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Brokaw: ‘The Day the Music Died’ is a fascinating story of an epic song

By Francine Brokaw - Special to the Daily Herald | Aug 2, 2022
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“The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’” is now streaming on Paramount+.
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The cover for the U.S. vinyl single of Don McLean's "American Pie."

Currently streaming on Paramount+, “The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie'” looks at the life and times of those involved in the song. This song took the world by storm 50 years ago and continues to be heard and sung by all generations around the world.

While viewers/listeners might know the genesis of the song — i.e. the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson along with their pilot, Roger Peterson — there is much more to this song and the background that affected not only McLean but many others. A fascinating fact is that while Holly was eager to get onto their next stop in their concert tour, he decided to hire a private plane to fly instead of spending hours on a cold, dilapidated bus. What some might not know is that Richardson and Valens might have been replaced on the plane by Waylon Jennings and another bandmate. They flipped a coin for the seats. The winners were ultimately the losers as the plane crashed just a couple of minutes after takeoff.

McLean’s childhood is examined, including how he discovered the news about the deaths of his music heroes. With interviews from those involved, including McLean as well as many others who have covered the epic song throughout the world, the emotional connection to the lyrics runs deep.

“This documentary is something that will make people think, especially since so many throughout the years have asked me what certain lyrics meant or whom I was referring to, but now I finally can solve many of those mysteries,” says McLean. “Everyone from Madonna to Garth Brooks to Weird Al Yankovic has recorded ‘American Pie’ and made it their own. So many people have their own interpretation of the song, and I love it.”

Spencer Proffer, CEO of media production company Meteor 17, stated, “There are interchanges with all stripes of people from many walks of life, including major celebrities, music icons, current breaking artists and industry leaders. The film explores what ‘American Pie’ meant to people then, what it means to them now and what it will mean to generations in the future.”

The song begins:

Long long time ago,

I can still remember

How that music used to make me smile

To those who were around during the tumultuous ’60s and ’70s, these lyrics hit close to home, although McLean was mostly referring to the music of Buddy Holly and the late ’50s. However, we can all recollect songs from our past that touch our memories and do make us smile.

While watching this film, McLean’s life and beliefs are exposed so viewers get an insight into the lyrics. He analyzes them and the song comes into focus for those who have enjoyed the lyrics and music but might not have the full knowledge of what they mean to McLean.

He said it was like a genie in a bottle when he started to write the song. And even though the full song ran over eight minutes in a time when three minutes was the usual time frame for songs on the radio, fans insisted on stations playing the full song.

They were singing bye-bye, Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry

Them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye

Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die”

Another item included in the film is the iconic album cover. It is now a blast from the past. This documentary is now available for streaming on Paramount+.


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