ACCORDING TO MCLEAN, “AMERICAN PIE” WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE DEATH OF BUDDY HOLLY. “I LOVED HIS MUSIC,” HE TOLD SONGFACTS. “WHEN THAT WHOLE CRASH HAPPENED, IT WAS A REAL ACHE IN MY HEART. SO, I ENDED UP BRINGING BACK ALL THOSE MEMORIES OF 1959 AND THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED LATER.”
“The Day The Music Died” is February 3, 1959, when Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash after a concert. McLean wrote the
song from his memories of the event (“Dedicated to Buddy Holly” was printed on the back of the album cover). McLean was a 13-year-old paperboy in New Rochelle, New York when Holly died. He learned about the plane crash when he cut into his stack of papers and saw the lead story. · When he was a guest on the UK show Songbook, McLean talked about how he composed this song. “For some reason, I wanted to write a big song about America and about politics, but I wanted to do it in a different way,” he said. “As I was fiddling around, I started singing this thing about the Buddy Holly crash, the thing that came out (singing), ‘Long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.’ I thought, Whoa, what’s that? And then the day the music died, it just came out. And I said, Oh that is such a great idea. And so that’s all I had. And then I thought, I can’t have another slow song on this record. I’ve got to speed this up. I came up with this chorus, crazy chorus. And then one time about a month later I just woke up and wrote the other five verses. Because I realized what it was, I knew what I had. And basically, all I had to do was speed up the slow verse with the chorus and then slow down the last verse so it was like the first verse, and then tell the story, which was a dream. It is from all these fantasies, all these memories that I made personal. Buddy Holly’s death to me
was a personal tragedy. As a child, I had no idea that nobody else felt that way much. I mean, I went to school and mentioned it and they said, ‘So what?’ So I carried this yearning and longing, if you will, this weird sadness that would overtake me when I would look at this album, The Buddy Holly Story, because that was my last Buddy record before he passed away.” ·McLean admits that this song is about Buddy Holly, but with a few exceptions, has never said what the lyrics are about, preferring to let listeners interpret them on their own. Speaking with Songfacts, he did explain the lyrics in the last verse, where he quietly sings: And the three men I admire most The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost They caught the last train for the coast The day the music died McLean wasn’t sure how to end the song, so he let the lyrics he wrote lead him to the conclusion. “The song led to the ending, which was almost quiet,” he said. “The Gods from the Bible even jumped on the train and went to California, which of course is a garden of sin.” On his website, McLean explained why he doesn’t talk about the specific lyrics: “I’m very proud of the song. It is biographical in nature and I don’t think anyone has ever picked up on that. The song starts off with my memories of the death of Buddy Holly. But it moves on to describe America as I was seeing it and how I was fantasizing it
might become, so it’s part reality and part fantasy but I’m always in the song as a witness or as even the subject sometimes in some of the verses. You know how when you dream something you can see something change into something else and its illogical when you examine it in the morning but when you’re dreaming it seems perfectly logical. So it’s perfectly okay for me to talk about being in the gym and seeing this girl dancing with someone else and suddenly have this become this other thing that this verse becomes and moving on just like that. That’s why I’ve never analysed the lyrics to the song. They’re beyond analysis. They’re poetry.