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The Day the Music Died

Don McLean’s “American Pie” was an eight and a half minute eulogy that beat the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” for most air time in 1970.

But what was it all about?

As a rock song it was unique, featuring five full verses, an intro and lyrics so obscure it’s a wonder it’s so memorable. Partly an autobiography, partly an allegory, to “first generation” rock and rollers, “American Pie” is a “riddle wrapped in an enigma” that listeners have tried to decipher since its release.

But if you think it was just about a plane crash that killed three pre-Beatles rock and roll icons, you’re wrong. According to Glenn Beck, the politically conservative American political commentator, the “full message” behind the now iconic song was not about a tragic plane crash. According to Beck, the lyrics are a “warning sign about the deterioration of America”.

Everybody agrees that “long, long time ago” refers to that February day in 1959 when the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and a forgotten pilot crashed in an Iowa cornfield and became the anthem of “lost youth”: the day when the “music died” and the grim reality called “adulthood” takes over.

But according to Beck, that’s only just the ”surface of the song”. McLean’s lyrics didn’t just record a tragic accident, he says, but was also a commentary on the changes in America itself. That, according to Beck, means that the USA is heading for its own “corn field”.

But that’s the beauty of music. It creates images and feelings in each listener. based on their own personal feelings and experiences. It can be just about a tragic event, or an allegory of cultural or political change, or both. Or even: “none of the above”.