/Bye Bye American Pie

Bye Bye American Pie

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

It’s February, and as the singer-songwriter Don McLean wrote in his 1971 smash hit American Pie: February makes you shiver.

It isn’t February cold that makes McLean shiver. For him, February is the month in which “the music died.”

McLean wrote American Pie as a tribute to rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson Jr.) who died in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959. 

American Pie (‘American as apple pie’) has been described as one of the most successful and debated songs of the 20th century. Its nostalgic, ambiguous lyrics tell not just of the plane crash as the death of early rock and roll, but American society nosediving toward its own crash.

It is a masterpiece lamenting the loss of innocence and idyllic life to a darkening mood changing America.  

The lyrics are prophetic. Although written more than 50 years ago, they can be applied to today’s United States, a country staggering under the weight of gun violence, international tensions and destructive climate change.

Listen to the song’s chorus:

So bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee
But the levee was dry

When he wrote those words McLean is said to have been referring to The Levy, a hometown bar where he went to get a drink but missed last call. Therefore, The Levy was dry.

It’s easy to relate those lyrics to a dry levee today when we see global warming turning the Colorado River system, which provides water to 40 million people, into a trickle.

The song’s lyrics can be applied to other dangers facing today’s world.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candlestick refers to U.S. President John Kennedy facing the threat of nuclear war during the 1960 Cuban missile crisis. Substitute Joe Biden for Jack Kennedy and Cuba’s Fidel Castro with Russia’s Vlad Putin and his threats or nuclear war over U.S. interference in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Or, how about the lyrics in one of the song’s last stanzas – And in the streets, the children screamed . . . . 

They have reason to scream in the streets today. Already this year American gun violence has killed 169 children ages zero to 17 and wounded 400.

Total gun deaths since New Year’s Day are approaching 4,500. Mass shootings since Jan. 1 now total 60 – nearly two a day.

And, of course, the lyrics “A generation lost in space” are easily related to today’s American drug crisis. More than 1,500 people a week die from opioid-related overdoses while millions more are suffering with opioid addiction.

American overdose deaths have been rising since the 1990s with tracking agencies reporting more than one million drug deaths since 2000.

Versions of American Pie have been sung tens of thousands of times by performers in the past 64 years. Madonna released a version of it in 2000.

A new version, recorded recently in Ukraine promises to touch the hearts of millions of people disgusted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its deliberate killing of civilians.

It is called Ukrainian Pie and is a tribute to the courage and fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people, plus a tribute to what the recording company calls the magical music and lyrics of “the greatest American popular song of all time.”

The new version was composed by American lawyer–lyricist Hal Pollock and is sung by Ukrainian Alex Kozar. It was recorded in Kyiv, presumably when Russian bombs were not exploding.

Here’s a taste of the lyrics:  

If the Ruskies think they stand a chance

They better wear their big boy pants

No squatting for a Hopak dance

When we make ‘em eat Ukrainian pie

Hey Zelensky

Fly high Ukrainian guy

Let them eat their borscht

With our Ukrainian pie

While Putin drinks his vodka

And his generals die

Tell the Ruskie soldiers bye-bye

Make ‘em eat Ukrainian pie

A video of Ukrainian Pie is making the rounds on social media, notably You Tube. It also is being sold, with the profits to be distributed by the Ukrainian government for humanitarian causes in Ukraine.