Learn Orality and Aurality with American Pie

Um, no, neither the movie nor the pastry treat, but the song:

A lot of hidden meaning to the song. There are several different interpretations. Here is one site devoted to it.

This song gets me every time. I wait to hear the familiar parts, catching the key words – the book of love, God above, satan, the jester.

These phrases mean something, and while they are seen to be ambiguous, they are applied to historical situations.

Listen, with your eyes closed.

Regarding the meaning of American Pie, the songwriter has remained characteristically silent, with a few exceptions—especially this one, giving some indication of his intentions:

“That song didn’t just happen,” said Don. “It grew out of my experiences. American Pie was part of my process of self-awakening; a mystical trip into my past.”

Don called his song a complicated parable, open to different interpretations. “People ask me if I left the lyrics open to ambiguity. Of course I did. I wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time.”

In the late sixties and early seventies, Don was obsessed with what he called “the death of America” —the loss of many things he believed in while growing up. “In a sense, American Pie was a very despairing song. In another, though, it was very hopeful. Pete Seeger told me he saw it as a song in which people were saying something. They’d been fooled, they’d been hurt, and it wasn’t going to happen again. That’s a good way to look at it—a hopeful way.” *

Words… words are powerful. But, more than words… epics, poems, ballads, durges, verses….


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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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