a collection of links to sites that discuss the meaning of "American Pie." If you have or know of a site like this that isn't listed here, e-mail me!

Understanding American Pie
One of the best interpretations on the web, at once scholarly and poetic. Broken up into verse-by-verse sections. A magnificent guide.

Interpretation Of American Pie
From The Ultimate American Pie Website comes this thorough yet straightforward look at the song. Gathers all the more popular interpretations into one detailed whole and explains them verse by verse and line by line, with links!

FAQ: The Annotated "American Pie"
The most extensive collection of interpretations there is, bar none. Lists both the plausible and the ridiculous.

Brendan's American Pie Archive
Here, a former About Guide attempts to connect the song to JFK, Vietnam, and... Billie Holiday?

An essay which asserts, among other things, that "Pie" was an antidrug song.

American Pie Online
Don himself debunks some urban legends and misconceptions about the song at this excellent fan site.

The Straight Dope
Nothing very unusual here, but Don himself explains his silence.

Here, at Don's official site, the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs explains exactly why we love this song, while offering a little interpretation of his own.

American Pie And The Armageddon Bible Prophecy
Attempts, barely, to tie the two together.

Microsoft Conspiracy Interpretation Of "American Pi"
Just for fun.

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