Don McLean Talks Struggles With “American Pie”
Don McLean live in 2017 - Chris Dryfoos / Youtube
Americana icon Don McLean shared his long struggle of having written “American Pie” and described it as a “biographical song.”
He further explained that he favored the song’ structure rather than the long-lasting lyrics that have come to mark an entire era of music. In a recent interview with The Guardian, McLean shared that the 1971 classic was a mix of rock n’ roll, pop, and folk. This is evidenced by the simmering intro, the main progression, and the verse-chorus-verse layout in accordance with each of the styles. According to McLean, he’s never said it to anybody in over five decades.
McLean was wary of revealing too much about the lyrics. In particular, the famous “And while the king was looking down / The jester stole his thorny crown” rumored to have referenced to Bob Dylan, he responded with: “I can’t tell you. But he would make a damn good jester, wouldn’t he?” He also added that he refused to answer the question when Dylan’s own son, Jacob, asked him about it.
He also shared about crying for two years after his father died in front of him, blaming himself at the age of 15 just because he had a premonition of the event. It was eventually embedded in the song’s “day the music died” line that most people thought referred to Buddy Holly. “That’s why I don’t like talking about the lyrics, because I wanted to capture and say something that was almost unspeakable. It’s indescribable. ‘American Pie’ is a biographical song,” he said.
McLean also discussed the “dreadful, ugly secret” of his older sister Betty, who had a hard time with drug and alcohol addiction. “You couldn’t talk about her, because you couldn’t tell the truth about what was happening to her,” he shared. “It was a disaster to see it. She was always so shackled. It was terrible.”
In conclusion, “American Pie” was a summary of events from McLean’s youth. He said, “All my stuff is about loss – and a certain kind of psychic pain. I’ve never really been happy. Writing a song that everyone on Earth knows shouldn’t make you resentful. But you better have a lot inside you – because it’s gonna get sucked out.”