Chasing the Jester's Ghosts: "American Pie"
In light of the March 2017 announcement of "American Pie" being preserved in the Library of Congress, let's not forget other songs of the '70s that matter just as much.
In a wide-ranging March 2017 interview conducted by music writer Bill Flanagan, Bob Dylan displayed what seems to be another element of curmudgeonly old man bitterness that first saw fruit in his 2015 MusiCares Man of the Year speech. Dylan was settling scores in that speech, answering decades-old conclusions from critics and putting his music and creative process in proper historical context. In the Flanagan interview, first posted on BobDylan.com and meant primarily to promote his latest release of covers from the American songbook, the triple-CD set Triplicate, the name Don McLean came up. Flanagan concluded (perhaps rashly) that Dylan was the Jester in “American Pie”. Dylan quickly and conclusively let his feelings be known about that 45-year-old song:
Yeah, Don McLean, ‘American Pie,’ what a song that is. A jester? Sure, the Jester writes songs like ‘Masters of War,’ ‘a Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall, ‘It’s
Alright, Ma”-some jester. I have to think he’s talking about somebody else. Ask him.
It’s hard not to get away from the presence of Dylan throughout American popular music over the past 50 years, even his self-imposed relative exile from roughly 1969-1974, and the man doesn’t do himself any favors, staying defensive after all these years. Nevertheless, the points are clear. What did these songs mean? Roughly a week after the Dylan interview was posted, the Library of Congress selected “American Pie” as one of the songs worthy of cultural preservation. What was it about that song, and a handful of others from the early '70s, that spoke to the end of one turbulent era and the beginning of another?