A long, long time ago, Don McLean can still remember when music used to make him smile.
But over the more than 45 years the American troubadour has been making music, it has changed — and changed a lot.
“Music as I would define it is disappearing,” says McLean. “More people these days are screaming a lot. … Songs can be identified within a few notes, there’s no real melody. There’s a lot of blather out there. They write a hook and repeat the same thing over and over. And that’s a good version of a pop song today. The bad stuff is unintelligible garbage.”
As a folk artist who came up in the ‘60s and ‘70s playing in coffee houses alongside the likes of Pete Seeger, McLean has seen the industry change as quickly as the music.
“The recording business is over — I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” says McLean with a sarcastic tone. “It’s just another thing eaten up by technology, along with books. Movies will soon follow.”
He reminisces about the times when music fans would “visit records” at a store like Tower Records, and buy a whole album instead of downloading one track — allowing the listener to discover a number of songs they wouldn’t otherwise get to hear.
“Now it’s a closed circle, and that’s not very creative,” he says.
Another thing McLean loathes about the changes in music technology is the prominence DJs play in the current landscape.
“I have seen 50,000 people standing in front of a guy playing records,” says McLean. “He’s not singing, not playing an instrument, and the audience is getting off on this shit. It’s sad that the audience would get so excited over a geek playing a record, that what they feel they deserve is so low for them to be excited about something like that is pretty sad. … I really wonder about the mentality of young people sometimes and what’s going on in their heads.”
And although these quotes make him sound like a curmudgeonly old man, he has a sense of humour about all the changes that is rather refreshing.
“I was old-fashioned when I was contemporary,” says McLean. “I’ve always been against a lot of stuff. I’ve gotten older, so now it suits me and my age now.”
McLean says it’s his extensive repertoire that’s allowed him to continue to tour after all these years.
“I like the fact that I can get on the stage and ply my craft as a singer, a songwriter, and spend an hour-and-a-half with an audience and do this at the top of my game,” says McLean. “I’m in full control and I think I’m fine for the foreseeable future.”
McLean tours with a full band, but knows how to play with dynamics. “We have a rock ‘n’ roll band that can also be very quiet,” says McLean. “We can play any show anywhere, and it’s a powerful show — but it will also go down to just guitar or me and the piano. And I always do the songs that people come to hear — American Pie, Vincent, Castles in the Air, Crying … I want people to be happy.”