340 – Don McLean: Why You Should Follow Your Instincts

Everybody knows the phrase, ‘bye, bye Miss American Pie’. It’s iconic.

It’s about the day the music died. And it will be sung and talked about for the next 100 years.

I got to interview the singer and songwriter, Don McLean. He’s been a musician for over 50 years. And he continues to write, sing and tour to this day.

Don got good pretty quickly at a young age. But it was a lot harder to learn back then than it is today. He didn’t have the endless amount of information at his fingertips like we do today.

He told me how someone would learn to play the banjo.

“You had to study very carefully what somebody would do on the five string banjo,” Don said, “You never saw it played. You’d listen over and over. And you’d try and figure it out. Of course you’d it wrong. You spend a couple of years doing it wrong.”

There was no Youtube with hundred of videos teaching how to play the guitar or any other skill. It was all up to your level of obsession and concentration.

Don knew exactly where he needed to be and what he wanted to do.

Music and becoming an artist was his obsession.

“It was simple for me because I knew there was only one thing I wanted to know how to do. And I kept working on that,” he said.

“What gave you the confidence,” I asked.

“It was an obsession. This has got to happen. I had to do this,” Don said.

He was focused on his goal. He had the concentration to achieve his dreams.

But I think that’s something we’ve lost in our technology filled world.

“If you have it all at your fingertips with all this technology that’s available the concentration isn’t employed,” he said, “Concentration is the most important thing. And I don’t think people can concentrate too well with all the distractions.”

“So how do we cancel out the noise of the world and build that concentration,” I asked.  

“You can’t cancel the noise out. You have to learn to concentrate with the world as it is,” Don said, “you can’t change the world. You have to find a way to focus your mind and your energies on concepts that interest you.”

Today everything moves so fast. And it’s tough to get a handle on it all. It’s not like it was 40 years ago. The artists knew what their audience wanted. Technology wasn’t changing that much.

Don is very humble and modest about his success. But I think he might know the secret to creating something that will last forever.

“I think it’s really tough for people to know who they are in this world. To really be sure of who they are, what they’re here for and what they want to do,” he said.

Don followed an instinct and never gave up.  

He was focused on what he wanted to do. He became an artist. He took his simple ideas and turned them into songs loved around the world.

Songs written 40 years ago are still around. I wondered if he thought that era was over. Is it possible to create something now that will still be talked about and listened to even 10 years from now?

“I don’t think the big bands are coming back. I don’t think there will be another Beatles. I don’t think there will be another Elvis,” Don said, “a lot of things go and they don’t come back.”

There’s something else people want. But it could also be because there’s a lack of concentration. There’s too much useless information wasting our time.

“We need to instead focus on ideas and making something that matters to you,” he said.  

You have to find how to be you. And how to do it.

 

Links and Resources

Check out Don’s newest album Botanical Gardens 

Don’s Albums we talk about:

Don’s Songs we talk about:

Check out Don’s website for tour dates

 

Also Mentioned

  • Steve Martin – Don told a story where he showed up on his doorstep in 1972 (before he was anyone) to talk about the banjo
  • Penn Jillette – he came on the podcast!
  • Larry Butler
  • Buddy Holly
  • The Weavers
  • Steve Allen
  • Pete Seeger
  • Bob Dylan

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