“Son can you play me a memory?
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes.”
Here I am quoting Billy Joel when I am about to relate my Tall Tale interview with another terrific boomer lyricist, Don McLean.
It is Cynthia Calvert Shiflet’s fault. She thought it would be “neat” for me to interview Don McLean who composed perhaps my generation’s penultimate refrain, “American Pie,” when I wore a younger man’s clothes.
McLean is about to embark on the American Pie 50th Anniversary World Tour. Yes, he wrote “American Pie” 50 years ago. Yes, Houston is on the lucky list — June 25 at the Cullen Performance Hall. Can’t make it? How about San Antonio on June 24 or Austin on June 26?
Live in Dallas? Too bad. You’re not on the list!
Fifty years? Hard to believe because I remember it like yesterday. I was a radio disc jockey at Radio Station KCOW — I am NOT making that up — and we called “American Pie” the “Potty Song” because it was almost nine minutes long, supplying a lengthy and much-needed restroom break.
I said as much when McLean phoned me a couple weeks ago.
“You aren’t the first person to tell me that,” McLean said in his kindest tone.
I was concerned because McLean is conducting these phone marathons over multiple days. What could I ask that Don McLean hasn’t already been asked seven times today?
No problem. He is a pro at answering questions from shambling, awe-stricken reporter/devotees just like me.
Don McLean was a delight — and charming.
“I got vaccinated. I got boostered. I put up a Time Life YouTube channel that uploaded all my songs,” McLean responded when I asked what he did during the pandemic. “I am working on a documentary, ‘The Day the Music Died,’ which is about the creation of the record.”
The documentary ought to be impressive. Denzel Washington is narrating it. After the documentary, he is turning his life into a Broadway show produced by the same people who wrote “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” interspersed with as many of his songs that he can stuff into one performance.
McLean’s fans have been busy during the pandemic, too. They bought 50 million albums worldwide. Before the pandemic, he was streamed 102 million times. Two years later, McLean said he was streamed 136 million times. That is a lot of people enjoying a lot of his music, 25.4 million listeners in 178 countries.
I am not going to argue with his statistics.
What can his Texas audience expect to hear on June 25?
“Everything I’ve got,” he told me. “All my famous songs. And some new stuff from my new album, ‘American Boys.’ A great band from Nashville will be on stage with me. Some of these guys go back with me 30 years or more.”
After his American tour, he starts his European tour in September. If you miss the Texas dates, you could still enjoy the concert in Liverpool in the UK, Bergen in Norway, or Neuruppin in Germany.
Once the 50th anniversary tour is over, McLean said he plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of another iconic song, “Vincent.” He didn’t reveal how. He did reveal that he has a number of projects spread out over the next five years, and has written a children’s book, “American Pie — A Fable,” the story of a newspaper delivery boy in the late 1950s who learns that, when you recognize what truly makes you happy, you are never really alone.
Oh, one more task McLean performed on YouTube during the pandemic. How to play the long neck, five-string folk banjo, three-finger and bluegrass style.
“I probably am one of the last people alive who knew the people who play this style,” McLean told me. “I wanted to get it memorialized on video.”