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PREVIEW: “A Long, Long Time Ago” – Don McLean at The Dakota

American singer-songwriter and guitarist Don McLean.

American singer-songwriter and guitarist Don McLean.

Everyone of a certain age (and quite a few younger than that) knows Don McLean’s song, “American Pie”, and can sing a surprising portion of its verses – even if they disagree about what it means.

“American Pie” was selected 5th the songs of the 20th century, as compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts (alongside classics like “Over the Rainbow”, “This Land is Your Land”, and “Respect”). Famously, the focus of the song is on “The Day the Music Died”:  February 3, 1959, when musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” J. P. Richardson, and the pilot, Roger Peterson, were all killed in a plane crash in Iowa.

For those with great curiosity about “American Pie,” there is a  2022 documentary about it (trailer here; Guardian review here), and a 2022 book, Don McLean’s American Pie: A Fable.  In the same 1971 album, McLean offered another single that has clearly stood the test of time, “Vincent” (“Starry, Starry Night”).

At age 78, Don McLean is still actively performing.

McLean, who turned 78 last month, brings his 50th Anniversary of “American Pie” Tour to The Dakota on Friday, November 17, at 7:00 pm.

McLean has been performing for almost 60 years. He dropped out of school in 1964 to sing in Greenwich Village in New York City. It was a folk, pop, and rock scene, where Pete Seeger took him (and other young musicians) under his wing. McLean has been on the road more or less continually since then (with a pause recently for the Pandemic). He was elected to the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2004.

In a recent interview, McLean says that he has tried to follow Seeger’s example, in creating songs with ideas, while also always seeking to keep the audience entertained. More recently, he has also established The Don McLean Foundation, which sends students, who cannot otherwise afford it, to college and contributes to homeless shelters and food banks in the state of Maine.

A publicity photo of Don McLean and his guitar. McLean famously used a Vincent Martin 00-21 acoustic guitar to record many of his most classic songs, including “American Pie”.

McLean remains active musically.  The album Still Playin’ Favorites came out about three years ago, described as “music from country, folk, gospel, bluegrass, blues, jazz and soul … perform[ed] with a rock and roll twist.”  A Christmas album, Christmas Memories: Remixed and Remastered, has just been released.  And McLean promises an album with new material soon, called American Boys, and promises to play some of its songs at The Dakota.

McLean’s has also been a life with its share of controversy, especially in recent years.  In 2016, McLean pled guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence.  And in a 2021 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jackie McLean, the singer’s grown daughter, accused her father of a lifetime of mental and emotional abuse.  For some, such matters may foreclose coming to see this artist.  For others, the status of “American Pie”, “Vincent,” and other songs transcends the faults of their creator.

Brian Bix