WHAT WE GLEAN FROM McLEAN
I was very surprised to be asked to interview Don Mclean.
But when you check him out you can see why he might got tabloid currency...
I LOVED Vincent , Eh mer ee can Pie and Every back in the day, of course.
OF COURSE that's understood.
The thing that got me was the happenstance of his domestic violence episode, divorce, album
content and the arrival of ...Paris Dylan in his life.
Never mind mine ....I just found out about HUR - minutes B4 the interview.
What I'm interested in is how and why Mirror changed "some stupid woman" to "someone".
Cause I got Donny on tape!
GM: Hi. Is that Don?
GM: Cool. Hi Don. It’s Gavin Martin from The Daily Mirror to do an interview.
DM: Nice to talk to you.
GM: Cool. Okay. So the new record. You haven’t had a new album out in quite some time. So why so long between records?
DM: Well, gee. I put out a whole American troubadour thing in the meanwhile, documentary movie, a double CD, a big coffee table book and stuff like that. And of course I haven’t had a record deal in ages either, like a lot of people my age, you know? So it’s really a pretty wonderful thing that this has come out. But I had it pretty much completed on my own, because I was just fascinated with the whole progress of things and did it. And then BMG heard it through my agent in England named Paul Charles. And so they loved it wanted to put it out, and I said “wow, isn’t that great?” Because really, so many artists don’t have any record deals and end up putting them out on the web on their own label or whatever, and it’s, you know.
GM: Yeah, yeah. And the record’s quite reflective of you past life. And since it’s come out you’ve found a new love. You’ve been posting about a new…with your new partner. How did you meet?
DM: Well, I don’t really talk about my private life with anybody.
GM: Well, you’ve been posting about it on social media, but not, you didn’t…?
DM: Well, people have been following me around with cameras but I haven’t really…I don’t talk about it.
DM: It’s up to them to figure out, you know, what they think’s going on. And they don’t have any problem making stuff up, so it’s all right with me.
GM: But you have been public about it yourself. I mean, you’ve posted it on your Twitter account, or is that someone else’s?
DM: Yeah it’s out there, but I don’t talk about it. Sorry.
GM: Okay. [laughs] Do you still enjoy touring? You’re touring quite extensively with this record.
DM: Yes I am. And I’m very…I gotta say that everybody that I’ve spoken to, has been very fair with me and given everything good exposure and the tickets are doing very well, and the audience is there, and so I’m very thankful for that.
GM: Right. And is that something that you enjoy? I mean, obviously you’ve toured for years and years.
GM: Has it become a slog or a chore for you? Or…?
DM: No, it’s not a slog. What it is is a reminder that I have to get in shape. Because you know, you kind of let things drift when you do a date or two a week, or you know, and things like that, it gets pretty nice. Then you start doing four a night, four a week, four in a row. And then a little break and then three and then stuff like that. So I’ve got a…I’m getting in shape, I have to start to lose a little weight and walk more and all that. But it’s truly good for me, you know, to not let myself go. I mean a lot of people just say “oh, what the hell”, you know. I guess maybe a lot of people play a lot of golf and stuff, but I don’t do that.
GM: Right. Right. So you go to the gym, or what’s the…?
DM: No. I don’t like going to gyms. It makes me feel like a squirrel or a gerbil or something. I like to look outside, and maybe see buildings and stroll around the city. That I like. Or a walk in the botanical gardens.
GM: Sure. Sure. So it’s quite a long tour. What’s your audience like these days, do you think? Who’s your audience?
DM: It’s a mixed audience. You know? It’s mostly kind of middle-aged people and kids and golly, I don’t know. It’s not all wheelchairs or anything. It’s not babies either, you know?
GM: Yeah, yeah. And…
DM: I mean, basically they know they’re not getting, from me, I don’t do some sort of a dumb nostalgia show, you know what I mean? I sing a lot of different songs, I talk about what’s happening in the world. Everything is sort of…it has value rather than being just something “let’s go down memory lane.” That I don’t do.
GM: Mmm. Is that important to you, to sort of draw a line from the past, I guess, to the present, rather than…?
DM: Well, I’ve resurrected the song Prime Time, which is about America as a gameshow. And it resonates very well with audiences considering the current political situation that we have in the United States. And so I’ve got a lot of songs for different things, and the show now consists of many songs that are I think nice ones from the past. That song Prime Time, all the hit records. Songs from the new album as well as sometimes I’ll just sit down and sing four or five songs, that the band, nobody’s ever heard. Because I know thousands of songs. I’ve spent my whole life doing this.
GM: Yes. Yes.
DM: I’ve really never had a job or never worked for anybody. I don’t do authority well, you know? I like to be my own boss, do what I want to do, take my licks whatever happens. Because…
GM: Mmm. And so you’ve been outside authority or whatever, but you’ve had right through the generations, various quite major artists have drawn on your material. Has that been a way of sort of sustaining life for you?
DM: I’ve been very lucky. You know? I’ve been very fortunate to have the physical health I’ve had, to have the mental abilities that I have, having the talent that I have such as it may be. And to have been able to monetise that and make a living at it. I mean, these are all things that are extremely difficult and you have to be very fortunate to have a lot of factors that are right at a certain time. You know, I could have done more with it, yes, but I wasn’t into more. I was trying to be as good as I could be. And the idea of churning out that sort of, I could never…I couldn’t conceive of doing that. That’s not something that I would do. You know, I’d rather leave it alone. And why do…I have to be good or as good as I can make it.
GM: Have you ever had writers’ block?
DM: Oh, all the time. Are you kidding? [laughs] That’s why it takes forever for me to write a record. [laughs]
GM: And what’s the way out of it?
DM: I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t have it. I figure I just don’t have that much talent, you know? I’m not like one of those people that can turn an album out every year. I can’t do it. And I don’t want to write about garbage or fake it, you know? I’ve got to be real. I’ve got to care about the thing, and want to sing it. I would hate to have to sing a lot of songs that I just manufactured, and the audience wants to hear them.
GM: But certain of your songs, they keep getting, apart from the big tunes that everybody knows, your biggest tune, like George Michael picked up on The Grave. Did you know that he was going to perform that? Did you have any communication with him?
DM: No I didn’t. I never had any. I mentioned that I was very proud that somebody stood up and said something, and that he used my song, certainly a proud moment for me, and I thought he did a brilliant job. I can really, I can tell how much talent a person has, at least I can tell, when they do one of my songs. It’s funny, because I know the song well and I can see what the artist does. And wow, he did a beautiful job, much better than I did. And I thought it was great.
GM: And what did he get from it that you didn’t?
DM: Oh, he had more of a control over the whole melody and everything, vocally. And he’s very dramatic. He did a beautiful, beautiful rendition of it. And that’s what I’m trying to say. His speed, his talent. Whereas if you were singing of Wham! or on his own of whatever, I couldn’t probably tell, as much as I could this way.
GM: Do you keep abreast of music nowadays? Do you…
DM: A little bit. I know a little about Coldplay, I’ve seen them, and their shows are tremendous and everyone, all the kids love them. And some of these other acts, I get what they do to some degree. I don’t quite understand the musical part of it too well, but all I know is that the audience is having a great time, and that’s important.
GM: It’s very different now. Everything seems to be live shows hinging around a spectacle.
DM: Correct. I would think that…I would think that music today owes everything to Liberace, definitely.
GM: Right, right.
DM: That’s not a joke. I mean it. Liberace is really the king of pop music.
GM: Yeah. How so?
DM: Well, he was doing these crazy, elaborate programs with music and dancing and water spouting and explosions and you name it. But what was it, thirty-five years ago? He died on ’87, didn’t he? ’82 he died. So that would be ninety [mumbles calculations] thirty-something years ago. I mean, when I first played out in the college in Morgantown, West Virginia, I was with William Morris and I used to get all kind of jobs every week. I would open for people. And I asked the guy there, I said “do you know who was here last?” He said “Liberace.” “Oh wow.” “Yeah, he flew in on a wire wearing a mink kaftan.” And I thought, “man, there’s a guy for you right there.” He’s a showman, you know what I mean?
GM: Yeah yeah. Was that scene completely alien to you and what you do?
DM: See, nothing’s alien to me, that’s the difference between me and other people who call themselves, I don’t know, any kind of category of singer. You know? I’ve written songs of all sorts. It could be used by anybody. And I do it with a guitar, so people sometimes say I’m a folk singer or a folk rock singer or a rock ‘n’ roll singer. But I’m not closed about anything. The only thing I don’t like is when I don’t hear a melody. A real melody, you know? And I miss that now because I hardly hear it any more.
GM: Mmm. Roy Orbison is quoted as calling you “the voice of the century.” I mean, that’s quite an accolade from…
DM: I’ve had so many wonderful things said about me in my life by people that I respect, that it’s actually inoculated me to some degree against feeling any pain when a reviewer doesn’t like something. I think “well, Roy would like it”, or “Chet Atkins would like it” or “Elvis would like it.” Or, you know. “Pete Seeger would like it.” That’s enough for me. [laughs]
GM: And did you meet all those people?
DM: Yeah, pretty much. Yes.
GM: So what was meeting Elvis like?
DM: No, I never did meet Elvis. I’m sorry about that. I never met Elvis. But I knew Pete Seeger very well. I knew him for seven years. He was very interesting.
GM: Yeah yeah. What was Pete like? I saw Liam Clancy do a gig one time, and he’d just been to see Pete Seeger, and he said he was expecting to him to be frail and he arrived, he drove up, and Pete came up with an axe and he said “I’ve got this great new axe. I’m just going to chop some wood.” [laughs]
DM: That’s right. He was…he’s an inspiration because it was all about, he had so many, he’s so inventive. He’s very inventive. And he’s a very seductive performer. He didn’t bash you around. He would draw you in. And that was something I think I learned from him, is to have something to draw an audience into. Rather than always screaming at them.
GM: Well, you made the right connection. You looked them up and visited The Weavers early on. Have you always been like that? You see something and you just go straight for it?
DM: The Weavers were the greatest folk group ever. And…
GM: I mean, thinking that it would be easy to stand back and think “they’re so great” but you went and contacted them?
DM: Oh, I did. Yes. That’s right. I was only fifteen years old. And the thought occurred to me, it was almost like it was like taboo or something. “I’m going to actually do this. I’m scared to death.” You know how that feels when you’re very young and you do something. It’s almost like, I don’t know, [16:32 unheard word] or something. Scary. [laughs] And of course you always have this, you have to deal with rejection. What if you meet this person and they say “oh, get off my phone”, you know. That’s going to hurt you because you like them so much. You don’t want them to be mean or nasty. But I took that chance, and I called Fred Hellerman.
And he had a nice chat with me for a long time, talking about his guitar and all kinds of different things. He was a very nice, nice person. I got to know him very well. He was a brilliant person and they all were very smart. They were really very bright. And they were pure artists. Money really didn’t enter into it that much. No, they were the kind of artists who didn’t know where the money was, didn’t kind of pay much attention to it. They did fine. They all had nice places to live and so on. But the idea of being, making hundreds of millions of dollars like people do today was not something they cared about. They were just pure.
GM: Yeah. You have a business qualification. Did that hold you in good stead in the music…?
DM: No. It helped me not get robbed as much as some of the others might have.
GM: And you’ve sold the manuscript to American Pie in recent years. Are you sort of worried about your legacy after you die? How your kids are going to survive or whatever?
DM: I’m not worried. I think to have anything that people love for as long as they’ve liked some of my songs and my records all these years, I mean, that tells you right away what’s going to happen. You know? They’re going to keep loving it. They’re going to find new stuff. I occupy a little place that’s all my own. I don’t really…I don’t sound like anybody else and I don’t write songs like anybody else. If you think about it.
GM: Sure. And I mean, American Pie, selling the manuscript. Was it arranged? Do you have any regrets about it? Like it’s your…?
DM: No. I’m going to get rid of a lot of stuff in the next few years. Just all kinds of stuff in an auction, possibly at Christie’s. And I may auction the lyrics to Vincent also.
GM: Okay. Okay. So is it purely financial, or what’s the…?
DM: No, it’s just time to convert this into something, and let other people have it. It does two things at once, you know what I mean?
GM: Yeah. Yeah. And what did you think of Madonna’s version of American Pie?
DM: I loved it. I think she’s terrific. You know. She did the song a world of good. Did me a world of good. And I don’t know, it was kind of stance out of something unusual that she did in her whole career, and she’s done a lot of things.
GM: Yeah, yeah. And do you ever get tired of singing it?
DM: I get tired of singing period sometimes if I work too much. But I don’t get tired of singing it, no. I actually, I’m thankful that I have it and the others. Because that’s why people come to hear you year after year, you know?
GM: Yeah yeah. And that idea the day the music died, has there been many deaths for music, since, something like X Factor, I don’t know if you see that. That sort of way of processing music nowadays. Is there sort of endless deal knells for the music?
DM: Well, I don’t think they write songs the way they did, but I’m an old man, you know? And I would have thought this anyway. If I was twenty-eight years old and I heard this stuff, I would say “songwriting is in the toilet.” So I would say the same thing then as I’m saying now, but because I’m older, everybody is going to say “well, you don’t understand” or whatever. But you don’t really see too many hit packages from the ‘90s or the 2000’s, you know, on TV with the artist that did the songs, and someone standing there and talking about how the song was in 2001 and wasn’t it wonderful? I don’t see any of that. You seem them from the 60’s and from the 70’s and maybe from the 80’s and then it stops. Because that’s when the songs stopped, when video came in.
GM: Is that what it is? Do you think it’s down to video?
DM: Yeah. Video killed the radio star.
GM: Yeah, yeah. And I mean I was reading something recently about how mistakes are not, I mean, they’re processed out of music now. And if you listen to a record, I don’t know, in the Beatles reign, it’s full of glitches, technical glitches. But I mean the spirit of the song is kind of denied by the eradication of the mistakes. Have many of your songs come from things that were mistakes?
DM: No, not really.
DM: I didn’t have good enough producers. Well, some of them were, but if I’d had George Martin I’d have had a whole different career. Because he would have taken some things that I’d had that are fragments and made them something much bigger, you know? Like I didn’t have…I had to do everything. I had to do all the thinking, I had to explain everything. And then fight for it. Oh boy, it was work. It just became unpleasant, you know? I never had an ally, really, except a couple of them were good. Larry Butler was good, but he was limited. And Joel Dorn was good. He was very good. But he didn’t really have the dynamics of a George Martin, which I wanted. But that’s the way it goes. I met with him once. I had a very bad manager named Herb Gard. He was awful. And he screwed up everything. And I had a meeting with George Martin and I met him. And God, I wanted to work with that guy. Somehow it got fucked up. I’m sure it had to do with the manager.
GM: Right, right. When was that?
DM: That was in the ‘80s, I don’t know. The 70’s sometime.
GM: The ‘80s.
DM: The late 70’s, something like that.
GM: Yeah, yeah. And so do you write songs all the time? Or do you…?
DM: No. No, I really don’t. I don’t really think about it all that much, you know? I do my jobs, I do interviews, I perform. I promote what I’m doing, and then I’ll start on another project. I’ll start on something else and keep doing that and keep doing the other stuff at the same time. It’s always going on all the time.
GM: Yeah, yeah. And do you have favourites of your own songs? I guess you mentioned Prime Time might be the one that is deep cut in your catalogue. Maybe people wouldn’t be…
DM: Do I have a favourite? No, I wouldn’t say I have a favourite.
GM: And do you have any ambitions left?
DM: Oh, I’ve got a lot of ambition.
GM: And what would they be?
DM: Oh, I don’t know. I just want to live life to the hilt. I’m excited about all my touring, and if let’s say BMG gets a hit record off this or something, it makes this things really go. If they want another album and I get back into writing songs and be great. And I have a lot of things to do. When you have all this stuff around, box sets and duets, albums. I don’t know. All kinds of stuff.
GM: Yeah yeah. And I know you’re going to say you won’t talk about it, but would you be looking at having a new family?
DM: Possible. You never know.
GM: I mean, your health is good, you’re no…
DM: Yeah. Mm-hmm. And I beat the crap out of myself pretty much, too.
GM: What do you mean?
DM: With the way I take care of myself.
GM: Yeah. And singing-wise, do you do anything to keep your voice in shape? Do you have any processes?
DM: I drink a lot of Guinness.
GM: You drink a lot of Guinness! [laughs] That’s recommended, yeah. And so what…people who haven’t seen you are coming to see you on this tour have been brought along by friends. What can they expect?
DM: Well, a big rock ‘n’ roll band. We’ve got five guys on stage besides me, so it’s a big sound. You can look on YouTube and see us at Glastonbury, you can see us at Stagecoach, you can see us in front of large audiences and also in front of theatre crowds. Give an idea of the sound. And of course there’s all the songs, the new songs and songs that I am bringing out from albums. So before you know it, it’s over.
GM: Yeah. And do you have any regrets in…
DM: In my life?
GM: In your life, yeah.
DM: No. No, I don’t have any regrets at all. I’ve been a good person my whole life, and I’m proud of myself.
GM: Yeah. So the incident you were in the papers for, the domestic violence thing, that is not…
DM: That’s not what it appears to be. No it isn’t.
GM: Okay. Cool. Is nothing else you want to say about that?
DM: No, not at all. Other people should be sorry, not me.
GM: Other people should be sorry? What, your ex-wife?
DM: No, I’m not going to say that, but I’m just going to say other people.
GM: Right, right. And do you have any…how do would you like to be remembered? What would your epitaph be, or any tunes you would like played at your funeral?
DM: [laughs] No, I don’t want any of that. I want to be burned up with one of my guitars.
GM: Right. Fair enough. And yeah. So did you ever meet Sinatra?
DM: Did I do what?
GM: Ever meet Sinatra?
DM: Never did, no. I saw him a lot of times though. I saw him about nine times.
GM: Wow, wow.
DM: And as he got older and then finally reached the point where I didn’t want to hear him sing quite the way he was singing, so I didn’t see him any more. But I loved it. A real movie star, a real star, you know?
GM: Yeah, yeah. And do you have any memories of Laura Nyro? You played with her.
DM: Many memories of Ireland, yeah.
GM: Oh, Laura Nyro, the…?
DM: Laura Nee-ro?
DM: Oh, I remember meeting her and seeing her at the piano and stuff. She was a big protégé of David Geffen, who is now a huge…
GM: He owns the world.
DM: He was a real important agent from the beginning worked with artists and knew what to do with them, which is one of the things my manager did not know what to do with me. So he had talent, but he didn’t know what to do with it. But Geffen knew what to do with it and got on Columbia and…she’s very troubled, very gifted. That’s the problem with gifted people, they’re often very troubled. I’m not troubled, so I can’t be too gifted, you see that? That’s what I realised.
GM: [laughs] And what do your kids think you might star another family? How do they react to that?
DM: I don’t know. You never know. You never know what might happen in this life.
GM: Yeah. All right then. Well, that’s fine. Thanks for your time.
DM: My pleasure. I enjoyed talking to you.
GM: I’ll probably get down to see you play quite near me in Bexhill here. So yeah.
DM: That would be lovely. And one thing I want to mention, is the album was made, recorded, and the songs written before I ever even knew who Paris was. So I just want you to know that. She’s not a factor in that album at all. Some dumb woman wrote in some arts desk review that she was somehow involved with the writing of the songs.
GM: Right, right.
DM: That’s completely false. And stupid. And I don’t want you to make that mistake.
GM: No. I mean, I chronologically figured that anyway. But another general question about songwriting, is sort of casting a spell into the world or something has come as a result of writing those songs. Is there any aspect of that your relationship with Paris that the songs kind of…
DM: I know things are gonna happen before they happen, and that’s all I can tell ya. And if I said that to anybody else wouldn’t believe it, but I did not know this person when I wrote all those songs. I knew something was happening, in my life. And that’s what that album really is about. So have fun thinking about that.
GM: Right, right. And she’d been an influence on you and your songs?
DM: I’m not going to talk any more about it.
GM: Okay. [laughs] Fair enough. Thanks a lot.
DM: I appreciate you wanting to know things, but I’m not going to say anything.
GM: Sure. Okay, thanks a lot. That’s cool. Thank you. All the best.
DM: You’re welcome.