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Generation Y Essay, Research Paper
Allegory of American Pie by Don McLean
A Piece of the “Pie”
Ask anyone what was the defining moment in the rock history of the 1960s
was and all you will get is a one word answer: Woodstock. The three day
rock festival that defined an era was only one of many music festivals of the
’60s. But Woodstock has come to symbolize, “an era of peaceful, free-
loving, drug- taking hippie youth, carefree before harsher realities hit…”
(Layman 40). The Woodstock festival ended a century filled with many
metamorphoses of rock’n'roll, from the era of pop music to the rebirth of
folk music to the invention of acid rock. But some cynics say that
rock’n'roll died with the death of Buddy Holly before the 60s even began.
One such person is Don McLean. The poet behind the haunting epic song
about the death of ‘danceable’ music, McLean wrote the ever popular
song, “American Pie” (appendix 1). The most important song in rock’n'roll
history, “American Pie”, is the song about the demise of rock’n'roll after
Buddy Holly’s death and the heathenism of rock that resulted. Although
McLean himself won’t reveal any symbolism in his songs, “American Pie” is
one of the most analyzed pieces of literature in modern society. Although
not all of its secrets have been revealed, many “scholars” of the sixties will
agree that the mystery of this song is one of the reasons it has become so
successful- everyone wants to know the meanings of its allegories.
Proof of “American Pie’s” truth lies in the allegory of the song. Many People
enjoy the song but have no idea what it means- Who is the Jester? What is
the levee? When the deeper story is found, the importance of the song is
unearthed. “American Pie” is not only a song, it is an epic poem about the
course of rock’n'roll in the sixties. The song is centered around the epic’s
hero, Buddy Holly. Holly was a 50s rock and roller who experimented
greatly with chords and beats. Many people say that if Holly hadn’t died, no
one would have needed the Beatles, who in their time also revolutionized
rock. But in any sense Holly was a rock pioneer. He wrote his own songs
and popularized the use of the two guitar, bass and drums line-up (Jordan).
Holly directly influenced most of the most prominent folk and rock
musicians of the 60s including Bob Dylan, the Beatles and many others. The
Beatles name actually originated from Holly’s band, the Crickets (Jordan).
In February of 1959 tragedy struck. Holly was on tour with a collection of
performers, and he wanted to fly to the next stop instead of taking the bus.
He chartered a plane and a pilot to fly him and two others to Fargo, North
Dakota (Verse 1). Originally it was to be Holly, Waylon Jennings, and
Tommy Allsup. But J.P. Richardson (”The Big Bopper”) talked Jennings
into giving him his seat and Allsup lost his seat to Richie Valens (”La
Bamba”) on a coin toss (Jordan). The pilot, Roger Peterson, was a visual
pilot, and not certified to fly an instrument plane flight. But on the night of
February 3, 1959 the plane when up during a flurry. The pilot lost control
and while he believed he was steering up, the plane went straight down.
When the plane crashed all four men died instantly (Jordan). The day that
the plane crash henceforth became known as “The day the music died”.
The chorus in American Pie is the main theme of the song. American Pie is
the pure American art of rock and roll. The Chevy is the icon of America.
The levee is the source of music and since the decline of original rock and
roll, there is no water (or talent) in the levee: it’s dry. “This’ll be the day that
I die,” was taken from a Buddy Holly song entitled “That’ll be the Day” and
a line in the chorus read, “That’ll be the day that I die,” (Kulawiec).
The next verse of American Pie, McLean demonstrates what happened
after Holly’s death. The birth of teen idols such as Frankie Avalon and
Fabian arose. Although the verse seems positive, the narrator is left outside
of the “dance”. While ‘you’ (The youth of America) were dancing in the
gym with ‘him’ (The teen idols) “…I knew that I was out of luck…”, because
the love that he wanted from ‘you’ was given to ‘him’ (Jordan). Another
line in this verse is important. “Can you teach me how to dance real slow…”
Slow dancing was important in the early days of rock and roll, but they lost
popularity when acid rock and long guitar solos became popular
The third verse begins with the narrator in the present (1970). The “moss
grows fat on a rolling stone…” which could be Dylan’s song, “Like a Rolling
Stone,” or the band, the Rolling Stones, but either way the phrase is a
negative one. The “rolling stone” is not rolling and is stagnant, there for it is
growing moss. The music is getting stale, or growing moss. Then McLean
alludes that …”That’s not how it used to be…” referring back to the time of
Buddy Holly (Jordan). The jester in this song is Bob Dylan. His songs are
very cryptic and like a jester’s riddles. The coat he borrowed from James
Dean was from the cover of one of his albums where he is wearing the
symbolic red windbreaker James Dean wore in Rebel Without a Cause
(Kulawiec). The crown he stole is obviously from Elvis. Though Dylan had
stolen the crown “…the courtroom was adjourned, no verdict was
returned…” meaning that although the crown was his, there was no true king
at that time. The ‘quartet practic[ing] in the parks…” were the Beatles and
their growing fame in Europe before the ‘British Invasion’. One of the
biggest plays on words is the in about “Lenin read a book on Marx,” playing
on the names of Vlademir Lenin and John Lennon. Not only do they have
similarly names, but they both share the same ideals about communism
The fourth verse is the most important. It contains the most information on
the demise of rock and roll of the song. “Helter Skelter in a summer swelter”
clumps together the British Invasion and the social unrest that the American
students felt during the mid 1960s. ‘Helter Skelter’ itself was a song made
much later after the beginning of the British invasion, but it was just meant to
show the cluster of events of the mid 60s. The social voice that came
through in the folk-rock sound of Dylan, is now full of messages, many of
them open, many of them hidden. The plain messages include the dangers of
nuclear war, the Vietnam war, the evil capitalistic system. Associated with
these social protest songs are the ’summer swelters’: riots in LA , Detroit,
and at the Democratic convention in Chicago; the Charles Manson murders
(which Manson claimed were connected with the song Helter Skelter); the
marches for civil rights and against the Vietnam War (Jordan).
The underlying message that McLean was trying to convey was that drugs
were ruining the music. The Byrds sang a song called Eight Miles High, but
they were falling fast and landed ‘foul’ on the “grass”, marijuana (Jordan),
which was also the sweet perfume (Kulawiec). During the mid-60s the
Beatles predominantly influenced rock music the most. Dylan is the “jester
on the sidelines in a cast,” the sidelines being the outside of the rock music
scene and the cast being from a motorcycle accident he claimed to have
which was keeping him out of the scene, which some say never happened
(Jordan). The ‘half time air’ was probably referring to the heavy drug use of
the mid- 60s (half-time). The ’sergeants’ are either the Beatle’s ‘Sgt.
Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ or the Army playing marching music
because of the draft. And what was “revealed” was that drugs, in this verse
and in this corresponding era of rock and roll, was the final ruin of rock and
roll. McLean has traced rock’s demise in stages: it was at its pinnacle in the
Buddy Holly era, it fell to the Teen Idol era, then the social protest era, and
seemingly it hit bottom in the self-destructive era of hippies and drug use
The fifth verse is mainly about two things: Woodstock and The Rolling
Stones. McLean is not too positive about his generation. The ‘one place’
was obviously Woodstock, and his generation ‘lost in space’ (high), had no
time left to start again. After the peaceful festival there was a free concert
given by the Rolling Stones at Altamont Raceway in California. While
performing “Sympathy for the Devil” where the devil is laughing at the
terrible events that are going on, chaos broke out in the front of the arena
and a young man was beaten and stabbed to death by the Hell’s Angels, the
hired security guards for the Rolling Stones (on the advice of the Greatful
Dead) (Kulawiec). Jack Flash is Mick Jagger, the lead singer of the Rolling
Stones, and when he ’sat on a candle stick,” the candlestick was the
Beatle’s Candlestick Park concert which was their last live concert
(Jordan). So Jack finally burned out the Beatles flame to make room for
their own popularity. McLean though is still just watching this from the
sides, while his hands are, “…clenched in fists of rage,” McLean sees the
good that the music was starting to do (Beatles) slip away again. When
Satan is laughing at the flames “climbing into the night,” could be symbolic of
Jimi Hendrix burning his guitars on stage of the Monterey Pop Festival
The last verse is the sad conclusion of the epic. The speed of the music
slows down and again it is about people dying. The “Woman who sang the
blues,” was Janis Joplin and when McLean asks her for some happy news
and she just smiled and turned away, that meant that she was, in his mind,
one of the last hopes for rock and roll, but by turning away it meant,
symbolically, that she died. The sacred store is the record company.
McLean is going there to ask for a contract for this song, but they say,
“…the music wouldn’t play,” the music won’t make it because it is too folksy
or perhaps too long, as it would have been since only half of the eight and a
half minute song would have fit on one side of a 45, which was the measure
for record sales in the 60s. The “children” screaming are the 4 students
killed at the Kent State University protest. The “lovers” crying are the
hippies lamenting the end of their era, and the “poets” dreaming are
musicians like Simon and Garfunkel and McLean himself writing new songs
(Jordan). But there is no hope for rock and roll because, “…the church bells
all were broken.” The three men McLean admired most, were “… The
Father (Holly), Son (Valens), and the Holy Ghost (Richardson), were
catching the train, which symbolized that they simply left (Kulawiec).
The effects of this song were tremendous. The song went to number one on
the charts in 1972, about a year after its release. It was hard for it to get
playing time on radio stations because it was so long and it wouldn’t fit on
one side of a 45 record. A few years after the songs release, Roberta Flack
recorded the song, “Killing Me Softly With His Song” which is a tribute to
“American Pie”. Thankfully for McLean, folk rock was only a phase of
American pop music. And although folk and rock continued to blend in the
70’s, like Neil Young, folk music as it was known in the early 60s became
part of history rather than remaining a popular form (Layman 38). Another
wave of music that arrived was “acid rock”. Practiced by some groups like
the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, The Greatful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, and
Jefferson Airplane, this type of music would have most likely been abhorred
by McLean (Gordon 379).
In Bob Dylan’s “The Times they are a-Changin’,” Dylan says
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’ (Haskins 92)
The sixties were definitely a time of change. Socially, politically and
musically, the sixties had one of the greatest impacts of the twentieth
century. From gains of black equality during the civil rights movement, to the
thousands of Americans fleeing to Canada to escape the draft, people were
doing what they never thought possible- Like landing on the Moon. But
wherever they went, the music of the decade was around them. Whether it
was doo-wop, or folk or acid rock, it was there. Maybe rock and roll did
die along with Buddy Holly that cold February night, but the alternatives that
came in its place came plentifully. Even ska originated in the sixties.
Although the Greatful Dead and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were not
McLean’s definition of rock and roll, it served its purpose- to entertain the
masses(Gordon 380). And in no other place was that more evident than in a
little town call Woodstock, where half a million people gathered to listen to
the best music around and albeit, to get high. So until there is no more music
at all, not just in one genre but in all the different types, I will finally agree
with McLean, and ‘That’ll be the day that I die’.
Gordon, Alan and Louis. American Chronicle: 1920-1989. Crown
Publishers: New York, 1995.
Haskins, James and Kathleen Benson. The Sixties Reader. Viking Kestrel:
New York, 1995.
Kulawiec, Rich. American Pie by Don McLean. (1996) N. pag. On-line.
Internet. March 3, 1999. circ.upenn.edu.
Jordan, M. American Pie: The Mystery Uncovered. (1998) n. pag. On-line.
Internet. March 3, 1999. www.entrypoints.com
Lyman, Richard. American Decades: 1960-1969. Gale Research Inc.: New
McLean, Don. “American Pie”. Don McLean On-line. (1995) n. Pag.
On-line. Internet. March 25, 1999.
The coyote is considered to be one of the last species of primitive dogs. It is called the master adapter and the ultimate survivor. Based on these titles alone, one can conclude that the coyote has thrived despite the habitat change implemented by human development and expansion. The coyote has always been a native of North America. However, it used to only populate the western part of the continent, whereas presently, coyotes can be found throughout the United States and Canada.
Unlike other species, the coyote is not endangered whatsoever. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The coyote is thriving because of how well it can adapt and because of how intelligent and flexible it is (Patrick, 1999). Animal researcher, Bil Gilbert, calls the coyote the great-granddaddy of what he calls, invigorated species (Gilbert, 1991, p. 69). These are animal types that are doing better than ever before in categories such as reproductive rates and widespread distribution. Gilbert offers a similar explanation as to why the coyote is the most prolific of the invigorated species.
Often coyotes and many other invigorated species are referred to as “generalists.” This has to do mainly with how and what they eat. In this respect, few other creatures have such catholic tastes or more ingenious methods of satisfying them as have coyotes (Gilbert, 1991, p. 69).
The list of what exactly the coyote consumes is quite extensive. Eighty percent of their diet is rodents. However, they will eat pretty much whatever they can find. Watermelons are also a food source for this omnivorous and carnivorous species. As one of my sources puts it, the coyote takes what it can get (Jones, 1999). Sheep, road kill, insects, domestic cats, apples and your garbage are all viable meals for the coyote. In essence, the coyote is a scavenger, an omnivore, and a carnivorous animal that will sometimes hunt in packs of ten to fifteen (Gilbert, 1991, p. 71).
Since the coyote will eat just about anything, its habitat is also thought to be just about everywhere on the Western side of the world. The coyote’s habitat ranges from the tropics of Central America to the mountains of Alaska. They also inhabit the deserts of the southwestern United States, and the plains and forests of the Midwest. Like the wolf and the lion, the coyote prefers to live in a self made den. It can tunnel this den in the side of a hill or under a tree (Jones, 1999).
Based on the research, it appears that the coyote’s biggest competitor is also its biggest benefactor. Gilbert explains that human development has aided the coyote by unknowingly removing many of the predators that once competed with the coyote. The mountain lion and the wolf are thought to be the only two animals (besides humans) that will kill a coyote. However, by aiding other animals and keeping them from extinction, we are also regulating the population of coyotes. For example, when the wolf was returned to Yellowstone Park, it chased out or killed the coyotes that were inhabiting the area (Gilbert, 1991, p. 76). One of the key changes concerning human involvement with the coyote population stems back to the early 1970’s. During his single term, President Nixon passed a law that made it illegal to poison coyotes. Before this law, between 60,000 and 100,000 coyotes were being killed per year ( Dunlap, 1986, p. 346). What was being written about in the mid 1980’s is still being actively practiced. Presently, we try to live with the coyote rather than be its main threat for survival.
Based on these findings, it appears that the human viewpoint of coyotes is that they are still pests. The debate over how to “control” coyotes, or whether to do so at all continues. Obviously sheep, goat, and watermelon cultivators would like to see the coyote population decline simply because the coyote is the prominent destroyer of their farms and thus their profits. However, wildlife experts say that these farmers are exaggerating the amount of damage that the coyote does (Gilbert, 1991, p. 74). One of these experts, Arnold Hayden, is a wildlife biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission (Gilbert, 1991, p. 78). He has the following views on the debate of coyote population control:
When I talk to farmers, sportsmen and social groups, I tell them coyotes are here to stay, and we are not going to get rid of them, and there is no good reason to try. In purely economic terms, they do destroy sheep, chickens and geese. Perhaps this is balanced by the mice and woodchucks they take ( Gilbert, 1991, p. 79).
Not enough is known about animal control for agricultural purposes to comment on whether or not this is a formidable argument. However, both sides seem to be very adamant in their beliefs, and it appears that this debate will continue into the new millennium.
Therefore, the coyote appears to have no real competition for two reasons. The pro nature movement of the last two decades that has made it illegal to kill coyotes (Dunlap, 1986, p. 348). And because of their extreme flexibility in habitat and food consumption, the coyote not only manages to co-exist with human beings, but it is thriving because of it.
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