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One of the most clever songwriters and quick-witted live comedians in the business... with his high speed, low-drag act that constantly changes and evolves, Pat has such strong material and improv skills, no two shows are ever the same... not even close.
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The American Pie Guy

IMG_0251In light of the fact that the original manuscript of “American Pie” by Don McLean, along with his notes from the song, were recently sold for $1.2 million, I thought I would share my experience of opening for him, years ago. Spoiler alert, it was not a pleasant one.

During the mid-80s, I performed in my hometown of Wilkes-Barre, PA at a place called The Station, regularly. I guess I was 10 at the time, since I’m only 39 now, and must’ve been quite the child prodigy to be working in gin joints while I was still in Middle School (joke). For the most part, us troubadours (Bill Kelly, Jerry G Hludzik, Lex Romane, Joe Riillo, Gary Cutter, Tom Rogo, etc… ) would sing for our supper in the bar area, but now and then we would warm up for one of the big acts that came to our tiny little mining village.

At The Station, I had the good fortune of performing with Warren Zevon, The Band, Dave Mason, and all of them were incredible people and great to work with. Zevon was hilarious and kind, The Band invited me to tour with them, Rick Danko (The Band’s bass player) was a troubled joy to hang out with, and Dave Mason… well, Dave liked to “party” back then, and the things he imbibed in didn’t seem to affect his performance or his affable personality in the slightest (he ingested copious amounts of unmentionables).

Then Don McLean came to town.

I wasn’t a fan of Mr. McLean, but I recognized the ubiquitous nature of his hugely popular number 1 hit “American Pie”, and the fact that he could still draw a crowd, and I should probably take the gig. I just put out my first record and could use the exposure, I thought. I never liked the length of “American Pie” (8:33), it’s grating sing-a-long chorus, or misguided lyrics, but everyone else LOVED it. I’m sure many of you reading this, like it, and that’s fine, BUT, this song drives me nuts! Many of my acoustic guitar peers, the ones who did cover songs, would sing “American Pie” 2, 3 times a night to the delight of the crowd. I, however, could drive the place apathetic; singing all my own material, and then only grab their attention with the occasional Beatles’ tune. I would refer to these annoyingly effective pub singers who did “American Pie”, as “Pie Guys”. (I’m looking at you, Sergio.) I still hear people play that damn song everywhere I go, and can’t stop myself from shaking my head and rolling my eyes.

Don McLean STILL maintains he doesn’t know what the lyrics to “American Pie” mean; that it’s all ambiguous and objective, and that the song has a different message for everybody who listens to it. Granted, that’s all well and good—he wrote it, and therefore wins any argument about this horrid tune, but I think the truth is much simpler. His not-so-subtle stabs at The Beatles (“While Sergeants played a marching tune”), The Rolling Stones (“Jack Flash danced on a candlestick/’cause fire’s the devil’s only friend”), and Bob Dylan (The jester sang for the King and Queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean”), were blatant slams at 60s’ Rock ‘n’ Roll stars, and his myopic opinion that they were killing popular music. He released this song in 1971, lamenting the good old days and the music of the 50s, with the obvious Buddy Holly reference, “Singing this’ll be the day that I die.” History, critics, and the 60s music’s popularity proved him wrong, so naturally, he waffles and bristles when he’s asked about the song’s *hidden* meaning. I smell bullsh*t, and always have.
On the night of the show, excited to be performing for a large crowd for a change, I got there early and went to the dressing room, which was a refurbished railroad car by the stage. The whole place was an old train station; had cool little performing areas, and dark places to canoodle with one of the many waitresses dressed up in cute little French maid outfits—but I digress. I entered our “Green Room” and Don McClean’s backup band was there, tuning up and chilling out. They were a great bunch of guys and made me feel like I was a part of the gang by lending me some guitar picks, chatting about music, and small talking about my hometown, the often mispronounced Wilkes-Barre. Us locals say “Wilkes Bear-y, not Bar”, I told them.

Then McLean Walked in.
When One-Hit Wonder strolled into the dressing room, he sucked the life out of the place: the band stiffened, the joy evaporated, he took one long look at me and said, “What are you doing in here?” I calmly replied, “I’m your opening act, my name’s Pat, and it’s great meeting you (I was still in schmooze-mode).” Don says, “Well, Paaaaaaat (stretching out my name like a playground bully) “I don’t want you in here; get out. You don’t belong in our room.” Startled, I explained to him that I worked here a lot, it was my home club, and this was the dressing room that everyone shared. Mr. American Pie took a long beat and said. “Get the f*ck out!” I calmly put my guitar in its case, nodded to his embarrassed band, fixed my gaze on Mr. McLean and said, “Don—you’re a dick!” Clever comeback, eh? What I wanted to say next was, “And by the way, ‘American Pie’ sucks. Would it have killed you to do a little editing, write a bridge perhaps, to break up the monotony? When you sing it tonight, I hope I get in your miserable little head and you mess up the ridiculous lyrics.” Instead, I just stormed out and muttered, “F*cking asshole.” I heard a couple of his band guys chuckle and then Don say to them, “What are you laughing at?”

I told the manager of The Station, Jerry Sisk, what happened with his headliner, Captain America, half-expecting to be fired, and he laughed and said, “Good! He’s been a Jackass all night; asking for sh*t that’s not on the rider, being a total jerk. It’s about time someone put that diva in his place.” Then he paused, and said, “I was looking forward to hearing that song, though.” I felt somewhat justified, tried to put the incident behind me, Jerry introduced me, and I hit the stage.

As I plowed through my repertoire of original songs that no one knew or cared about, I couldn’t get the dressing room altercation out of my head and was having a hard time focusing. My moody Circle City song wasn’t the right choice for this rowdy crowd waiting for Don McC*ck-smooch and his stupid, f*cking tune. Finally, I just stopped mid-song and told the story of what just happened to the fidgety audience, and they listened—intently. Keep in mind, many of my friends, like Frank Conyngham, Tim Cross, and the many waitresses whose names escape me, were in attendance that night and they ate this sh*t up and egged me on. As I regaled the Northeastern Pennsylvania crowd with how much of a rude ass Don McClean was, they got louder and louder, and were enjoying my displeasure with him more and more. What happened next is a blur, but from eye witness accounts, I was feeling empowered and told everybody, “Hey, you know he’s going to close with ‘American Pie’, right? So, what do you say I ruin it for him and we sing a chorus or two now?” I knew the chord changes from hearing it so much and made up a quick, dirty version on the spot. It went something like, “Bye, bye Don McLean is a dick, He’s the rudest motherf*cker, Don McLean is a prick.” Everyone went crazy, singing along, clapping, but as I was belting it out, I noticed a shadowy figure lurking by the left side of the stage.

It was Nasty McLean.

I wrapped it up, waved goodbye, and told the audience to enjoy themselves… that maybe Don was just having a bad day. As I walked off the stage, Pie Face was standing there, just glaring, looking like he was about to hit me. I saddled up to him real close and whispered, “Don’t f*ck with me in my hometown, and try and have a great show, assh*le.” I don’t know how Don did that night, because I didn’t bother to stick around, but I’m guessing, that he may have struggled a little.

Enjoy your $1.2 million dollars, “American Pie” guy, and yes, you can laugh all the way to the bank, but remember, when you get there—you’re still a dick!
Author’s note: Time has not softened my opinion of him that night, and I found out recently, that I wasn’t the only opening act Don McLean treated so rudely. Many guys that worked with him, like Andy Breckman, have a similar story about Don treating them like sh*t.

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Bob said on March 11, 2017

Given McLean is now a convicted wife Basher adds to your account. As Harry Chapin ( a real star) sang sometimes its better when you dont get to touch your dreams.

Dsru Bin said on August 5, 2020

Just heard your “tribute” on B&T 7/30 and had to look it up. What an ass!

Unrelated, SO is from Scranton – we just spent 5 weeks there with her family 🙂

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