Long Gone Don
By Keith O'Brien
DECEMBER 15, 1997: Think fast, Trivia Head, and complete this thought. Remember, there is no need to phrase your answer in the form of a question -- just answer.
Don McLean ...
A) has a new talk show on cable.
If you chose answer "A," you could have very well been right for all you knew. But at last check of the TV Guide you are still most definitely wrong. Both "B" and "C" are wrong and just plain dumb. Answer "D" is debatable, depending on your generation and your musical taste. And so, for those of you sage trivial fools who chose "E," pat yourselves on the back and start warming up for the speed round because that's right, Don McLean -- as in "Bye-bye-Miss-American-Pie" Don McLean -- is not only alive and well in the 1990s, he appeared at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie recently and even has a new album, which marks more than thirty altogether. It's a cheesy and sad album of Christmas song covers, but it's new all the same.
Titled "Don McLean's Christmas Dreams," it is a far cry from his 1971 hit and national anthem "American Pie," which has now sold approximately 20 million copies worldwide, and even his follow-up success, "Vincent," also from the early seventies. However, at least it's Don McLean, right? The same soft voice whispering the lyrics. The same acoustic echoes tugging at our nostalgia. The same Don McLean -- the very one who was once the centerpiece of music that meant something in a time that meant something.
In a time when we're flashing back to the seventies with our velour shirts, our disco balls and platform shoes, isn't it about time that Don McLean -- an icon of something-got his due.
"I've heard about him, like on TV," says Ron Jethro, a 23-year-old UIC student. "I think he's in the business of selling classified ads or sales or something."
Close, Ron. Try again. Here's a hint: He sang a song that rhymes with "Shamarican Sky."
"I've heard the song. He's dead, right -- Don McLean?"
"I thought he was dead," Ron says. "I thought you were doing like a tribute or something to another dead singer."
No, no, not at all. We're actually doing an update, you see? Don McLean is a pop icon, after all. "American Pie" is part of our collective conscience.
"I've heard it a couple of times," 32-year-old Ron Smith says of the tune. "I do like it. I like the song. What else can I say about it?"
Lots. For starters, it's an American institution that speaks to the core of all that scares us. C'mon, man. The day the music died. That's scary stuff. That's Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. That's art.
"There's not that much to it. The music is not that good," says Jonathan Cohen, 31, of Humboldt Park. "The words don't make any sense. And it sort of made people sentimental about things that they weren't even around for and don't even understand."
OK. Can't anyone get this right? We can understand more about that time simply by listening to "American Pie." We can hear echoes of ourselves in McLean's words. We might not have been around for all that stuff. But it's our history and Don McLean and "American Pie" are as much a part of that history as the Cuban Missile Crisis was part of the Cold War. Our past -- it's Don McLean. It's all about Don McLean.
"I honestly didn't know he was still alive," says Steve Mitchell, 34, of Lincoln Park.
"I guess that's something that you're hearing a lot of. Am I right?"
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