CAMDEN, Maine — An elderly Camden man sitting in a wheelchair waving every day to passers-by inspired singer/songwriter Don McLean to write a song for his upcoming album.
McLean posted the song “Waving Man” to YouTube this week. It will be part of an album called “Botanical Gardens” that he plans to release during the summer.
The internationally known entertainer, best known for the classic hit “American Pie,” has played his new song at concerts during the past year and said it resonates with audiences.
“I have people come up to me after the shows and say they have a waving man in their community,” McLean said. “They’re all over the country. Many are veterans.”
McLean said that for the past two to three years as he has driven by Sixty-Three Washington Street, an assisted-living home in Camden, he has seen the elderly resident.
“I’ve been working on an album. I do all kinds of songs, and I started to fantasize over time about what his life must have been like,” McLean said.
While he has never met the man, McLean said he noticed he was wearing a military cap, so he imagined him waving troops ashore in some battle.
“I can tell by his cap, that he was in the war. But he don’t get around like he did before. When he waved those troops onto a foreign shore and he lost his friends that he did adore.”
And then he wrote about the man waving to his children as they arrived home and then waving goodbye to them when they left home as adults.
“He waved when he came home and he told his girl he would never roam. And he raised his kids until they waved goodbye and then he waved good luck though he had to cry.”
“That’s all part of the fantasy. That’s how I write songs,” the 69-year-old McLean said.
Last year, he asked his wife, Patrisha McLean, to videotape the man so the video could be used when the album was recorded.
McLean said it took him about an hour to write the song last year, which he did in a motel room while he was on tour, although he does not recall in what city.
“I found a form and I began telling a story,” McLean said, pointing out that his wife had gone out to get some groceries and he had finished the song before she got back.
McLean said he is pleased with the result.
“It is rather poignant. So many people do something spectacular to get on YouTube, and I thought this was poignant,” McLean said.
Accompanying McLean on the song are keyboardist Tony Migliore, drummer Jerry Kroon, and guitarists Pat Seavers and Vip Vipperman.
McLean said he would like to meet and speak with the waving man at some point.
Attempts this week by the Bangor Daily News to reach the man — Kermit Ingraham — were not successful. Efforts to reach Ingraham’s family members also were unsuccessful.
But in an interview published in the November issue of Maine Seniors magazine, Ingraham indicates he served in the Air Force during World War II, working as a mechanic on B-29s at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. He later went into the funeral home business, owning a couple in the Bangor area, according to the article.
McLean said the album with the “Waving Man” song may come out on his own music label on the Internet or perhaps another website, saying a decision has not yet been made. He said the rapid, dramatic advances in technology have changed the entertainment industry a lot.
“It was real simple when I started out,” said McLean, who started singing and playing a guitar when he was 12 or 13 years old. I was a record star for about 12 years. It was real easy. People would go to the store and buy an album. Everything has changed,” McLean said.
He said many musicians see albums as some form of tour support.
“They don’t expect to make anything from them. Maybe a song will get used for a movie or an advertisement that will get them a fee,” he said. “It ain’t like before.”
While the transformation of making money in music has not been difficult for him because he is established, McLean said young people trying to break into the business are facing a challenge.
“I meet a lot of kids who open shows for me who are represented by agencies and don’t know what to do,” he said.
He said if he were starting over, he would use the Internet to tell some stories.
“Use stuff like YouTube and get stories out there and build a relationship with an audience,” McLean said.
He grew up in the New York city suburb of New Rochelle, New York. One of his earliest influences was a folk group called The Weavers. After his father died when he was 15, McLean said he decided to pursue music as a career and made a telephone call to Fred Hellerman of The Weavers. He later met with the group and, as he says, his odyssey began. He hired the same manager as the group, and when he turned 18, he began playing in New York City nightclubs.
Success came in 1969 when he recorded his first album — “Tapestry” — with a pair of songs from the record making the charts — “Castles in the Air” and “And I Love You So.”
Two years later, he recorded “American Pie” and became an international star.
“If you are lucky enough to survive success, then you begin to realize the richness of going to other countries, singing for other people and many different wonderful cultures and people,” McLean said.
PBS produced a feature-length documentary called “American Troubadour,” about McLean in 2012. A DVD of the film is available for purchase on Amazon.
On Friday, McLean said he is preparing to auction off the original manuscript and notes for the iconic “American Pie” song on April 7 through Christie’s Auction House. Christie’s has predicted the papers could fetch $1.5 million, according to an item last month in The Guardian.
McLean bought a home in Castine in 1985 after a friend insisted he would love living in Maine. In 1990, he purchased a home on 175 acres in Camden. He and his wife raised their children and have lived there since 2000.