Bye Bye Beta Theta Pi

To the tune of American Pie by  Don McLean

A long, long time ago
I can still remember
how that music used to make me smile

And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while. 1

But February made me shiver
With every paper I delivered,
Bad news on the door step,
I couldn't take one more step, 2

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride 3
But something touched me deep inside,
The day, the music, died. 4
So...

 

Bye, bye Miss American Pie 5
Drove my Chevy to the levee
but the levee was dry 6
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye 7
Singin this will be the day that I die.
This will be the day that I die. 8

 

Did you write the book of love 9
And do you have faith in God above,
If the bible tells you so. 10

And do you believe in rock 'n' roll?
Can music save your mortal soul? 11
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Well I know that you're in love with him
Cuz I saw you dancin' in the gym. 12
You both kicked off your shoes 13
And I dig those rhythm and blues. 14

I was a lonely teenage bronkin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pick up truck 15
But I knew I was out of luck,
The day, the music, died.
I started singin...

 

Bye, bye Miss American Pie 5
Drove my Chevy to the levee
but the levee was dry 6
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye 7
Singin this will be the day that I die.
This will be the day that I die. 8

 

Now for ten years we've been on our own 16
And moss grows fat on a rollin stone 17
But that's not how it used to be,

 

When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean 18
And a voice that came from you and me. 19

Oh and while the king was looking down,
The jester stole his thorny crown 20
The courtroom was adjourned;
No verdict was returned. 21

And while Lennon read a book on Marx, 22
The quartet practiced in the park 23
And we sang dirges in the dark, 24
The day, the music, died.
We were singin'...

 

Bye, bye Miss American Pie 5
Drove my Chevy to the levee
but the levee was dry 6
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye 7
Singin this will be the day that I die.
This will be the day that I die. 8

 

Helter Skelter in a summer swelter 25
The birds flew off with a fall out shelter,
Eight miles high and fallin' fast. 26

 

It landed foul on the grass. 27
The players tried for a forward pass 28
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast. 29

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume 30
While the sergeants played a marching tune. 31
We all got up to dance
Oh but we never got the chance. 32

As the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield.
Do you recall what was revealed, 33
the day, the music, died?
We started singin'...

 

Bye, bye Miss American Pie 5
Drove my Chevy to the levee
but the levee was dry 6
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye 7
Singin this will be the day that I die.
This will be the day that I die. 8

 

Oh and there we were all in one place, 34
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again. 35

 

So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. 36
Jack Flash sat on a candle stick 37
Because fire is the devils only friend.38

Oh and as I watched him on the stage,
My hands were clinched in fists of rage,
No angel born in hell
Could break that Satan's spell. 39

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight,40
The day, the music, died.
He was singin'...

 

Bye, bye Miss American Pie 5
Drove my Chevy to the levee
but the levee was dry 6
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye 7
Singin this will be the day that I die.
This will be the day that I die. 8

 

I met a girl who sang the blues 41
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away. 42

 

I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play. 43

And in the streets the children screamed, 44
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed. 45
But not a word was spoken,
The church bells all were broken. 46

And the three men I admire most,
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, 47
They caught the last train for the coast, 48
The day, the music, died.
And they were singin'...

 

Bye, bye Miss American Pie 5
Drove my Chevy to the levee
but the levee was dry 6
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye 7
Singin this will be the day that I die.
This will be the day that I die. 8

 

They were singin'...

 

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee
but the levee was dry
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye
Singin' this will be the day that I die.

This will be the day that I die.
 

Not so long ago  1
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile 1a

And I knew if I had my chance
To live where all the Beta's dance 1b
And maybe I'd be happy for a while.

 

But February made us shiver 1c
With every paper they'd deliver
Bid news on the door step 2
I couldn't do but accept.

 

I can't remember if I sighed
When I heard about his pregnant bride 3
But something touched me deep inside
The day, the real world came. 4
So..

 

Bye, bye Beta Theta Pi
Took my beer mug to the cellar
where the tap's never dry 
6
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye 7
Singin Hail to Beta Theta Pi.
Hail to Beta Theta Pi. 8

 

Did you read the Beta book 9
And do you have faith in Wooglin's look, 10
If the Blue Book tells you so.

And do you believe in rock 'n' roll?
Can women save our brother Soule? 11
And can you teach me how to dance Disco? 11a

Well I know that you're hurtin' for your cume (GPA)
Cuz I saw you ragging in the Room 12
You blew off half the course  13
Now you need caffeine and The Force. 14

 

I was a tacky teenage Beta buck
With a pink carnation and no pick up luck.
But I knew I was really f*cked,
The day, the real world came
I started singin...

 

Bye, bye Beta Theta Pi
Took my beer mug to the cellar
where the tap's never dry
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye
Singin Hail to Beta Theta Pi.
Hail to Beta Theta Pi.

 

Now for three years we were on our own 16
And we grew fat on The Rolling Stones
But that's not how it's supposed to be,

 

When Jehlester sang for the King and Queen
In a pipe he borrowed from Sherlock's scene
And a voice that came from you and P. 19

 

Oh and while the King was looking down,
Majester won his horny crown 20
The Court Room was adjourned;
No verdict was returned. 21

And while Holland read a book of Mark's, 22
The "13" practiced in the park  23
And we sang My Beta Sweet Heart
The day, the real world came
We were singin'...

 

Bye, bye Beta Theta Pi
Took my beer mug to the cellar
where the tap's never dry
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye
Singin Hail to Beta Theta Pi.
Hail to Beta Theta Pi.

 

Rock star Schwachster in summer semester. 25
The Murph and Garv in a fall out shelter
Eight miles high and smokin' fast.

 

A car landed foul on the grass.
The driver tried for a drunken pass 28
Leaving him Skaared on the sidelines in a cast.

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume 30
While the Raiders played to marching tunes.
We all got up to cheer 
Oh but we never forgot the beer. 32

As the players were DKE or DU 
The marching band was...you know who.
Do you recall who out-earned who, 33
the day, the real world came?
We started singin'...

 

Bye, bye Beta Theta Pi
Took my beer mug to the cellar
where the tap's never dry
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye
Singin Hail to Beta Theta Pi.
Hail to Beta Theta Pi.

 

Oh and there we read all in one place, 34
A whole semester lost in space
With no time left to start the course. 35

 

So come on, Tom be nimble, Tom be quick. 36
Tom Scloid ate a whole butter stick  37
Because porcelain is a hurtster's only friend. 38

Oh and as we drove from Russell Sage 39
My hands were clinched in fists of rage,
No matter what I said,
Could get one in to bed.

 

And as the flames marched high into the night (up the hill)
To light the sacrificial rite 40

I saw Nate & Laffin light a pipe, 40a
The day, the real world came
They were singin'...

 

Bye, bye Beta Theta Pi
Took my beer mug to the cellar
where the tap's never dry
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye
Singin Hail to Beta Theta Pi.
Hail to Beta Theta Pi.

 

I met a toga wearing muse   41
And I asked her if she'd play some Fooz.  41a
But she just smiled and turned away.

 

I went up to the sacred suite  42
Where I'd heard the music and the beat,
But the Bro' there said the stereo wouldn't play. 43

And in their rooms the Beta's screamed.44
The lovers sighed, and the co-eds dreamed. 45
But not a word was spoken,
The ice machine was broken. 46

And the three men we admired well,
The Father, Don, and the Mingo Bells  47
They caught the Beta train for Wells, 48
The day, the real world, came
And they were singin'...

 

Bye, bye Beta Theta Pi
Took my beer mug to the cellar
where the tap's never dry
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye
Singin Hail to Beta Theta Pi.
Hail to Beta Theta Pi.

 

They were singin'...

 

Bye, bye Beta Theta Pi
Took my beer mug to the cellar
where the tap's never dry
Them good ol' boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n' rye
Singin Hail to Beta Theta Pi.
Hail to Beta Theta Pi.

Interpretation of Lyrics

 

The following represents a combination of some of the more popular interpretations of the meaning of the "American Pie" lyrics. McClean has remained silent on the meaning, except to say that the song was dedicated to Buddy Holly and that his death is referenced in the first verse. He has left it up to others to figure out what he really meant.

 

1. The song is about the history of rock and roll music and how it changed after Buddy Holly's death. It is also, however, about McLean's growing up, and his love of the pure rock and roll of the '50s. McClean was a musician. He wanted to make people dance. Most 50's music was meant for dancing and in general upbeat and happy, in contrast to 60's music.

2. McClean was a paperboy on February 3, 1959 when Buddy Holly's plane crashed. He was devastated by the news, since Holly was his idol.

3. Holly's recent bride was pregnant when the crash took place; she had a miscarriage shortly afterward.

4. The same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly also took the lives of Richie Valens ("La Bamba") and The Big Bopper ("Chantilly Lace"). Since all three were so prominent at the time, February 3, 1959 became known as "The Day The Music Died."

5. Goodbye to the music of America, the Rock 'n' Roll and dance music of the '50s. It's interesting how McLean has feminized 50's rock music here, the fact that it's a virgin (Miss) form of music that's as American as apple pie.

6. Chevy represents America. The Levee is the bar where McLean and his friends hung out in his hometown of New Rochelle, NY. It closed down.

7. This line is a play on words. Rye is a city in New York near where McLean grew up. When the Levee closed, the "good ol' boys," McLean and his friends, fled to drink in Rye where together they mourned the deaths of the trio.

8. One of Holly's hits was "That'll be the Day"; the chorus contains the line, "That'll be the Day that I Die."

9. "The Book of Love" by the Monotones; hit in 1958.

10. In 1955, Don Cornell did a song entitled "The Bible Tells Me So." This line could also refer to the sense of disparity that maybe God let us down after the assassination of John Kennedy and the general disillusionment of the early '60s. It is also likely that these lines are meant to garnish rock 'n' roll with religious imagery, because most of the early musicians, including Holly, got their start in church choirs or by singing hymns. An old children's hymn called "Jesus Loves Me" has the line "the Bible tells me so" in the lyrics.

11. This is a lament of the decline of the dance music of the '50s. It might also be a reference to The Lovin' Spoonful's hit in 1965 with John Sebastian's "Do you Believe in Magic?" Or, McLean might be questioning the integrity of music and it's worth after the plane crash

12. Dancing slow was an important part of early rock and roll dance events -- but declined in importance through the 60's as things like psychedelia and the 10-minute guitar solo gained prominence. Back then, dancing was an expression of love, and carried a connotation of commitment. Dance partners were not so readily exchanged as they would be later. Allegorically, the "him" is probably all the young, hansom teen idols that were common in the late '50s and early '60s. The "you" represents all the teenage girls who swooned over those idols.

13. A reference to a "sock hop," generally held in gymnasiums.

14. McLean is letting us know he prefers the R&B music of the '50's to the sock hop music.

15. "A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)," was a hit for Marty Robbins in 1957. McLean was lonely because his music was out of style.

16. It was roughly 10 years after the death of Buddy Holly that McLean started writing "American Pie."

17. The "rolling stone" is a reference to Bob Dylan, since "Like a Rolling Stone" (1965) was his first major hit; he was busy writing songs extolling the virtues of simple love, family and contentment while staying at home and raking in the royalties. It also is a reference to The Rolling Stones, and a symbollic reversal of the aphorism, "A rolling stone gathers no moss." To McLean, the music of the '60s was gathering moss--growing stale. "That's not how it used to be" refers to the early days of Dylan.

18. The jester is Bob Dylan. The king could refer to Elvis. The Queen is probably the Queen of England, whom Dylan performed for. In the movie "Rebel Without a Cause", James Dean has a red windbreaker that holds symbolic meaning throughout the film. In one particularly intense scene, Dean lends his coat to a guy who is shot and killed; Dean's father arrives, sees the coat on the dead man, thinks it's Dean, and loses it. On the cover of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", Dylan is wearing just such as red windbreaker, and is posed in a street scene similar to one shown in a well-known picture of James Dean. Bob Dylan played a command performance for the Queen and Prince Consort of England. He was not properly attired, so perhaps this is a reference to his apparel.

19. A reference to Dylan's style of music, folk music, from the people (you and me).

20. This could be a reference to Elvis's decline and Dylan's ascendance. (i.e. Presley is looking down from a height as Dylan takes his place.) The thorny crown might be a reference to the price of fame, or another religious metaphor.

21. This could be the trial of the Chicago Seven. It could also refer to the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, which really had no "verdict," and is still open to speculation. Most likely, it is a reference to the fact that there really is no true "king" of rock 'n' roll during this period. For even though Dylan has grabbed (stolen) the mantle of rock's spokesman, the verdict is still out.

22. This is a play on words. Literally, John Lennon reading about Karl Marx; figuratively, the introduction of radical politics into the music of the Beatles. Both Lennon and Lenin (Soviet dictator) believed in Marxist philosophy.

23. Allegorically, this line probably refers to the time when the Beatles were still playing in England and Europe. They were still "practicing" because they had not come to America yet.

24. A "dirge" is a funeral or mourning song, so perhaps this is meant literally, mourning the death of Holly or his music...or, perhaps, this is a reference to some of the new "art rock" groups which played long pieces not meant for dancing. It's likely just a reference to McLean's unhappiness with the way music was going.

25. "Helter Skelter" is a Beatles song which appears on the "White Album." Charles Manson, claiming to have been "inspired" by the song led his followers in the Tate-LaBianca murders. The "summer swelter" might be a reference to the "Summer of Love" or perhaps to the "long hot summer" of Watts.

26. The Byrd's "Eight Miles High" was on their late 1966 release "Fifth Dimension". It was one of the first records to be widely banned because of supposedly drug-oriented lyrics.

27. One of the Byrds was busted for possession of marijuana.

28. The football metaphor could be the Rolling Stones, i.e. they were waiting for an opening which really didn't happen until the Beatles broke up. Or it could refer to attempts of other musicians to come into the limelight while Dylan was laid up.

29. 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.

30. Drugs, or the hidden messages about drugs in some of the songs of the mid-'60s (half-time in the decade).

31. A clear reference to Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles 1967 album that changed rock 'n' roll forever. It was the first theme album, the first to put lyrics on the cover, the first to use synthetic sounds. It had no hit singles, another new concept in album production. It had purported hidden messages, mostly drug messages in songs like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (LSD). McLean liked it (sweet perfume).

32. All the youth got into this album. They didn't get the chance to dance because the Beatles had now pushed rock music away from its dance roots. They used orchestras. They wrote long, slow songs with ponderous rhythms. Or it could also refer to the fact that the Beatles' 1966 Candlestick Park concert lasted only 35 minutes.

33. No one could compete against the Beatles. Some folks think this refers to either the 1968 Democratic Convention or Kent State. What was "revealed" was the dark underlying messages of rock music: the Marxism that was alluded to in the previous verse, the advocation of drug use, the overly self-obsessed quality of the lyrics.

34. The "place" was Woodstock.

35. 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. It could also be a reference to the '60s TV show, "Lost in Space," whose title was sometimes used as a synonym for someone who was rather high. Perhaps, their preference for psychedelia had pushed rock and roll so far from Holly's music that it couldn't be retrieved.

36. Probably a reference to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones; "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was released in May, 1968.

37. The Stones' Candlestick park concert? Candlestick park was also the venue for the Beatles' final performance--the end of the rock 'n' roll era.

38. It's possible that this is a reference to the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil".

39. While playing a concert at the Altamont Speedway in 1968, the Stones appointed members of the Hell's Angels to work security (on the advice of the Grateful Dead). In the darkness near the front of the stage, a young man named Meredith Hunter was beaten and stabbed to death -- by the Angels. Public outcry that the song "Sympathy for the Devil" had somehow incited the violence caused the Stones to drop the song from their show for the next six years. This incident is chronicled in the documentary film "Gimme Shelter". It's also possible that McLean views the Stones as being negatively inspired (remember, he had an extensive religious background) by virtue of "Sympathy for the Devil", "Their Satanic Majesties' Request" and so on.

40. This could be a reference to Jimi Hendrix burning his Stratocaster at the Monterey Pop Festival, or simply the bonfires that were lit at the outside concerts. It could be a reference to Jagger dancing and prancing while the murder was happening. Mick Jagger is Satan, the murder provided the sacrifice.

41. Janis Joplin

42. Janis died of an accidental heroin overdose on October 4, 1970.

43. The "sacred store" might be Bill Graham's Fillmore East, one of the great rock and roll venues of all time. Alternatively, this refers to record stores, and their longtime (then discontinued) practice of allowing customers to preview records in the store. It could also refer to record stores as "sacred" because this is where one goes to get "saved". (See above lyric "Can music save your mortal soul?") The music "wouldn't play" means that nobody is interested in hearing Buddy Holly et.al.'s music anymore. Or, as above, the discontinuation of the in-store listening booths. Another interpretion is that the "store" is the record industry in 1970; the "music" is McLean's own song, American Pie, and "the man" is the recording industry and radio. McLean's style of music, particularly this song, just wouldn't play. It was too long (over 8 minutes), too folksy, and too late.

44. Protestors being beaten by police and National Guard troops.

45. The trend towards psychedelic music in the '60s.

46. It could be that the broken bells are the dead musicians: neither can produce any more music.

47. Holly, The Big Bopper, and Valens.

48. They died; rock died. Elvis has left the building. Buddy Holly is no more. Rock 'n' roll is over, at least in its original form. And Don McLean can only watch them go and sing, "Bye-bye, Miss American Pie..."

 

Interpretation of Lyrics

 

The following represents a combination of some of the more popular interpretations of the meaning of "Beta Theta Pi" lyrics.  Shaddock has remained silent on the meaning, except to say that the song was dedicated to his buddies in the house, and that their graduation is referenced in the verses.  He has left it up to others to figure out what he really meant.

 

1 Hey, we're not that old!

 

1a Beta's have been noted their musical abilities, with a book of Beta Songs, being members of the Colgate 13, and members of Colgate University bands.

 

1b The Beta House, at 88 Broad Street, Hamilton, NY 13346 where many mixers and dances have been held.

 

1c February is Fraternity Rush time - when pledges are considered on by the brotherhood and the top pledges are voted in, based on a diverse range of qualities, such as scholarship and community service.

 

2 The results of fraternity admission votes were often notes of either congratulations, or regret under the dormitory doors of pledges seeking membership.

 

3  House President, and first in his class to get married (not named out of respect for privacy)

 

4. Graduation from Colgate University

 

6 The Beta bar was noted for being on tap for many years straight, except for a snow storm when the beer delivery truck could not make it to the house.

 

7 Responsible social drinking, in moderate quantities which do not impair judgment, of course.

 

8 From the song "Hail to Thee Beta Theta Pi"

 

9  "Son of the Stars" blue Beta Theta Pi pledge book

 

10  Wooglin is the spirit who watches over all Betas

 

11 Jeff went on to Harvard and is a city planner in DC.

 

11a Disco became popular in 1977 with the movie Saturday Night Fever

 

12 Cumulative Grade Point Average or "cume" - why one would go to the Rag Room to study.  Rag comes from the expression "on the rag" - when a student is upset with upcoming exams, similar to the PMS syndrome in women.

 

13 Blew off means procrastination, such as studying, until the Exam Finals week.

 

14 Star Wars opened in theatres in summer of '77.  One may need caffeine to pull all nighters of studying, and power from the Unified Field to pass Finals.  Brothers were heard to say "May the Force be with you" as one goes for his exams.

 

16 Freshmen students at Colgate University must spend their first year in dormitories.  For 3 years from sophomore through senior, they may live in a fraternity house or off campus.

 

19 "P Man:" - Paul Platzman - one of the loudest Beta singers.

 

20 House President candidate Claude Majester won the election.

 

21 Annual Kangaroo Court - held at the Beta House for Betas to stand for Judgement Day for their alleged transgressions.

 

22  Karl Marx was assigned reading for Colgate Political Science classes.  Mark is now a Partner of a major NY law firm.

 

23 The Colgate 13 - the traveling acapella singing group of male students.  The group is named for the 13 founders of Colgate University.

 

25 Matthew, House President  Summer '77, now successful NY advertising executive.

 

28 See  Ballad of Art's Car

 

30 Half Time referring to Colgate Football or Hockey games, when the air smelled of hot dogs, the dates of brothers. and possibly medicinal herbs.

 

32  Betas would sit in one section at sports events, and a good time was had by all.

 

33 DKE and DU were the fraternities with most of the "jocks" or sports players  Through devotion to the cultivation of the intellect in the sciences and the arts, Beta graduates are among the most successful businessmen in later life, with the exception of Tim Sanford of course.

 

34 This seems to mean the Colgate Library, or possibly the Hamilton College Library which was open 24 hours.  It may also mean the Rag Room.

 

35 Procrastination, parties, and just "spacing out" until Exam Week is common in colleges where they take 4 courses at once, before the more modern and efficient Block System - focusing on 1 course each month, instead of 4 for 4 months.

 

36 Tom was among those noted for his quick wit, especially as Judge of the Annual Kangaroo Court.  He went to law school, and is now a real Judge in New York.

 

37  In a momentary lapse in judgment, accepted a bet to eat a whole pound of butter within 5 minutes.

 

38  He won the bet, but got sick.   Hurster is one who hurts, or is undergoing some discomfort.

 

39 Russell Sage College for Women in Utica, NY

 

40 Colgate's traditional pre-graduation ceremony, where graduates line up and march around the campus holding torch lights.

 

40a Lord and Laffin - roommates who were experts in medicinal herbs.

 

41 Toga Parties - brothers and guests would dress up like the Greeks, wearing just a sheet.

Muse - the 9 daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, Greek goddesses of art and sciences. 

 

41a Fooz Ball - a popular table game similar to soccer, the basement of the Beta House.

 

42 "E Suite" or Executive Suite - meeting room for the Beta Board of Directors, next to the House President's room.  Also equipped with a bar and stereo for entertaining visiting dignitaries.

 

43 A disagreement occurred between those who liked Rock n Roll and the seemingly constant playing of Disco music.  The E-Suite stereo was accidentally doused in alcohol and melted during the Great Disco Inferno.

 

44 Go 'Gate!

 

45 Co-eds - female students

 

46 The ice machine in the kitchen was often out of order

 

47   H.G. - both a respected father figure to brothers and the only actual father in the house, Don Hamill, Gary "DoMingo" -  rarely called "Mingo Bells" but hey it rhymes with Wells.

 

48 Wells College for Girls - a common road trip for Betas

 


Rag Room Music

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