UPDATE: McLean’s “American Pie” lyrics have sold for $1.2 million, according to the Associated Press.
Don McLean’s handwritten lyrics to his 1971 classic “American Pie” are headed to the auction block. Christie’s is estimating that the never-before-seen 16-page document, featuring 237 lines of manuscript and 26 lines of typed text, will fetch up to $1.5 million. The lyrics are scheduled to be auctioned off on April 7th.
McLean says his motivation for parting with the documents is pretty simple. “I’m going to be 70 this year,” he says. “I have two children and a wife, and none of them seem to have the mercantile instinct. I want to get the best deal that I can for them. It’s time.”
McLean wasn’t even sure he still had the “American Pie” manuscript until a decade or so ago, when former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres reached out to him about donating his papers to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The singer-songwriter began rooting through his stuff. “I had this big box upstairs where I always put my papers when I was done with an album,” he says. “I just started going through it to see if I could find ‘Vincent,’ ‘American Pie’ or anything else people might know.”
Seeing the “American Pie” lyrics for the first time in decades jolted his memory back to the moment he wrote the song. “I was living in a little gatehouse in Cold Springs, New York,” he says. “I wrote the ‘long long time ago’ opening verse first because I was a big lover of Buddy Holly. I came up with the chorus a littler later. A few months after that, I was in Philadelphia and I wrote the whole song in about an hour.”
McLean has refused to reveal the inspiration behind any of the lyrics besides the opening lines about the death of Buddy Holly. “Over the years I’ve dealt with all these stupid questions of ‘Who’s that?’ and ‘Who’s that?'” he says. “These are things I never had in my head for a second when I wrote the song. I was trying to capture something very ephemeral and I did, but it took a long time.”
Some of the pages were written on colored paper that McLean fished out of a garbage can, as well as pages from a spiral notebook. A page on blue paper released by Christie’s shows the handwritten chorus as well as lines that didn’t make the final cut. “And there I stood alone and afraid,” it reads. “I knelt to my knees and there I prayed/And I prepared to give all I had to give/If only he would make it live again.”
McLean says he has little sentimental attachment to the lyrics of his most famous song. “I only have an attachment to my wife, children and my guitar,” he says. “In fact, I’m going to rid myself of a lot of stuff. In a year or two, I’m going to have a big Christie’s auction with guitars, clothes, boots, saddles, silver and watches. I collect a lot of stuff. It’s time to let other people have it.”