- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

At home in Maine, Don McLean collects antiques, rides horses, and yes, still writes songs 35 years after “American Pie” began its long march into pop-music history.

Among his latest is “Farewell,” released in the United Kingdom on Aug. 29. The song is Mr. McLean’s contribution to a new compilation CD based on the works of British poet Sir John Betjeman. While Mr. McLean may well perform the song at his gig at the State Theatre in Falls Church tonight, he is not sure yet whether he will release the track stateside.

“I’m still searching for the right company or situation,” he says. “I’m not in a hurry.” Mr. McLean, who turned 61 on Monday, says he’s worn out by the machinations of the music industry. “I’m getting too old for this game,” he says with a sigh. “I’m tired of record companies.” Indeed, with 30-odd recordings under his belt, Mr. McLean says he has no plans to make any more records featuring his own songs. But if an interesting project came along, such as 2003’s “You’ve Got to Share,” a collection of songs for children featuring vocals from Mr. McLean’s own son and daughter, he’d “consider it.” Technology is a double-edged sword for the songwriter, whose prolific career is dotted with hits like “Vincent (Starry Starry Night),” “Castles in the Air,” and the ubiquitous “American Pie” — a term for which he owns the trademark.

He initiated a page on MySpace.com last month and expresses enthusiasm about a print-on-demand project he is developing. Yet he sings snippets of new tunes into a tape recorder and eschews downloading MP3s in part because the purchase of a single song nullifies an artist’s effort to create a recording whose songs were meant to be heard together.

With digital downloads, “all people want are the hits,” Mr. McLean notes.

“They don’t get into what the artist is doing. When I was a kid, if I got [interested in a performer], I wanted everything they did. If the song was a loser, I liked it better than if it was a winner. Sometimes,” he adds with a chuckle, “whole records were a disaster.” But in those cases, that only made him curious to hear more from that musician or group.

He demurs when asked which musicians he enjoys listening to. “I have a very large and eclectic group of artists I am interested in,” he says.

“The one thing that unifies them all is that they play great songs. They didn’t have to write them, but they play or sing them really well.” Yet Mr. McLean singles out Bob Dylan’s songwriting depth and breadth.

“Dylan’s knowledge of music is amazing,” he says. “You would expect that from someone who has done all that he has done.” Meanwhile, many other current performers, Mr. McLean asserts, “look nice and sing well, but they don’t understand how to communicate emotion like the musicians I like to listen to do.” “American Pie,” the song that cinched Mr. McLean’s place in the pop canon, was written in 1971, at a time of tumult in the U.S. In the context of the war on terror and upcoming mid-term elections, Mr. McLean predicts “the song will come back. You’ll see. Songs are very mystical entities, and a great song can outlive [others] in terms of cultural importance.”

When Mr. McLean was 15, he and his father Donald visited Washington. He recalls “how excited [his father] was to see the things he had always read about, the White House, Mount Vernon.” Yet Mr. McLean’s memories of the trip would be burnished with unexpected poignancy “because he was dying then, and he didn’t want to tell me.” The son’s broad view of the world has been shaped, perhaps, by the father’s limited one.

Except for the trip to Washington “my father never left the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, whereas I have traveled the world and will go anywhere at the drop of a hat,” Mr. McLean says.

The State Theatre show kicks off a brief run of gigs that will take Don McLean to the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis tomorrow, as well as venues in Carlisle, Pa. and Crystal Lake, Ill.

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