Jackie McLean Remembers Her Childhood as Don McLean’s Daughter

The budding musician reflects on the lovely and less-than-lovely aspects of her upbringing.

The older I get, the more I understand just how unusual my childhood was. I lived in a house on a hill, far away from the small town below, with my parents, my brother and a vivid, Technicolor cast of virtual friends. My father was afraid to let us leave the house. He always told us that it was dangerous outside. Friends were not allowed to come over. My hair was long and flowing, I had a whole hilltop to myself, and, late at night, I would lean out of my bedroom window, close my eyes and listen to the sounds of a lone dog in the distance, the wind in the trees, the music of the peepers’ chorus.

There were long stretches of time when I’d lie still, alone with silence and my own nebulous thoughts, romantic visions in my head, and play elaborate imagined interactions in my mind where I was part of something bigger, one member of an interconnected network of peers: an orphan in an orphanage, a Jane Austen adolescent, a visitor to Oz.

In large groups of people, such as at school, I wandered in my own reverie. I observed all the minutiae of social behavior, but I was always adrift on the edge of it. I was desperate to play a part, but I hadn’t learned to perform. The language they spoke was as if from another country.

My father could never forgive us for growing up. He wanted to keep us, his lost children, in a Peter Pan fantasy.

My best friend was my brother, Wyatt. We were each other’s only witnesses. We set up sleeping bags on the floor of his immaculate room and put our heads together next to the Sony boom box. “Annie, are you OK?” Over and over and over again. We used printer paper to dress up as our favorite characters. I was Oliver Hardy, Wyatt was Tom Mix. When the house felt too empty, we stood on the driveway and sang. I wove elaborate harmonies over my brother’s pure tenor. The Kingston Trio, Glenn Miller, Judy Garland.

My father could never forgive us for growing up. He wanted to keep us, his lost children, in a Peter Pan fantasy. Every sign of growth caused an outburst, a strain on the bubble that contained us. As I got older, I took to hiding in my room more and more. My very appearance was evidence of my failure to stay the way he wanted me to. Every day he talked wistfully about the good times when we were immobile, mute, helpless against any influence. “I remember when you were first born,” he’d say, “you were the first thing that was ever completely mine.”

After years of honing her musical skills, Jackie McLean, daughter of famed “American Pie” song man Don McLean, recently released a debut EP under the name Roan Yellowthorn. McLean, who’s also an established author, boldly shares a labor of love that she’s kept close to the vest for years. Recorded with husband and co-producer Shawn Strack, the EP encompasses a palette of influences and narratives.