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50 years after ‘American Pie,’ Don McLean fears ‘some kind of civil war’

Don McLean says he wrote his iconic “American Pie” tune to test his theory that music and politics were inherently intertwined. Fifty years later, he stands by that theory.

He said American values have eroded in the decades since to the extent that he fears “some kind of civil war,” pointing to everything from the polarized political environment with music like Cardi B’s “WAP.”

“We won’t even say what those letters stand for,” McLean said in a recent interview in advance of the documentary “The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie,'” celebrating the song’s 50th anniversary.

“But that tells you something about the group of people who are producing the leaders that we have,” he continued. “Now we’ve got an old man in the office, Joe Biden, who’s a stalwart and a throwback. But he is doing the bidding of that group.”

The new Paramount+ special on “American Pie” reveals the secrets behind the song’s iconic lyrics, highlighting cultural moments and values that drove its creation. 

McLean said he has studied politics since college, detailing anecdotes about figures from Richard Nixon to Everett Dirksen to Al Sharpton.

“This is how I think as an artist,” he said. “I’m not a politician. I’m not some political pundit. I see things and I make observations, and that’s how I came up with this idea for this song.”

Those observations, he says, don’t align with a singular political party. He is skeptical of politicians in general and holds a steadfast belief that “character is destiny.”

“Look at Donald Trump,” McLean said. 

“He had the presidency, he had everything. Character is destiny, what is his destiny? He threw it away because of things that he said, and meanness that was unnecessary. But yet he did good things, but nobody gives him credit.”

Above all else, McLean decries today’s polarized politics, saying it has “gotten out of control.” He said media organizations such as Fox News and MSNBC have further fueled those divisions.

“The polarization is so bad that it cannot have compromise,” he said. “You’re going to have some form of civil war. And it hasn’t happened yet, and I pray to God it doesn’t.”

As one recent example, McLean pointed to his recent decision to pull out of a performance at the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) meeting that took place days after a mass shooter killed 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas. 

At the time, McLean said it would be “disrespectful” and “hurtful” for him to go on with the performance. 

“They’re thinking, ‘Oh, if you go to an NRA thing, you’re glad that kids got murdered?’ Well, they’re not,” he said.

McLean said he hopes the documentary will provide a nostalgic reminder of unity amid today’s divided world. 

He recently wrapped up an American tour to mark the 50th anniversary of “American Pie,” and is set to appear in stadiums across Europe this fall.

“It’s what we need,” he said. “Right now, we need to realize we’re all Americans.”

The Day the Music Died” premieres on Paramount+ on July 19.

Tags American Pie Joe Biden Paramount+ political polarization

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