‘American Pie’ lyrics sell for US$1.2 million in New York auction
The original manuscript of Don McLean’s enigmatic hit song “American Pie” sold at auction in New York on Tuesday for US$ 1.2 million, Christie’s said.
The 18 pages of manuscript, written in 1970-71 in pencil, ink and typescript on 17 sheets, had been expected to fetch between US$1 and US$1.5 million at the auction house. Christie’s said the buyer was anonymous.
McLean, 69, said he wanted to release the lyrics to help people understand the true meaning of the song, which depicts turbulent upheavals of the latter half of the 20th century.
“It was an indescribable photograph of America that I tried to capture in words and music,” he said in February in the Christie’s catalog.
“I would say to young songwriters who are starting out to immerse yourself in beautiful music and beautiful lyrics, and think about every word you say in a song.”
The song was initially inspired by his memories of being a paperboy in 1959 and learning of the death of Buddy Holly, it also represents a changing America from the brightness of the 1950s to darker 1960s.
The phrase “the day the music died” was long known to refer to the 1959 plane crash that killed rock ‘n’ roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson.
But in an interview with Christie’s, McLean revealed the hidden meaning of the song’s six verses, over which music enthusiasts had long agonized.
“Basically, in ‘American Pie’ things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less ideal, less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right, but it is a morality song in a sense,” he said.
“I was around in 1970 and now I am around in 2015 ... there is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of ‘American Pie,’” he added.
Inspiration in the Pharmacy
McLean also explained the writing process, saying that ages after he had the words “bye, bye Miss American pie,” the chorus came to him suddenly while out shopping in a pharmacy in Cold Spring, New York.
“I drove as fast as I could back home — I didn’t have a pencil and paper with me — and scribbled that down and put it in the tape recorder.”
Some initial ideas were also dropped as the song set the tone for his second album also called “American Pie” and which was a runaway success.
“So it had to be about a lot of subtle things. It had to be about America, nature and loss, and love, and a whole bunch of things, and other things wouldn’t fit,” he said.
The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and named the fifth greatest song of the 20th century by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment of the Arts.
The other four were “Over the Rainbow,” “White Christmas,” “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie and “Respect” by Otis Redding.
Born in 1945, McLean was brought up in New Rochelle, New York and moved to New York City as a young troubadour in 1964 after dropping out of college.
He released his “Tapestry” in 1970.
Tom Lecky, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s, said it was the third highest sale price at auction for an American literary manuscript.
“This result is a testament to the creative genius of Don McLean and to the song’s ability to still engage and inspire,” he said.