Don McLean’s iconic “American Pie” is 50 years old this year, and the singer is celebrating with a tour – underway now – and a documentary that debuts on Paramount+ today.
’THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED: The Story of Don McLean’s “American Pie”’ features celebrities including Garth Brooks, Bon Jovi, John Mayer and more, and explores how the moment that McLean dubbed “the day the music died” and “American Pie” impacted the fabric of American music.
“I hope when people hear this song again after watching, they’re gonna have a whole new experience, and they’re gonna get to know me a little better,” McLean said. “I’m a hair-brain guy, you know. I have a lot of stuff going on in my head, and I managed to find ways to put it into music. They’re going to feel entirely different about each other and the country and the history of what we’ve been through.”
When McLean wrote the song decades ago, the United States was engulfed in turmoil, much like it is now. There were street protests and cries for social justice paired with the impact of the Vietnam conflict. However, the lyric “the day the music died” refers to the 1959 plane crash in Iowa that killed rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. The documentary starts there and then goes back to the Surf Ballroom, where the men played their last show. McLean talks about being a paperboy and delivering papers emblazoned with news of the crash, which later sparked the song. The documentary does a deep dive into McLean’s life and motivations and gives a detailed analysis of “American Pie.”
“I think there are so many people now that really know nothing,” McLean said. “They have no idea what was going on back in 1970, and now they’re gonna be brought there with this movie. You suddenly see the tumults and brother against brother. Families were torn apart by their different positions and this dreadful war that went on and on and on and on and on.”
McLean admitted he’s deeply upset by the conflict in Ukraine. He said he’s politically independent but is almost always antiwar.
“I’ve seen some things in my life,” McLean said. “I know the power of music. I see this Ukrainian thing and these tanks rolling down a residential street that was once so nice. I think, ’What is the other side of human nature that creates things like this … that do this kind of damage to people?’ My whole life is on the other side of that, just trying to transmit something that’s beautiful.”