it's been 40 years since that "day the music died," the
longevity of Don McLean's musical career continues on, a testament to
his genius as a sensitive, thoughtful songwriter/guitarist/performer.
An 8-minute title track on his second album, "American Pie,"
in 1971 continues to bring pause for remembrance of the three young
rising rock 'n' roll stars in the music business: Ritchie Valens,
Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper," who died
tragically in a plane crash in a snowy Iowa field on Feb. 3, 1959. The
song also continues to bring comment about McLean's great talent.
the past four decades, McLean's career not only has survived in the
music industry that has turned itself on its head, but also he
continues to write new songs and attract concert audiences throughout
Friday beginning at 8 p.m., he will draw from his vast repertoire of
hit songs and new compositions in a special performance to benefit the
Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts. He describes his concerts as
a musical odyssey as he'll offer his signature "American
Pie," "Vincent" and "Crying," along with
lesser known McLean compositions as well as introducing some of his
new songs from his latest CD, Addicted to Black.
a telephone interview from his home in Maine, which he describes as
"an old Victorian estate" set on 175 acres, where he lives
with his wife and two teen-age children, McLean offered a peak into
the personality of the man who grew up in a middle-class home in
Westchester County with a fondness for watching Hollywood cowboy films
from the '30s and '40s.
way, he says the dichotomy of living in Westchester and loving the old
western movies reflect the fusion artist that he is. As a songwriter,
he draws from his talents as a great lyricist and composer; his
interests (that range from architecture to collecting watches and
pocket knives); his experiences and his respect for artists who had
come before this now-64-year-old, and those of his generation. He has
been greatly influenced by Bob Dylan, Peter Seeger and especially by
go back and listen to the Weavers when I want some comfort. They've
been a great comfort for me. It's the harmony. It's the beauty of the
harmony," McLean said. He is a great admirer of singers such as
Judy Collins and the way they bring their own sensibility to another
songwriter's lyrics. Among the current crop of popular singers he
admires Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera.
is the fusion of various aspects of his life growing up in New
Rochelle, N.Y., where he spent most of his grammar school years, at
home instead of school, suffering from asthma which would often lead
to pneumonia. He said it didn't help that the four adults in his house
-- his parents, paternal grandmother, and sister, 15 years his senior
-- all smoked. However, the time alone proved very comforting. The
quiet allowed for his creative mind to take hold. He loved being
inside the house and to this day, he says, he loves programs on
television in magazines, like Better Homes and Gardens that offer
tours of private home interiors. Today, he lives in a
15,000-square-foot house, which gives him the luxury to wander about.
the early years, especially his teens, he spent hours playing the
guitar and writing his music and explains that "American
Pie" is "really a fantasy," a fusion of the experiences
in his youth and teens up to the time he wrote the song that was voted
the fifth most popular song of the 20th century, with Judy Garland's
"Over the Rainbow" at No. 1.
was his thinking when he decided to write about his second most
popular song, "Vincent," a homage to Van Gogh's
"Starry, Starry Night?" McLean said he would look admirably
at the painting and wonder if he could capture in his music Van Gogh's
painting style with the many swirls and movement in the brush strokes.
Revisiting these songs today, one can understand a little of McLean's
philosophy about song-writing and why he expresses exasperation with
much of today's music.
can't they have two notes instead of 10? They have so much adornment.
You can't hear the melody in all that crap."
his Web site, McLean bemoaned the changes in the music industry:
"It's very sad to see the music business basically evaporating.
There are no music stores to go to in America. You can't go and enjoy
being around thousands of albums and choosing things and coming back
with a whole bunch of things. The studios are closing. The idea of
going into the studio and making a recording with talented side men
and a great producer is pretty much over because they can e-mail their
parts in and everyone is working from home."
from letting the melody ring out, McLean offered a bit of business
advice for young people looking to make a career in the music
a very good music transactional lawyer. Hand the contracts to him and
have him explain all of the points of the agreement that deal with a
decision to screw you. Then, you decide if you want to get screwed or
move onto the next person," he said.
he speaking from experience?
he get screwed?
because I was a finance major," said McLean, who graduated with a
business degree from Iona College in 1968. His education in business
has steered him well in managing his own finances in his musical
career. While having a hit record like "American Pie" in his
20s made a big difference financially in his life, he advised the
importance of "living below your means in order to move forward
financially. I always lived below my means." With a degree in
business, he learned quickly what not to do.
new CD, which is available on his Web site, will also be available at
next week's concert. Addiction to Black is a collection of his songs
written the past year that deal with a variety of themes: aging,
Princess Diana and President Dwight Eisenhower. He also performs some
"fun songs" as well as "straight rock and roll,"
he is working a deal to have his new CD released through Proper
Records label, a division of Warner Brothers, to ensure worldwide
said the changes in the music industry do not affect him because
"I don't adapt, so it doesn't make any difference what happens.
What saddens me is that we don't seem to produce any quality music
like the Weavers or Josh White or the Beatles. It's all
disintegrating. "¦ It's awful."
he did have good word for the American Idol contestants who he says
are "justly talented." On the other hand, he said, he'll see
someone sing the blues who has never been blue. "You can't see
the blues on his face." He doesn't see any Rod Stewarts or Van
McLean bemoaned the changes in the music industry, he is the first to
acknowledge some benefits from the advances in technology. His concert
performances through the years are now seen by millions on YouTube.
"The songs are getting bigger as time goes by, rather than
shrinking," said McLean, who recalled with fondness the days he
spent traveling the Hudson River aboard the folk singer's sloop, the
Clearwater. What was different about that time?
liked being young with my whole life ahead of me. It's true," he
said. "Life is short and then all of a sudden it's 'whoa!'"
is different about an older McLean?
more comfortable being me. I don't want to devolve. I want to evolve
and continue to fight and grow. [Aging] is no big deal," said the
acclaimed singer/songwriter who has earned places in the Grammy and
Songwriters Hall of Fame.
may be a big deal is his raising two teenagers at his age. He first
became a father at age 44 after marrying a woman he met when she
interviewed him. He feels strongly that schools and religion can
stifle creativity. "Children are extremely creative and then they
get into school and turn into workers or a few fall through the crack
and become artists."
he said today it is difficult to follow one's heart to reach a goal as
an artist. "I didn't want to sound like someone else or be like
anyone else. I needed to do what I had to do," he said,
acknowledging that he's glad the music business did not make him into
someone he's not.
person has to be very disciplined to achieve success, he advised.
Growing up he practiced his music (he is self-taught) five or six
hours a day. He doesn't remember having friends. Today that discipline
is not easy to come by, he warned, as he parents his own children, a
son, 16, and daughter, 19.
approach to my own children is that I'm behaving like my parents did,
and it bothers me. You see people can fall by the wayside because they
may not have the discipline. I had a lot of disciple and I'm still
Don McLean Concert is sponsored by TD Bank. General admission is $50
(lawn seating). Benefactor cost is $125, which includes pre-concert
cocktail party, lawn seating in the preferred concert section, and
reserved parking section at the Pavilion. Charge tickets online at levittpavilion.com
or by phone, 226-7600.
Levitt Pavilion's Executive Director Freda Welsh said, "Just like
Tom Jones' appearance in June, this second Stars on Tour event will
help to underwrite the over 50 nights of free entertainment at the
Pavilion this summer."