I woke up at 4am this morning with Don McLean’s American Pie lyrics running through my head.
I rarely understand the basis for my dreams but this morning was different. It was because Donald Trump sent the hordes down the street to the US Capital. It was because of the trauma I witnessed for ten hours in Washington, DC. It was because renegades ransacked the “people’s house”. It was because three people died.
Of course it was the great song’s refrain that was in my head: “bye, bye, Miss American Pie”.
McLean has always been reluctant to explain the meaning of his song lyrics. He has chosen to have the song stand on its own merit. It has been a musical Rubik’s Cube that is still unsolved nearly 50 years after he released it 1971.
I was sixteen years old when the song came out. I was half way through high school and, like millions of my peers, I sensed, believed, hoped that the song was an obtuse map he wanted me to follow that would explain the world to me.
I quickly understood that the “jester” was Bob Dylan, that Lennin was John and the quartet were the Beatles, Jack Flash was Mick Jagger, Satan’s spell was about the Stones at Altamont, Eight Miles High and the Birds were self-evident and that “the three men I admired most” were John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The rest of the lyrics were unsolvable for me.
All of that is personal trivia. What McLean’s song is about is loss of innocence.
For him, it was influenced by the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and Jiles (Big Bopper) Richardson in a 1959 plane crash. McLean’s life was changed forever and perhaps the song was his attempt to heal himself from the loss of three of his musical idols.
Yesterday was a loss of American innocence. January 6th, 2021 became the second day in our history that “will live in infamy.” While I’m not sure how much American innocence my country had left before yesterday, I deeply feel we are less today than we were yesterday.
I have many friends around the world and I’m not keen to talk to them today. I cannot explain my country or answer any of the questions they may ask me. What is provoking me as I write this is: “how do I use myself to support and help heal my country?
Answering this question becomes my work. It is all of America’s work.
Because yesterday, in Washington, DC, some of the music died.
So, bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good ol’ boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”
© Don McLean