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When Don McLean was 15 years previous, he had a premonition that his father was going to die. Distraught, he ran to inform his grandmother. “Don’t be ridiculous, Donny, why would you say such a factor?” she stated. “As a result of it’s going to occur,” the boy replied. A number of days later, his father dropped useless proper in entrance of him. “I noticed how he appeared,” says McLean. “He’d turned inexperienced. I didn’t know what I used to be going to do with out him. He was the king, the boss. He knew every little thing.”

The singer-songwriter behind the 1971 basic American Pie is talking from his dwelling in Palm Desert, a city in California the place he’s now effectively into what he calls the “desert part” of his life. Wildfires are nonetheless burning throughout the state. You possibly can’t see the solar for the acrid smoke. “I’m feeling it in my lungs,” says the 75-year-old.

So what did he do when his father died? “I cried for 2 years,” he says. “I blamed myself.” We’ve been speaking about dying for half an hour – his father’s and his emotions about his personal. “I’m nearing the top of the high-dive,” he says. “Know what I imply?” It’s the massive McLean theme operating by means of his songwriting, from American Pie to the nearly unknown Run Diana Run, a bizarre musical dirge about Princess Diana.

‘The day the music died’ … the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly is thought to be one of the song’s references – but McLean hints it could be about his father’s death. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
‘The day the music died’ … the 1959 airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly is considered one of many tune’s references – however McLean hints it might be about his father’s dying. {Photograph}: Hulton Archive/Getty Pictures

We’re assembly, although, to speak about his era-spanning epic: that rollicking eight-and-a-half minute run-through of the 1960s after the last decade closed. The Recording Business Affiliation of America has the tune in its high 5, behind Over the Rainbow and White Christmas; it’s been lined by everybody from Madonna to Tyson Fury, who sang it after knocking out Deontay Wilder earlier this 12 months; and the unique handwritten lyrics offered in 2015 for $1.2m (€880,000), the third highest public sale value ever for an American literary manuscript.

McLean wrote it half a century in the past, on the age of 24 – and to mark the anniversary, a brand new documentary, inevitably titled The Day the Music Died, shall be launched. A Broadway present is deliberate for 2022, and even a youngsters’s guide. That’s loads of fuss for one tune: McLean’s second, maybe, to inform the world as soon as and for all what the lyrics really imply.

There’s basic settlement that the tune is concerning the cultural and political decline of the US within the 1960s, a farewell to the American dream after the assassination of President Kennedy. “Bye bye Miss American Pie,” he sings. “Drove my Chevy to the levee however the levee was dry.” However McLean has at all times saved stumm concerning the allusions in his verses. “Carly Simon’s nonetheless being coy about who You’re So Useless was written about,” he says. “So who cares, who offers a f**okay?”

Lots do. Each line of American Pie has been stripped naked. There are fan web sites devoted completely to decoding it. Who was the jester who sang for the king and queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean? What precisely was revealed the day the music died? The Vietnam warfare, social revolution, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, JFK, Mick Jagger, Martin Luther King, Charles Manson, Hells Angels, The Beatles, hallucinogenic medication, God, the Satan – they’re all in there, aren’t they? Nobody will be completely positive, besides one man.

For McLean, although, the genius of the tune is in its construction, not its phrases: an ideal fusion, he says, of people, rock’n’roll and old style widespread music. The sluggish intro is the pop half, however then the piano kicks in and the tempo speeds into the refrain – that’s the rock’n’roll bit. The people element is within the verse-chorus-verse composition. “I’ve by no means stated that to anyone in 50 years,” says McLean.

Don McLean around the time of American Pie’s release. “I cried for two years after my father died. I blamed myself.” Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Don McLean across the time of American Pie’s launch. “I cried for 2 years after my father died. I blamed myself.” {Photograph}: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Pictures

Hmm, I say, that’s not likely the news I used to be in search of. However then there’s no level asking McLean direct questions on what the tune means: he’s too effectively practised at flicking them off. “It means I’ll by no means should work once more,” he used to quip.



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