‘AMERICAN PIE’ AND MUCH MORE
> 1972 EPIC IS NO BURDEN FOR MCLEAN, WHO STILL WRITES FROM ‘DARK SIDE’
WHEN THE REST of the world paused last winter to commemorate “the Day the Music Died,” the name given to the date of Feb. 3, 1959, when an Iowa plane crash claimed the lives of rock pioneer Buddy Holly and his tourmates, the man probably most responsible for burning that phrase into the popular imagination was nowhere to be seen or heard.
“I was home. It’s not Christmas,” says singer-songwriter Don McLean, 63, who coined the term in his 1972 hit “American Pie.” “The first part of ‘American Pie’ refers to Buddy Holly. But it’s not about Buddy Holly. It’s a much bigger song than Buddy Holly. … It’s about America, really. And I don’t allow it to be co-opted by the Buddy Holly folks.”
Over a 45-year career, McLean, who started as a folkie in the mid’60s learning at the feet of his idols the Weavers, has written and recorded hundreds of songs.
He has had other hits, most notably his Van Gogh tribute “Vincent,” and a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” He’s written smashes for others; Perry Como charted with his cover of McLean’s “And I Love You So,” which was also a staple of Elvis’ set in the years before his death. He even inspired the writing of another iconic song, “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”
But it is the epic “American Pie” with which he is most associated. An image-rich folk-rock fantasy, the song uses the death of Holly — and McLean’s memory of learning about the death of his musical hero while delivering the news via his newspaper route — as a launching point for a prolonged meditation on the American