This is why Bob Dylan is the “Job” in Don McLean’s “American Pie”
Don McLean’s mystical “American Pie” is one of the greatest American songs ever written.
The song’s lyrics, which exceed eight minutes, contain a dizzying array of references and innuendo to McLean’s personal life, American popular culture, and the music industry from the 1950s to the 1960s.
And while every line in the lyrics, and every reference within them, is full of nuance and ripe for analysis, there is one reference in particular that elicits particular debate and reaction to this day.
And this reference is to an unnamed “jester”, which is found three times in the lyrics.
When the Jester sang for the King and Queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me
Oh, and while the king looked down
the Jester stole his thorny crown
He landed foul on the grass, players attempted a forward pass
With the Jester on the sidelines in a casting
So who is the jester? And what does McLean think of anyone?
Why most think the jester in “American Pie” is Bob Dylan.
There are several reasons why fans and critics agree that the jester is Bob Dylan.
The first reason is that, quite simply, the descriptions of the jester match Dylan’s personality and image at the time.
McLean mentions how the jester wears a coat borrowed from James Dean, almost certainly a nod to how Dylan donned a jacket on the cover of his 1963 album freewheel, which looks a lot like a jacket worn by Dean in the 1955 film Rebel without a cause.
And then McLean says the jester was in a cast on the sidelines, an apparent reference to Dylan’s mysterious 1966 motorcycle accident near Woodstock, New York, which led to Dylan canceling all subsequent public appearances during he was tending to his wounds.
But then again, there are those skeptics who believe Dylan’s motorcycle accident was staged, little more than an excuse to get out of these upcoming public appearances. If McLean shared that belief, it was all the more reason for him to think of Dylan as a… well, a buffoon.
It may also be true that McLean felt a little resentment towards Dylan for his success and the way he changed music in the 1960s.
McLean was more fond of 1950s music and particularly the work of Elvis Presley, otherwise known as the King. But then Dylan came along and closed the 1950s chapter for good, ushering in a new style for the 1960s, one that he himself shaped.
And that probably explains what McLean means when he says the jester stole the king’s crown, it was only Dylan who became influential enough to usurp Elvis’ popularity.
How does Bob Dylan feel about being called a “jester”?
Obviously, Dylan doesn’t take being called a jester by a peer lightly. In a 2017 interview, when told he was the jester, he reacted by saying:
“Yeah, Don McLean, ‘American Pie’, what a song that is. A jester? Of course, the jester writes songs like ‘Masters of War’, ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’, ‘It’s Alright, Ma “- a jester. I must think he’s talking about someone else. Ask him.”
In the end, it seems that some of mankind’s most gifted musicians are still susceptible to the same petty feuds and jealousies so common in everyone’s life.
At least when they’re throwing shade and indulging in some of their base instincts, they’re making fine art the way they do.
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