American Pie lyrics sell for US$1.2 million in New York

NEW YORK (AFP) - The original manuscript of Don McLean's enigmatic song American Pie sold at auction in New York on Tuesday for US$1.2 million (S$1.62 million), Christie's said.

The 18 pages of manuscript, written in pencil, ink and typescript, had been expected to fetch between US$1 and US$1.5 million at the auction house.

McLean said he wanted to release the manuscript to help people understand the true meaning of the song, released in 1971 and 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 catalogue.

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. Its 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 music enthusiasts have long agonized over the true meaning of all the lyrics in the song’s six verses that run to well over eight minutes.

“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,” McLean said in the Christie’s catalog.

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 first album Tapestry in 1970 and his second album American Pie, named after its hit single, was a phenomenal success. He wrote the song in Cold Spring, New York and Philadelphia in 1970-71.

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.