I was listening to ‘Vincent’ from Don McLean’s American Pie album again today. I probably listen to it at least once a month. All things considered – subject matter, mood, lyrics, music, and performance – I still regard it as probably the most perfectly crafted song that I have ever heard. It still gives me goose bumps.
Later, I again pondered the Don McLean mystery. One stupendously brilliant album, and very little else of note. Why? I turned to his Wikipedia bio, mining for insights.
At the end of that article, there is this curious tidbit: “McLean had a series of conflicts with Saturday Night Live writer Andy Breckman, starting when Breckman opened for McLean on tour in 1980. Breckman and McLean have penned competing renditions of the origins of this feud, both of which are available online.”
Here are those duelling articles: http://www.wfmu.org/LCD/andy/americanpie.html
While I’m not sure that McLean’s ten year late rebuttal does much to settle the score, or to set the record straight, if he truly was secretly paying Breckman out of his own pocket while touring, that does add a quite a head-scratching layer of irony to the tale.
McLean is still a frustrating, intriguing mystery to me, but at least now I can appreciate that there may be some karmic rhythm to it all. Could the man who crafted something as perfectly beautiful as ‘Vincent’ also be an insufferably obnoxious a-hole of legendary proportions?
Footnote #1: The page about ‘Vincent’ on McLean’s website, http://www.don-mclean.com/vincent.asp, is well worth reading.
Footnote #2: Every yin needs a yang. If McLean’s version is perfect, then the cover version of ‘Vincent’ by Josh Groban is perfectly vile. Some songs don’t lend themselves well to being covered, but Groban’s overwrought abomination desecrates a masterpiece. It’s like pissing on Michelango’s Pieta. The only good thing that I can say about it is that it nicely demonstrates by counter-example what I enjoy about McLean’s performance on the original version. McLean seems to knock it off in a matter-of-fact, workmanlike fashion, like it’s nothing, making it so approachable that when its power ultimately hits you, it stings all the more. It shares a characteristic of many of my favourite artworks. In some respects, they can appear deceptively simple.