51 Favorites: #14
I’ve had Don McLean’s “American Pie” on the list of things to include in this
series from the start.
Once upon a time, I figured that when I did finally write about the song it would be
in large part to annotate or explicate it. That was before. It was before cyberspace got quite so full; before I realized that with age the mystery and myriad possible interpretations of the lyrics grew more interesting to me than any definitive answers; before McLean slowly began to break his silence on the subject, most recently and distinctly in a documentary that premiered on the Paramount+ service last month called The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s “American Pie”.
I can recall hearing the song on the car radio forever ago, me in the single digits,
struck by how long and how catchy it was, yet also by how dark it was in a way that didn’t alienate me like so much other dark music (The Doors, Pink Floyd, even certain Beatles songs) did. For some reason I have it that “American Pie” left my life for a while to re-enter when I was a bit older, establishing itself as — depending on the parameters of the conversation — my favorite song. This was true independent of the fact that I would sing it with my dear, late cousin Steven nearly every time we were together but, of course, that became inextricably linked to my love for it.
American Pie, McLean’s 1971 debut album, contains several gorgeous, haunting
tracks, notably “Vincent” and a beautiful arrangement of “[By the Waters of] Babylon”. He’ll surely be remembered first and most for its title opus, though.
I was hesitant to watch the documentary given a fairly recent interview with McLean
I’d seen in which he, let’s say, disappointed me in a couple of ways. Yet I ultimately couldn’t not watch it. There were some unexpectedly lovely bits and some revelations that surprised me, but I found it oddly structured; for me, the whole added up to less than the sum of its parts.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that we’re five paragraphs in and nary a whit of the song
has been unpacked. I haven’t even referenced the famous allusion that gave the documentary its name. Those of you who don’t know what I mean should absolutely hear the song on its own before going down any rabbit holes (said Blam cleverly, alluding to another of his favorite things, likewise best enjoyed on its own terms before efforts at decoding commence). Fifty years on, while it remains large and contains multitudes, “American Pie” is above all else a hell of a tune.
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