Things to do: See Don McLean at Cullen Performance Hall and read American Pie a Fable

There are many songs in the Canon of Classic Rock, but only a handful qualify as True Epics. Think “Stairway to Heaven,” “Freebird,” “Hey Jude,” “Layla,” “Hotel California” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

A quieter entry on that holy list is “American Pie” by Don McLean. At 8 minutes and 42 seconds in duration, it is a broad and deep sonic treatise on innocence, tragedy, loss, nostalgia and Chevys by the dikes with a splash of whiskey and rye. The composer is still very proud of it.
“You mention those other songs, but they don’t talk about what ‘American Pie’ does or have the lyrics that it does. One of the things about that song is that it’s compact and uses the English language in a way that no other songwriter ever really did,” an energetic, cocky and confident McLean offers over the phone.

“And it might as well have been a song on an album that no one has heard, but it didn’t turn out that way. so much about [success] in the music business has to do with alchemy and being “anointed.” There are so many horrible people out there that’s anointed that don’t deserve it. Oh… you don’t have the time for me to tell you everything! Everything about my career and life has been a struggle. A bike ride uphill, okay? But I’m very tough. And I won’t take no for an answer.”

click to enlarge Don McLean at a recent concert.  - PHOTOGRAPH BY JEREMY WESTBY

Don McLean at a recent concert.

Photo by Jeremy Westby

The narrative lyrics of “American Pie” are laced throughout the narrative lyrics of “American Pie” with an alleged who’s who of rock icons making cryptic performances (“Bob Dylan’s “the Jester,” right?” The Girl Who Sang the Blues is Janis Joplin, I know!”) And, of course, “The Day the Music Died” was for the song’s young paperboy who literally made the news on February 3, 1959, when a plane crash killed early rock icons Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP “The Big Bopper” killed Richardson (along with their pilot, Roger Peterson).

For his part, McLean has never really given a definitive interpretation of his most famous song. But this year has embarked on a tour linked to the 50th anniversary of reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts and staying there for a month in early 1972 (although it was released in 1971). The tour ends March 25 in Houston at the University of Houston’s Cullen Performance Hall.

But it’s not all peaches and cream yet. McLean then goes out to fire United Artists, who are the… american pie LP. “Worst record company in the company† McLean offers.

“All they knew was how to do it was evicted” [easygoing instrumental piano duo] Ferrante and Teicher albums and movie soundtracks! But they tried to portray themselves as a hip label. And I was their first husband. But they had ears, and the song was a hit!”

It’s also still sticking out over a decades-old bathtub rolling stone album review, writer calling. “The man’s name was Stephen Holden, he was a little” worm† McLean adds that the reporter later wrote him a letter of apology, but was “not man enough” to put it in the magazine proper.

click to enlarge BOOK COVER

On a lighter note, McLean has also lent his name and at least some of the plot of “American Pie” to a new and surprisingly deep children’s book, Don McLean’s American Pie: A Fable (40 pp., $17.99, Meteor 17 Books).

It tells the story of a lone newspaper deliverer (a fictional stand-in for McLean) in 1959 who discovers joy, friendship, and music while on the go (the actual text and illustrations are credited to “a creative media team”).

“Judy Provider” [of Meteor 17] really took these interviews I did about my idyllic childhood in New Rochelle and Larchmont [New York] and did something with it. How that child has had to face modern reality. And I love the graphics and the way it works together,” says McLean.

He and the company are also planning a series of sequels — some featuring the first’s “Donny Boy” newsboy at various stages in his life, and inspired by other McLean tunes about suicide, mental health, music, love, and the environment.

Other recognizable songs from McLean include the Vincent Van Gogh tribute “Vincent” (which many believe is called “Starry, Starry Night”), “Castles in the Air”, “And I Love You So” and a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Although a more biting humor can also be heard on the manifesto ‘Fashion Victim’.

A scorched earth rant against sartorial and attitude shallowness, originally released in 1991, seems even more fitting today in an era of Kardashians, Tik Tok, and “social media influencers.” On the chorus, McLean sings bitter’I hate fashion/I hate it with a passion† Years later, he returned to the subject in a song called “Addicted to Black.”
“Everyone wore black† It’s a go-to color! People are so safe; they wear black and sometimes white and that’s how they decorate their houses. Or safe earth tones”, McLean starts rolling.

“They do not know” how color to use. Cars are boring! How many silver, white and black cars do you see on the road! And very few interesting buildings are built. It’s all glass and steel. It transforms an interesting city like Nashville into Atlanta

On another front, McLean admits that he has disdain for current movies with “all the sequels, prequels and remakes” – especially the newer versions, the comedies from the 70s The inlaws and The outsiders† Of particular interest to him, however, is the still-running series of raunchy teen comedies in the… american pie series that started in 1999.
McLean — who owns the copyright to the title because of his song — said the producers of the original film initially approached him with a $1,500 bid for the rights to use the name.

“I told them to go” fuck himself!” says McLean. However, his attorney warned that if he filed an injunction to stop the film’s release, and the film was expected to earn $40 million in its opening weekend, Universal Pictures’ attorneys could argue that the songwriter cost them that profit and then try to get the amount back from him directly.

Fortunately for McLean, as the film’s scheduled release date drew closer, the composer got an attorney on his behalf and Universal seemed to give in. McLean says he made a “multi-million dollar settlement” and now gets a nice paycheck every time a new one american pie is from.

Don McLean recently made some headlines here in Houston, when the conservative-leaning thinker dropped out of the lineup scheduled to perform at the National Rifle Association convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center last month, just days away. after the massacre at school in Uvalde.

“In light of recent events in Texas, I have decided it would be disrespectful and hurtful to me to act,” McLean said in a statement. “I am sure that all the people who are planning to attend this event are also shocked and sickened by these events. After all, we are all Americans.”
Today, 76-year-old Don McLean says he has 120 more dates planned for the “American Pie” anniversary tour. And he’s excited about the release of an upcoming full-length documentary The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’.

“I have never been as busy or successful as I am now, in every way. Personal, career-wise, you name it. Everything is coming roses† he offers.

“To be my age and do all this. I’m leaving for Texas at 3am tomorrow! I’ve been here for two years, but always working. The pandemic gave me that time because I was not on the road. But now I’m rocking and rolling. And thanks for talking about ‘Fashion Victim!’”

Don McLean will perform at the Cullen Performance Hall on the University of Houston, 4300 University campus on Saturday, June 25 at 7:30 PM. For information, call 832-842-3131 or visit UH.edu.

For more information about Don McLean, visit DonMcLean.com