Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The half-time air was sweet perfume (Don McLean)

Don McLean's album American Pie is one of hundreds of albums reviewed by Lester Bangs for Rolling Stone magazine in the early seventies. I've just reread his review and he gets it pretty much spot on.

It's definitely the one important song in Don's oeuvre (he's written other good ones like Vincent and Winterwood but they aren't important ones in my humble opinion).

Lester Bangs describes it as a 'metaphor for the death and rebirth of rock that's at once complex and immediately accessible'.

Many people have written about the song's meaning (for a funny line by line blow by blow account you could try but I have to disagree with Lester.

For me there is no rebirth going on within the narrative. Built around the central image of Buddy Holly's death, the song traces the major movements and bands of the 1950 to 1970 rock era (Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds all make an appearance). The journey from the plane crash to Altamont, Charles Manson, and the end of the Beatles is all pretty depressing.

By the end of the song Don is asking quite naturally for some 'happy news' (after all the music has stopped, no one is dancing any more and Satan is laughing in delight). But in an enigmatic way, there is none (she just smiled and turned away).

Where does Lester find rebirth in any of this? Of course Don's song itself may be seen as a kind of rebirth and that may be what Lester means. After all he accurately says that it's an immediately accessible song. As we all know - it's impossible not to sing along with all this tale of death and evil doers.


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