Don McLean says he already knows how his obituary will begin. It’ll emphasize the singer/songwriter’s best-remembered hit, American Pie. This song, about “the day the music died,” was a No. 1 chart topper in 1972. More recently, when a 2001 Recording Industry Association of America/National Endowment for the Arts poll celebrated the greatest songs of the 20th century, American Pie ranked fifth on the list. But McLean is no one-hit wonder. Other successful singles include Vincent, Crying and Wonderful Baby. And 40 years after American Pie, McLean is still writing music and still performing. He’s also the subject a new documentary, Don McLean: American Troubadour, due out Tuesday on DVD. A double CD of his hits, also titled American Troubadour, will be released on the same date.
When you look back over four decades in the music business, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
The main thing I would like to say is that I have become the person I wanted to be. As opposed to reaching goals but being an alcoholic, or reaching goals but having four failed marriages, or reaching goals but having kids in rehab. A lot of people reach their goals, but at a terrific price.
Is it safe to say, then, that you never cared about fame?
I had a recording contract with Clive Davis for about a year. He kept sending me wimpy little songs to sing and I didn’t want to do them. So we ended our association. I guarantee you if I had decided to sing those songs, with the production values they would have used, I would have had hit records. But I didn’t want those kinds of hit records. I don’t want songs that don’t mean anything. You wind up regretting it in the end anyway. Because if you get a hit that you don’t like, you’ve still got to sing it.
At age 66, have you ever considered retiring?
It’s not really a career. It’s a way of life. It’s like breathing. I can’t do anything else.
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