This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Saturday Rave: American Pie by Don McLean.

Now for ten years we've been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rolling stone
But that's not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me.

That's from verse 2 of Don McLean's song American Pie.

Nonsense verse is usually assumed to be written for children (Jabberwocky) or the childish (The Ying Tong Song) but for whom this glorious song was written I can't begin to say.

For decades I thought Miss American Pie must be a mondegreen - but no. That's what the words really do say. 


I have no idea. Don McLean says of the lyrics of the song: 'They're beyond analysis. They're poetry.'

At the moment the nearest to an explanation Don McLean has given us is that the song commemorates Buddy Holly's death. 

But then, as far as I can see, most of it actually doesn't.

This month the original manuscript is going to be auctioned*, and Dob McLean has promised to reveal the meanings of the lyrics when it does.

I have mixed feelings about this. I'm curious, of course, but at the same time there's something gloriously liberating about nonsense, especially when you live weighed down by the cold logic of gravity and all that physics stuff.

Isn't there?

Word To Use Today: America. You can take your pick on this one. The name America is usually said to be derived from Amerigo Vespucci (Americus Vespecius in its Latinised form). The trouble with this is that it's unusual to call a country after the Christian name of someone not royal, and so some people think that America is named after Dafydd ap Meric, who might have been either John Cabot's mapmaker or his financial backer. 

*The auction happened between my writing this post and its being published. As far as I can make out, Don McLean says the song's about everything getting worse all the time.

Which really is nonsense.


  1. I'm afraid a lot of poetry is a bit nonsensical need a kind of key to understand it, but Miss American Pie makes perfect sense: She's the winner of some beauty contest in a small American town, I always assumed. Like Miss Milwaukee Beer or some such. Brings to mind all those small US towns like the one in the Last Picture Show....end of the Fifties....Not sure who the Queen is but the King is surely Elvis! That's what I've always assumed. Love song, of course. There's also A whiter shade of pale which makes no sense at all but is wonderful. Who needs sense?

    1. Indeed. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.

      Hm, the line-up for the Miss American Pie contest would have been worth seeing...but anyway, whatever inspired a song isn't necessarily what it's about.