“And I promised to give all I have to give, If only he would make the music live again.”—Singer-songwriter Don McLean, with lost lyrics to “American Pie,” quoted in Rob Crilly, “Don McLean Reveals Secrets Behind American Pie,” The Telegraph (UK), April 7, 2015
Happy 70th birthday to Don McLean. The day marks the celebration of survival—which, when you think about it, his two greatest hits, “Vincent” and “American Pie,” do not.
“Vincent,” of course, ends with the suicide of painter Vincent Van Gogh, while “American Pie” concerns “the day the music died.” The latter song begins with a mournful commemoration of the plane crash of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson (which I wrote about in this prior post, on its 50th anniversary), and concludes with the post-Altamont rock scene in disarray and defeat.
“American Pie” summed up the experience of the entire Baby Boomer generation, including an English teacher of mine in elementary school, who used the song, with its myriad—and sometimes cryptic—references to “The Jester on the sideline in a cast” (Dylan after his motorcycle accident), “The King” (Elvis Presley), and “The Devil” (Mick Jagger)—to illustrate the use of allusions in song and literature.
What I—and, I suspect, many others—did not realize is that there was a more hopeful ending to this epic song. Ron Crilly’s article describes an auction that was about to take place, this past spring, for an original manuscript of the tune. This manuscript includes tantalizing notes for a verse that, for unspecified reasons, McLean never recorded. The missing verse describes the singer falling to his knees, praying—and, miraculously, his wish was granted, as “the music lived again.”
If McLean ever plays again in concert, I hope that he will give his audience a treat and sing this missing verse. God knows, our world needs a glimpse of redemption.