About the Songwriter

 

 

Verse 5:

The Devil's Own

American Pie now reaches its apocalyptic climax, as the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger takes center stage at the bloody concert held at Altamont Motor Speedway, California, in the fall of 1969. The flower children drew together here once more to re-stoke the communal goodwill of the successful Woodstock Music Festival of a few months earlier; but even as Woodstock was seen as a landmark in the Counterculture movement, Altamont is widely regarded as the event that signaled its demise. Reality steps in.

•   •   •

And there we were all in one place
A generation Lost in Space
With no time left to start again

The flower children gathered at Altamont 300,000 strong, in a frenzy of drugs, alcohol and escalating violence. Woodstock it was not. The grand experiment losing steam, as the solutions endorsed by the drug culture—" turn on, tune in, drop out"—merely left them "lost in space," adrift, with no place left to go; with no momentum left to start the revolution over again.

So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
'Cause fire is the Devil's only friend

Jack Flash is a reference to the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and their song Jumpin' Jack Flash, in which the protagonist nimbly plays with fire to boast of his freedom. Darkness now reigned with The Stones, as evidenced by their albums Beggars Banquet in 1968 and Let It Bleed in 1969—works that embraced a more aggressive nihilism than their previous efforts, and which put them at the forefront of rock's growing cultural estrangement. This allows McLean to use Jagger as representative of someone freely pushing the social envelope and inciting rebellion—and in direct opposition to the values of a previous era. Given the theme of lost faith that runs through the song—and in this atmosphere of anything goes—it is an easy thing to see him as the Devil; the photograph above by Ethan Russell of Jagger onstage at the concert in a flowing red cape only serves to reinforce this imagery. To quote the Stones, "War, children, it's just a shot away."


 

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