American Pie (3) / by E

       The song moves on to December 1969 with "oh, and as I watched him on the stage, my hands were clenched in fists of rage, no angel born in hell, could break that Satan's spell/as the flames climbed high into the night, to light the sacrificial rite, I saw Satan laughing with delight" which needs its own back story that is so very long:
       The Rolling Stones wanted to end their US tour with a free concert which was supposed to happen at multiple venues, until Altamont Speedway was decided upon at the 'last minute', so to speak. This led to too few restrooms, not enough medical tents and, most importantly, no security (as the last minute venue was free and came with no security tied in to the non-existent price). The Grateful Dead, set to play that night, suggested that they hire Hells Angels for crowd control and, after talking with the motorcycle gang and confirming that they did not "do crowd control" and that they only went to concerts to "have fun and let go", they still decided that the gang could police the front of the stage, which had no barrier of its own, and paid the members in beer (really, this is a life lesson: don't pay inherently angry men [who say they don't do security] with beer if you want them to protect you from other angry people)      
       From the beginning, the scene did not match its predecessor's (Woodstock) vibes, with Slick (Jefferson Airplane) quoted as saying "the vibes were bad. Something was very peculiar...I was expecting the loving vibes of Woodstock but that wasn't coming at me". As the day progressed, the violence grew and there were fights between crowd members, crowd members and Angels, and one Angel even knocked Balin (Jefferson Airplane) unconscious while he was performing; the violence and unruly crowd got so out of hand that The Grateful Dead, who were supposed to play after Crosby, Stills, and Nash and before The Rolling Stones, bowed out and left the venue completely, leaving the crowd to grow even more agitated as the stage was left empty until The Stones came on at nightfall. By the time The Stones came on stage, the crowd was nearly out of control and, by their third song, "Sympathy for the Devil", (literally) thousands of people were surging forward and trying to climb on to the stage, eventually resulting in the death of eighteen year old Meredith Hunter.
       Some people refer to Hunter as "the sacrificial rite" but Hunter was not innocent and Passaro (the Hells Angel who killed him) was doing his job; albeit it angrily and overly 'cautious' (killing someone to stop them is probably easier than restraining them all night [that was facetious-do not kill people]), Passaro was protecting the band members, a job which he had been hired to perform. Hunter had drawn his gun, which was Passaro's reasoning for stabbing him and the reasoning for the jury to acquit Passaro of the murder. Hunter was also reported, by many journalists, cameramen, and fans, to have looked crazed, on drugs, and set on causing serious harm to one of the on-stage performers, claims which were only reinforced by an autopsy report which showed that he was high on methamphetamine. Basically, a lot of people who thought they had no rules were shoved together with a lot of drugs and a lot of alcohol; I don't know how someone thought it would turn out differently. 
       The Rolling Stones continued playing despite people begging them to stop ("I saw Satan laughing with delight.. the day the music died"), "Sympathy for the Devil" was dropped from The Rolling Stones set list for the next six years, and this event marked the death of counterculture; there was no connected group fighting for the collective good anymore, just a bunch of separate people with similar ideas and no real push to come together and make a change. Their own assurance of their strength, as a group, brought on their demise. 
       The lyrics move quickly into the seventies with a slowed tempo and "I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and turned away" referencing Janis Joplin and her accidental death due to an heroin overdose. 
       "I went down to the sacred store, where I'd heard the music years before, but the man there said the music wouldn't play" simply refers to record stores lack of music from previous decades; it's always easier to find current music than to find older music and, in the psychedelic/experimental rock of the seventies, it was rare to find the 'wholesome' good rock/ rockabilly sound of the fifties. 
       "And in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried and the poets dreamed" is left to your own interpretation; some people think it's flower children being beaten by riot police at Berkeley, others think it's a move from true love songs and flowery lyrics to meanings based off of drug induced writing sessions, or it could just be a general feeling of utter loss as the next line states "but not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken", with the broken bells symbolizing all of the great and now deceased musicians who can no longer make their voices heard. Personally, I always thought it lay along the lines of "what the fuck is wrong with this world?".
       "And the three men I admire most, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died" has been thought to mean either Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens as they were flying West (towards the coast) when they died or it's been thought to allude to the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960's. Either way, both allusions lead to the death of naivete and are only made more haunting by the slow repetition of McLean's suddenly haunting chorus which appears to link the death of these musicians with the death of simple times. 
       It's never been a happy song and has always been more of a cautionary tale, but it does give a really great overview of an entire decade of intense social and political change, all told through, and linked with, movements in music trends; it's one of the most amazing songs of all time, for that reason alone.
"American Pie" Don McLean
- E
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