This summer, Don McLean comes face to face with an overdue honor: induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Just how prestigious is that? Among those already in the pantheon are George Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Irving Berlin and Bob Dylan. Among the fellow inductees in the June ceremony will be David Bowie. Not exactly shabby company.

“The thing is, I’ve never been quite convinced I’m a songwriter,” said McLean.

Whoa, there. Mr. “American Pie” himself, the man who took the death of Buddy Holly and used it as a firing line for a pop fable that bridged the late “50s, “60s and early “70s doesn’t consider himself a songwriter? Can that be true of the man behind “Vincent,” the “American Pie” follow-up that made suffering for one’s art seem, well, artistic?

Well, yeah.

“I’m primarily a singer, a songwriter second,” McLean said by phone from his Maine home. “I don’t sit around all day and write songs. I write maybe eight or 10 a year. The whole thing that makes what I do happen is my voice.

“The fact I’m going into the Songwriters Hall of Fame is a tremendous gift. It’s probably the most important thing to me that will ever happen. But I had no idea at first I could write songs. I knew I could make a living singing, though. That’s what it was all about – making a living. Putting food on the table by doing what I wanted to do. My ego has never been tied up in songwriting. It’s been more tied up in, “How’s my voice today?”‘

McLean’s singing has long possessed a strong interpretive power, as shown by a hit 1981 cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” But to many fans, his extensive career boils down to two songs: “American Pie” and “Vincent.” They were released in quick succession, making McLean a folk/pop rage beginning in late 1971.

So huge, in fact, were the singles that it was difficult for any of McLean’s subsequent albums to gain anything resembling comparable attention. The lost treasures include 1974’s “Homeless Brother” and the recent country covers collection “Don McLean Sings Marty Robbins.”

“I guess maybe in the beginning I might have been a little annoyed by that,” McLean said. “But “American Pie’ has become such an enormous song. So has “Vincent,’ really. I see no reason to complain. Someday, people will look into all the work that I did carefully. But I’ve gotten more than my share from just those two songs.”

Maybe his other music will get its day. But more than 32 years after its release, the fascination with “American Pie” continues. Madonna cut a cover of it and released it as a single in 2000; her version appears on the soundtrack of the film “The Next Best Thing.” McLean’s original recently served as soundtrack music to an episode of “The West Wing.”

So how does McLean find such lasting and, at times, peculiar attention?

“You know, Life magazine did a big feature story on me when “American Pie’ was out. Six months later, they said, “Where is he now?’ Well, here it is over 30 years later, and I’ve got news for you. Life magazine is gone. I’m still here.”

(c) 2004, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.).

Visit the World Wide Web site of the Herald-Leader at

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-04-06-04 0619EDT

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