Musings on the Subject of Metaphor.

I can’t quite remember the birth of this piece of writing – I think in a writing class we were asked to choose what was our favourite metaphor and why. I just went a bit overboard.

This is a little piece on Don McLean’s cryptic masterpiece ‘American Pie’, and as much as anything I’m trying to delve into the unfathomable nature of writing and how sometimes it defies any logic but still ‘works’.

The song ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean is a complex metaphor which has been the subject of many studies and has inspired several websites dedicated to understanding the whole song, and also to deciphering its cryptic lyrics line by line.

On a simple level ‘the day the music died’ is a metaphor for the day Buddy Holly and two ‘crickets’ died in a plane crash in 1959. On a more complex level it is generally agreed that McLean’s song compares American society in the late sixties with that in the late fifties, and is a lament for the passing of a classic, happy and settled era, the days of ‘American Pie’.

The fifties was a time of hope and good fortune for all – America had emerged from the mists of the Second World War virtually unscathed and a powerhouse of a country both economically and politically. It went from strength to strength and by the affluent late fifties national pride had (and probably has) never been higher; the country seemed at peace with itself.

However, by the time Mclean wrote the song in 1969 – ‘ten years we’ve been on our own’ – it couldn’t have been more different. America was in the midst of student riots, civil rights protests, anti-war marches, and sheer anarchy from various parts of society – often induced by drugs at violent rock concerts, for example Altamont.

The song has various cultural and political references along the way, and in its entirety is saying ‘bye bye’ to that previous golden age of 1950’s ‘American Pie’.

So the song isn’t really about Buddy Holly, it’s simply uses his passing into history as a metaphor for the passing into history of a fondly remembered phase of American history.

Don McLean himself has always refused to explain the lyrics in detail, but has said that the real meaning of the song for him was that he never had to work again, which is as good a metaphor as any.