McLean’s ‘American Pie’ Manuscript Sells for $1.2 Million

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Singer-Songwriter Don McLean
Don McLean performs live at the Great Western Festival near Lincoln, England, on May 29, 1972. Photographer: Michael Putland/Getty Images

The manuscript for Don McLean’s “American Pie,” which was partially written on paper he found in a trash can, sold for $1.2 million.

Christie’s in New York sold 16 pages of McLean’s handwritten lyrics and typed drafts for his 1971 hit that had a high estimate of $1.5 million. Two people bid in the single-lot sale that lasted about one minute. The buyer, who was among a dozen people who attended the sale, asked to remain anonymous, Christie’s said.

Rock memorabilia collecting is popular among wealthy baby boomers who are looking for alternative ways to invest. The manuscript for Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” sold for more than $2 million in 2012, and the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” sold for $1.2 million in 2010. Both were sold at Sotheby’s.

The price for “American Pie” was in line with its $1 million to $1.5 million estimate, which “reflects the current market interest in top lyrics,” said Leila Dunbar, a former Sotheby’s executive who is a memorabilia appraiser and consultant in New York.

The manuscript’s price illustrates the song’s “lasting impact, popularity and iconic status,” she said.

Scribble Sheets

McLean, 69, who didn’t attend the auction, said in an interview on March 26 that “this is actually the scribble sheets for trying to figure out what I was going to say and what I was going to do.”

The symbolism of “American Pie” has long eluded listeners who try to decipher the complicated lyrics of the 8-minute, 36-second song that opens with “a long long time ago,” and goes on about “a generation lost in space” and “the day the music died.”

McLean said he rarely comments on the song’s meaning because he wants people to interpret the lyrics themselves. He said he tried to simulate the feeling of a dream and “capture something that you cannot express.”

McLean said he sold the manuscript because “my wife and children don’t seem to have the knack for making money, and I seem to have that.”

McLean, who lives in Camden, Maine, and starts a tour of the U.K., Ireland, and the U.S. in May, said he “couldn’t care less” who buys the lyrics. “They’re not mine anymore,” he said.

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