Celebrating 50 Years Of American Pie With Don McLean

Don McLean
The man behind the hit song American Pie, Don McLean
Photo courtesy 2911 Media

WHEN SOMEONE says “American pie,” do you think of apple pie, the film American Pie, or do you think of the song “American Pie” by singer-songwriter Don McLean? We’re talking about the song and album, which includes countless pop culture and historical references that fans have been attempting to decipher for years. “American Pie” still holds great influence and respect in music today as McLean celebrates 50 years since the album. With many new projects to come from McLean, fans have much to look forward to, including finally receiving the answers they’ve been hoping for about the famous and mysterious song. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear some of your favorite classics, as he brings his 50th anniversary tour to Clowes Hall, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $15.71 and can be purchased by clicking here.

We talked with Don McLean about the meaning behind his hit songs, the music industry of today, and what projects he’s working on.

There are all kinds of theories about the meaning of “American Pie.” Some people assert that the refrain has been misunderstood—that the line is “whiskey in rye” rather than “whiskey and rye,” and that it refers to a bar in Rye, New York, near where you grew up. Want to confirm or deny this theory? 

No, that had nothing to do with the bar near where I grew up, but there is a new movie that is going to come out in about two and a half months. It’s called The Day The Music Died. It will answer all your questions. I’m going to say a lot of things that people will still be unhappy with, but people will be amazed at the simplicity of what I say.

Many of your fans are still angry that “American Pie” was twice omitted from Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs list. Do you have any comments about that? 

Yeah, Rolling Stone is a piece of shit. That’s my comment. They have been after me forever. I hate that magazine. 

It’s been seven years since you sold the original manuscript of “American Pie.” Do you regret that now?

No, not at all. I’m going to have a big auction with Julia’s Auction House. Very soon, I’m going to sell lots of stuff: banjos, guitars, knives, guns, watches, horse gear, and all the things I love.

Many of your songs have religious references like “Sister Fatima,” “Babylon,” and of course, “American Pie.” Do you consider yourself a religious person?

Every human being, no matter how primitive or sophisticated, spends their entire life trying to answer the question, “What is this all about?” Therefore, everybody really would agree with we don’t really know what it’s about and our senses are not enough to tell us what it’s about. I do believe in God, because whatever is missing, whatever that aspect is that we are seeking, is God, and it’s the unknown, and all these things that happen to us like intuition and I don’t know, so many different things.  

Another celebrated song of yours is “Vincent,” also about a creative person, Vincent van Gogh, who died tragically. Is this a theme you find yourself drawn toward? 

Not really. I thought I could write a song about him because I understood him. But everybody thinks they understand him because he had so much struggle and so much tragedy in his work and in his life, as we all do. We all push that down so we can put on a happy face, but everybody in life will have tremendous setbacks and tremendous emotional pain. 

Do you feel the new generation has a lack of understanding of the historical significance of songs like yours, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the like? 

Probably, but you can see anything anytime you want, so it’s really a decision on the part of any young person to learn about this. A long time ago, you would really have to dig around, but now you don’t. 

What’s your opinion on today’s music?

All I understand is the Rolling Stones, I understand Paul McCartney. Obviously, show business is doing very well with exciting concerts by people like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, but there is still the chance to sing with a guitar like Ed Sheeran does. What matters is if you have the songs to communicate with people. It doesn’t matter what the package is.

Many of your songs mention or are inspired by other musicians. What artists do you listen to for enjoyment? 

Well, I quit listening to most everything after about 1980, because it became a video world, and I would watch the videos and it just didn’t mean anything to me anymore. I loved all the big boys: the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Dylan.

What projects do you have going on currently? 

A children’s book that’s going to come out in about two months all over the world. It’s called American Pie: A Fable. A movie called The Day The Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s American Pie. A world tour, which is starting now, and will go on all this year and all next year, and a Broadway show, which is at least two years off, but now we’re starting to get into some details.