Don McLean’s “Vincent” Lyrics Meaning

The titular “Vincent” is actually a reference to Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Even though he lived over 100 years ago, this is a name you’re probably familiar with as he has since become one of the most famous painters in history.

As such this song is biographical in nature. However, Don McLean focuses on a particular period in the artist’s life, when he was suffering from severe mental illness. And apparently, the reason this aspect of Gogh’s story resonated with McLean during the time he wrote “Vincent” was because he too was going through his own mental issues.

And as evident in the chorus and bridge, Don does in fact sympathize with what Vincent van Gogh went through. Indeed he depicts him as sort of the personification of the tortured and misunderstood yet brilliant and compassionate artist. And many of the lyrics of “Vincent” actually serve as shoutouts to various works of art he created during his life. Don McLean does so in a very-exquisite manner where the song has a mass appeal even amongst listeners who may not know who van Gogh was or that the track is even about an actual historical figure.

Indeed in conclusion, we can say that the late painter is someone whom Don McLean grew to truly idealize. Not only that, but he also genuinely felt for the way he ‘suffered for his sanity’ and how van Gogh’s story ultimately ended.

Facts about “Vincent”

This title of this song is sometimes subtitled or referenced outrightly as “Starry Starry Night”, even though that is not part of its official title. Rather such is the first line of the lyrics, and it actually refers to a painting Vincent van Gogh came out with in 1889 entitled “The Starry Night”.

This track came out on 26 June 1971. It is the second single from Don’s classic album entitled “American Pie”.

And interesting note concerning this song is that it is actually said to have been one of the late Tupac Shakur’s favorite tracks. In fact it was so much so that as the story goes when he was on what proved to be his deathbed, Pac’s girlfriend at the time made sure that “Vincent” was being played for him.

“Vincent” was written exclusively by McLean. He did so after reading a book about the life of van Gogh. Moreover it should be noted that according to his own recollection of this song’s composition, initially McLean actually scribbled the lyrics onto a paper bag.  Moreover he did so while admiring a copy of one of the van Gogh’s most-famous works, the aforementioned “The Starry Night”. This piece was in a roundabout way indicative of the artist’s fragile mental health.

“Vincent” is considered to be one of Don McLean’s signature songs. It topped the UK Singles Chart and also scored a number one in Ireland. Additionally, it was certified Silver in the UK. In the United States, it made it onto the Billboard Hot 100. On this highly prestigious chart, it peaked at number 12.

“Vincent” was produced by Ed Freeman.

13 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    So what does each line mean?

    • H St J says:

      You could probably read a biography on wikipedia or other site to learn about van gogh, then the lyrics will make more sense to you.

  2. Mar says:

    That is correct read first and then give your opinion.

  3. One who walks the road says:

    Romanticizing mental illness reveals Mclean ‘s
    ignorance; and a trite, insensitive arrogance which befits his American-pie-ish lyrics, and style.

    Van Gogh was a lonely, tortured schizophrenic. As his illness worsened, he believed he might lose the ability to cope, worse, to paint – all of this was deeply intertwined with having the love and financial support of his brother Theo (recently married). Theo was the only person who ever loved him.
    Doubt grew in Vincent ‘s troubled/tortured mind…no more “sunny days” [What a vacuous lyric].
    Life became too dark and chaotic.
    Vincent could not see a way out. He shot himself. Theo was beside him when he died ; and they lie together in a graveyard outside of Paris.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I just watched a documentary on Van Gogh life and he was diagnosed with bi-polar depression not schizophrenia.

  5. Len says:

    Beautiful but very sad storey of a tormented person who the world did not appreciate until his sad demise. We need to acknowledge and help these poor people in all walks of life.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This comment is for one who walks the road. You don’t walk anything. I suffer from mental illness and this song doe NOT romanticize it it. Do the world a favor and don’t speak on topics you know NOTHING about.

  7. Beautiful says:

    When this song comes on..I lean back and close my eyes. I know depression. I can feel sadness. Beautiful song.

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