In 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, quite 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 every 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, most likely, 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 quite sure many of you reading this, like it, and that’s fine, BUT, this song drives me frackin’ 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 that he doesn’t know what the lyrics to “American Pie” mean; that it’s all very 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, very 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 quite 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 that 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.
It’s December 3, 2014 (Year of the Nasty Divorce), I have just completed two runs doing comedy on a cruise ship and I have one day off before I start the next one. I’m burned out, and I could use a night to recharge. The cruise line flies me from Roatán, Honduras to Miami and then gets me on a shuttle to the delightful Doubletree Inn, where they’re putting me up for the night. As soon as I get there, I’m informed that it’s sold out, so I take a taxi to the Comfort Inn where the overflow gets stashed—and rumor has it—it’s not so delightful. The hotel has changed its name to the Clarion, which understandably confuses the cabbie, resulting in a drive that cost one hour and $65 bucks. Adding to the fun is the fact that the cruise line was also oblivious to the name change and had yet to contact the Clarion; an hour and a half later, I still didn’t have a reservation.
It’s midnight, so instead of waiting any longer for the hotel to contact the cruise line for verification, I pay for a room, knowing that I’ll be reimbursed. I try to nap a little, which has been nearly impossible since the wife and I broke up. I miss my kids too, so unfortunately, I sleep like a shark.
At 5:55 a.m. the next day, I fly to Cozumel, Mexico red-eyed and saggy tailed. I arrive and spend an hour shuffling through the customs line, which is annoyingly typical. It’s only about 1:30 p.m. and the ships leave around 5 or 6 p.m., so I’m good time-wise. This lovely cattle-drive customs experience leads to a thirty minute cab ride in a packed van with no air conditioning, just a pine tree air freshener long past its due date. Pedro the Aromatic drops me off last. I got to the port at 2 p.m., just in time to find out that my ship left forty minutes ago.
SON. OF. A. BITCH!
Obviously, someone in the cruise line travel office had made a mistake and since it was a private charter the departure time wasn’t posted online, something I always check in case of any travel discrepancies. These things happen, so I go borrow the free Wifi at Señor Frog’s so I can email the person in charge of Travel Emergencies. They reply quickly and tell me that now I have to meet the ship I missed in Roatán, Honduras. I immediately think of Alan Arkin’s alarmed response to being tricked into flying to this dangerous country by Peter Falk in The In-Laws: “Honduras?”, as he bolts for the plane’s door. (Anyone under 40, Netflix it.) “I just got out of Roatán alive yesterday,” I say to myself. I’m told by the cruise line to check my e-mail, keep my phone on (I have no International plan), stay put (Where am I going?) and a port agent will drive me to the first leg of my journey to get me to the ship. (Great.) The port agent arrives, races through traffic and gets me on a rickety ferry that takes me to Playa del Carmen in the 90-degree heat and blazing sun. From there, another port agent (straight out of Central Casting: Mexican Villains Division) in a hot van all out of Freon rushes me to the surprisingly nice Cancun Airport. From there, I fly to the unsurprisingly scary Mexico City Airport, landing at 11:30 p.m., drained of my patience, moisture and will to live. My emergency contact tells me that it’s a six hour layover, and I should just stay at the airport, so I sleep on the floor with my guitar, luggage, and European-style computer bag tied to various parts of my body for safekeeping. I put my genuine fake Rolex, St. Christopher’s medal (some help he’s been) and passport in my underwear, because no one’s been rooting around in there for a while. Ba dum cha!
The next morning, I feel like an arthritic octogenarian after crashing on the hard marble floor. I slowly creak toward the ATM to get some cash for “whatever the f*ck may happen next” and my debit card gets swallowed by the machine. Apparently if you push too many of the wrong Spanish commands, it takes your card. I’m going through a divorce, my credit’s shot and I only have one piece of plastic, so now I’m penniless. SH*T!
The airport security guard, dressed head-to-toe in camouflage and donning a stylish AK-47, shoots me a look. I nod as if to say “I’ll keep it down, Sir.” Despite his terrifying accessories, he looks like he’s about 14. I head to the ticket counter to check my luggage and get my boarding passes, wait in line for 40 minutes only to find out that my Aeromexico flight has changed terminals and the new ticket counter is a cab drive away. “F*CK!” This vulgarity, familiar to all cultures, and loud as all f*ck, can be heard in Chile. Security boy shoots me another look. I hold his gaze for a full five seconds and then mime for him to please shoot me, shoot me now, por favor.
I have no cab fare, so I hoof it approximately a mile with my guitar, large bag and man purse to my new Aeromexico ticket counter. Soaking wet from the 99% humidity and badly in need of a knee replacement and a heart shunt, I make it to my gate with ten minutes to spare. Flight 397 to San Salvador, with an on time departure of 5:30 a.m., is a turbulent one and normally would scare the food court fajitas out of me, but I’m unusually calm. I’m reading over my divorce papers—I welcome death. When I arrive and get to the next gate for my flight to Honduras, I sit, sigh, and close my eyes for just a second since I have another hour before the next leg of my never-ending commute. “Ahh… just relax,” I plead with myself.
When I open my eyes, I come to the unfortunate realization that everyone waiting for my flight has gone. Now I fall asleep? Are you kidding me? NOOOOOO! This can actually be heard in hell, which from what I hear, is the majority of El Salvador. I rush to the agent at my gate who, thankfully, says that if I run to the plane on the tarmac, I just might make it (she says this in Spanish of course, but I figure it out from all of the exaggerated gesturing, like a Telemundo comedy sketch). I take off as fast as my 50 year-old legs will take me, with all of my items flopping clumsily beside me. I must look like an older, white, out-of-shape, overly accessorized cartoon caricature of Usain Bolt. They open the hatch door and let me in. I thank the El Salvadorian gods, whomever or whatever they may be. (I’m going to assume their higher power is a chicken, coconut shell with Jesus-like markings, or a cell phone taken from a dead tourist.)
When I get to Roatán at 11:00 a.m., I am picked up by yet another grizzled, dandruffy port agent who escorts me to immigration, which, as it turns out, is a hut in the hills manned by a woman with one arm and what appears to be chocolate around her mouth. God, I hope it’s chocolate and not some sort of voodoo sh*t. Her name-tag is heavy on the consonants. She looks me up and down with her cataract-clouded eyes, grunts, checks my passport and then looks at her computer. She asks me in her native tongue why I was in Roatán a day and a half ago and I’m back today. The port agent translates, I explain, he tells her, she doesn’t understand, and I spend the next hour in a small room being searched, prodded and probed by a man with large hands. He finds nada, so I’m free to go and walk to our van like an aging, bow-legged Blues singer.
We proceed to the ship, and on the way, my Honduran driver tells me that his country is the world leader in homicides, “Ees almos two to one,” he says. He seems proud of this fact. I ask him, as politely as I can, to drive a little faster because I have children and would very much like to see them again. We stop for a public execution—just kidding, but at this point, it wouldn’t have surprised me. I finally get to the ship and am informed that it’s a gay charter and it gets pretty wild, especially in the hot tubs and pool areas, so I may want to stay in my cabin between shows if that sort of thing offends me. Oh and by the way, I have three shows the first night. Now, I’ve been traveling for two and a half days and I’m afraid that doing three shows on very little sleep and a lot of aggravation might make me a tad cranky on stage. (Did I mention that I’m going through a divorce?) Heaven help the Mojito-addled, hapless, homosexual heckler.
Now, any sane person reading this may question my career choices, to which I can only reply, “What, and quit show business? Being a comedian, or any other kind of entertainer, is about the journey, the experience, the stories, and some of the best trips, times and tales are the ones that occur on the outskirts of rich, the fringes of famous: the guns drawn at hell gigs in country bars, the long drives in the blinding snow when you don’t know where the ramp starts and the highway begins and the shows on chartered cruise ships with flamboyant drag queens, regular queens and a naked guy on a skateboard being led around like a pull toy. That’s my job and this is the career I chose. As the saying goes, “they pay us to travel, not to perform” and I can’t stop now, I’m just starting to get the hang of it. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go, I have a show for a boatload of gay people to prepare for—right after I take a nap. (I better set 2 alarms.)”
Editors note: the only part of this story that uses the “Godwin Exaggeration Factor” (sometimes as high as 12%) is the implied cavity search at the Honduran immigration hut. It was actually just a thorough pat down and luggage check. If you doubt the “guns drawn at hell gigs in country bars” line, ask Lee Loren (Carrot Top’s sound and light guy) about the time he and Pat had a shotgun pointed at them while trying to get paid in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Conversation at the DMV…
DMV: “How long have you been at your new address?”
Me: “Almost a year.”
DMV: “The law requires you to inform us of an address change after 15 days.”
Me: “Well, sir… my wife left me, took the kids, so I got rid of the old place, got a tinier place, put all my belongings in storage, spent 2 days in the emergency room, another 28 days in a treatment facility, and then went on the road around the clock to pay for the debt incurred during our short-lived marriage and hospital stays, and when I wasn’t working, I flew or drove to Ohio, lonely, heartbroken, to be with my children, all the time plotting how I was going to succeed in the entertainment business, at my age, what with the current state of show business catering to the youth and ignoring the seasoned, talented deserving veterans. (5 second pause) The address change must’ve slipped my mind.
DMV: (awkward silence as he processes my new license)
Two men of Jewish faith walk in to a bar; they see a drunken Irishman falling off his stool and talk to him about going into treatment. They’re truly helpful people, these 2 men, one a Stein and the other a Berg, but as it turns out they also have a slight agenda—they own the rehab facility. After much conversation, gesturing, and persuasion, the two Jewish men get Paddy O’Irish-something to check in for the full 28 days. The joke is… the poor bastard doesn’t have health insurance! Hilarious, right? This will ruin the Irishman’s credit for he cannot pay, and the 2 men will never get their money for they dare not sue. The ensuing debt cripples Paddy emotionally and within 3 months he relapses, gets falling-off-the-barstool drunk again, and needs to go back into treatment. The men, both named Joel, afraid of running into Irish, go into a different bar to have lunch and discuss business, all the while ignoring the obvious addiction issues around them—issues that could make them rich! Funny stuff. As of this writing, the drunken Irishman is shite-faced, teetering on that same bar stool, and reviewing his limited options. And the Jewish businessmen, tired of this country’s lack of universal healthcare and it’s myopic view on addiction, have decided to give up on rehab and are opening a sportsbar by the airport.
My next wife will be a gorgeous woman of inappropriate age, who’ll work full-time as a nurse and overtime as a part-time nurse. Her field of care will be treating the elderly and infirmed, specifically Alzheimer’s patients. She’ll want children someday; I’ll tell her to wait 30 years and I’ll be all the baby she’ll need. My next wife will be an orphan with big boobies and a tiny tummy who can afford her own maid, chef and chief bottle washer, because she’s independently wealthy, due to a large financial settlement from her parents’ unfortunate accident—a week after we meet. Her hobbies will be listening to my music, going to my comedy shows, editing my monologues, and quick romantic encounters. She’ll love the smell of cigars and encourage moderate drinking, while turning a blind eye to the heavy kind, and won’t mind when I spend weekdays fishing, drunk. My next wife, my new wife, the 2014 model, will be a soft-spoken gal with a big laugh, who can quote all 39 episodes of the original Honeymooners, will HATE The Honeymooners movie with Cedric the Entertainer and think Caddyshack’s hilarious even though I find it dated and corny… it’ll be our only argument. When she edits these essays I write, she’ll allow a little poetic license for run-on sentences, sexist humor, and endings that go nowhere. The end.
We’re sitting here at dinner, clearly, she’s a winner
My love is growing stronger every day
But as I’m eating my flan, she gets a call from Jan
Who is joining us and there’s nothing I can say
But it’s clear the evening’s ruined and I just sit here stewing
Because she talks and talks about nothing but her clothes
I hear about her nails and where her husband fails
And quite frankly the conversation blows
Now here comes by Joni who’s really quite a phony
She’s shows us her new shoes from the Prada store
She treats the waitress snotty, goes on about Pilates
And now I’m officially pissed and bored
Now in pops girfriend Sheila who only drinks Tequila
And man this load has really had her fill
I smile so politely but this crap happens nightly
And I’m constantly picking up the bill
Her friends, her friends,
The conversation never ends
They drive me frickin’ batty, to hear them be so catty
They’re all nuts and I just can’t pretend
We’re back at her place and they’re all in my face
God I hate her friends
I despise her annoying friends
Her friend Amanda has the IQ of a chicken
But a surgeon’s touch has made her boobs quite huge
This gives her the license to be a bloody nuisance
Her new boyfriend is loaded and a stooge
He goes on about his stocks, the boat, and his big dock
And I want to shove a shotgun down my throat
But my Angie is a cutey, intelligent, a beauty
This year I think I’m putting in a moat
Her Friends, her Friends
Constantly talking about new trends
The’re bitchy rude and vile; I sit quietly and smile
Is this conversation ever going to end?
She says, I think with my penis
That I think with it all the time
And where’s the romance with my brain in my pants?
Is that all that’s on my mind?
She wants me to snuggle and cuddle
She’d like to be wined and dined
She says she wants more conversation
And less of the bump and grind
She threw away my magazines
She watches me when I’m on line
She says don’t let my penis come between us
And everything will be just fine
She says that women are different
It’s the emotional ties that bind
It’s love and trust, not sex and lust
That she’s been longing to find
And I say, guess what all guys think about
Every 5.3 seconds of time?
That’s right we think with our penis
I speak for all of mankind
So check your watch cause I think with my crotch
And it’s coming up on 6 to 9
She says, I think with my penis
So, let me give you a piece of my mind
Grab the cooler and the kids, we’re gonna have some fun
Hanging out at the beach, soaking up the sun
We’ll drive a couple hours it’s not that far away
The sun will come out, it’ll be a perfect day
We get there at ten with the whole human race
It took till two, just to find a parking space
At the beach, taking the kids to the beach
The kids, kids, kids love the beach
Now the beer’s getting warm and the water’s way to cold
I fear a storm or am I just getting old?
The dead fish in the sand, cook up quite an aroma
You can’t get too tan or you’ll get a melanoma
Suck in your gut, to hide your flab
My feet got cut when I stepped on a crab
At the beach, tell me why I like the beach?
Tell me why, why, why I like the beach
Sand is everywhere, on the blanket and the food
Hide the kids eyes, that fat man’s nude
Check out that lady, what did she forget?
She forgot to trim her bikini line, it’s like a Chia Pet
You can’t surf or para-sail, you might become a paraplegic
When the harness fails you’ll need more than analgesic
There’s medical waste and pollution in the sea
A great white shark could bite your leg off at the knee
Someone dove from the pier and did a belly flop
Hold on a second that girl’s got no top
At the beach, I forgot why I like the beach
I forgot why, why, why I like the beach
We’re jammed on the interstate, trying to get home
With the lotion, the sand, and the smelly sea foam
I’m hot, I’m tired, my clothes are soaking wet
Did we get all the towels, what did we forget?
A quick look around and my wife’s flippin’ her lid
She lost her ring and her wallet, and we’re missing one kid
At the beach, we’re going back to the beach
Tell me why, why, why I like the beach?
I’m in a strange town, out on the road
Lookin’ for some lovin’ to lighten my load
But we got to get busy baby, ’cause I’ve got an early flight
I’m looking for some Sin City p***y tonight
‘Lookin for some Sin City p***y tonight
(mouth trombone solo)
Sometimes a p***y makes that sound
The Wynn Casino’s where I’ll be
Which is ironic, ’cause I just lost 20 G’s
The tables are cold and the slots are tight
So I’m looking for some Sin City (mouth trombone) tonight
Some Sin City (mouth trombone), to treat me right
Sin City people, I don’t mean to be rude
But sometimes talking dirty puts Miss Kitty in the mood
The booze and the shows, the strippers and the lights
I’m looking for some Sin City (mouth trombone) tonight
Sin City (mouth trombone) tonight
I’m sick of squeezin’ my peepee
Sin City (mouth trombone) tonight
I got a hard eight, or maybe I’m bluffin’
Sin City (mouth trombone) tonight
Bluffin’ the muffin
Sin City (mouth trombone) tonight
I’m right on the come line
Don’t send a voicemail
Don’t leave a paper trail
Delete all e-mails once they’re read
Don’t film your lovemaking
Don’t text your picture taking
Don’t make a tryst a Facebook friend
Clear your history; control, alt, delete
Use the hotel’s computer on the sly
If you get asked, just stand there aghast
and deny, deny, deny
Deny, deny, deny
Deny, deny, deny
If her friend saw you bang ‘er
blame it on a doppelgänger
That wasn’t me there in the park
If you don’t want her to know
Don’t make a video
Make sure the restaurant’s out-of-state and dark
If you get caught kissing somebody else
It was mouth-to-mouth or they would die
If you’re at the hospital and your mistress shows up
Deny, deny, deny
Deny, deny, deny
Deny, deny, deny
Don’t write a check, or sign your name
Make sure that you have an alibi
Always use cash, never credit cards
And deny, deny, deny
Deny, deny, deny
Deny, deny, deny