Every so often there comes along a rock documentary that I can recommend to just about everyone. That is the case with The Day the Music Died, which is currently streaming on, and exclusive to, Paramount +. If you care about Don McLean’s American Pie at all, or the stories behind it, it is a must-watch. I adore everything about the song, and clearly, after watching the documentary, I am in great company.
I grew up loving the song, which is a story in and of itself. Very few songs from the time period steal from so many genres. Stop and think about it for a minute: Exactly which genre does it belong to? It isn’t exactly a folk song, it isn’t entirely a rock song, nor is it a pure pop song. American Pie is all that and more. It has been covered by country artists and even Madonna, whose version I’ve had mixed feelings about ever since she released it during the summer of 1999 (it was definitely in heavy rotation the summer before I headed to Michigan State). In the documentary, Garth Brooks discusses in depth the influence the song had on him and his career. Yet, I feel it is SO much more. It is timeless.
Several years ago now, during one of my subbing experiences in a high school Spanish class, I was instructed to show the movie La Bamba, which was, quite frankly, an unforgettable experience in all the best ways. First, if you know the movie at all, you will easily recognize why showing it to high school students required some careful editing (fastforwarding). Fortunately, that went well. What pleasantly surprised me is how much those students loved the story behind La Bamba and the music. As we had a few minutes left after the end of the movie – thanks to the inappropriate parts I had to skip – I had a moment to explain the term the day the music died and Don McLean’s song. Most students knew the song American Pie, of course, but I don’t think that most realized that it referenced an actual event. I loved watching them make the connection!
The documentary itself covers so much. It dives deep into exactly how Don McLean wrote the song and came up with the lyrics, as well as his childhood. Of course, one of the best aspects of the song and lyrics is trying to figure out all of those cryptic references – ie the king with his thorny crown, jack flash, etc. According to McLean, the only one that is truly “correct” is the double reference ”Lenin/Lennon read a book on Marx.” Yet, I am not entirely convinced. That is what makes the lyrics great. Just as with the best poetry, there are layers upon layers. Definitely a must-watch.
By the way Michiganders, watch for an interesting reference to Grand Rapids.