Artist – Don McLean
Album – American Pie
Year – 1971
Genre – Folk Rock/Acoustic
I’ve been feeling pretty artsy this weekend, so I figured what better way to cap it off than with a beautiful and emotional song about a famous artist. Don McLean is perhaps best known for “American Pie,” but “Vincent” is a much more powerful and engrossing song to me, as well as being much shorter and simpler.
“Starry, starry night.” These are the first words you hear in the song, and an homage to Van Gogh already. The song is McLean, his guitar, some background atmospheric keyboard, and strings. That’s it. But that’s all he needs to tug at your heartstrings. The guitar is crisp and clear, and as McLean’s soft and gentle voice sings of the imagery created by Van Gogh, the guitar seems to paint right along with the artist himself. I guess the best way to describe it would be musical brushstrokes. The song often slows and speeds up just like an artist painting. It’s a neat effect that fits the subject matter perfectly.
McLean’s gentility and sensitivity give the impression of a lullaby, but still a great deal of sadness and pain. You can truly feel his connection and channeling of the mental and emotional anguish that Van Gogh must have felt throughout his life. The melody is dreamlike and melancholic, but very simple and pleasing to hear. McLean sings especially well during each chorus and the bridge, which is where the song really gains emotional resonance and passion.
The lyrics in this song are gorgeous. Each verse recreates the vibrancy and emotion of Van Gogh’s paintings, and also shows how prolific the artist really was during his life. This goes in direct contrast with the chorus, which speaks of the lack of recognition that Van Gogh had throughout his life, and yet the incredible fame he has in today’s art world. McLean also touches on the mental illness and suffering that Vincent endured and struggled with. It’s a poignant look at a man who was misunderstood in his own time, and still not completely understood now.
Even more poignant is the bridge, in which McLean sings of Van Gogh’s suicide. Even though the man had so much ambition and passion, his life was hard and often miserable, and it was too much for him to bear. But the world itself was hard on him, and it certainly was not Van Gogh’s fault. Perhaps in this day and age, his cry for help would have been heard, but back then:
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you
The song’s closing is filled with strings and the hope that maybe someday we’ll understand more about Vincent’s art and why took his life, but maybe we never will understand. However, his art remains a fixture of beauty and emotion that the world can appreciate each and every day.
I myself am not a huge fan of impressionism, but I certainly can find the beauty in Van Gogh’s work, and also his words. He once said, “the diseases that we civilized people labor under most are melancholy and pessimism.” These are wise words. We often have everything we need, but still we suffer with our own problems and sadness. It’s those very emotions, but also the hope that always remains that McLean captures so well in “Vincent.”
Thanks for reading, and you too can appreciate this great work of art by liking, commenting, following, or sharing this blog! You all are the best!