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It’s the epic song countless Americans have been singing since it reached the No. 1 spot in 1972: Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Now, more than four decades later, the original 16-page working manuscript of the lyrics has sold at auction for $1.2 million, and the songwriter is coming forth to explain the meaning behind the 8-minute tune about “the day the music died.”

“For more than 40 years, I have rambled around every state of the union and many, many countries of the world. My primary interests in life have been America, singing, songwriting, and the English language,” McLean said in a Christie’s catalogue before the sale.

“I love the English language as much as anything in life and words really do mean something. I thought it would be interesting as I reach age 70 to release this work product on the song American Pie so that anyone who might be interested will learn that this song was not a parlor game.

“It was an indescribable photograph of America that I tried to capture in words and music and then was fortunate enough through the help of others to make a successful recording. 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 has previously indicated the song was inspired by the 1959 plane crash that killed singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, better known to music fans as “the Big Bopper.”

Watch video of Don McLean singing “American Pie”:

“People ask me if I left the lyrics open to ambiguity,” McLean said in an early interview, the Guardian reported. “Of course I did. I wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time.”

The song names or alludes to real people and events including James Dean; Charles Manson; Jackie Kennedy; the Beatles; the Byrds; the Rolling Stones; Karl Marx; Vladimir Lenin (or, possibly, John Lennon); the “widowed bride,” and the Vietnam War.

Don McLean in 1972

Don McLean in 1972

McLean has often joked about the song’s meaning, saying: “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.”

But now at age 69, he’s more open about the true intent.

“Basically in ‘American Pie,’ things are heading in the wrong direction,” McLean told Christie’s. “It is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right, but it is a morality song in a sense.”

Alexis Petridis, Guardian music critic, wrote in the catalogue: “American Pie is the accessible farewell to the Fifties and Sixties.

“Bob Dylan talked to the counterculture in dense, cryptic, apocalyptic terms. But Don McLean says similar ominous things in a pop language that a mainstream listener could understand. The chorus is so good that it lets you wallow in the confusion and wistfulness of that moment, and be comforted at the same time. It’s bubblegum Dylan, really.”

Ironically, Dylan’s manuscript of “Like a Rolling Stone” sold for $2 million last June, collecting $800,000 more than “American Pie.”

Today, McLean has a very similar view about the state of the world in the new millennium.

“I was around in 1970 and now I am around in 2015,” McLean said, according to People Magazine. “There is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of ‘American Pie.'”

And the decision to sell the manuscript had little romance involved. It was simply for the money.

“I’m going to be 70 this year,” he told Rolling Stone. “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.”

Some of the original lyrics to "American Pie" by Don McLean

Some of the original lyrics to “American Pie” by Don McLean

The lyrics to “American Pie”:

[Intro]
A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

[Chorus]
So bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’ “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”

[Verse 1]
Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Now do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
‘Cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died

[Chorus]
I started singin’ bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’ “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”

[Verse 2]
Now for 10 years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone
But that’s not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me

Oh, and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

And while Lenin read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died

[Chorus]
We were singin’ bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey in Rye
Singin’ “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”

[Verse 3]
Helter skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast
It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast

Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance

‘Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

[Chorus]
We started singin’ bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’ “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”

[Verse 4]
Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again
So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan’s spell

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died

He was singin’ bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’ “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”

[Outro]
I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died

And they were singin’ bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’ “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”

[Chorus]
They were singin’ bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’ “This’ll be the day that I die”

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