Sunday, June 24, 2007

Don McLean during 1982 interview at Riverside Park, West Springfield,MA photo by G. Michael Dobbs

Don McLean came to Springfield recently to play with the Springfield Symphony in a pops concert. I was given a pair of comp tickets since my paper had ran an advance piece on the show that included an interview with McLean.

I didn’t conduct the interview as I had interviewed him many years ago and found it to be such an unsatisfying experience that I swore off listening to his music for many years.

I had been a huge fan of his and when “American Pie” was released I thought in my dopey junior year of high school kind of way that he was speaking to me . I loved his stuff.

I saw him perform at Springfield College in the 1970s at a concert marred by some heckling. He was good, though.

I had an idea in 1982 to start up an alternative weekly newspaper for Springfield and decided to do up a dummy issue. When I heard Mclean was going to be performing at Riverside Amusement Park (now Six Flags New England) I thought an interview would make a good story to add to the prototype issue.

I made the arrangements and was joined by several other writers at the park. We all watched him perform and then approached him for the interview time.

He said he and his band wanted to ride some rides before they had to do the next show and so we all waited 45 minutes.

When he returned, he ignored us and started jamming with his group. Finally I walked up to the stage and told him that if he didn’t want to talk with us then he should have the decency to tell us so we could go home.

He stopped playing to say that he really didn’t like to do interviews, but he knew he had to do them. He then spoke with us.

The alternative newspaper went nowhere. The story and photo were never published until now.

Eventually I started listening to his music again, breaking one of my cardinal rules about pop culture: I loathe supporting jerks.

How was his recent show? Well, he has maintained much of his outstanding vocal quality and actually spoke to the audience a little with some humor and charm. The hall was almost sold out and there were a lot of hard-core fans there. Overall, it was a treat.

But I didn’t stand in line to buy a book or CD.

So from 1982…

Singer-composer Don McLean was riding high in 1971 when his monster hit "American Pie" was released. Although McLean has said he could have had a very profitable career if he played the recording industry's game, he chose to do it his way. Even though he released five albums since "American Pie," he has not appeared in the musical forefront until last year with his remake of Roy Orbison's "Crying."

Now, McLean 's career appears to be gaining momentum with his new album, "Believer." We caught up with McLean at a recent appearance in Massachusetts.

How does it feel to be in the spotlight again?

"'Well, I supposed I never worried about it, you! know. I figured it would happen eventually. I have a lot of faith in myself where that's concerned.

To be here a while and to be gone a while; I kind of like that actually. I don't think I'd like to be in the middle of everything all the time. I'm happy I've got the chance to sing for a lot of people now. If it changes back to the way it was, that's okay, too.

"I've made some wonderful world tours; been all around the world many times and have made a large following in a lot of countries in those years.

“Now, my country is coming around to my music."

Have you learned to cope with the popularity of “American Pie?” Have you had audiences unwilling to give other songs a chance?

"No. Did you see the show today? Certainly they liked a lot of the material today, and a lot of the people there weren’t fans, but were just people here at the park. So, I feel that's a pretty good acid test.

"I'm used to playing for the public, and there's lots of songs I've written they think highly of, such as 'Vincent' and 'And I Love You So.' So, when I start singing them, I think a lot of people don't realize l’m responsible for them. They just know ‘American Pie' and now 'Crying.' That's the purpose of a concert anyway to get more specific about your music."

Why haven’t you had a hit record since “Vincent?”

"There are several factors involved when you have a record company promoting you, determined to break you, so to say, break your career – make it happen. There's a lot of artists in the past 10 years, I think, who can say this. They were on big record labels in the early '70s, and now are gone. They're still out there. I was lucky I had record companies still interested in me after all these years.

"I wasn't on that many labels. I was on United Artists for six years, and I made six albums for them. Then, I was on Arista for one album, and that was supposed to be a three-album deal, but Clive [Davis, president of Arista] didn't like the work I did in Nashville [on the 'Chained Lightening' album] so I decided to look elsewhere and that took a year and a half. There had been a real change in the taste of the record people, and singer-songwriters were a thing of the past.

Do you think your career would have been much different if you had been given more help from your record companies?

"I think, probably, if the record companies had worked with me during those years, that all the things that are happening now would have happened then because people have known me for many years. It's that if you can't get those people who bank
you to work with you, then you're out in the cold until you break in again, and that’s what I did.

"I felt inside that this was the right time for me, and for a song like 'Crying' because it shows people what I can do musically from a whole other perspective."

You once termed disco as “musical masturbation.” What trends do you see in music now and what do you think of them?

“Well, they're still masturbating. It's just that they've found different ways of doing it, I guess.

"I don't hear much in the way of freshness out there. A lot of people imitating Bob Dylan, that's what I hear everywhere."

"I never asked their [the music industry's] permission. I just sort of did it [his career]. I don't give a damn if I fight with a record company or if they get behind me. if have to wait five years to do what I have to do, I will. It doesn't matter to me because I have a lot of faith in my abiities to communicate with music."

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs


SRBissette said...

Ah, the '70s. AMERICAN PIE means something else these days...

Mike Dobbs said...

It means a lot of income for McLean. He said at his recent Springfield show the money from that song along could allow him to retire.

Chevy is now using it for commercials.