American why: Time to reveal the mysteries behind Don McLean's pop hit


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The Independent Online

As with T S Eliot’s The Waste Land or Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Don McLean’s “American Pie” has perplexed scholars and fans alike for some decades. Mysterious lines, opaque references and playful non sequiturs infuse them all.

Of course there is much to be said for not trying to find the hidden meaning in art, as it stands for and speaks for itself, even if it is not readily understood. Indeed art, in all its forms, can be said to have as many meanings as the size of its audience. Still, though, the natural human urge to make sense of the puzzling can be overwhelming, and that in itself may be the point of such obscurantist works.

Since the release of “American Pie” in 1971, many have attempted to discern the true meaning behind such lyrics as “And while Lenin read a book on Marx/The quartet practised in the park/And we sang dirges in the dark/The day the music died”. Fortunately, Mr McLean is with us, as is his original lyrical manuscript, and it is shortly coming to auction.

We at last may learn what Jack Flash was doing sitting on a candlestick, and who the gold old boys drinking the whiskey and rye might have been. Mr McLean promises that it will “divulge everything there is to divulge”. Though that last remark, slightly cryptic in its own way, leaves open the possibility that what will be divulged will be very little indeed, we hope that some additional insights can be gained into this prime slice of Americana.

If the budget runs to it, it should be acquired on behalf of the people of the United States by the Library of Congress and published for the world to see. That, surely, would be the day that the mystery, though not the music, dies.