♫ Vincent ♫

I stumbled quite by accident on this song tonight over on Phil’s Phun‘s blog where I frequently go to find motivation for Jolly Monday and Saturday Surprise.  I always loved this song, but hadn’t heard nor thought of it in ages, so it was rather like discovering an old favourite pair of socks in the bottom of the closet!

Van GoghVincent by Don McLean was released in 1972.  The words and imagery of this song represent the life, work, and death of Vincent Van Gogh. The Starry Night is one of the Dutch impressionist’s most famous paintings.The lyrics, “Paint your palette blue and gray” reflect the prominent colors of the painting, and are probably a reference to Vincent’s habit of sucking on or biting his paintbrushes while he worked. The “ragged men in ragged clothes” and “how you tried to set them free” refer to Van Gogh’s humanitarian activities and love of the socially outcast as also reflected in his paintings and drawings. “They would not listen/They did not know how” refers to Van Gogh’s family and some associates who were critical of his kindness to “the wretched.”

According to McLean …

“It was inspired by a book. And it said that it was written by Vincent’s brother, Theo. And Theo also had this illness, the same one Van Gogh had. So what caused the idea to percolate in my head was, first of all, what a beautiful idea for a piece of music. Secondly, I could set the record straight, basically, he wasn’t crazy. But then I thought, well, how do you do this? Again, I wanted to have each thing be different.

I’m looking through the book and fiddling around and I saw the painting. I said, Wow, just tell the story using the color, the imagery, the movement, everything that’s in the painting. Because that’s him more than he is him.

One thing I want to say is that music is like poetry in so many ways. You have wit and drama and humor and pathos and anger and all of these things create the subtle tools that an artist, a stage artist, a good one, uses. Sadly, this has really gone out of music completely. So it makes someone like me a relic, because I am doing things and people like me are doing things that utilize all the classic means of emotional expression.”

Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)
Don McLean

Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and grey
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue
Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night
You took your life, as lovers often do
But I could have told you, Vincent
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you

Starry, starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget
Like the strangers that you’ve met
The ragged men in the ragged clothes
The silver thorn, a bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow

Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will

Songwriters: Don McLean
Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

23 thoughts on “♫ Vincent ♫

  1. Jill, Don McLean had many great songs beside his magnum opus, “American Pie.” This one is fabulous, so poignant. My wife and I saw him in concert about 20 years ago with Janis Ian opening up for him – both were excellent.

    His voice lends itself to excellent covers of other songs. He does an excellent rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” eg. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! He is one that I had nearly forgotten about until I stumbled on him last night. I’m familiar with the two you mention, but can’t think of any others I’ve heard besides Vincent. I am coming to the conclusion that you and your wife have seen just about every entertainer worth seeing! Awesome!


      • Jill, here are four top drawer songs by McLean in my view.
        – Castles in the Air
        – And I love you so
        – Empty Chairs
        – Fool’s Paradise

        We have two disc collection, one of his songs and one of his covers. They both are excellent.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A great song played for me once by a friend, and it is still one of my favourites. McLean had a way with words that could transmit emotion to his listeners few others could touch. Vincent van Gogh, a true artist remembered by an equal.

    Liked by 1 person

      • There are so many songs out there to love, it’s hard to keep track of tjem all. I seldom listen to tje Moody Blues anymore, yet I used to listen to Threshhold of a Dream almost daily. Times change, we change–most especiallly, our memories change. Who is the second boy you kissed?

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are right … while I still like much of the music I liked 40 years ago, sometimes I hit on one and wonder what the heck I must have been thinking back when I thought it was a great song. The second boy I kissed??? Um … I remember the first was Nick Gonzales who told me to “stop staring like a fish … close your eyes!”, but the second? Um … I have no clue, which rather makes it sound as if I went around kissing everybody, but I didn’t. I just don’t remember the 2nd … or 3rd, for that matter. There was Ruben Lopez … he might have been the 2nd or 3rd, but … who knows? And how is it that these names come right back to me, when I cannot remember what it was I went into the kitchen for?


          • Because they have more meaning, lol. The first girl I kissed was my cousin, but for the life of me I cannot remember her name. The second was a girl named Sandy. Did girls have last names? I cannot remember. Barbera was the first that was meaningful. I know her last name, but wouldn’t want to embarass her should anyone be reading who knew us. Then, I became a hippie, and there were…. Well, no one really needs to know those stories….
            The real story is we remember people, or fur friends, one way or another. Other things, not so much.

            Liked by 1 person

            • You are so right about that. And some people get lost in the cobwebs of the mind, too.

              On another note … I just checked the status of the fires … and I was happy to see that they said animal control is picking up the pets that were left behind and taking them to a safe place. I was worried, for it’s been almost a week now and those pets must be near to starving. Sigh. On the other hand, I was not pleased to read that the fires are still very much an imminent threat. Thinking of you & Gail … sending hugs ‘n love to you both, as well as the kitties.


              • Thanks, Jill. It pisses us off that people left their pets trapped in their houses. I would hope they left food and water, but somehow anyone crazy and mean enough to leave pets behind probably did not think past a day or two. I’m glad someone thought to check for trapped pets.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yeah, it pisses me off too. This is the difference between us and some others. Some consider themselves to be “pet owners”, and the animal is just basically there for the human’s pleasure. Whereas I consider my guys family members who just happen to be furry. I would no more evacuate and leave one of them behind than I would leave my child behind. Sigh.


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