For music fans it may be hard to believe that it has been 40 years since Don McLean's iconic "American Pie" reached #1 on the Billboard pop singles charts. In the autumn of 1971 Don McLean's classic American Pie entered the collective consciousness of pop music, and over forty years later remains one of the most discussed, dissected and debated songs that popular music has ever produced. A cultural event at the peak of its popularity in 1972, it reached the top of the Billboard 100 charts in a matter of weeks, selling more than 3 million copies; and at the lengthy cut of eight and a half minutes long, this was not an easy feat.
"That song didn't just happen," said McLean. "It grew out of my experiences. American Pie was part of my process of self-awakening; a mystical trip into my past."
The troubadour called his song a complicated parable, open to different interpretations. "People ask me if I left the lyrics open to ambiguity. Of course I did. I wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time."
In the late sixties and early seventies, McLean was obsessed with what he called "the death of America" -the loss of many things he believed in while growing up. "In a sense, American Pie was a very despairing song. In another, though, it was very hopeful. Pete Seeger told me he saw it as a song in which people were saying something. They'd been fooled, they'd been hurt, and it wasn't going to happen again. That's a good way to look at it-a hopeful way."
The life of the songwriter and singer will be the subject of a new and authorized documentary, Don McLean: American Troubadour.
The documentary is part of the Time Life series and is due out on September 11, McLean granted unprecedented access and interviews for the film, revealing his personal account of a career spanning over four decades and performing songs that have become integral parts of American pop culture.
Don McLean: American Troubadour also features over 15 live performances including "American Pie," "Vincent," "Crying" and "And I Love You So" along with extensive commentary by historian and Rolling Stone journalist Douglas Brinkley, interviews with other artists such as Brian Wilson and REM's Mike Mills, footage of McLean on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and performances of his songs by Elvis Presley and Fred Astaire (who inspired "Wonderful Baby").
On the same date, a double CD of McLean's biggest hits will also be released. Also titled Don McLean: American Troubadour, the CD set will include live performances as well as a special duet of "And I Love You So" With Nanci Griffith.
Don McLean: American Troubadour is produced and directed by four-time Emmy award-winning Jim Brown whose work includes: Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, The Weavers: Wasn't That A Time, and A Vision Shared: Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. "I let Jim Brown into my life because I respect him and trust him," explains McLean. "We've known each other for forty years and he allowed my ideas to be fully realized while telling my story accurately and poetically."
"Don Mclean is a true artist and rugged individualist," says Brown. "He has deep American values that have defined an amazing and admirable life. I think some of his best work is yet to be discovered, and that people will be listening to, singing, and recording his songs for decades to come."
McLean will make a number of television and radio appearances throughout the fall to promote the film and double CD set before embarking on a European tour.