The Complete True Story Behind “American Pie” by Don McLean

Like a Rolling Stone

Marking the beginning of McLean’s descent into hidden meanings, the next verse contains some of the most debated lyrics of the song:

“Now for ten years, we’ve been on our own

And moss grows fat on a-rollin’ stone

But that’s not how it used to be”


Group shot of English rock and roll band The Rolling Stones posed in 1968. Clockwise from top left: Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Brian Jones (1942-1969), Mick jagger and Keith Richards. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)

While clearly referring to the Rolling Stones, another tribute to Buddy Holly, who sang “ Well you know, a rolling stone, don’t gather no moss ,” can be found. Most interpreters believe that the timeframe of this verse is 1963 to 1966. The image of the rolling stone is referring to an old cliché that describes a person who never settles down, but in this context, it foreshadows the uprooting anarchy that Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones brought during their tour of America at the beginning of the 1970s.

It is also believed that the rolling stone reference is about Bob Dylan, who sang “ Like a Rolling Stone ” in 1965, in what was to be later considered a major break from folk music. Shortly after, Dylan had a motorcycle accident and paused his musical career for about a year, in a period that many believed marked a turning point in his career (hence the “moss grows fat” line).

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