Hidden religious messages within Don McLean’s song “American Pie.”

“A long, long time ago, I can still remember…” is how Don McLean’s “American Pie” begins. The eight and a half minute music track was voted no. 5 in the top 365 songs of the century in a 2001 poll carried out by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. The original manuscript for the song, which includes original notes by McLean while he was composing the epic hit, was recently sold for $1.2 million dollars at a Christie’s auction in New York. The question today is whether McLean’s devout Roman Catholic upbringing may have had a role in influencing the composition of “American Pie.”

Born on October 2, 1945, McLean was just 13 when Rock ‘n’ Roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P Richardson were killed in a plane crash on their way to a concert event. McLean forever engraved this day in his song lyrics by referring to it as the “day the music died.” He was also referring to the death of the innocence of the Rock n’ Roll of the 1950s, which gave way to the purportedly darker and nihilistic version that dominated the 1960s and the 70s.

In the song, McClean pays homage to the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, “The three men I admired most; the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost,” which alludes to his Catholic upbringing.

The song is more than a star struck fan grieving his favorite musicians. It is also an appraisal of America and a packed history lesson on Rock ‘n’ Roll. One of the song’s biggest themes is the loss of innocence, which is highlighted by the references to the Beatles, Charles Manson and Mick Jagger.

In the song, these figures are alluded to as having played a big role in bringing down Rock ‘n’ Roll from its innocent, playful perch of the 1950s to the downright hedonistic and satanic low of the 1960s. This is exemplified by Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil“:

“Please allow me to introduce myself.
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain”

McLean also goes ahead to further highlight Mick Jagger’s role in what is in his opinion furthering the loss of innocence of America and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Jagger’s song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“:

“So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend
 
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died”

Concepts of good and evil, God and the Trinity, Satan and Angels (Hells Angels have also been referenced in the song) are all Christian concepts that a devout Roman Catholic would have been exposed to. It is therefore quite plausible that McLean’s Catholic upbringing played a big role in inspiring this famous American ballad.

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