Death Lyrics in 'American Pie' Not Just About Buddy Holly

Don McLean, still cagey, suggests his father's death is in there, too
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 23, 2020 9:13 AM CDT

Don McLean has remained famously cagey about the meaning of the lyrics of his 1971 song "American Pie" over the years, though he appears to reveal a bit more than usual in an interview with the Guardian. He recounts how at the age of 15, he had a premonition that his father was going to die, and it came true days later. "I cried for two years," he tells interviewer Rob Walker. "I blamed myself." Walker asks him if the opening of "American Pie," in which McLean remembers mourning the death of the unnamed Buddy Holly, might also be about his dad. "You’ve hit the nail on the head," says McLean. "I mean, that’s exactly right. That’s why I don’t like talking about the lyrics because I wanted to capture and say something that was almost unspeakable. It’s indescribable."

McLean adds that "'American Pie' is a biographical song," though he doesn't divulge much else. Walker asks him if the "jester" in the song is, in fact, Bob Dylan, a popular theory. "I can’t tell you," he says. "But he would make a damn good jester, wouldn’t he?" Musically, McLean explains the song is an ideal combination of pop (the slow intro), rock (the transition to an upbeat tempo) and folk (the verse-chorus-verse structure). "I’ve never said that to anybody in 50 years," he tells Walker. Fans might know more in the near future: A documentary called The Day the Music Died is due out next year, as is a children's book called American Pie. A Broadway musical is scheduled for 2022. Read the full interview, in which McLean also talks about the pain of having an older, alcoholic sister. (A manuscript of the lyrics sold for a hefty sum.)

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