On February 3, 1959, the single-engine plane carrying famed musicians Buddy Holly, J. Richardson (the “Big Bopper”), and Ritchie Valens crashed on a snow covered Iowa field killing everyone on board. It was later, in 1971, that the idiom “the day the music died” was coined about that fateful night. Don McLean uses that phrase in his eight and a half minute epic song, “American Pie.” This ballad tells about the tragedy that occurred on that bitter February evening and the downfall of rock music — and the “apple pie” image of America — that ensued. “American Pie” has numerous levels of meaning, but one of the primary motifs is that it is a tribute to Buddy Holly.
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McLean has said little about the implications of the song; only hinting to it being biographical in nature. It is how he viewed America at the time, and the direction he saw it was heading. He further describes how he has not given a full line-by-line explanation of his lyrics, in part, because much of it is illogical in nature. He has stated that they lyrics are “beyond analysis; they”re poetry.” With that being the closest he has ever come to satisfying public demand for the song’s true meaning, it makes it difficult to give an accurate account. Don McLean’s allusiveness, perhaps, adds to the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the song and what it signifies.
There are several interpretations circulating about the actual representation of “American Pie.” The reason is because the song is chock-full of metaphors, symbols, allusions, and imagery. It is ambiguous in nature, thus rendering its many meanings. As a whole, this song is an example of allegory at its best, in that it tells a story that has characters, a setting, as well as other types of symbols that have both literal and figurative meanings.
The beginning point of most analyses of the song is its title: “American Pie.” What does “American Pie” refer to? One thing can be said for sure is that it is not, as widely reported on many websites, the name of the airplane on which Buddy Holly was a passenger when he died.