American classic

Don McLean appeared in town to perform at the Dakota last night. His show constituted a late leg of his 50th anniversary celebration of American Pie — “I’ve been flogging it for two years,” he said. He celebrates both the song and the album. “It’s one album everything went right on,” he said.

Backed by a hot five-piece band, he put on a phenomenal show. He was engaging, funny, and incredibly entertaining. Featuring cuts from American Pie, the show was just about all highlights. At age 78, his voice has deepened, but it remains classic and resonant with an elongated vibrato. I can only say he left me wanting more.

Don spoke of his childhood asthma and how it contributed to his taking time off from school, his taking up the guitar, and his study of breath control. Breath control was important to his own songwriting. Referring to Elvis and Roy Orbison, he said he thought the contribution of Mario Lanza to American popular music was underappreciated. I think that was his lead-in to his take on Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” the record that put him back on the charts in 1981.

Dear readers, among the string of highlights that he performed last night was “Vincent.” It’s one of his recordings that has been played more than 3,000,000 times on the radio. I post it below only to add some beauty to your day.

Don prefaced his performance of “Jerusalem” with a recollection of his time in Israel over the years 1978-1982. At his site Don has posted this statement:

Having lived in Israel, I remember the neighborhoods I now see being bombed. I knew the people who faced this kind of hatred every day and went to a party every night because life is something to celebrate and it is so precious. Being there changed me forever. I have lived in a different way ever since. I was proud to write the song “Jerusalem,” for the Mayor of Jerusalem and I sing this song every night during shows. On this earth, Jerusalem is at the center of the atom of life and salvation no matter what might be going on anywhere else on the planet.

Just one more reason to admire the artist.

I wrote an appreciation of Don for this 2019 installment of Sunday Morning Coming Down. I also interviewed Don for this 2020 installment when his Still Playin’ Favorites disc was released. He gave me a guided tour of his lesser known album catalog while picking his favorite tracks along the way.

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