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We preface our assertions regarding Don McLean’s composition by indicating that professors of Literature draw distinctions between the literal meaning of a work of fiction and the symbolic meaning – a symbolic meaning of which the author/composer may, or may not, be conscious/aware. We offer one, or two, examples from Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol, viz: Jacob Marley informs Scrooge that he will be visited by 3 spirits on consecutive nights – one per night – although the 3 spirits succeed each other in one night; this seems to be a clear intimation of the Holy Trinity. Scrooge himself – before and after – his visitations seems to connote the Old Testament (Scrooge before the visitations followed the law religiously; Scrooge was not dishonest, he was cruelly, and implacably, just…) and the New Testament (Post Scrooge’s visitations Scrooge’s eye is fixed not by seeking his immediate advantage, but instead with procuring the good of his “…fellow passengers on the path to the grave…” i.e., he – Scrooge – is reborn, and now in not driven by the parameters of law [in particular Old Testament Law], but is instead animated in his actions by the doctrines of the New Covenant, in particular as expressed in Matthew 25: 31- 40). So if our assertions seem to contradict McLean we both claim McLean (note: a prophetic vessel need not be cognizant of his/her oracle) is either unaware (unlikely) of the symbolism, or he was cryptically critiquing – via a metaphoric ballad – the direction of the culture (Note that American Pie was released in 1971), aware of how unpopular amongst the “jester” (i.e., the arts – which should be understood to include the Entertainment Industry…), and the University would be that critique, if made explicit…

 

The lyrics of song: American Pie – are in red and italics – and is interposed between this author’s (i.e., tjdonegan’s) speculative comments and explanations…

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1.) A long, long time ago__  I can still remember how the music used to make me smile… Music: Rhyme and meter – intelligent, intentional ordering…

2.) But February made me shiver with ev-‘ry  paper I’d deliver  McLean delivered newspapers…

3.) Bad news on the doorstep I couldn’t take one more step… the “bad news” was: The death of God: The Culture of Our Post Christian Era, a book – by: Gabriel Vahanian – published & reviewed by New York Times in February 1961. McLean’s – as a 15 year old Catholic, the news that ‘God was dead’ may have had a bit of a depressing, to say the least, hence McLean’s: “I couldn’t take one more step” and

4.) I can’t remembered if I cried, when I read about His widowed bride; the “widowed bride” this would be the Church established by Jesus Christ; for Christ’s bride is His Church; as a member of the widowed bride (the Catholic Church), it is natural that Mclean would be touched deeply, thus:

5.) Something touch me deep inside__ the day the music died. A somber expression of McLean’s reaction to the “widowed bride.”

6 So bye – bye Miss American Pie__ Mclean intimates, or is saying, that without the worldview (Christendom) presupposed by the American Nation, that Nation (that is: the USA) will lose its integrity (the philology of integrity means: “To walk with God”), and pass out of existence…

7.) Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.__  Note that the meaning of “levee” has two related and relevant meanings: 1.) An embankment which holds back water; 2.) A sunrise service/reception at a house of a king. Mclean is speaking of the Catholic Mass where the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ is made present in the forms of bread and wine; he is also referencing John 4: 14 (…”but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”), but if God is dead, the Son is dead, and levee will be dry, thus there will be no eternal life…

8.) Them good ole boys_ were drinkin’ whiskey and rye__ Singin’ this-‘ll be the day_ that I___ die, This-‘ll be the day__ that I__ die.____ Them good ole boys are involved in a wake, drinking the death of God…

9.) Did you_ write the book on love_ and do you have faith in God above above?__ If the Bible tell you so__Now do you_  believe in rock and roll._ Can music  save your mortal soul_ and can you teach me how to dance real slow?_ Well, I know that you’re in love with him_’cause  I___ saw you dance -in’ in the gym,_ You both kicked off__  your shoes.____ Man, I dig those rhythm and blues._____ I was a lonely teenage__ broncin’ buck_ with a pink carnation and a pick-up truck._ But I knew I__ was out____  of luck__ the day____ the music died.___  This is a coming of age of the innocent romantic view of faith, love and relations (dependent upon carnal restraint predicated or based upon belief in God, and objective morality…) contrasted with the hedonism which emerges from the gradual assimilation of nihilism; this assimilation destroys relationships, particularly non-utilitarian relations (this would mean an end to: “for better or worse,” or life-long devotion to the other…). Just as American Pie requires Christendom (or the Judeo-Christian worldview) for an enduring America, so too does the historical concepts of loving/enduring relationships; reduce relations to sex and romance cannot long endure…

10.) Now for 10 years we’ve been on our own, Note that the book: The Death of God was published/reviewed in 1961, 10 years before McLean wrote/published American Pie.

11.) and moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone  this is a reverse of the metaphor, that is: “Rolling stones gather no moss” Note this would seem to be a contradiction of the natural order, and the natural order is that which accords with a rational God…

12.) But that’s not how it used to be when the jester sang for the king and queen Note here the jester that “sang” for the king and queen references the “Arts” (Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Handel, Gounod… This would include sculptors, painters, artist in general fro once upon a time the arts centered on Christ and His bride – now widowed – the Church) and the king and queen are Jesus Christ and his Church…

13.) In a coat he borrowed from James Dean James Dean symbolized “cool,” thus once upon a time it was cool for the arts to center upon Christendom. and a voice that came from you and me The non-clergy – commoners – supported the ubiquitous artistic celebration of God’s Son, and lives ordered in accordance with the directives of His Church.

14.) Oh and while the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown The king – adorned with a crown of thorns (unmistakably Jesus Christ) – hangs his head when he is dead; the jester that stole that crown indicates the “arts” turned on, or abandoned, the king they formerly served and celebrated…

15.) The courtroom was adjourned, no verdict was returned   Pilate could be said to have adjourned the courtroom without a verdict (he was bullied into granting injustice…); this also indicates what shall befall any system of jurisprudence which does not acknowledge, or defer to, eternal verities…

16.) And while Lennin1 read a book on Marx the quartet2 practiced in the park  And we all sang dirges3 in the dark The day the music died…

                1 “…And while Lennin read a book on Marx…” This is a guess, which sets up the following double entendre, but while Vladimir Lenin has a single “n” in its spelling John Lennon has 2, but not an “i” rather an “o” in his surname; could John – which means “graced by God,” have become transformed to an apostate John Lennin i.e., and then directing the Beatles away form their affirmation of Christendom in their early music towards their rebellion… Note I only tenuously assert this…, but it becomes less tenuous with subsequent lines/verse

                2 “…the quartet practiced in the parks…” is it the Beatles now iconoclasts, or is it the Gospels which are no longer acceptable – having been exiled from popular culture? Both – note that the Beatles are only iconographic for the ARTS which no longer serve, or sustain, Christendom.

           3 “And we all sang dirges…” A dirge is something of a funeral song, and an appropriate refrain since the assimilated synthesis of “the bad news on the doorstep…”

 

17.) Helter-skelter in the summer swelter the birds flew off with a fall-out shelter… Eight miles high and fallin’ fast, it landed foul on the grass.  Helter-skelter is an amusement park ride which climbs to a precipitous height and then has a quick spiraled descent; this references the rise of the USA (on the objective moral worldview known as Christendom) and Western culture – as a whole, and following the abandonment of that worldview the ineluctable (unavoidably inevitable) rapid decaying decline… The reference to “birds flew off with a fall-out shelter” intimates/suggests a nuclear holocaust which is apocalyptic i.e., a doomsday which – by the way – cannot be escaped, and from which one cannot recover…

18.) The players tried for a forward pass, with the jester on the sidelines in a cast. Now half-time air was sweet perfume while the sergeants played a marching tune. We all got up to dance but never got the chance. ‘Cause the players tried to take the field, the marching band refused to yield. Do you recall what was revealed the day the music died…The players” (the Movers and shakers)… “forward pass” is illegal, and although McLean may be conflating politics and culture with sports (confusion follows rejection of fundamental organizing principles, doesn’t it?) metaphors, and that illegality is placidly received by the arts (the jester on the sideline in a cast) makes sense since concern for the wide culture is derived from a reliance on, and understanding of, eternal verities; of course since “we recall what was revealed, the day the music (i.e., God) died,” what eternal verities? So the 3rd verse/stanza is about chaos4 which accompanies – or results – from the abandonment of the principles by which one has formerly organized their existence; this addresses both individuals and society, McLean was addressing society as a whole…

4 Chaos and irrationality, and now that that which sustained the culture’s organization is vanquished, that result is exactly what should be anticipated; note that helter-skelter is like an amusement park coaster, the ride rises to a great height before it comes spiraling precipitously down; a metaphor for the ascent and fall of the nation and Christendom and mankind?; 2.) The jester (the Arts) himself, having lost his soul (the Arts having lost their finality i.e., their purpose conveyed by God), are now helpless in attempting to organize the society, and yet having deposed the King, by stealing His thorny crown, organizing society has fallen to the jester, to do so… 3.) That which was ‘revealed the day the music died,’ include any number of things and depends on whether what is referenced is Good Friday, or the publishing of the book The Death of God or referencing the intellectual movement which was driving the Death of God culture e.g., on Good Friday, betrayal is even amongst the elect – Judas primarily, but all of the disciples (sans John), to one degree or another; or “Truly this was the Son of God… Mark 15:39” or it could reference Nietzsche assertions and his advocacy for the insatiably indomitable will of the ubermensch deposing/supplanting God, or a reference to Ivan Karamazov assertion that: “If there is no God, anything is permissible…” both auguries of dissolution…

19.) And there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space, with no time to start again.This generation – all in one place – lost in space’ is in the state of anomie i.e., they have no understanding as to what constitutes the good, and consequentially no understanding as to what constitutes evil, wickedness or that which is inimical to themselves, their loved ones or to society in general, thus they are so conditioned as to be open to palpable evil gift wrapped in flattery i.e., a wolf – or wolves – adorned in fleece i.e., wolves in sheep’s clothing.

20.) So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candlestick ‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend. The nursery rhyme: “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jumped over the candlestick” references a medieval game played by our ancestors in which the aim was to jump over a candlestick without extinguishing the flame; such a feat was suppose to garner one good luck. Thus, sitting upon the candlestick ends the game with Jack being burnt – one may guess (which we do) that Jack is “everyman” i.e., every human (also all humans; as in: the human race) and as Jack jumps for good luck or for the good advance of the human race – so as to find our way home or our’ moral direction (since we are “lost in space”) i.e., our raison d’etre (i.e., our purpose for being, or our reason for being which is found in God, if “God is dead,” then the game is over, and there is no direction to be preferred since the good is arbitrary…) – that such an action intimates ensured bad luck, or the end of this generation, the end of that which sustained America (note again America i.e., the United States of America incorporated the principles of Christendom into its Founding documents, thus the possibility existed that America could come to approximate a heaven-on-earth if those principles were realized fully [e.g., abolishing slavery was certainly a moral necessity!], and were then adhered to…), the end of that which sustained the West a.k.a. Christendom. As Son of Perdition, fire – which is generally understood as destructive, or inimical to life – unless brought under restraint, or rational utility – but the Satan does not build, and is not restrained, he destroys, and thus, fire is his concomitant i.e., natural accompaniment.

21.) And as I watched him on the stage my hands were clenched in fists of rage. No angel born in hell could break that Satan’s spell What is ‘watched on the stage, which causes McLean to clench his hands in rage’? We argue that McLean envisioned – via inferences drawn from the “bad news on the door-step” which as we have already asserted is the death of God the end of Christendom because humans had come to set God (the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, thus that of Jesus Christ) and Truth aside to/for the advance of their immediate desire and interest5; Christendom which argues for a rationally (note, we again must assert that “rational” is in some instances synonymous with “moral”) ordered reality, and a rational ordered reality posits a hierarchy of moral principles such as those incorporated in the Declaration of Independence (i.e., Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness)… McLean is intimating that Jack Flash “sitting on a candlestick” is the acceptance of the irrational worldview surmounting the erstwhile rational worldview known as Christendom, and that what the United States was, and what the United States could have become (become via the full realization of its Founding principles), along with the former Christian Western culture (which ascended via Christendom) was ending; with that ending the beginning of the eschatological (i.e., end time events from the book of Revelations) culminating events were to advance. And those events were to coalesce towards – or in accordance with – the Revelations because, unlike the Old Testament Jews who could recover from apostasy (since the Messiah had not yet appeared and the promises God made to Abraham had not been fulfilled) we had “no time left to start again” because Jesus the Messiah had been here and would return following the apostasy. And this Jesus Christ (Son of God; 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity and King of the Angels as asserted in the hymn Adeste Fideles, but additionally by logical implication…) whom shed His mortal body as He descended into Hell (Note: one may assert that Christ in shedding His body and descending into Hell became as an angel i.e., either receiving a preternatural body – which is not subject to the laws of physics, and therefore not a “body” as understood in the temporal/physical/material world – or that his Spirit [ “Father into your hands I commend my spirit Luke 24: 46”] alone descended for he takes on His preternatural body upon His Resurrection – continuing in His ascent – and for all Eternity; in either case as a incorporeal being i.e., a spirit/soul hypostatized with the immutable body of perfection; in some sense Jesus’ separation from his mortal existence intimates something like an “angel born in Hell,” but this “angel” was unable to “break that Satan’s spell”  (Some Old Testament Scripture’s too are eschatological e.g., Daniel, and Jesus/God accord i.e., is faithful to/with their Word, which is Scripture…) and because human free-will is – for God an inviolable principle (thus God will not contravene, or usurp, human choice i.e., we may choose damnation or the path towards Salvation…) – and some of us humans seek darkness (because our deeds are evil…) rather than light. We repeat that the Old Testament Jews could start again, because God’s promises to Abraham had not been fulfilled, but we are in a position of “having no time left to start again,” because the culminating events of human history will take place, and those events follow the Great Chastisement and Apostasy…

5 The/an argument of God’s death as posited by Professor Gabriel Vahanian in his book: The Death of God argues that modern man had remade God in man’s own image i.e., we humans have altered our conception of God to accord with our desire [note that this is – in essence – Nietzsche’s point as well], thus we humans need not change to accord with the arbiter of objective morality i.e., God, and of dispassionate transcendent love – exemplified by Jesus Christ, because our god is either our own selves, and/or our self-fulfilled desires…

 

22.) And as flames climbed high into the night to light the sacrificial rite I saw Satan laughing with delight the day the music died. Flames are burning Jack – i.e., everyman’s temporal interest, because we have reached the “end of days.” In particular, that which is, and those which are burnt is/are those whom are not gathered into the Masters barn – those whom did not “see” the Lord hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or ill, or in prison and thus did not attend to His (i.e., “the needs of the least of these.”) needs (this references Matthew 25: 41-466 The sacrificial rite (a cleansing end-time event) satisfies and entertains/delights Satan because he obtains those whom have eternally fallen; obviously this would be contrary to God’s intention, but some go to Hell simply because Hell is less painful – for them – than accepting Truth; since truth necessitates change so as to cause accord with the Perfect, which me must note is not changeable.

                               6 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me you accursed, into the eternal fire for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison and you did not care for me. Then they will answer and say ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? He will answer them, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous, to eternal life.”

 

23.) I met a girl who sang the blues__ and I asked her from happy news, __ The song “Singing the Blues” (Recorded by both Marty Robbins and Guy Mitchell, amongst others…) is something of a lamentation; the song conveys a that the loss of the singer’s “love” which has rendered the singers life melancholic and mournful at best, whereby: “…everything’s wrong and nothin’ ain’t right…” and “The moon and stars no longer shine__ The dream is gone I thought was mine__ There’s nothin’ left for me to do__” Singing the blues seems to be an appropriate response to the death of the ‘King that wore a crown of thorns’ (since if he is truly dead, the water’s well of eternal life is dry “so bye, bye American Pie…”_ as is a dirge (as noted above a dirge is a tune for a funeral march…) And of the “girl singing the blues” we conjecture may be any number of entities e.g., the Church (i.e., the widowed Bride), Christendom, Lady Liberty (note “liberty” is not doing what one desires to do, but doing what one ought to do, and what one ought to do is determined by one’s nature; thus understood properly i.e., vis-à-vis the Perennial Philosophy, Lady Liberty is iconographic for the natural law…), mankind et al, but each entity’s raison d’etre (i.e., their reason for being) presupposes that the King wearing the crown of thorns possesses mastery over death, and that He ultimately has written His Law into existence…

24.) But she just smiled and turned away.___ We suggest that her smile is a whimsical melancholic and obviously stoic smile (stoic because the question – regarding “happy news” – is absurd in light of the death of God…), and she turns away indicating the meaninglessness of news of “happy things.”

25.)  I went down to the sacred store___ where I heard the music years before But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.____  Sacred store, and music which will not play, because the Author of Rhyme and Reason is no longer…

26.) And in the streets the children screamed__ the lovers cried__ and the poets dreamed.__ Note the different reactions of the children, the lovers and the poets each regarding the Romance which accompanies Christianity and its transcendent worldview…For the children the fairytale (Chesterton on occasion intimates meaning of such tales e.g., “There is the terrible allegory of “Sleeping Beauty,” which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death: and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep…” from the Ethics of Elfland  an essay by that name in Chesterton’s: Orthodoxy), as well as such childhood repositories of “magic” e.g., Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth fairy etc. As for the “lovers” crying – absent God, romantic love is reduced to a physical act i.e., sex… Poets dream – rather than attempting to capture and convey the ineffably unfathomable (or as such as which attends to God…).

27.) But not a word was spoken the church bells all were broken. No word was spoken because the church bells all were broken, and they were broken because the music died… Church bells generally call people to prayer; if God is dead, prayer is absurd, and the culture which ascended upon that belief – as its fundamental organizing principle – is in a state of organic decadent despondency i.e., anomie… Apropos that this verse is slowed and sung slowly and with a sad poignancy, as is the final refrain…

28.) 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. Three men – rather than 3 persons of the Holy Trinity (a result of reducing all to the material; if nothing transcends matter, then Ivan Karamazov’s words: “If there is no God, everything is permissible” renders reality as bleak as Sartre portrays things – which – by logical implication – is what the “bad news on the doorstep” it is coming to believe in what may be weighed, measured and quantified which ultimately eliminates the transcendent…) – catch the last train for the coast i.e., the Elysium Fields (Greek Mythological Heaven-like place where the just, the heroic, the good and the true go after death, as opposed to Hades… Homer locates Elysium at the western edge of the earth by the stream Okeanos i.e., at a huge river at the edge of the earth, or as an ocean about the equator)…

29.) Bye, bye Miss American Pie Drove my drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.___ Them good ole boys___ were drinking whiskey and rye___ Singin’ this-‘ll be the day__ that I__ die, This-‘ll be the day__ that I___ die____ And they were singin’.____ This-‘ll be the day___ that I____ die._______ This refrained ending is done more slowly in tempo with the last lines repeating “this will be the day that I die” connoting a jeremiad, again apropos; for the fundamental principle of belief underpinning Western culture ascent in general – but the United States of America in particular – is believed by many, albeit unconsciously – to be false. This is the condition for a general apostasy which leads to a material oriented world (note: this is the belief encapsulated by the modern University and particularly modern “philosophy” and the social-sciences, viz: only those things which may be described mathematically or measured have meaning, this eliminates the human soul, God and Western metaphysics and all derived thereof…), and the material oriented world replaces the erstwhile intrinsic worth of humans i.e., the sacrosanct/sacredness of humans with an extrinsic value i.e., humans become objects of utility; once a human has exhausted his/her usefulness they become only heavy insufferable burdens. This is turn leads to the conditions – gradually emerging – of dystopia which is the condition of eschatology…

 

Such are the conjectures of Thomas J. Donegan regarding Don McLean enigmatic song…

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and are not not necessarily either shared or endorsed by iPatriot.com.

TJDonegan7

 

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