- 07 Oct 21
Celebrating 50 years of American Pie with a world tour including a date in Dublin’s 3Arena, Don McLean continues his sophomore album’s never-ending victory lap. Talking to Hot Press in a private room in Dublin’s Intercontinental Hotel, the singer talks about the upcoming tour, his outstanding career and, fighting off “haters.”
On his 76th birthday, Don McLean is sitting in a private room in Dublin’s Intercontinental Hotel wearing a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses to match his navy-blue t-shirt and chinos. The legendary singer is currently promoting the 50th anniversary tour for his career-defining second album, American Pie. Lounging on a plush gold couch, the songwriter is relaxed and shows no signs of fatigue from the promo runaround.
“I try to keep it interesting for myself,” says Don about the promotional circuit he is currently on. “I try not to give the same answers to everybody.”
It isn’t hard for the rock n’ roll artist.
During his chat with Hot Press he discusses Madonna, cancel culture and industry execs who tried to wrong him along with his show in the 3Arena set for October 7th 2022. Don is “cautiously optimistic” about the dates.
“I’m wondering what’s gonna happen between now and then because we don’t know what’s happening,” says the musician. “We might come up with something that completely eradicates this. Or, we might end up with some new little wrinkle. So I am cautiously optimistic that I will be here.”
The worldwide tour is a celebration of his magnum opus, ‘American Pie’ which is still being pulled apart by music fans on internet forums, in coffee shops and in the early hours of the morning.
The singer is notoriously coy on answering questions about the song. Describing it simply as his retirement fund, Don has maintained its myth with his silence. That won’t change today, but the singer opens up on a famous cover of the song by none other than Madonna.
“She represents a complete departure from everything that I know about,” he says. “She’s obviously some kind of genius and she’s lasted now decades. So she ends up doing the song and I’m thinking ‘this is gonna be fun. This is gonna be amusing and I’ll enjoy it.’”
The cover and its hugely successful music video also opened up new doors for McLean, almost 30 years after the release of the track and its like-titled album.
“The video for ‘American Pie’ that she did was really why it was so successful. So I was very happy. It gave me a whole new audience for about 3 years.”
The video gained attention and critical acclaim for its diverse depiction of communities. The spirit of accepting those who are marginalised present in the video is something McLean himself purveys.
Don highlights how he believes the homeless should be treated. “If I were president, I would be on this,” says the folk legend. Don remarks that it’s time to “start treating these people like people.”
The ‘Vincent’ singer cites drug addiction and mental illness as reasons for high levels of homelessness — which are present both in Ireland and the US. He also believes some of them have “fallen through the cracks” and want to work despite their circumstances.
“We’ve got to get these people who want to work, to work,” says the New York native.
Don also says he doesn’t understand why the homeless don’t try to create something for themselves in order to improve their lot, drawing a comparison with himself when he was starting out.
“My father died when I was 15 and I had to support my mother. I’m so lucky because I was motivated,” says the singer. He used to rent out churches and empty halls to put on shows to earn money.
“I was creating something for myself to do because no one was gonna hire me to do that. I did it! Why don’t they have that?,” adds the folk rocker about the homeless.
“That’s the thing. How do you instill that idea of doing something in people? They’ve lost it. You see them and it’s like they’re zombies. Wasting your time and your intelligence, I don’t understand that.”
He points out that he “could just as easily be homeless right now” if not for his “instincts”. But Don managed to keep a roof over his head.
Acquiring and retaining housing is growing more difficult for the homeless who not only have to deal with social stigma and mental illness but also struggle with rising rents. Don says he was lucky to avoid the trappings of homelessness.
McLean is a rare example of a rock star who managed to avoid a life of excess when in the spotlight. “I never lived above my means. I was well below my means,” he says. The man also known as The American Troubadour had a degree in finance from Iona college.
Don — who is currently working on his latest album American Boy — put the degree to good use by learning how to manage and protect his money.
One famous example of this was McLean’s former manager Herb Gart who the singer fired after it came to light that Gart was complicit in stealing money from Don’s account.
In 1982, Gart reportedly told the American folk-star that Walter Hofer — who ran the Copyright Service Bureau — had taken money from McLean but that it was put back. Don says this was a lie.
“He provided the cover story for his lawyers to swindle me. So that’s why he got fired. Because he gave me a lie; he said the money had been put back and that was not true. He also told me the amount was $90,000, and it turned out it was way over $200,000.”
He says this wasn’t the only dodgy dealing that Mr. Hofer had a hand in as he alleged the head of the Copyright Service Bureau had robbed from him, Bob Marley and many more.
“What they did was collect monies on songs — and of course he was stealing the money. And not only me; he stole from Bob Marley and all sorts of other artists. Bob Marley’s people were really out to kill him and they might have killed him because he ended up dead in his office,” says the artist.
The singer remarks that he had to deal with a number of lawsuits during his career. A common theme for those who reach the heights McLean scaled. “I had lawsuits and I beat everyone of those sons of bitches,” says the musician.
“I got all my songs back and I got all my publishing, I own everything. And it’s a very very important song catalogue which I am the sole owner of. But I fought off a lot of people who were involved in getting percentages from me for a long time.”
McLean compares these people he referred to as “haters” and “destroyers” with his ex-wife and daughter; Patrisha Shnier and Jackie McLean.
Don’s marriage to Shnier broke down in 2016 after almost 30 years together. The pair split following an incident in 2016 which resulted in McLean being arrested amid claims of abuse. Don pleaded guilty to four of six charges brought against him, one of which was domestic violence assault — which was dismissed by plea bargain agreement.
Following the charges, the folk singer denied he ever assaulted his wife and stated that he pleaded guilty in order to avoid having the story hit the papers and to protect the family’s privacy.
Both his daughter and Shnier have publicly stated that McLean was emotionally and mentally abusive towards them over the years, claims he has denied.
“They are hateful and they are destroyers. And they are trying to destroy everything that I do and that’s the difference and that’s why I left to begin with,” says the 76-year old who remarks that it’s the same “syndrome” shared by those who tried to steal from him.
The musician also says that despite the claims of abuse he is not afraid of being cancelled.
“I’m not afraid of being cancelled. God’s gonna cancel me pretty soon anyway,” he says as he proposes that the rise in these accusations comes due to “the power saying destructive things about somebody can wield. And it didn’t have that before.”
“I think there’s an atmosphere of fear, similar to the atmosphere in the 1950’s when people’s political beliefs could get them cancelled. Immediately.”
“And that’s the environment we're in. It's just a different way of manifesting. So there’s this fear and therefore people really don’t let you know what they think about anything because they’re always afraid of being turned in.”
“I’m an old geezer and I have money and I’ll say what I want to say.”
The singer-songwriter continues to scoop up accolades and garner plaudits; recently he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“Well that’s kind of like a general absolution in the church or something like that. It washes away a lot of sins,” jokes McLean. “You’re now part of the great HillBilly heaven.”
He described it as one of the “biggest and most exciting things” to have happened in his storied career. The veteran musician attributes his success to his instincts.
“I was never trying to be something that I wasn’t. I knew who I was and I knew what I wanted and it turned out okay. But things happened because of my instincts.”
Buy tickets for Don McLean’s show in the 3Arena on October 7th here.