And while Lennon read a book on Marx,
- Literally, John Lennon reading about Karl Marx; figuratively, the
introduction of radical politics into the music of the Beatles. (Of course, he could be
referring to Groucho Marx, but that doesn't seem quite consistent with McLean's overall
tone. On the other hand, some of the wordplay in Lennon's lyrics and books is reminiscent
of Groucho.) The "Marx-Lennon" wordplay has also been used by others, most
notably the Firesign Theatre on the cover of their album "How Can You Be In Two
Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All?" The Beatles &"Here, There
and Everywhere," for example. Also, a famous French witticism was "Je suis
Marxiste, tendance Groucho. " (I'm a Marxist of the Groucho variety).
The quartet practiced in the park
- There are two schools of thought about this; the obvious one is
the Beatles playing in Shea Stadium, but note that the previous line has John Lennon
*doing something else at the same time*. This tends to support the theory that this is a
reference to the Weavers, who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. McLean had become
friends with Lee Hays of the Weavers in the early 60's while performing in coffeehouses
and clubs in upstate New York and New York City. He was also well acquainted with Pete
Seeger; McLean, Seeger, and others took a trip on the Hudson river singing anti-pollution
songs at one point. Seeger's LP "God Bless the Grass" contains many of these
And we sang dirges in the dark
- A "dirge" is a funeral or mourning song, so perhaps this
is meant literally...or, perhaps, this is a reference to some of the new "art
rock" groups that played long pieces not meant for dancing. In the dark of the death
The day the music died. We were singing...
(Verse 4) Helter Skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with the fallout shelter Eight miles high and falling fast
- Without a doubt this refers to the Byrds who helped launch David
Crosby to superstardom. The Byrd's song "Eight Miles High" was found on their
late 1966 release "Fifth Dimension." They recorded this song when some of the
groups members were considering leaving (some of the groups members actually left the
group because they refused to fly in an airplane). A fallout shelter was sometimes
referred to as the fifth dimension because of the 1950's fascination with sci-fi and the
futuristic appearance of a fallout shelter. This was one of the first records to be widely
banned because of supposedly drug-oriented lyrics.
It landed foul on the grass
- One of the Byrds was busted for possession of marijuana.
The players tried for a forward pass
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast
- On July 29, 1966, Dylan crashed his Triumph 55 motorcycle while
riding near his home in Woodstock, New York. He spent nine months in seclusion while
recuperating from the accident. This gave a chance for many other artists to become
noticed (see the next interpretation).
Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
- Drugs, man.
Well, now, wait a minute; that's probably too obvious (wouldn't want to
make it easy). It's possible that this line and the next few refer to the 1968 Democratic
National Convention. The "sweet perfume" is probably tear gas.
It could be the fact the since Dylan was temporarily out of the
picture, the future looked bright for many artists. The Stones, for example, may have been
given a brief chance.
While sergeants played a marching tune
- Following from the second thought above, the sergeants would be
the Chicago Police and the Illinois National Guard, who marched protesters out of the park
where the Convention was being held and into jail.
this could refer to the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Or,
perhaps McLean refers to the Beatles' music as "marching" because it's not music
Or, finally, the "marching tune" could be the draft.
**(What did the Stones release in '66??)
We all got up to dance Oh, but we never got the chance
'Cause the players tried to take the field, The marching band refused to yield.
- Some folks think this refers to either the 1968 Democratic
Convention or Kent State. If the players are the protesters at Kent State, and the
marching band the Ohio National Guard...
This could be a
reference to the dominance of the Beatles on the rock and roll scene. For instance, the
Beach Boys released "Pet Sounds" in 1966 -- an album that featured some of the
same sort of studio and electronic experimentation as "Sgt. Pepper" (1967). The
album sold poorly because of the Beatles.
The other Beatles reference here refers to the Monkees. The
Monkees were merely actors (or players), they were not a true band but a fabrication
attempting to replicate the Beatles. The players tried to take the place of the Fab Four
but the band wouldn't step down.
Or finally, this might be a comment that follows up on the
earlier reference to the draft: the government/military industrial-complex establishment
refused to accede to the demands of the peace movement.
Do you recall what was revealed, The day the music died?
- **Check for any controversies released on Feb 3, 1959.
We started singing
(Verse 5) And there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
- Some people think this is a reference to the US space program,
which it might be; but that seems a bit too literal. Perhaps this is a reference to
hippies, who were sometimes known as the "lost generation," partially because of
their particularly acute alienation from their parents, and partially because of their
presumed preoccupation with drugs (which was referred to as being "spaced-out.")
Being on drugs was sometimes termed -- being lost in space
because of the TV show, "Lost in Space," whose title was used as a synonym for
someone who was rather high... I keep hoping that McLean had
better taste. :-)
With no time left to start again
- The "lost generation" spent too much time being stoned,
and had wasted their lives. Or, perhaps, their preferences for psychedelia had pushed rock
and roll so far from Holly's music that it couldn't be retrieved.
So come on Jack be nimble Jack be quick
- Probably a reference to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones;
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" was released in May 1968.
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
'Cause fire is the devil's only friend