A lot of American Pie
, I believe, is a chronicle of the 1960s. Hang on, I'll get the lyrics and explain as I go along.
Lyrics to American Pie by Don McLean
A long, long time ago I can still remember how that music used to make me smile and I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance and maybe they'd be happy for a while but February made me shiver with every paper I delivered, bad news on the door step, I couldn't take one more step, I can't remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride but something touched me deep inside, the day, the music, died.
- Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were all killed when a private plane they were in crashed in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2, 1959. The long, long time ago refers to the fact that American Pie was released in 1971, over a decade after Clear Lake.
Bye, bye Miss American Pie drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry an them good ol' boys were drinkin whiskey and rye singin this will be the day that I die, this will be the day that I die.
- who knows what this means; I think it just ties the song together, but "this'll be the day that I die" is probably a reference to Buddy Holly's song "That'll be the day"; the refrain is "that'll be the day that I die". Also, cars are in a lot of rock songs, particularly older songs (e. g. 409, Maybelline, Little Deuce Coupe, etc., among many others), so this also places the song in the 50s and 60s.
Did you write the book of love
- a song from the 50s.
and do you have faith in God above, if the bible tells you so, and do you believe in rock n' roll, can music save your mortal soul
- this picks up on some biblical references later in the song.
and can you teach me how to dance real slow? Well I know that you're in love with him cuz I saw you dancin in the gym you both kicked off your shoes and I dig those rhythm and blues.
- probably refers to a sock hop.
Now for ten years we've been on our own
- American Pie was written about 10 years after the tragedy in Clear Lake, Iowa.
and moss grows fat on a rollin stone but that's not how it used to be, when the jester sang for the king and queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean and a voice that came from you and me, oh and while the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown
- the jester is Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones (but the rolling stone may also be Bob Dylan, who had a song, "Like a Rolling Stone"). They had a hit called "Sympathy for the Devil" so Jagger also represents the devil. The king is probably Elvis but the thorny crown reference means the king is Jesus. The coat borrowed from James Dean (an actor who died in an auto crash in the 50s) is possibly a leather jacket. Also, moss growing fat on a rolling stone means the world is upside-down, because the correct expression is "a rolling stone gathers no moss".
the courtroom was adjourned, no verdict was returned, and while Lenin read a book on Marx, the quartet practiced in the park and we sang dirges in the dark, the day, the music, died. We were singin...
- I have no idea what the courtroom scene means. It's possible that the Lenin reference is really to Lennon, as in John Lennon, but it may mean Communists. The quartet practicing in the park is the Beatles.
Helter Skelter in a summer swelter the birds flew off with a fallout shelter, eight miles high and fallin fast,
- Helter Skelter is not only a song by the Beatles but it also refers to Charles Manson, the serial killer, who stated at his trial that he was inspired by the Beatles' White Album (Helter Skelter is one of its songs). The birds and eight miles high refers to a group, the Byrds, who had a song, "Eight Miles High". The fallout shelter refers to the Cold War, in full swing during the 50s and 60s.
it landed foul on the grass the players tried for a forward pass with the jester on the sidelines in a cast, now the half-time air was sweet perfume while the sergeants played a marching tune we all got up to dance oh but we never got the chance oh as the players tried to take the field the marching band refused to yield do you recall what was revealed, the day, the music, died. We started singin...
- aside from the marching band possibly being the Beatles' album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, I'm not sure of this passage, but sports sometimes is a metaphor for war, so this may be a reference to Viet Nam.
Oh and there we were all in one place,
- Woodstock, but possibly the concert at the Altamont Speedway, where a fan was killed in front of the stage.
a generation lost in space with no time left to start again,
- a reference to the 60s TV show, Lost in Space and/or a reference to being high.
so come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candle stick because fire is the devils only friend, oh and as I watched him on the stage, my hands were clinched in fists of rage, no angel born in hell could break that satan's spell
- more references to the Rolling Stones (one of their hits was "Jumpin' Jack Flash") and particularly to the incident at Altamont, which was a concert featuring the Stones. During their set, the Hell's Angels (a motorcycle gang), who were responsible for security, stabbed a fan. It's all in the film, "Gimme Shelter".
and as the planes climbed high into the night to light the sacrificial right I saw satan laughing with delight, the day, the music, died. He was singin...
- I do believe this is Viet Nam and the reference is to napalm being dropped.
I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news but she just smiled and turned away,
- Janis Joplin, who died in the 60s (might have been the early 70s), was very blues-influenced.
I went down to the sacred store where I'd heard the music years before but the man there said the music wouldn't play and in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried, and the poets dreamed but not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken
- this is a reference to a record store. Children screaming may refer to napalming again - there's a famous photo of a young Vietnamese girl running naked and covered in napalm.
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, and they were singin...
- the 3 men are (your choice) -
- Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens
- JFK, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King or
- literally, the straightforward Christian interpretation - the father, son and Holy Ghost
And here's another interpretation: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/music/american-pie/