Music

Don McLean decodes ‘American Pie’ meaning

In 1969, Don McLean landed a spot at Newport Folk Festival, where a conversation with rock ‘n’ roll legends the Everly Brothers changed his life in ways he never could’ve dreamed.

“The Everlys were there,” he recalls. “And they had always been my favorite group. Or one of them.”

The aspiring singer/songwriter approached Phil Everly. “I said, ‘I know that you knew Buddy Holly.’ And like a kid – I was just a kid – I said, ‘What happened? Can you tell me what happened?‘ I wanted to know more than just, ‘He got on the plane.’ “

Everly shared what he had come to understand of the events that happened 10 years earlier, when Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in a plane crash after playing the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, as part of the Winter Dance Party Tour.

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What Phil Everly told Don McLean about Buddy Holly and the day the music died

This is before we started thinking of the date that plane went down – Feb. 3, 1959 – as “the day the music died.”

At that point, McLean hadn’t written those words in “American Pie,” his nearly nine-minute epic that’s the subject of the new documentary “The Day the Music Died” (streaming now on Paramount+).

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