Don McLean: “Perfection is a direction”

I have a saying that I invented and told my children that “Perfection is a direction. You are either going up or down, but it is a direction that you want to go in and to always be improving.” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Don McLean, a Grammy award honoree, a Songwriter Hall […]

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I have a saying that I invented and told my children that “Perfection is a direction. You are either going up or down, but it is a direction that you want to go in and to always be improving.”

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Don McLean, a Grammy award honoree, a Songwriter Hall of Fame member, a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and his smash hit “American Pie” resides in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry and was named by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) a top 5 song of the 20th Century. A New York native, Don McLean is one of the most revered and respected songwriters in American history. After paying his dues in the New York club scene in the late ’60s, he went on to score mega-hits like “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” “Castles in the Air” and many more. His catalog of songs has been recorded by Madonna, Garth Brooks, Josh Groban, Drake, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and countless others. In 2015, one of McLean’s four handwritten manuscripts of the lyrics to “American Pie” was auctioned by Christies, selling for just over 1.2 Million dollars. 2019 honored Don with a star on the Las Vegas Walkway of Stars and his song “And I Love You So” was the theme for Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s wedding. Now in 2020, Don signed a recording contract with Time Life to release his catalog of recordings as well as the much anticipated new album Still Playin’ Favorites, which released October 23rd. “American Pie” will be featured in the Avengers Black Widow and the Tom Hanks movie BIOS and much more to be announced. And when you think things are slowing down, not so for Don McLean! 2021 will mark the 50th anniversary of American Pie with a World Tour to follow.

Thank you so much for joining us in this series Don! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I was born in New Rochelle, NY. I went to public schools and Iona Preparatory High School. In 1968, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Philosophy from Iona College. Then I began my career as a singer/songwriter.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I wanted to be like Elvis Presley from the time I was 11 or 12. Then I discovered Folk Music and a group called the Weavers.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I got invited to sing with Garth Brooks at Central Park in front of a million people.

Can you share with us an interesting story about performing in Nashville and any point?

One of the most thrilling nights I have had was playing with the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. It was a sell-out that night.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I sang a lot with Pete Seeger and he made mistakes like crazy. I learned then to not be bothered by mistakes and move on. I saw others make mistakes as well and you learn to go on. It helped me to learn to talk to the band and make it a part of the show.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am particularly grateful to Charles Close who worked with me in 1964. I was 18 years old. He taught me to plan a show and work with the audience. Also, Attorney Alan Shulman. He helped me gain control of my publishing and recording catalog. He essentially made me a rich man.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

My YouTube Channel for Time Life along with my new album Still Playin’ Favorites and some new songs that I am writing.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. First thing is that some managers and promoters will steal from you. Not all of them, but some.
  2. Second thing is that taxes will take most of your money.
  3. The third is to have an honest transactional lawyer who will tell you what you are signing in simple terms.
  4. Fourth is that when making records, people will try to talk you out of your ideas, and you need to stick to your guns.
  5. The fifth and most important thing is that success comes with continuous hard work. You have to have a work ethic. You are always busy and never waste time.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Do not over tour. You need time to slow down and think while having relationships with people. People who are always touring do not have much of a life.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would say keep your expectations very low and trust in God because as an artist, you don’t want to be earthbound, you want to be a dreamer. I think every high school in America should be a college preparatory high school so that when the students start, they have the idea in their head that they are going to college.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a saying that I invented and told my children that “Perfection is a direction. You are either going up or down, but it is a direction that you want to go in and to always be improving.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are two people. One is the conservative economist, sociologist and historian Thomas Sowell. The other is Don Everly. I would love to just talk to him and maybe write a song or something.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can go to or follow me on the different social platforms.


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