Don McLean is burdened with sadness.
The notoriously tight-lipped McLean touched on his childhood in a candid interview with the Guardian. McLean, 75, had a premonition as a child that his father would die. He approached his grandmother with his concerns.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Donny, why would you say such a thing?” she said.
“Because it’s going to happen,” the boy replied.
McLean’s father dropped dead in front of him a few days later.
“I saw how he looked… He’d turned green. I didn’t know what I was going to do without him. He was the king, the boss. He knew everything,” McLean said. “I cried for two years. I blamed myself.”
The 1971 classic “American Pie” is a treasured song. The Recording Industry Association of America has the song in its top five, and the original handwritten lyrics sold for $1.2 million in 2015. It was the third-highest auction price ever for an American literary manuscript. Courses and websites have been dedicated to deciphering the lyrics of “American Pie”, but McLean persists in his resolve.
“Carly Simon’s still being coy about who ‘You’re So Vain’ was written about,” he told the publication. “So who cares, who gives a f**k?”
“American Pie is a biographical song. 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.”
He also touched on the “dreadful, ugly secret” of his sister Betty Anne and her struggles with addiction.
“You couldn’t talk about her because you couldn’t tell the truth about what was happening to her. It was a disaster to see it. She was always so shackled. It was terrible,” McLean said. “It happened over and over… “That’s why I’m a blue guy I guess.” He sighed, “All my stuff is about loss – and a certain kind of psychic pain. I’ve never really been happy.”
McLean was once arrested and charged after his ex-wife Patrisha McLean accused him of domestic abuse. The singer-songwriter pleaded guilty and paid a fine; however, his lawyer asserted McLean pleaded guilty to provide closure to his family and keep the details as private as possible — not because he committed the acts accused of him.
“I can truly say that my ex-wife is the worst person I ever knew,” he says. “There’s nobody who compares… All these love letters that she sent me every month for 30 years – they immediately turned to salt.”
McLean was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. In January 2018, BMI certified that “American Pie” and “Vincent” had reached five million and three million airplays, respectively.