October 22, 2020
The rollicking song about the souring of the 60s has now spawned a film, a musical and a children’s book. Its creator talks about its meaning – and reveals the family deaths underlying it
When Don McLean was 15 years old, he had a premonition that his father was going to die. Distraught, he ran to tell his grandmother. “Don’t be ridiculous, Donny, why would you say such a thing?” she said. “Because it’s going to happen,” the boy replied. A few days later, his father dropped dead right in front of him. “I saw how he looked,” says McLean. “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.”
The singer-songwriter behind the 1971 classic American Pie is speaking from his home in Palm Desert, a town in California where he is now well into what he calls the “desert phase” of his life. Wildfires are still burning across the state. You can’t see the sun for the acrid smoke. “I’m feeling it in my lungs,” says the 75-year-old.