American Pie: the impact of a song and its lyrics

Last month, famed American musician Don McLean performed in Israel. While I didn’t attend his concert, I read that he concluded his show with one of the most famous songs of the twentieth century, American Pie.

There have been many debates about what the lyrics of the song meant, in particular the question that isn’t answered in the song: Who died? The answer is Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P “The Big Bopper” Richardson in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 – the “day the music died,” according to the song.

While I don’t remember the actual incident itself, the song certainly reverberates with the songwriter’s reaction to the unexpected news which had such a profound effect on both him and the music world. The emotions of loss of hope, feelings that the world is in chaos and the world is coming to an end, all seem to be expressed through the song’s lyrics.

 Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step

As I read about the Don McLean concert which took place on June 16, I couldn’t help but remember having those same feelings when I heard some other shocking news, also during the month of June, a number of decades ago.

June 6, 1968 was the date on which Robert F. Kennedy was murdered by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles. He was the frontrunner for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. America was embroiled in the Vietnam War and there were domestic race riots in major American cities. Bobby Kennedy seemed to be the right person to lead America out of its morass. The news of his death sent me into a deep depression, removing what seemed to be our only hope of ending a lot of national suffering.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside

 Of course, life did go on and I recovered from the tragic news. Richard Nixon was elected president and the Vietnam War continued for seven more years. We have since received other terrible and unexpected news such as the assassinations of Anwar Sadat and Yitzchak Rabin, the shocking events on 9/11 and the drownings of those beautiful children from the Bnei Zion mechina academy a few weeks ago.

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away

 Don McLean’s song expresses a pessimistic view of the future, but I think that one of the challenges and experiences of living in Israel is that we learn to live with difficult news and we persevere. The secret for all of us may be in the music itself, because while the lyrics may be depressing, the tune leaves us smiling and energized.

May we all be blessed to have a song that can lift us up when times are tough, and lyrics that can inspire us to carry on.

The writer is the CEO and President of Philip Stein and Associates.

About the Author
Philip is president and founder of Philip Stein & Associates, the largest US accounting firm in Israel, specializing in US taxation of US tax residents living in Israel, and of Israeli individuals and companies doing business in the United States. Offices are in Jerusalem, Ramat Gan and Beit Shemesh. Philip grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and graduated from the University of Illinois, followed by an MBA from the University of Michigan. Philip started his career in the tax department of what today is Ernst & Young. He has lectured at Roosevelt University, Loyal University and Northeastern University, and continued to lecture on international tax issues in Asia, Africa, Europe and North American. He is also a frequent speaker for Nefesh B’Nefesh and has advised the Israeli Treasury, Bituach Leumi and the Knesset on various tax issues affecting US citizens living in Israel. Philip’s love of radio led him to start his podcasts which have attracted tens of thousands of listeners. He continues to be an avid Chicago sports fan as well as a lover of mountain hiking, TRX, and snowshoeing (he likes to keep his feet on the ground!).