Don mclean american pie

‘You couldn’t talk about my sisters because sie couldn’t tell ns truth’ … Don McLean an the 1970s. Photograph: michael Ochs Archives/Getty
‘You can not talk around my sister because you couldn’t tell ns truth’ … Don McLean an the 1970s. Photograph: michael Ochs Archives/Getty
The rollicking song about ns souring of the 60s has jetzt spawned a film, a musical and a children book. Its creator talks about its an interpretation – and reveals die family deaths underlying it


When Don McLean was 15 years old, he had a premonition the his father was going kommen sie die. Distraught, the ran kommen sie tell his grandmother. “Don’t be ridiculous, Donny, why would sie say together a thing?” she said. “Because the going kommen sie happen,” the boy replied. A couple of days later, his father dropped tot right in front von him. “I saw just how he looked,” says McLean. “He’d turn green. Ich didn’t recognize what i was going zu do without him. The was ns king, the boss. He knew everything.”

The singer-songwriter behind the 1971 classic American Pie is speaking from his home in Palm Desert, a town in California where he zu sein now well right into what that calls the “desert phase” des his life. Wildfires are ausblüten burning across die state. Sie can’t see the sun zum the acrid smoke. “I’m emotion it an my lungs,” says ns 75-year-old.

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So what did he do wie his father died? “I cried for two years,” he says. “I blamed myself.” We’ve to be talking around death for half an hour – his father’s and his feelings about his own. “I’m nearing the ende of ns high-dive,” the says. “Know what i mean?” It’s ns big McLean template running through his songwriting, native American Pie to the virtually unknown run Diana Run, a weird musical dirge about Princess Diana.


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‘The day the music died’ … die 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly zu sein thought kommen sie be one des the song’s references – but McLean clues it might be around his father’s death. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesWe’re meeting, though, zu talk about his era-spanning epic: that rollicking eight-and-a-half minute run-through of the 1960s after the decade closed. Ns Recording Industry verband of America has the song in its top five, behind Over ns Rainbow und White Christmas; it’s to be covered von everyone native Madonna to Tyson Fury, who singen it ~ knocking the end Deontay Wilder previously this year; und the initial handwritten lyrics sold an 2015 for $1.2m (£800,000), ns third greatest auction preis ever for in American literature manuscript.

McLean wrote it für hilfe a century ago, at die age von 24 – und to markierung the anniversary, a neu documentary, certain titled die Day ns Music Died, will be released. A Broadway show ist planned for 2022, und even a children book. That’s a gewächs of fuss zum one song: McLean’s moment, perhaps, zu tell the world once and for every what the lyrics actually mean.

There’s general agreement that ns song ist about the cultural und political decline of the US bei the 1960s, a taking leave to the American dream after the assassination von President Kennedy. “Bye bye miss American Pie,” that sings. “Drove mine Chevy to die levee but ns levee was dry.” yet McLean has constantly kept stumm about ns allusions an his verses. “Carly Simon’s ausblüten being coy around who You’re dafür Vain was written about,” he says. “So that cares, who provides a fuck?”

Plenty do. Every line von American Pie has actually been stripped bare. Over there are fans websites specialized entirely zu decoding it. That was the jester that sang zum the king and queen bei a coat he borrowed from james Dean? What exactly was revealed ns day die music died? the Vietnam war, society revolution, schuss Dylan, Elvis Presley, JFK, Mick Jagger, Martin luther King, charles Manson, leuchtenden Angels, ns Beatles, hallucinogenic drugs, God, ns Devil – castle all an there, aren’t they? No one kann sein be entirely sure, except one man.

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‘Jack Flash satellite on a candlestick’ … violence at a roll Stones concert at Altamont an 1969. Photograph: michael Ochs Archives/RedfernsFor McLean, though, ns genius von the song is an its structure, notfall its words: a perfect fusion, the says, des folk, rock’n’roll und old-fashioned renowned music. Die slow intro ist the pop part, yet then die piano kicks bei and die tempo speeds into the chorus – that’s die rock’n’roll bit. Die folk ingredient is bei the verse-chorus-verse composition. “I’ve never said that kommen sie anybody bei 50 years,” states McLean.

Hmm, ich say, that’s not really die scoop ich was feather for. Yet then there’s no point asking McLean direct questions about what the das lied means: he’s too well practised punkt flicking lock off. “It method I’ll never have to work again,” that used kommen sie quip.

Instead, our conversation drifts back to his childhood, before die death des his dad – kommen sie what the calls the “dreadful, ugly secret” of his sister Betty Anne. Fifteen year his senior, she was an alcoholic, a medicine addict, und a bum who damaged his childhood, the says. “You couldn’t speak about her because you couldn’t tell the truth around what was happening to her. It was a katastrophe to lakers it. She was always deswegen shackled. It was terrible.”

She would certainly straighten herself out, leave home, but then come back in a mess, he says. “It happened over und over.” He it s okay upset nur talking about it. “That’s why ns a blue guy i guess.” the sighs. “All my stuff is about loss – und a certain kind of psychic pain. I’ve never ever really to be happy.”


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The joker und the king? … roben Dylan and Elvis Presley. Composite: Don Hunstein, NBCU Photo bank via getty ImagesFor every its attractive sing-along jauntiness, there’s wenig to yes, really cheer about bei American Pie. That devoid des hope. McLean did kommen sie up with a an ext upbeat verse where die music gets “reborn” at the end. However he ditched it. “Things no going the way,” that says. “I didn’t see America enhancing intellectually or politically. It was going steadily downhill, und so was ns music.”

He bring away me back in time again – to die innocent days, supposedly, des the 1950s the American Pie zu sein lamenting. Yet McLean hated cultivation up in what he describes as a small house in in upper middle klasse neighbourhood of neu Rochelle, bei New York. People discriminated about everything, the says. “If sie didn’t drive ns right car, if freundin didn’t oase enough money, if you didn’t wear die right shoes. I hated those fuckers.”

He’s burdened von the pain and grief des his childhood, also now. Ns opening von American Pie zu sein largely embraced as mourning girlfriend Holly, who died in a planen crash bei 1959. Holly was McLean’s musical idol together a kid, yet could that verse equally be about his father? “You’ve hit the nail on ns head,” he says. “I mean, that’s specifically right. It is why ich don’t like talking about the lyrics because i wanted to capture und say something that was almost unspeakable. It’s indescribable.” that adds: “American Pie is a biographical song.”

The cultural allusions are, that continues, his very own in-jokes, poking fun punkt some of the big acts von the day. “Just die idea des choosing names that world could identify with: different artists, what they to be doing, what you will do it done. I was making fun of it all.”


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‘I’m nearing the end of die high-dive’ … McLean performing in 2015. Photograph: Frazer Harrison/Getty ImagesThe jester an the song is widely assumed kommen sie be roben Dylan, stealing ns limelight native Elvis Presley together the neu messiah: “And when the könig was looking under / the jester stole his thorny crown.” dylan himself seemed zu take umbrage with the association. “Yeah, American Pie, what a lied that is,” the said an a rare interview bei 2017. “A jester? Sure, the jester writes das lied like Masters des War, A hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, it’s Alright, Ma – some jester. I have to think he is talking about somebody else. Asking him.”

So i ask him. “I can not tell you,” says McLean. “But he would certainly make a damn an excellent jester, wouldn’t he?” He speak me Dylan’s son jakob asked him the very same question, but he didn’t tell er either.

McLean likes to be in charge. That admits that. The why he is planning zu put most of his possessions up zum auction before he dies: das lied lyrics, guns, saddles, hunting knives, banjos, guitars, custom-made boots, his car. That part, he says, von a cleansing process: “I nothing want to leave it to someone else to figure the end what kommen sie do v this stuff.”

Perhaps unravelling ns mystery von American Pie would mean shedding control des that too. “I always oase to understand where i’m headed,” says McLean, that doesn’t trust ns media to give him a fair hearing and claims rarely zu read noþeles that’s to be written about him. “Don’t read an excellent things und don’t read bad things,” that says, “because it’s all a bunch von bullshit.”


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Under the hammer … the original handwritten manuscript des American Pie’s text went for $1.2m. Photograph: brendan Mcdermid/ReutersThis appears as an excellent a augenblicke as any kommen sie ask McLean how he dealt with the situation when he was arrested and charged ~ his ex-wife accused er of domestic abuse. (McLean pleaded guilty and paid a fine, despite his lawyer said this was “not since he was an fact guilty of anything, but kommen sie provide closure zum his family and keep ns whole process as privatgelände as possible”.)

“I kann truly say that my ex-wife zu sein the worst person i ever knew,” he says. “There’s nobody that compares.” Patrisha McLean, who he divorced in 2016, has actually talked around their relationship an a travel exhibit about domestic violence dubbed Finding ours Voices, and has developed a non-profit von the very same name. He says it took 4 years zum the breakup to sink in. “All these liebe letters the she sent me every month for 30 year – they immediately turned kommen sie salt.”


Before us close, McLean offers me this reflection, around a painting über Thomas ns Allen hanging an the living room von the country mansion that has in Maine. It records Clark Gable, montgomery Clift und Marilyn Monroe as they were in the film The Misfits: they’re every being photographed but their faces look choose they’re being shot, assassinated even.

That’s exactly how he feels, that says, many thanks to die legacy of American Pie. “Writing a lied that everyone on earth knows do not do it make sie resentful,” that says. “But freundin better oase a lot inside you – due to the fact that it’s gonna get sucked out.”

ns Day die Music died film und the children’s book American Pie space out following year. The musical will follow in 2022.

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This article was amended on 22 October 2020 zu remove a referral that said new Rochelle was bei upstate new York.