American Pie: Is it better not to know the definitive meaning of Don McLean's lyrics?

The original manuscript to Don McLean's masterpiece has been sold at auction, revealing his thought process as he wrote it. But do fans always need answers to what the lyrics mean?

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The Independent Culture

The manuscript of Don McLean’s handwritten American Pie lyrics, with unpublished verses, annotations and revisions, sold at auction this week for $1.2m (£807,000), with McLean claiming it would reveal, "everything there is to know" about a song that has several thousand blogs and even a couple of books dedicated to its meaning. The Christie’s catalogue listing boasted: "The singer-songwriter’s masterpiece became the anthem of McLean’s own "generation lost in space," and continues to resonate in the present day."

The 69-year-old has always remained tight-lipped about what the 8 min 33 second song alluded to since its release in 1972, aside from confirming it was about the death of Buddy Holly and the passing of an era of innocence. But in the catalogue he had this charming indictment of the world to share: “Basically, in ”American Pie“ things are heading in the wrong direction... it is becoming less ideal, less idyllic… there is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of "American Pie". "

Not as upbeat as the tune might imply, then. But is it ever a wise idea to reveal the meaning behind a song, and do the people who listen to it really want to have a definitive meaning? Sometimes our own imaginations come up with better interpretations than the people who wrote them.

When Noel Gallagher was pressed to explain “Champagne Supernova”, the 7min 27s epic that describes similar feelings about how the music has died, it wasn’t exactly inspiring either: “Bands like The Clash just petered out. Punk rock was supposed to be the revolution but what did it do? Fuck all.” He explains on the band’s website, adding: “I couldn't think of anything that rhymed with 'hall' apart from 'cannonball', so I wrote 'Slowly walking down the hall/ Faster than a cannonball'.”

Maybe some song-writing mysteries are best left unexplained.


Feeling faint about the glockenspiel

Songs from The Falling is the new album from Tracey Thorn, the singer from Everything But The Girl. The album, released on 20 April, is the soundtrack to a new film by Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life) that explores the idea that fainting is all about denied or displaced sexuality. Thorn says she was inspired by one particular scene shot in a music lesson and you can hear typical school instruments on the record, Give it a listen and you'll never look at a glockenspiel in the same way again.

Released 20 April on Strange Feeling Records. The film is out 24 April in cinemas.


Winehouse documentary must ask the hard questions

The Amy Winehouse documentary is not released until 3 July, but the trailer is already getting people talking. It’s from the team behind the Bafta-award-winning Senna biopic and features early pictures of the young Amy, pre-beehive, but most interestingly the Back to Black singer predicts her own demise in the trailer. A clip from an early interview reveals that she believed if she became famous she would “go mad.” She had also said repeatedly that she was her own worst enemy. Why then, did no-one try to protect her?  Hopefully the documentary will tell the story of her family and bodyguards as well as scrutinising the media pressure on the young star.


Hot ticket

Ever wanted to make your own record? Now you can. For £50 you can get 15 minutes in a recording studio at Somerset House, fully equipped with instruments. Jam away to your heart’s content and your tune will be recorded on a vinyl record you can take home and keep. The Public Records is part of a programme for Secret 7inch, an annual event where popular artists design record sleeves for music by famous musicians, sold for £50 each – the catch is the artists names remain secret until you’ve made your purchase.