American Pie

Things Twice

Don McLean's American Pie is generally regarded as a tribute to Buddy Holly
and a commentary on how rock and roll changed in the years since his death.
There are thought to be several Dylan references in the song. Each line in
the song has been extensively analyzed. Some would say too much so.
The Microsoft Conspiracy Interpretation of American Pi appeals to others.

Compiled: October 31, 1996

Subject: American Pie - You Asked For It
From: (Ed Lewandowski)
Date: 1995/07/18

I've received a number of requests from r.m.d'ers for a copy of the American Pie article in which Bob gets lots of mentions. So, to save me having to do lots of individual mailings, I decided to post it here. Even if you don't like the song I can assure you that you'll find it much more interesting than articles such as "My favourite Dylan song is..........". So without further ado, here it is:

[This is a post of an a lengthy "group" article interpreting American Pie. Only the Dylan references are excerpted below. The full article may be found at Expecting Rain.]

But that's not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the King and Queen

The jester is Bob Dylan, as will become clear later. There are several interpretations of king and queen: some think that Elvis Presley is the king, which seems pretty obvious. The queen is said to be either Connie Francis or Little Richard. But see the next note.

An alternate interpretation is that this refers to the Kennedys -- the king and queen of "Camelot" -- who were present at a Washington DC civil rights rally featuring Martin Luther King. (There's a recording of Dylan performing at this rally.)

In a coat he borrowed from James Dean

In the movie "Rebel Without a Cause", James Dean has a red windbreaker that holds symbolic meaning throughout the film (see note at end). In one particularly intense scene, Dean lends his coat to a guy who is shot and killed; Dean's father arrives, sees the coat on the dead man, thinks it's Dean, and loses it.

On the cover of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", Dylan is wearing just such as red windbreaker, and is posed in a street scene similar to one shown in a well-known picture of James Dean.

Bob Dylan played a command performance for the Queen of England. He was *not* properly attired, so perhaps this is a reference to his apparel.

And a voice that came from you and me

Bob Dylan's roots are in American folk music, with people like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Folk music is by definition the music of the masses, hence the "...came from you and me".

Oh, and while the King was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown

This could be a reference to Elvis's decline and Dylan's ascendance. (i.e. Presley is looking down from a height as Dylan takes his place.) The thorny crown might be a reference to the price of fame. Dylan has said that he wanted to be as famous as Elvis, one of his early idols.

		*	*	*
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast

On July 29, 1966, Dylan crashed his Triumph 55 motorcycle while riding near his home in Woodstock, New York. He spent nine months in seclusion while recuperating from the accident.

Subject: American Pie Revisited
From: (Craig Jamieson)
Date: 1995/07/24

American Pie Revisited.

A good analysis of this song would be worth doing.

The circulating  analysis tells  us that  Bob  Dylan  played
before the  Queen of  England. Neither Bob Dylan, the Queen,
nor anyone else can recall this event.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan front cover photograph is said to
show Bob  Dylan in  a red  windbreaker. All releases of this
album have a brown windbreaker.

>On the cover of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", Dylan is wearing just
>such as red windbreaker, and is posed in a street scene similar to
>one shown in a well-known picture of James Dean.
>Bob Dylan played a command performance for the Queen of England.
>He was *not* properly attired, so perhaps this is a reference
>to his apparel.

The analysis  is fantasy,  to debunk further points would be
tedious and in general when a piece gets most facts you look
into wrong  you just  ignore it. Who has time to do anything


Subject: American Pie revisited
From: Patricia Jungwirth (tricia.j@AARDVARK.APANA.ORG.AU)
Date: 1995/07/26

On 24 Jul Craig Jamieson noted several absurdities in the published analysis of American Pie, to which I can only agree and add the following observations:

Freewheelin' photo - right, the jacket is brown (the 'vomit jacket') and
          it's not even a windcheater. The line "coat he borrowed from James
          Dean"   could refer to Dylan taking JD's "mantle" ie youth
          anti-hero/androgynous sex object/conscientious objector to
          everything the straight adult world tries to impose on the young.

King & Queen - maybe he's "playing for the King & Queen" ie not a
          'command performance' but DOING it FOR the King of Rock & the
          Queen of Folk ie trying to fuse the two forms in a meaningful

Just apply a bit of lateral NOT literal thinking.

Just a thought (or two)

Tricia J

Subject: American Pie Revisited
From: (Joseph Cliburn)
Date: 1995/07/29

This is my humble analysis of Don McLean's reference to Dylan in the classic, gotta-flip-the-45-over-halfway-thru, opus "American Pie"... Don't care about a *direct* reading & it's been years since I've heard AP (an old girlfriend boogied with a pile of records around 1975).

[Sidenote for geriatric rmd readers only: Isn't it interesting that a girlfriend took my records at a time when probably 50% of the readership of this UselessNet newsgroup were being potty trained? Interesting or depressing as hell.]

"The jester played for the king & queen"

    The jester image is one that the jokerman himself has adopted.
    For that matter, check out BD's clothes back in '65-66: striped
    pants, polka dots, houndstooth checks. He dressed like a jester
    (altho I think he'd look cute in a piebald outfit with pointed
    shoes & bells)...
    I always took the "king & queen" to be a twisted piece of syntax
    referring to Dylan as "crown prince of rock" & Baez as "peace
    queen." I think these are Joanie's words quoted by Scaduto, but
    it's Saturday morning & I don't feel like a long read.

    This is more of an image to establish that it *is* Dylan that
    McLean's singing about. Aside from the jester, king, & queen
    symbols mentioned above, one could also take the "king" to be
    Elvis... Not to suggest that Dylan played a command performance
    in the Jungle Room, either, but just that this is a *symbol*.

"In a coat he borrowed from James Dean"

    That jacket on Freewheelin' looks brown to me. It's the "pukey"
    coat that BD wore for years... I think McLean refers symbolically
    to the "mantle" of "authority" in the youth subculture that Dylan
    assumed from Dean. After the crash, the parallels between the rebel
    without a cause & his Porsche Spyder and Dylan & his Triumph motorcycle
    were all frighteningly obvious for many of us...

    But to suggest that McLean is referring to a specific jacket or
    style of jacket is a bit of a stretch, isn't it? It's also simply
    not true. Some EDLISians, however, are known to style around Dylan
    concerts in red jackets. :-)

"And a voice that came from you and me"

    Okay, all the writers & critics used to talk about how BD gave
    voice to what everyone was thinking but didn't know how to say.
    Real trite stuff. I always felt that the *untrained* nature of
    BD's voice -- he *does* have a voice that could belong to anyone
    (or Everyman) -- is one of his great allures. Unfortunately for
    Bob's pocketbook, most consumers want a trained voice, it seems...

and later, "The jester on the sideline in a cast"

    After the crash. This verse is really about the point where the
    music died in McLean's sad saga. Rock'n'roll was becoming *rock*.
    The marching band (commercial interests driving stadium rock &
    bands with platform shoes & cocaine sensibilities to new depths
    of depravity) refused to yield & Dylan, the only guy who could
    face them all down at high noon in that high place of darkness &
    light was laid up, laid back, & probably just getting laid judging
    from all the little Dylans that were making appearances at the time.

"Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry"

    Ain't no "Crash on the Levee" in "American Pie." And, yes, that's
    the way I've heard that line for 20+ years.
McLean's symbolism is fun if a bit blunt & sophomoric. And like any other
piece of rock'n'roll lyric, it's not a good place to go with an over-
zealous reading. As I've probably stated here about *Dylan's* work (which
can also be blunt & sophomoric at times), it really defeats the purpose
of the artwork to go in trying to read every line literally. I make
this statement about the _Bible_ a lot, too...

Just my two centavos...

Subject: Bob and Don Mclean again-American Pie Revisited (again)
From: (CCruzan)
Date: 1996/03/26

A couple of weeks ago there was a thread on Don Mclean's American Pie and the meanings of various lines. Some excellent ideas were presented but I thought I would suggest an alternate interpretation for the line that goes approximately..."the jester stole his thorny crown.." Most of the comments I've seen in the last few years think that this is a reference to Dylan stealing Elvis' crown as the king.

I would like to suggest that what Don was actually referring to was Dylan the jester stole the crown from Dylan the king. My reasoning is placing the song American pie in it's context of the early 70s and referring to the mid 60s period. Elvis, by popular acclaim, was the king in the late 50s and again after his comeback in 68 and on. He almost disappeared from the time when he went into the Army until his comeback, singing throw away pop and making B movies. Bob, on the other hand, achieved during the Mid 60s, critical and popular acclaim. But his biggest supporters were the media and critics. He appeared on most major news mags and they crowned him "the voice of a generation", etc. All of which Bob did not seek or probably want. His more devoted fans saw Dylan as a modern day prophet which led to Dylan including lines like "They say sing while you save and I just get bored" (yes, I know that lyrics says slave but in the mid-to-late 60s Bob starting singing it save). He had intrusions into his personal life that were unbelievable by any standards. An example was having a fan show up at his home in Woodstock and walking into his house uninvited while tracking in cow dung. During this period Dylan was also being pressed by fans and media alike to explain the "MEANING" of his music. Bob's response was two fold 1) oblique answers which turned the question around (something he does to this day with particularly stupid interviewers) and 2) comical answers such as the 1965 Playboy interview and the time he responded to the question "did his fans understand his message". His standard answer was they understood every word of his songs.

Based on this I think Don saw Dylan the jester steal Dylan the kings crown. Left unsaid in Don's song is that Bob did this on purpose to restore sanity to his position. After all, Bob accomplishments from 1961 to 1966, in folk/rock/pop music, were without previous equal.

Of course, I just wrote this as I've been listening to BOB and JWH. Fairly good efforts for a jester, king or otherwise. ALL IMHO.

Regards and have a good day...:-)


ps..."Faith is the key!" said the first king. "No, froth is the key!" said
the second, "Your both wrong," said the third, "the key is Frank!"
                                             -----Bob Dylan, 1968

and I always thought the key was e minor.

Subject: Dylan the Jester
From: Klepper (d-klepper@NWU.EDU)
Date: 1996/09/02

>Date:    Sun, 1 Sep 1996 00:48:35 GMT
>From:    "Mark A. Spinelli" 
>Subject: Dylan the Jester
>        Having read a commentary of Don McLean's "American Pie" I noticed
>that the Jester (who sang for the king and queen) was equated with Bob
>Dylan. I thought about this and wondered why McLean would think of Dylan
>as a jester. I had known about Dylan's propensity for telling tall tales,
>of his subtle yet powerful humor in interviews. But I didn't think this
>was enough.
>        Then it struck me. A lot of Dylan's songs _are_ about jokers,
>jesters and clowns. Or at least clowns are mentioned. Besides the obvious
>"Jokerman," there is "All along the Watchtower" (There must be some kind
>of way out of here/ said the Joker to the Thief,) "A Hard Rain's a
>Gonna-Fall" (I heard the cry of a clown who died in the alley), and
>probably many more.
>        Also, a lot of other musician's songs that are described as
>"Dylanesque" mention jokers and clowns. Take Steeler's Wheel's pop,
>bubble-gum classic "Stuck in the middle with you"- "Clowns are to the left
>of me/ Jokers to the right." Or the Beatle's "You've got to hide your love
>away"- "Gather round, all ye clowns/ let me hear you say."
>        Perhaps all McLean was saying was that not only is Bob Dylan the
>Poet Laureate of his generation, but also the Court Jester.
Clowns, jokers, thieves, hobos, and outlaws are all people who live on the fringes of society. That's where Dylan sees himself. "There must be some way out of here," indeed! Musicians, artists, actors and other right-brained people (geniuses too) often feel out of sync with the rest of society. It may hearken back to his feeling out of place as one of the only Jews in Hibbing, or just the fact that he was always a little "different" than anybody else. He certainly was attracted to the notion of the western outlaw in the early songs he sang and wrote. It also led to his identification with history's most famous outcast, Jesus of Nazareth, especially after Dylan was "crucified" in the press after Newport 1965 and again after Renaldo and Clara in 1978.

Jeff Klepper

Subject: Dylan the Jester
Date: 1996/09/01

		*	*	*
>         Then it struck me. A lot of Dylan's songs _are_ about jokers, 
> jesters and clowns. Or at least clowns are mentioned. Besides the obvious 
		*	*	*
There is also a long history to this term. I first think of the fool in the tarot deck, which I for some reason equate with Dylan's clowns. But there was almost an obsession among the surrealist and early 20th century French poets and artists with the yester and the circus (Mr Jones). These were important influences on Dylan. Here, as in Mr JOnes, this I think has a lot to do with Dylan seeing himself as a conneseur of chaos-- the one who brings Mr Jones to the cricus so to speak. I don't know how familiar with Nietzshe Dylan was/is,but Zarathustra often refers to himself as a joker or a jester when he uses jokes and sarcasm to shatter the conventional views of his audience.


Subject: A little American Pie Dylan Ref
From: catherine yronwode (
Date: 1996/09/11

On numerous occasions folks have posted various glosses on the many Dylan references in Don MacLean's "American Pie," but until tonight the "canonical" (group-created) website on the song and my own lengthy personal exegesis have had a missing Dylan ref. The line "Do you recall what was revealed/the day the music died" was unreffed in the canonical site and i only had "this line reminds me of a Bob Dylan song" -- but i could never remember which one -- and in the almost three years of my posting and reposting my essay, no one ever replied with the proper Dylan ref, either.

Tonight, while browsing lyrics for the never-ending Visions of Johanna thread (long may it wave) i looked up a song i have never liked much and there it was!

So here is the revised portion of my "American Pie" essay:


     Do you recall what was revealed--
     The day the music died?  
In "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" by Bob Dylan (1968), when Frankie Lee dies, "no one tried to say a thing when they carried him out in jest, except the little neighbor boy who carried him to rest, and he just walked along, alone, with his guilt so well concealed, and muttered underneath his breath, 'Nothing is revealed.'"

The "nothing" that was "revealed" to MacLean on the day of Buddy Holly's death is the existential void -- the "Too Much of Nothing" at which "nobody should look" in Dylan's 1967 song of the same name. In that lyric, Dylan says that "too much of nothing can make a man abuse a king," by which he means that a person in existential despair may deny Jesus Christ. Indeed, the frightening glimpse of "nothing" revealed at Holly's death seems to have turned MacLean away from religion and toward the salvation of his "mortal soul" through music, as clearly expressed in the second verse.

Dylan's "little neighbor boy" who attends upon the death is a close parallel to MacLean the paperboy who walks alone in the snow and delivers the plane crash death-news in the first verse. "Nothing was Delivered" is another Dylan song title, from 1968 -- and "nothing," or death, is precisely what MacLean delivered on "the day the music died."

MacLean may also have been thinking of Dylan's image of death as a "jest" when, earlier in the song, he twice used the Dylan "jester" song-character to refer to the injured Dylan. This "jester=martyr/jest=death" configuration serves to enhance MacLean's poetic linkage of Bob Dylan's motorcycle crash with Buddy Holly's plane crash.

catherine yronwode ----------------------
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