What's the meaning of "American Pie" Verse 2 ("Did you write the book of love")?

A '50s sockhop like the one in the song
A '50s sockhop like the one in the song "American Pie". Getty Images

What's the meaning of "American Pie" Verse 2 ("Did you write the book of love")?

In verse 2 Don McLean, having finished setting the scene of his boyhood love of rock n' roll, reached out to the audience and asks if they can also remember the innocence of their youth. He also takes pains to introduce the idea of rock music itself as a sort of religion, a metaphor he backs up by contrasting it with the morality and social rituals of the time.

Can music save your mortal soul?

Did you write the Book of Love?

This is a reference to the Monotones' "Book of Love," which was a doo-wop hit in 1958, and also wonders in its opening lines: "I wonder who wrote the Book of Love."

And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?

These are possible references to Don Cornell's "The Bible Tells Me So" (1955) or, more likely, the song "The Love of Jesus," by Anna Bartlett Warner, which was often sung in Bible schools. It's more probable that McLean picked the phrase out of thin air, however.

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

Slow dancing was an important part of the dating ritual at the time; the other two lines are apparently McLean's way of questioning the public's true devotion to rock and roll during the crash. Bear in mind, too, that rock was a music often assaulted by religious leaders as being ungodly.

Well, I know that you're in love with him
'Cause I saw you dancin' in the gym

A "sock hop," often held in high-school gymnasiums, was a significant social event for teenagers. The identity of "him" is ambiguous. It's more probably just a rhyme for "gym," unless Don has a specific "him" in mind. A teen idol she's dancing to, or just a date she's dancing with?

You both kicked off your shoes

Another reference to the sock hop, so called because teens danced in their socks so as not to ruin the floor. These were the days when dress shoes were still the norm for schoolwear.

Man, I dig those rhythm & blues

R&B was, of course, a major -- some say the major -- influence on the development of rock and roll. A sufficiently hip teen with his ear to the ground, so to speak, would have known of R&B before rock, black or white, especially if he or she lived near a big city.

I was a lonely, teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck

A couplet that conveys an image of sexual independence. A "bucking bronc" is a cowboy term that refers to a bronco horse that's still wild; McLean reverses the phrase. A vehicle was a tremendously important (and still rather rare) item for a teen to own, and a pickup truck carried, then as now, special significance in Texas because of its many functions as a workhorse. Pink carnations were often what young males wore to social events in the Fifties; see Marty Robbins' 1957 hit "A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)."

But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.
I started singin'...