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Don McLean still thankful for his piece of pie

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2003

LOS ANGELES Thirty-two years after sealing his fate forever with one amazingly catchy 8 1/2-minute tune, Don McLean is gingerly asked the question once again:

Does he ever wish that ''American Pie'' had not been quite that big a hit? That it wouldn't have overshadowed everything else he would ever do?

''People always ask me that question, and it doesn't bother me at all,'' says McLean. ''It's just the nature of my career.''

''Sometimes when you get too big and I'm in no danger of doing that but sometimes when you get too big, all you can do is retire,'' he said. ''And I wouldn't want to do that. I would miss doing records. I have 200 songs out, and sometimes they get played a little bit and sometimes a lot.''

So three decades after ''American Pie'' turned a struggling singer-songwriter into an American icon, Don McLean says he's doing just what he had hoped for all along living happily with his wife and two children in wooded Maine seclusion, putting out a record every year or so, going on the road when the mood strikes him.

He toured Europe earlier this year and crisscrossed the United States this summer, with upcoming shows in Westbury, N.Y. on July 29, Camden, N.J. on Aug. 21, and Mableton, Ga. on Aug. 23.

He's got a collection of new songs in the works, plus four new albums out this year alone, including a remastered version of the original ''American Pie'' album with bonus tracks from the 1971 recording sessions.

The others are a children's album, ''You've Got to Share,'' that he recorded with his 13-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, a collection of Western songs called, appropriately enough, ''The Western Album,'' and a compilation work, ''The Legendary Songs of Don McLean.''

He's written such other memorable songs as ''Vincent (Starry Starry Night),'' ''And I Love You So,'' ''Castles in the Air'' and ''Wonderful Baby.''

But one work towers above all others, a song peopled with images of Bob Dylan (The Jester), the Beatles (The Marching Band), Mick Jagger (Satan), Janis Joplin (The Girl Who Sang the Blues), and Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost). The Recording Industry Association of America rated it one of the five greatest songs of the 20th century.

So McLean remains good-natured when he is invariably asked just what he was trying to say with words like, ''Did you write the book of love? And do you have faith in God above? If the Bible tells you so. Do you believe in rock 'n roll? Can music save your mortal soul? And can you teach me how to dance real slow?''

''What I was trying to do was create a dream, but the dream had forward momentum,'' he said. ''And it was about politics and rock and roll and America. And basically, what I also wanted, was to create a big closer, not only for my show ... but for this particular album.''

''And I succeeded in doing that,'' he adds, laughing. ''But to have this monster record and this huge lyric thing, which seems to spin off quotes constantly and parodies and everything else, that was certainly a surprise. And to actually have it gain momentum over the last 30 years, well, who would have thought that?''

But McLean's career has seemed to take the road less traveled.

When he came along with just his acoustic guitar and his voice, releasing his first album, ''Tapestry,'' in 1970, one of the most popular bands in the world was Led Zeppelin which also was one of the loudest.

A year later, as the last throes of the Vietnam War were tearing the country's cultural fabric apart, ''American Pie'' attempted to stitch it all back together.

One reason for the song's continuing appeal, McLean says, is that it's a ''successful fusion piece of music that is rock, folk and pop all in one thing, forgetting the lyrics and all that. So I think it appeals to many different kinds of people just on a musical level.''

With his career assured by a hit record, McLean's agent told him it was time to stop sleeping in his car or on recording studio floors and get an apartment in New York.

''I told him, 'You've got an office in New York City. I want to go as far from New York City as I can get. I'm not a city person,''' McLean recalled.

He settled in upstate New York instead, and when that got too crowded he moved to Maine.

Nearly 40 albums later, McLean, 57, still hasn't settled on a particular musical style, bouncing between rock, folk and rhythm and blues, and the disparate influences of such early heroes as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein and the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, of ''Hound Dog'' fame.

''There are people who know me only for 'American Pie' and people who have 30 albums of mine,'' he says. ''It is an odd career that I've had.''

On the Web: www.americanpie.com



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