Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tin and Lint and "american pie" question in nytimes.

American Pie’ Still Homemade, but With a New Twist
Published: November 29, 2011

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CloseDiggRedditTumblrPermalink SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — To step into the Tin & Lint bar here is to be surrounded by stories. Carved into the wooden walls, booths and benches are 30 years of names, dates and declared loves: Mike was here; Don loves Joanna 4EVER; Amy and Jennifer, 1989.

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Associated Press
Don McLean, seen in 1972, said contrary to the legend, he did not write “American Pie” in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

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Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
A plaque at the Tin & Lint bar in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., claims Mr. McLean wrote the lyrics to “American Pie” there in 1970.
But the biggest story, nearly as much a part of this upstate city’s lore as its racetrack and mineral waters, is revealed on a small, worn plaque above the third booth from the door: “American Pie written by Don McLean, Summer 1970.”

With its low tin ceilings and stained-glass lamps, the bar seems like the type of place where Mr. McLean would have written his generational anthem of rock’s lost innocence.

Or, maybe not.

Mr. McLean put the legend to rest last weekend in an article in The Post-Star of Glens Falls, N.Y. He also debunked a parallel tale that claimed he first performed the song at Caffè Lena around the corner from the Tin & Lint.

Mr. McLean, 66, speaking from his home in Maine, laughed when asked about the story.

“ ‘American Pie’ is a little bit like the Mayflower,” he said on Monday. “Everybody’s on it.”

In the 1960s, Mr. McLean regularly performed at Caffè Lena, which nurtured the early careers of folk artists like Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie.

This much is true.

The rest of the story holds that one evening in 1970, after a late performance at the cafe, Mr. McLean retired to the Tin & Lint and set to work writing “American Pie.” In some versions, it was in a notebook; in others, on bar napkins. All end with Mr. McLean’s leaving the notes behind.

Jim Stanley, the Tin & Lint’s current owner, was the bar’s doorman in 1970. Mr. Stanley, 63, said he believed that another employee, a Skidmore College student known as Sloth, grabbed the notes and followed Mr. McLean to the street to return them.

“I agree — he didn’t write it all here,” Mr. Stanley said. “But I do believe he started it here and maybe finished it someplace else.”

Mr. McLean has heard the Saratoga story for years, and while he has tried to correct it — he said he wrote the song in Cold Spring, N.Y., and in Philadelphia — people hang on to their version.

On Monday night, patrons at the Tin & Lint insisted that the beginnings lay at the booth across the room. Mr. McLean said the stories did not bother him.

“People have claimed that song in many places, including New Rochelle, my hometown, but I’m really sure I remember where I wrote it,” he said. “I have vivid memories because I was working so hard on it.”

Sarah Craig, executive director of Caffè Lena since 1995, said, “The ‘American Pie’ story was taken as fact” at the cafe for many years.

“It was one of three things we told people to give them a sense of the place,” she said. “It’s the longest-running folk club in the country. True. It was Bob Dylan’s first gig outside of Greenwich Village. True. ‘American Pie’ debuted on this stage.”

She laughed and said, “O.K., not true.”

Five years ago, the cafe took that story off its Web site after learning that Mr. McLean had disputed the song’s Saratoga Springs debut. He said this week that the song made its debut at Temple University, while he was opening for Laura Nyro.

But the facts should not diminish the importance of Caffè Lena, Mr. McLean said, which, he added, was “like Greenwich Village up the Hudson.”

“Maybe that story isn’t the truth,” he said, “but I would’ve been a lot worse off without that place to go to. It was a stopping place for me at that time in my life.”

At the Tin & Lint, the plaque will remain. The song, No. 83 on the jukebox, will continue to play. And the Saratoga Springs story of “American Pie” might stick around, too.

The city historian, Mary Ann Fitzgerald, likened it to Saratoga Springs’s best-known bit of unproven yet long-believed lore: that potato chips were invented in the city.

“I think people will hold onto what they believe, documentation or not,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. “Although I don’t know if anyone can truly argue with Don McLean himself.”

A version of this article appeared in print on November 30, 2011, on page A33 of the New York edition with the headline: ‘American Pie’: Still Homemade, but With a New Twist.

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