Why I don't play "American Pie" on My Show
- by Andy Breckman, illustrations by Gary Leib
Here's another true story from my pathetic show business career. This one is about Don McLean. You know, the "American Pie" guy. And why I think he's an asshole. And why you should, too.
I started out as a folkie. I thought I was Bob Dylan. None of my so-called friends had the fucking courtesy to tell me I wasn't Bob Dylan. Anyway, I figured what I needed was a big-time show biz manager, so I sent out a bunch of demo tapes. And it worked -- I got a call from a guy named Herb Gart.
Herb was well-known in folk circles. He used to manage a bunch of big-name acts, like the Youngbloods and Janis Ian. But everyone gradually left him. When I signed with him in 1979, he had only one semi-famous star left in his roster: Don McLean.
Don McLean was already old news here in the States. But they still loved him in Norway. Go figure. And Israel. And Canada. In the spring of 1980, McLean was scheduled to do a ten-city tour of western Canada. Herb arranged for me to go along as the opening act.
On tour with Don McLean! It was the biggest thing that ever happened to me. I fantasized about hanging out with him. And co-writing with him. And becoming sort of his protege'.
But my dream tour was a disaster and I'll tell you why. Don McLean -- Mr. "Starry Starry Night" -- Mr. "And I Love Her So" -- turned out to be the most bitter, petty, insecure scumbag I ever met.
The tour started like this: we were on the plane. McLean glanced out the window. he said he saw a shooting star. I said make a wish. He said "I did, but it didn't work. You're still here."
It was downhill from there. During the day, McLean complained constantly. He humiliated Ray, our tour manager. He mocked "lesser" singer-songwriters, like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. At night, he picked up young, woeful-looking Canadian folk groupies and brought them back to his room for what he called "dick autographs."
He wasn't just bitter. He was nuts. I mean certifiable. For example, he had a lame movie idea. He wanted to play a singing cowboy, like a modern day Roy Rogers. And he would fight crime.
Then he remembered something. He had recently done the music for a movie called "Fraternity Row." While he was on the set, he had met John Ritter and mentioned his 'singing cowboy' idea. McLean became obsessed: what if Ritter stole the idea?
For two days, it was all he talked about. John Ritter stealing his stupid idea. Should he have a lawyer write Ritter a threatening letter? Is there a way to backdate a copyright? It was spooky. His obsession wasn't based on anything. He had only met Mr. Ritter once. And Riter never expressed any interest in the idea. I was on tour with Norman Bates' older brother.
The nightmare continued. Once morning in Calgary, I met McLean in the lobby of our hotel. He had bought a local paper, and was reading a review of our show. But he wouldn't let me see it. All he said was "Well, they hated us." Then he crumpled up the newspaper and threw it away.
After he left, I fished the paper out of the garbage. It's true, the reviewer did hate McLean. He called McLean pompous and out of touch. But the reviewer LOVED the opening act! It was one of the first rave reviews I'd ever gotten, and McLean didn't want me to see it.
Every night, during my set, as a joke, I sang a couple of verses of "American Pie." Then I said, "Gosh, I hope Don hadn't planned on singing that one." It always got a huge laugh. I asked Don if he minded the joke. He said he didn't.
But I guess he did. On the last show of the tour, I was introduced as "Don's special guest." I came out. I did my set, including my little 'American Pie" joke. Then McLean came out. I sat in the back of the auditorium and watched. McLean ended the show by saying" "Thank you. I'll be back next year. And I won't be bringing my special guest."
The crowd gasped. Try to imagine it: the headliner at a folk concert - for no apparent reason - putting down his opening act from the stage!
I was devastated. I confronted McLean backstage. Why would he say such a thing? He just snapped, "You play with me -- you play with fire -- and you just got burned." Then he walked away. I still don't know what the hell he meant.
The tour ended. After that, I avoided ol' Don like the plague. In the '80's, the music community mounted a string of mega- concerts for various causes - Live Aid, We Are The World, etc. Herb Gart put out the word: Don McLean was available. But the phone never rang. Herb and Don couldn't understand it. But I did. It was the asshole factor. Nobody could stand the guy.
I know what you're thinking. "Okay. I'm convinced. Don McLean's a one-hit schmuck. What am I supposed to do about it?" Well, you can't kill him. That would be wrong. And expensive. But you can spread the word. So the next time you're playng Trivial Pursuit - The Special Has-Been Edition - and Don McLean's name is mentioned, do me a favor. Say, as authoritatively as you can, "I heard he's an asshole." I'd appreciate it.
- from LCD, Issue Number 16, May 1994.
May, 2004. Don McLean asked us to post this response:
My Belated Response to Andy Breckman's article: "WHY I DON'T PLAY AMERICAN PIE IN MY SHOW"
I only saw this stupid piece by Mr Breckman last week but I guess it's been around for quite some time. I hope this will follow it wherever it goes in the future in order to assure that certain factual errors do not become urban legend. First: I never met John Ritter in my life. I enjoyed his comedy, loved his father's films and was shocked at his premature death. Second: I have never put down Bob Dylan. I have followed Dylan's career since I first saw him at Carnegie Hall in 1962 and have always found him to be an inspiration. Third: My career has been a wonderful gift which has lasted 35 years and counting. If Mr. Breckman wishes to get those facts straight he can find out whatever he needs to know by looking me up in "Who's Who in America" or "Who's Who in the World". Mr. Breckman's name wil not be found there. Finally: I need to set the record straight about how Andy got on my shows in Canada all those years ago. Mr. Gart (a very ex manager) did not "arrange" to have him open my shows,although that was what he was told. I was played a tape of Breckman's songs and thought they were brilliant. I could feel the comic talent he had and the wit. I knew Andy came to Gart's office because he admired me and I wanted to give him a break by letting him open. Nobody opens my show without my permission but it goes farther. I did not need an opening act who was a complete unknown and never sold a ticket. In order to put him on my show he had to be paid out of MY FEE. I wonder if Andy Breckman realizes that any time he was on my show it was because I wanted it and often took a fee reduction inorder to make it happen. Little did I realize until I got around this guy a little bit that he was a thin skinned egomaniac and a dreadful stage performer. Maybe he could have had a career in Winnapeg where they liked him. Anyway, things went downhill and I disliked Breckman for precisely the type of low blow remarks in this piece. It's like I have my own Mark David Chapman but without the balls since it took scared little Andy 17 years to get up the nerve for character assassination. There's something very tattle-tale about all this, but he still seems to be what I thought he was, a dufus.
A dufus is very high school, just like Andy. So let's all hope that cowardly little Andy Breckman will save all his T.V. money and invest it in a good therapist to help him get over the realization that even when people admire his talent, they will secretly think he's "such a dufus".
Listen on the Internet
Music & Programs
20k Real Stream | 20k Windows Stream | 128k MP3 Stream 32k MP3 Stream
© 2004 WFMU.
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of WFMU is prohibited.