M – is for Don McLean

Friday 25th March

Like almost everyone I first ‘discovered’ (but just as with America and Columbus – he was always there) Don McLean when ‘American Pie’ became a huge hit.  The follow-up ‘Vincent’ was in some ways even better (a more gentle song anyway), and the Album ‘American Pie’ is brilliant, every song a classic.  I immediately bought it and it’s originally poorly received predecessor ‘Tapestry’, another wonderful record.  I followed Don for many years, buying his records, even when he descended into schmaltzy renditions of old country songs.  He has always been one of the most intelligent and misunderstood of singers, his lyrics apposite and almost as well-crafted as Dylan and Cohen’s are.  His voice too has a warmth and sadness which makes it again one of the most recognizable.  And he has never really been a ‘Pop-star’; he was a singer-songwriter emerging in the early Seventies, though he had been around for a few years before that.  I don’t think he ever really enjoyed the fame of ‘American Pie’.  He has admitted to suffering from Depression and many of his songs deal with loss and sadness and grief.

My favourite record is actually his third simply titled ‘Don McLean’, he seemed to be trying to move away from big hits and sung about a horse being auctioned and an old ‘cowboy’ film star coming to grips with the Modern World.  In many ways Don hails from a much early time, before Rock’n’Roll even; he loves proper tunes and melodies.  He still tours but has announced that he doesn’t want to make any more records.  That’s okay Don, I have most of your records and I love them.

We too often make the mistake of thinking that we understand Artists; but what we see as success is often considered failure on their part (a beautiful phrase clumsy and a painting full of faults).  And I am reminded every few weeks of Don as Geoff Barker tends to sing ‘American Pie’ every time he plays the Gambetta.  It is really a very sad song, longing for an earlier, less sophisticated time and mourning the death of earlier ‘pop-stars’.  Maybe we have all said ‘Bye Bye Miss American Pie’, to an America that no longer exists, except in the songs of such wonderful singers as Don McLean.     See original image