Songwriter Don McLean’s original working manuscript for “American Pie,” one of the most iconic songs of the 20th century, sold for $1.2 million, auctioneers Christie’s said on Tuesday.
It fell short of the $2 million record set last year for Bob Dylan’s hand-written lyrics for “Like A Rolling Stone.”
Tom Lecky, head of the books and manuscripts department at Christie’s, said the price was a fitting tribute to one of the foremost singer/songwriters of his generation.
“The result is a testament to the creative genius of Don McLean and to the song’s ability to still engage and inspire,” he said in a statement.
McLean’s hand-written and typed drafts include notes and deletions, giving clues to the meaning of the eight-minute song that has had countless interpretations since it was released in 1971.
“The writing and the lyrics will divulge everything there is to divulge,” McLean, 69, said in an interview ahead of the sale. “You’ll see what I am thinking about. It is a piece of a dream that I am trying to capture.”
McLean was a struggling songwriter when he wrote the song in Cold Spring, N.Y. and Philadelphia. Its six verses reflect the social upheavals that were occurring in the United States in the 1960s and early ’70s.
“The death of Buddy Holly was the beginning of the song,” McLean said. “That’s what came to me. I loved Buddy Holly and that is very autobiographical, the first part of the song.”
The lyrics “the day the music died” in “American Pie” refer to the 1959 plane crash that killed Holly, along with fellow rock ‘n roll singers Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, known as “The Big Bopper.”
Francis Wahlgren, the international director of printed books and manuscripts at Christie’s, said the song captured the essence of a period in American history.
“There is a hint of optimism, although it is about the crash of Buddy Holly, I do think there is a very optimistic message coming through because of the beauty of the song,” he said ahead of the sale. “There are many different things going on in the song and it takes you on a little journey.”
“American Pie” was named a Song of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.