Other Players

Gloomy Don McLean reveals meaning of ‘American Pie’ — and sells lyr…


Don McLean sold the original manuscript of American Pie for $1.2 million. He stated the song is about:

“Basically in ‘American Pie,’ things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense."

The world today is even worse, "There is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of ‘American Pie."


A friend of mine saw him in concert years ago. At that concert, McLean said the song meant he never had to work again.


hah..liked that song in my youth..always liked the buddy holly reference...bought the album..that track and vincent..(abt van gogh!)

american pie-iconic track...and it was very long for a 45 record hit..

glad he made a last bit of $$$ for his family from it

there were far worse



Lyrically, the song is a downer, but it just goes to show you that if you have a happy melody with a decent rhythm, you can say anything you want


Lyrically, the song is a downer, but it just goes to show you that if you have a happy melody with a decent rhythm, you can say anything you want

– crowbone

Like Born in the USA.


From the GDP Wayback Machine

We had an AmPie thread some years ago (no later than Feb 2009), in which I recounted my personal experience with the song. The narrative involved a public event in my hometown, and as it named names, somehow people from home found it on the GDP and it went common-cold (which is well short of viral) among alumni at the old school and their circles. I'm told the star of the story read it as well, and took it in good grace as back-handed recognition of her role in the life of that small town. She has since passed on to the great home ec room in the sky.

It's one of a handful of GDP scrawls I thought to back up at the time, so it survived the Wreck of the Database. As it's obviously directly apropos to this thread, newer members couldn't have read it, and it'll be all new to older members with memories like mine, here it is again, in replay (and slightly enhanced).

It's especially poignant for me as my partner in the retold crime (and a friend I'd known from the age of 3) died a week ago of brain cancer. This one goes out to Kenny.

The Meaning of American Pie

The chorus is richly evocative, even if technically meaningless. You heard it once, you couldn't un-hear it, and don't tell me you haven't sung along. The verses make a kaleidoscopic romp through 15 or so tumultuous years of rock history, even if the strained sophomoric symbolism overreaches and still doesn't quite grasp anything.

The chord progression is as inevitable and fun to play as that of Donovan's "Atlantis," or "Free Bird," or "Whiter Shade," or Pachelbel's "Canon."

I first heard it at about 6:00 on a gray November morning in 1971, out of the transistor radio bolted to the handlebars of the 26" fat-tired bike I used on my paper route. I swear I was throwing a paper when Don sang "with every paper I'd deliver."

For me, the song is the centerpiece of a grand epic event.

From the late 50s through the late 70s a terrifying dragon lady (as we thought then) held dominion over a Home Economics empire at the small-town high school I attended in central Ohio.

She was tall, thin, elegant, dour, and fierce, equally respected and feared. (She was also dealing with a horrific and dysfunctional situation at home, but we knew nothing of that then and in the cruelty of youth would have extended little sympathy anyway.)

I had never not known her, as my father (who had taught at the school in my childhood) had lent me to her when I was an infant so Home Ec girls of the 50s could get experience bathing a child. I wish I had better memories of that.

Anyway. If you were a girl at our school, and you signed up for Home Ec, she was your staunchest ally and most ferocious advocate. If you were anything else, you were a worm.

And if you were a girl attending "her" school during those years, it was hard NOT to take Home Ec, because – and I recall this as literally true – your schedule came to you blocked out for two periods of home-ec, every day for four years, before you chose electives. Did this mandatory schedule wreck a girl's college-prep program? Would a girl rather have been in shop, or vocational agriculture? Little matter. You COULD get out of Home Ec, but it took a fight, and you were a worm ever after.

Decorum, deportment, hygiene, wardrobe, modesty, fashion, infant care, child development, first aid, cosmetics, hair care, nutrition, cooking and presentation, sewing, home sanitation, interior decorating and checkbook-balancing were part of the curriculum. We suspected that birth control (either through contraception [doubtful] or militant abstinence [likely]), marital relations, and sexual politics were part of the indoctrination as well. Girls who were part of the program would never really tell everything that went on. It may well have included witchcraft.

Hermalee (what else would it be?) was building and armoring proper 1950s homemakers, who would go on to make proper happy homes, and any hapless males who got in the way could learn to like it or. (There was no else.)

This meant that our tiny high school was famous statewide not only for having won enough state baseball tournaments that the town considered changing its name to "Baseball," but for Hermalee's chapter of the FHA. Herm turned out the greatest number of Future Homemakers of America, per capita, in the entire Buckeye state.

The only benefits any boy (and most of the faculty, I think) could find in living within Hermalee's dominion were cakes, pies, and cookies. The Home Ec suite (big classrooms with kitchens, connective offices and, we're sure but never saw because we weren't permitted in, their own bathrooms) lined the main hallway opposite the cafeteria. (This cafeteria can be seen in the foodfight scene of the 80s teenflick Mischief.) When the girls baked, the result was more goodies than they were permitted to eat, which they distributed in the hallway to any and all. The baking smelled good. The pies were juicy, the cakes fluffy, and the cookies scrumptious. No one will ever say Herm didn't turn out great cooks.

One of the burdens of living in Hermalinia (along with the likelihood that Hermalee would chaperone dances and not only put a damper on young lust, but also pull the plug on the band if she thought it was too loud or unwholesome) was the Spring Fashion Show.

Everyone who took Home Ec (about half the student body, remember) was required to make an outfit and model it for the Spring Fashion Show, held in the gymnatorium. (An auditorium with a basketball-court-sized stage.) I don't think it was technically mandatory that all students and faculty attend this May evening event – but certainly if you had a sister or girlfriend in Home Ec, you could just plan on it. And since a couple hundred girls have a lot of parents and relatives, you knew the gym would be packed and sweaty. (No A/C in those dear dim departed days.)

In fact, I can never recall the auditorium being SO fire-marshall-nightmare packed as on the date and time I'm gradually leading up to. Our basketball team only wished it had ever had such a turnout. (There was never any danger the town would be named "Basketball.")

Spring Fashion Show was Hermalee's night of glory. It was also a community event, a rite of passage, a burgeoning estrogen fest, and some kind of sublimated spring fertility ritual.

Herm ran a tight ship of a show. But even with her iron discipline, faultless event planning and tightly-scheduled stage management, it would take several hours for all of the ... blossoming young women ... to sashay across the stage to musical accompaniment themed to the outfit groupings and narrated in best runway patter (surely penned by Herm herself).

If you attended (and you almost certainly would), you were in for the duration: two 90-120 minute segments of fashion relieved by a short intermission of suitable light musical entertainment.

Surely you've picked up on Hermalee's ongoing attempt to hold the line of 1955 Good Housekeeping home-and-family purity against the onslaught of rock & roll, the sixties, social change, and the perverse predations of BOYS. Surely you've imagined how Herm molded (some might say warped) at least a generation of Ohio girls. (I live with one, and confess it ain't all bad.)

And she held on pretty well clear through the sixties. But in the fall of 1971, it started to come apart when the Dans signed up for Home Ec. The Dans were two very popular student athletes (let's call them jocks); co-captains of the football team, darlings of the girls and of most teachers, well-liked by the guys. They signed up for Home Ec mostly as a gag, though they covered it with some prattle about gender role rigidity.

Mostly they signed up for Home Ec because the Kathies had signed up for Vo Ag. (Actually, Kathy and Cathy.) The Cathies were popular and pretty (though not the cheerleader counterparts to the Dans you'd expect if this were fiction). As both lived on family farms they wanted to manage in the future, they had legitimate and compelling reasons to become Future Farmers of America.

As I recall, the agriculture teachers didn't put up so much as a token fuss against the girls taking their classes. Not so with Hermalee. Hermalee laughed derisively when she learned the Dans had signed up. As it gradually dawned on her they were SERious, she waxed apoplectic. She turned something other than adamantine white for the first time in living memory. She raged. She fought tooth and nail, at first with the backing of the administration.

But as the Dans pressed their case, it emerged that no one could find any specific prohibition against boys in Home Ec, and Herm eventually capitulated.

So it was that during the fall of my senior year, two males for the first time penetrated the velveteen-militant feminine veil of Herm's empire. I'm sure adjustments had to be made, but whether through determination, sheer bravado, or the refusal to give in to embarrassment, the boys hung in there. (I secretly suspect they may truly have enjoyed not only gaining an inside perspective on the feminine world, but what they learned.) To give Hermalee credit, after she took them in and saw that regardless their initial motivation, they were playing along, she treated the Dans fairly.

That is, she let them be in the fashion show. Football and basketball were over by early spring, and the Dans were able to take enough time away from baseball to sew their own outfits. (I wish I remember what they made; it would bring color to the piece.)

You might imagine that the final Spring Fashion Show of our high school career shaped up to be a Major Event. Not only would all the girls and their families be there – but now so would everyone who wanted to see the football heros sashay across the stage in their self-sewn fashions.

Which is where "American Pie" finally comes in. Somehow, a buddy of mine and I were tapped to provide a song during intermission. It being popular that spring, we chose Don McLean's anthem. I would play piano, Kenny would play guitar, and we'd harmonize like cherubs. (We did sing nicely together, and had been doing so since "Save Your Heart for Me" in 1965.)

There was a kind of abbreviated practice the afternoon before. We offered up no more than a verse and chorus of the song before Hermalee rushed the rehearsal on.

Came that night, a humid, sultry May evening, all golden light and lush green outside. Inside, the auditorium was a sea of flesh under the dim light of ancient pendant fixtures, rippling and murmuring with hand-held fans from the local funeral emporium. Everything was taking longer than it had in rehearsal. First came the freshmen girls, and then, tediously, the sophomores. The event droned on in warm waves, running later by the minute.

Came the intermission, and whatever acts preceded us (we were last). Finally Kenny and I took our place in front of (but not on) the stage, me at the blond Gulbransen upright on its squeaking casters, Kenny with his Harmony acoustic, mics jacked into the horns of the Bogen PA system. Hermalee caught our eye from side stage, pointed at her watch and held up three fingers.

Huh! Talk about a captive audience. Those who'd gone out for a breath of breeze or a lungful of wheeze were back in their seats. It was standing-room only around the back of the hall, down the aisles, and in the balcony. The junior and senior girls in their beachwear, short shorts, culottes, and tied tops had yet to cross the stage – and no one was about to miss the Dans in their runway debut.

But no one was going to see ANY of that till we'd delivered our epic. Kenny and I lit into "a long long time ago." I'd like to say you could have heard a pin drop, but that would be a lie. Few paid more attention than they had to, given the fact that we were plenty loud enough.

But the longer the song went on, the more attention focused on us. And clearly, the song went on. And, even with sweat dripping from my nose onto the piano keys, on some more. And then an instrumental verse, just because we could see Herm going ruddy in the face, stringy veins popping out on her neck, makeup cracking, waving from behind the curtain, furiously jabbing at her watch and dragging her finger across her throat. And then on the rest of the way to the very last verse, with an extra repeat of the chorus as everyone sang along. It was every bit of twelve glorious minutes of pure obstruction.

At the time, it felt like I was doing my part to break up an old and repressive regime.

Of course I realize now Herm could've unplugged us any time she wanted, but I think she knew she was already beaten...

...or maybe she wasn't really the rigid, intolerant dragon we thought.

Register Sign in to join the conversation