McLean was singing about the Rapture

Don McLean first performed American Pie in 1971. This link includes the lyrics, which probably have been more discussed than any other song in pop history.1

Referring to the repeated line 'the day the music died', the sites say the song is about the death of rock 'n roll.2. What's interesting is that these websites give scant attention to three lines that are sung over and over again:
“And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye,
Singing, 'This'll be the day that I die.
This'll be the day that I die.'”
In these lines, it's the good old boys that are preparing for death.

I believe McLean had sensed that the new music (rock 'n roll) added to some people's feeling that the end of the world was coming. I believe he was singing about the American Rapture movement (whether he knew it or not).

This would help explain the song's title. The 'pie' could be an allusion to heaven, and derived from the phrase 'pie in the sky'.

Heaven, of course, is where people hoping for 'end times' imagine they will go. This as part of their hope that everyone in the world dies simultaneously, causing everything to end.

The song does highlight one thing that will die -rock music- like a movie might focus only one character as they approach the end of the world. Apparently what makes it resonant for McLean is this character (rock 'n roll) isn't just a spectator to the 'end of times', it's an actor as well.

But once the 'end times' aspect to it is seen, it could even be argued McLean's lyrics describe an apocalypse that is suddenly, horribly revealed not to be a Rapture! that the song itself is a commentary on such wishes - that is makes the argument people should not wish for the end of the world.

For instance, here Mclean jokes the  Catholic Trinity bails out on the (Midwest) rapture at the last minute:
"The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.
 They caught the last train for the coast
 The day the music died"
and that is why Satan was chuckling
"'I saw Satan laughing with delight The day the music died"
Of course, the meanings are inexact.

My point is that in 1971 McLean might have been observing a cultural trend that is now stronger.

What is 'the Rapture?

A belief with its roots in US Protestant fundamentalism. Bill Moyers has just written about it. See also this George Monbiot piece from last year. Here is a current site by believers.

  1. Whiter Shade of Pale 2nd?
  2. a New Age piece written this year is an exception