By Tom Travis
Fifty-two years after his song “American Pie” became a surprise hit and thrust him him into sudden fame, singer/songwriter Don McLean, 77, says he’s still not tired of it.
“I’m not tired of the song because it makes people so happy,” he said in a phone interview with East Village Magazine. “My job is to sing the songs that I want to sing and I have enthusiasm about them and I’m able to give people enjoyment.
“That damn song makes people so happy it’s unbelievable to me,” he said. “I love seeing it,”
The opening lyrics of American Pie, “Bye, bye Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry…” have become an iconic part of the song index of American music. McLean’s 1971 hit flung him into an expected life of fame, and since 2021 he’s been on tour celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the hit.
From Honolulu to Toronto, McLean visits Flint next week
The “American Pie 50th Anniversary Tour” includes a stop in Flint, at the FIM Capitol Theatre on at 8 p.ml Aug. 31. Tickets are on sale now for $45 to $65.
Tickets are available at tickets.thefim.org, (810) 237-7333 or at one of the FIM Ticket Center box offices at either the FIM Capitol Theatre or FIM Whiting Auditorium. Genesee County residents receive a 30 percent discount as a benefit of the Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage.
In the 52 years since the song hit, McLean has become a Grammy award honoree, Songwriters Hall of Fame member, and BBC Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
“Americans don’t know where America is…” McLean
When asked to compare where he thinks the country is today in comparison to where it was in 1971 McLean said, “I don’t think Americans know where America is.”
McLean said he thinks today’s younger generation have lost their naivete. “I think young people don’t see any point in working for anything much. They don’t have much ambition because they don’t see a future for themselves,” he explained.
He added, “I don’t think the younger generation cares about working that much or being that devoted to success or any of that.
“When I was young I was always planning on how to get a job, how to do a show, how do you get in front of an audience and sing these songs,” McLean recalled. “I was practicing at home on how to try this stuff out and see if it flies. It was exciting, it really was the most exciting time of my life.”
The tour includes stops in 30 cities from Honolulu to Toronto. McLean says, “The tour has been wonderful! I have been able to connect with fans from all walks of life who have followed my music for years. We are about to kick off more shows in the United States and I look forward to coming to the Capitol Theatre. Hope to see you there!”
In 1969, McLean recorded his first album, “Tapestry.” FM radio loved the “Tapestry” album and very quickly, McLean became a headliner in nightclubs and colleges across the country.
But his transition to international stardom really happened in 1971 with the release of “American Pie.” Thirty years later, “American Pie” was voted number five in a poll of the 365 “Songs of the Century” compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. The song charted within a month, was named one of the Top 5 Songs of the 20th Century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and in 2002 was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame,” according to a Flint Institute of Music (FIM) press release.
“It wasn’t fun anymore, it was business” McClean
After McLean wrote American Pie and sold millions of copies all over the world, he said, being flung into fame had both magic but down sides as well.
“It wasn’t fun anymore — it was business. Before American Pie it was an adventure. Everything that happened was incredible. Doors would open and I’d walk through those doors. Suddenly I was selling out theaters, it was an incredible time. It was like some kind of magic that I was making. You can do a million interviews with people and they just don’t understand that we make magic and I was, at some kind of level, a magician.
“The particular kind of music making is gone now. Now we’re just force fed music, music that you can’t tell one song from another,” McClean said.
Asked about the recent string of musical greats who have died, McLean turned at first to remembering the loss of his father when McLean was 15. “I’m going to tell you right now, after my father died suddenly when I was a kid I was in so much pain for so many years . In my little 15 year old head I doubted I would ever get close to anybody again. That’s not a good way to live but it’s part of me.
McLean said he’s never been close to other famous musicians and admitted he didn’t know many of those who had recently died. “I’ve never been friends with those people,” McLean said.
“I do know the men that I work with, the musicians. I have a huge number of people that have been on tours with these last 30 years. I am very close to them but we do lose some of them over the years, you can’t avoid it. I find it difficult to go visit friends who do get sick, it upsets me too much.
“But I’m tryin to be better at that. Like my friend Lee Hayes, he was in The Weavers. I saw diabetes eat him alive all the way through. It took a foot, then a toe on the other foot, then the whole foot, then the leg. I wish I could be one of those people with the kind of strength for that but I’m very weak in that way,” he confessed.
McLean, married and divorced twice, has two children from his second marriage and is presently with model Paris Dylan who is 48 years younger. He spoke to EVM by phone from his home in Palm Desert, CA.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org