Tuesday, March 23, 2010


"Vincent" is a song by Don McLean written as a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. It is also known by its opening line, "Starry Starry Night", a reference to van Gogh's painting The Starry Night. The song also describes different paintings done by the artist. McLean wrote the lyrics in 1971 after reading a book about the life of the artist. The following year, the song became the number one hit in the U.K. and No. 12 in the U.S. The song clearly demonstrates a deep-seated admiration for not only the work of van Gogh, but also for the man himself. The song includes references to his landscape works, in lines such as "sketch the trees and the daffodils" and "morning fields of amber grain" - which describe the amber wheat that features in several paintings. There are also several lines that may allude to van Gogh's self-portraits: perhaps in "weathered faces lined in pain / are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand", McLean is suggesting that van Gogh may have found some sort of consolation in creating portraits of himself. There is, too, a single line describing van Gogh's most famous set of works, Sunflowers. "Flaming flowers that brightly blaze" not only draws on the luminous orange and yellow colours of the painting, but also creates powerful images of the sun itself, flaming and blazing, being contained within the flowers and the painting. In the first two choruses, McLean pays tribute to van Gogh by reflecting on his lack of recognition: "They would not listen / they did not know how / perhaps they'll listen now." In the final Chorus, McLean says "They would not listen / They're not listening still / Perhaps they never will." This is the story of van Gogh: unrecognised as an artist until after his death. The lyrics suggest that van Gogh was trying to "set [people] free" with the message in his work. McLean feels that this message was made clear to him: "And now I understand what you tried to say to me," he sings. Perhaps it is this eventual understanding that inspired McLean to write the song. It is also thought that the song intends to portray van Gogh's tough relationship with his family. They were a wealthy family who did not accept him for his bipolar disorder ("for they could not love you") and never understood his will to help the poor. It is thought that van Gogh felt that in killing himself he would make the point to his parents. This is seen in the line "Perhaps they'll listen now." There are also references to van Gogh's sanity and his suicide. Throughout his life, van Gogh was plagued with mental disorders, particularly depression. He "suffered for [his] sanity" and eventually "took [his] life, as lovers often do." Another theory is that the lines refer to van Gogh's relationship with Paul Gauguin, with whom he had, as with many others, a complex sort of relationship, which was so intense as to lead Van Gogh to think it rational to cut off a part of his left earlobe as a sign of cutting Gauguin out of his life and heart. That led Gauguin, who had also had severe bouts of depression and suicidal tendencies, to distance himself from van Gogh, tumbling the already troubled artist into a schizophrenic depression, the theoretical straw that broke the camel's back.

Lyrics | Don Mclean lyrics - Vincent lyrics

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