Album: American Pie (1971)
Charted: 1 12
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  • Van Gogh's "A Starry Night." The artist was not appreciated until after his death, and his struggles to be understood were something many musicians also felt, including a young Don McLean.

Comments: 68

  • Susan from SartellSo much empathy and soul. Heavy and light at the same time.
  • Phil from Auckland New ZealandDon McLean is a great songwriter because he combines beautiful music with great lyrics.
  • George from Vancouver, CanadaI first leasrned this was about Van Gogh while listening to a beautiful cover by Samantha Siu for a Christmas fundraising concert for my favourite charity, Richmond Centre for Disability; watch it here:
  • Annalisa Bianchi from AustraliaStarry Starry night was written in 1971 when the War was active in Vietnam. Don Maclean American Pie was him expressing his political views. Bye Bye Mister American Pie is the soldiers going to war. This will be the day that l die. The day the music died.
    Starry Starry nights is about Van Gogh but also the soldiers that died in the Vietnam War that looked up in the sky every night and could see the stars so clearly now where they lay.
    They would not listen, they’re not listening still Perhaps they never will.
    People always have to die because of War and they didn’t listen then because they are still not listening today 2021.
  • Sandra from 70461I'm a Van Gogh fan and became a Don McLean fan when his "American Pie" album came out. I found a great book on Van Gogh, titled "Vincent Van Gogh, A Self Portrait in Art and Letters". The letters are between Vincent and his younger brother Theo. The letters written in Dutch are translated by Alayne Pullen, Alastair Weir, and Cora Weir. His art is unusual to some, but after learning more about the artist and other artist of his time, you come to appreciate what you are seeing. The letters are a great window into the times and personal lives of Vincent and Theo. Theo was a Paris art dealer who was unable to sell Vincent's work. To help Vincent, Theo would send him money, claiming he had sold one of his pieces. Thankfully Theo's wife Johanna, saved all of Vincent's art. Theo and Johanna gave birth to a son they named after Vincent. Vincent then painted "Almond Blossom" as a gift for his nephew. Like McLean, I believe Vincent was not crazy, but certainly depressed because of a physical illness he and Theo both had. I also believe he checked himself into the asylum because he found a place to live and eat for virtually free, allowing what money Theo sent him, to be spent on art supplies. As for his change in painting style in his later years, I believe he was simply trying to find his own style of impressionism. It has come to light that Vincent may have been shot by accident by some kids who found their father's pistol. Vincent realized if he exposed the boys, their lives would be ruined, so he didn't report them. Vincent died 2 days later on July 29th. Theo died just 6 months after him in January. Don McLean painted a beautiful story with his song, "Vincent". Among the many paintings of Vincent's besides Starry Night that I like are: "Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine", "Self Portrait as an Artist", "The Church at Auvers" and "Irises". It was noted by some other writer that the only painting Vincent sold was to his brother Theo for about $25. As we now know, his paintings are virtually priceless!
  • Mike from Adelaide, South AustraliaUtterly beautiful and the depth of the words of this song, always touches me when I hear it. Wonderful this song was used at the end of the Loving Vincent film. Will never be forgotten. Thank you Don McLean.
  • Mike From Virginia from Gloucester, Va.awesome song! loved since day one, a clasric. one to go down in the book.great job!
  • See Haansen from New York, NyLeave it to the so-called "lovers" of music who don't know the difference between pizzicato and a pepperoni pizza to dissect a musical composition in order to enjoy it.

    Leave it to those who have never been diagnosed with a mental illness to write their conjectures on what such an individual must have been feeling when he ended his life.

    Leave it to the "art lovers" who have neither sculpted nor painted since nursery school to claim they know what the artist must have been thinking when he painted what & how he chose.

    Leave it to us to seek justification for that tremor or squeeze felt in the chest when we hear this song.

    As evidenced in this forum, one needn't have lived in the 1970s to appreciate Don MacLean's "Vincent" because good music in any genre will be remembered long after the youngest of us is dust. We needn't justify our feelings because art is not about facts, figures, or who has the most expert opinion. If you love it, shout it!

    I am not an authority on any topic discussed here, but I positively LOVE this song as I positively LOVE thousands more! I LOVE Van Gogh's paintings too. Not because he was mentally disturbed and not In spite of it either. In a world that numbs and insulates us from the things around us, I love these things because they MOVE me!

    I am now headed for the roof where I intend to shout this at the top of my lungs.
  • Vivi from New York This is a clear and vividly written article.. the choices of highlighting parts of his interviews was excellent! Congratulations on a well written explanation of this beautiful song!
  • Kevin from New YorkLyric correction: And when no hope was left IN SIGHT, on that starry, starry night....
  • Babbling Babette from Tulsa OkThis is my favorite song. When it first hit the charts in 1972 I knew I had to buy it. It was all over the Kansas City area radio back then. I still hear it on various radio stations now. Still sends a chill up and down my spine!! Oh yes, thank you for your eloquent post, Eben of Laplace, LA. But now, I'm babblin'...
  • Erica from Texarkana This song can reduce me to tears as soon as i hear "starry, starry night..." poetry at its finest. thank you Mr. McLean for a touching and beautiful tribute to a very talented soul who left us too soon.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 29th 1972, Don McLean performed at 'The Great Western Express' festival at Bardney, Lincolnshire, England...
    At the time his "Vincent" was at #38 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; twenty-two days earlier on May 7th it had peaked at #12 {for 1 week} and it also spent 12 weeks on the chart...
    And on April 16th, 1972 it reached #2 {for 3 weeks} on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart; for the three weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for those three weeks was "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack...
    Between 1971 and 1981 he had ten Top 100 records; two made the Top 10 with one reaching #1, "American Pie" for four weeks on January 9th, 1972...
    His other Top 10 record was a covered version of Roy Orbison's "Crying"; it peaked at #5 for three weeks on March 15th, 1981...
    Sadly, this coming October 2nd {2015} Donald McLean III will celebrate his 70th birthday, the reason I say sadly is because this past Jan. 15th I reached 70, and I'm not handling it to well.
  • Eben from Laplace, LaVINCENT is from the same 1971 album American Pie. Other songs on that album are Babylon, Sister Fatima and The Grave. Are you getting the tone ?

    VINCENT parallels the song American Pie in that it is also an allusion. The song is NOT about Van Gogh, but Van Gogh is the allusion. Likewise, American Pie is NOT about Buddy Holly, rather dedicated to him. Buddy Holly is an allusion (not illusion, but allusion).

    The name Vincent translates "the conqueror" from the Roman name Vincentius, which was from Latin vincere "to conquer". Revelation 6:2

    I ask you, whose "eyes that know the darkness in my soul" ? Van Gogh ? Or He who sees a man's heart ? 1 Samuel 16:7

    And when no hope was left in sight on that starry starry night . . . Mark 4:36 By the way, Van Gogh was shot by someone during broad daylight. It was not a suicide. He knew who did it but would not tell, likely an accident.

    "You took your life as lovers often do" . . . John 5:13

    "Like the stranger that you've met, the ragged man in ragged clothes" Matthew 25:38

    Once you know what American Pie is about, you know who Vincent is .

    So where did I get all this?
    I just bought the book "American Pie Apocalypse", 411 pages and it deciphers the song line for line. At the end of the book it also reveals VINCENT .

    Pie in Latin means mercy/charity/love . . . do you "miss American pie" ? ? ?
    So where's the Kwan ? No, now it's just "show me the money".

    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know PEACE". Jimi Hendrix
  • Mike Hill from Birkenhead, United Kingdom Bruce - west columbia - I think you're mistaken about your first fact- the palette sung about here is not the palate of his mouth, spelled -ette it's both the small wooden board an artist uses to mix paints together and also refers to the general range of colours an artist uses in his work. He might have chewed his brushes but i don't think that Don Mclean means his mouth had paint in it.
  • Robert from Shreveport La, Layes patrick , van gogh can be compared to hitler...100 million eyes have been opened by the work of vincent, and on the other hand ....100 million eyes have been perminently and brutally closed by adolph
  • Patrick from Brantford, OnI always think about Adolf Hitler when I hear this song. A beautiful and misunderstood soul who's genius is sadly overshadowed by an event that occured in his time.
  • Heimdallr from Lakeland, Sweden- Sylvia, New York, NY
    sereously, what in the world is up with you, how the HELL could you tell he had terpintine poisoning!? Ungroanded conjecture is highly frowned upon
  • Janetlee from Panama City, FlVincent is one of my all time favorite songs. Don is an artist with words and music while Vincent was an artist with paints and colors. Both had/have such beautiful vision.
    I also love Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes", another sad song that is very beautiful too.
  • Mike from Santa Barbara, CaThis is the most moving tribute in popular music. It captures tragedy like few songs ever have.
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumBeautiful Vincent, beautiful song, makes me cry.
  • Sam from Hipsville, CaKate,NC------i agree. pure poetry set to music. Perhaps the song McLean's most revered for. such a great song.
  • Mary from Largs, United KingdomThis is one of the most stunning songs ever written.I love this song.Its beautiful and haunting and simply brilliant.
  • Sylvia from New York, NyVincent Van Gogh did suffer from severe TURPENTINE poisoning which induced most of his health problems including neurological diseases such as tinnitus and chemically induced bi-polar disorders.
    A popular drink during that era was a liquer known as "ABSINTHE" which also had a turpentine base (now banned).
    He was probably addicted to opium which was a widely used "relaxant" and also used for a variety of ailments. Belladonna or laudanum (opium) could be readily purchased at the local pharmacy in those days.
    Medically speaking, Van Gogh did "suffer" for his art during his lifetime but his bequest to us all was his unique drug induced vision of the world.
  • Runnawaygrrl from Sydney, AustraliaDaan, I don't know the answer the question you directed to Madison, but I do know that Van Gogh had bipolar disorder, which is like very high highs and very low depression and violent swings between. Beethoven had ADD (I'm pretty sure)
  • John from Brisbane, United StatesThe words,life was never meant for anyone as beautiful as you,make tears come from my eyes.My eyes are too tearfilled to add.
  • Joe from Gallipolis, Ohthis song is about vince vaughn
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnI have been a fan of Don McLean since he recorded my all-time favorite song American Pie and he followed it up with a great example of descriptive songwriting in his tribute to the artist Vincent Van Gogh. His visual descrptions are outstanding.
  • Daan from Tegelen, NetherlandsMadison, is this the same condition Ludwig von Beethoven suffered from?
  • Madison from Norway, MeJay from New York, the condition that he had was Meniere's Disease. I know because I have it, too. I have periods of constant ringing in my ears, dizziness, confusion, severe vertigo and I see things in a dreamlike state (everything is too bright, all sounds are too loud, etc..). I also have a problem understanding simple directions sometimes. This is because my brain is working so hard to keep me balanced that it can't concentrate on doing other things. You can have Meniere's with or without depression. I am guessing Van Gogh had the more severe version. It comes from having fluid in your inner ear that never goes away and it knocks your equillibrium off balance. There is no cure, you just have to deal with the symptoms.
  • Maria from Slc, UtA gorgeous rendition of Vincent is with Don McLean performing with Chet Aktins. It's stunning. It can be found on YouTube, etc.
  • Chris from Chicago, IlDon McClean must have a beuatiful soul to understand and empathize with poor Vincent Van Goghs,poor tortured soul
  • Claire from Warner Robins, GaWhen I was 4 or 5, my mom caught me crying because I couldn't draw a heart very well. I kept trying and trying, but I couldn't make it curlicue like the other girls. Mom took me over to a Starry Night print she had hanging in our living room and explained to me that the man who painted it couldn't see very well (she later told me he had cataracts (?)) and that people made fun of the way he painted. But because he painted from the heart, he later became known as a great artist. It's a sappy story, but one I've always remembered everytime I didn't "fit in" while growing up. Thank you Mom.
  • Colton Cerny from Minneapolis , MnI never really listened to anything other than American Pie by Mclean but I heard this on the radio not too long ago and was blown away... I can not agree more with Valerie (the very first comment)... This song is so beautiful I am in awe
  • Mark from Mchenry, IlThis song shows Don McLean to be a lyrical genius. And he's not bad with a melody, either.
  • Connie from Boston, MaGREETINGS! MacLean had so many incredble songs, it took me buying a CD for AMERICAN PIE to discover they were HIS all this time! LOL ;-) "VINCENT" is, indeed, a lovely, lonely, eerie, thought-provoking, contemplative poem put to music and one I enjoy with great relish. It is also a song my best friend asked me about 15 years ago to witness on paper that it be played at his funeral ceremony - or ash-spreading ceremony - as he, too, is an artist, and has suffered for many years with depression, sanity, and his art. IMHO, Van Gogh had too many personal demons to deal with, and while they ultimately tore his soul and mind apart, they also left us with windows into his mind and helped forge the great talent that he was. As a daughter of an artist (my father), I saw HIM struggle on the edge of insanity - and often fall on the other side of it -while drowning his demons in alcohol. Such a sadness, that so many of histories' great artists - and those to come - will also have to find their way in a world that is often too difficult for them to comprehend.... - Connie, Boston, MA
  • Mandy from CalgaryOops... I mean I was about 10 or 12 years old. Haha. Typos, typos.
  • Mandy from CalgaryI first heard this song when I was only about 7 or 8 years old. I was in Elementary school and we were making clay versions of Vincent Van Gogh's painting, by smearing and blending the clay onto cardboard. Our teacher played it for us.

    But that's not what matters, lol. I was incredibly enchanted by the song. I couldn't get it out of my head and sang it for days, but I didn't know what it was called. It has been years since I last heard that song, and today when I was searching up another song I saw the title and decided to click on it. I couldn't BELIEVE that I finally found what the song was. It literally HAS been years. I am so thrilled that I FINALLY know what this song is! It's so beautiful, and I can't wait to listen to it over and over again!
  • Kyle from Huntington, NyThe first time I heard this song was when my english teacher played it for us and told us to interpret the lyrics. I actually thought of Jesus before I thought of Van Gogh simply because I knew Don McLean was so religious. But the lyrics just fit so well.
  • Kj Stephen from Loganville , GaNext time you listen to the song make the comparison of Jesus and Vincent in the song.
    It blew me away.
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiai feel love and merriment when i hear this song
  • Dave from Cardiff, Wales"Starry Starry Night" is one of the most famous opening lines of any song in history
  • Keigh from San Francisco, CaI heard this song the first time when I was a little girl in the mid-70's. Now when I listen to it, it makes me really think of Vincent as a great artist with brilliant mind and a tortured soul who wants to be loved and understood.
    -Keigh, San Fo, Ca
  • David from Springfield, MoVan Gogh was a most prolific artist with over 2000 works of art to his credit. During his lifetime he sold 1 painting.
  • Arni from Oklahoma City, OkIn 1976 I put together a slide presentation to go with this song.
    I picked the "Vincent" painting that I thought most closely represented each Phase or line in the song. It has been used by several vocalist in their concerts and music programs. Both of my Daughters have performed this song, with acostical guitar accompnament, while showing the slide presentation behind them. My youngest daught, Renee age 30 is perfroming it again Apr. 28 on her Graduate Vocal Performance graduate Master recital.
    It is really beautiful and I would love to know what Don would think of it. And if I came close to the painting that his lyrics represent.
  • Matthew from Penrith In Syndey, Australiawhen i hear this song i listen in respect to every tortured soul sho couldnt take it anymore. Rest in peace guys
  • Matthew from Penrith In Syndey, AustraliaMy girlfriends family played this for her brother when he passed away. i listened to it and thought it refers to Van gogh, it is about a messed up soul that no one had time for because in those times people who were crazy werent very well payed attetion to. all Nathan (my gf's brother) needed was to be listened to and told things would be ok and no one had time. most beautiful of songs ever for the most tragic of tributes. im crying now listening to it.
  • Kate from Charlotte, NcThis is really a gorgeous song. In my opinion it's McLean's best.
  • Aneeka from Davao, India i am always moved by this reminds me of my father since he always sings this for me when he was still alive.this song mirrors van gogh's longing,hidden misery and lonely reminds me that life is really beautiful!
  • Vivek from Bangalore, India"Starry night" is truly an amazing song. A perfect tribute to the legend who saw what we can't see.
  • Vivac from Wuhan, Chinai feel both peace and Passion when hear this song
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScThis is an amazing song. I immidiately knew what it was about the first time I heard it.
  • Clementina from SofiaThis song is available in Julio Iglesias album
    " Starry night " . He covered " Vincent " and you feel like he is captured Vincent Van Gogh's soul . Very tender , warm , like a whisper ... For those who are interested there is a book about Vincent written by Henry Perruchot " The life of Van Gogh " which is really nice . The author tell the story of Vincent's life . Love , passion , talent , innocence , kindness , loneliness , darkness , splendid colours , light... All is there , in the heart and life of Vincent . Here is some quotes by Vincent Van Gogh : " One may have a blazing heart in one's soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it.Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way . I wish they would only take me as i am .I dream my painting , and then i paint my dream ."
  • Stephanie from Denver, CoI cried when I first heard this song
  • Leya Qwest from Anchorage, AkYes, Kathy of England, it was only one of many unrewarding relationships that Van Gogh got himself mixed up in with regards to the streetwalker who received the gift of ear. BTW, Kirk Douglas was Oscar nominated for his 1956 portayal of VVG in the Vincente Minnelli directed "Lust For Life." There's a great scene in the film between Anthony Quinn, who won Best Supporting Actor for his Paul Gauguin role, and Douglas that reflects upon - as does McLean's hit song - our demented yet sensitive painter. GAUGUIN: All I see when I look at your paintings is just that you paint too fast. VAN GOGH: You look too fast!
  • Kathy from N-u-l, EnglandI read somewhere that Van Gogh cut off (well, sliced in half) his ear, put it in an envelope and took it to the lover that had spurned him, a prostitute in a brothel.
  • Benjamin from Heidelberg, GermanyIs it possible that he could have suffered from a bad tinitus? (a very disturbing, monotone sound that comes from the inner ear all the time and makes you go insane)
  • Maureen from Bali, IndonesiaThis is one of my favorite songs. When I heard this song sometime ago I was moved by its melancholic melody. It was the kind of melody that made me feel so deeply and it disturbed me. Sometime later I've known the title of the song, its artist and the story behind the song. It vividly tells the short life story of Vincent van Gogh indeed and I was more drawn to the song from then on. Don McLean delivers the song incomparably. With a perfect melody, singer and lyrics the song is simply beautiful. (I came from the Philippines not Indonesia but my country was not included in the list of countries to choose from when I register as a requirement to post a comment. I hope it will be included next time).God bless everyone!
  • Jay from New York, NyI have heard that Van Gogh may have suffered from inner ear problems. (I do not remember the name of the condition.) He cut his ear off in a futile attempt to cure himself and killed himself when the pain was too much to take. Inner ear problems could explain the peculiar distortions in many of his paintings. No matter what the cause of Van Gogh's difficulties, I think we can all agree that this is a truly beautiful song and that it captures the wonder of his paintings.
  • Katty from Saskatoon, CanadaDaan, i really think thats interesting, im doing a presentation for health class and WOULD like to know more about that
  • Nessie from Sapporo, Japan<<"How you suffered for your sanity" refers to the schizophrenic disorder from which Van Gogh suffered.>> It is also thought that his mental illness may have resulted from lead poisoning. Van Gogh used lead-based paints and had a habit of biting his brushes while he was working.
  • Adam from Poplar Bluff, MoThis was one of Tupac Shakur's favorite songs.
  • Daan from Tegelen, NetherlandsAbsinth, as mentioned in Tina's comment, is a drink that used to be popular in van Gogh's time and was indeed said to have some mind clouding side-effects, which was also contributing to its popularity. Absinth is made out of several herbs, anice and some other stuff. The drink contains 45 to 80% (!) alcohol. Recently, so I believe, the drink has been re-legalised in the Netherlands or Belgium. Van Gogh was aid to be a fanatic addict to the drink, regarding the strange side-effects and the high alcohol percentage.
    Another famous user of absinth is Ocsac Wilde, he once said:

    "After the first glass you see things as you'd wish they were...
    After the second you see things as they are not.
    After the third you see things as they really are and that is the most horrible thing in the world."

    No wonder van Gogh committed suicide.
    If you need any more information on absinth (although off-topic)I will gladly offer it to you.
  • Tina from Barnegat, NjI read somewhere that Van Gogh enjoyed the effects of absinth(sp?), which in it's third stage is supposed to make you hallucinate. Which, could definately explain alot of the techniques in his Paintings, such as Starry Night.Being Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists, the first time i heard the song(I was about..12..) i know immediatly what it was about.
  • AnonymousThe fact is, people aren't sure whether Van Gogh suffered clinical depression, or clinical schizophenia, or what. There were no real 'clinics' or even real 'psychiatrists'. No MRIs that could have told us whether his condition was 'organic'or not. He was a gifted and dedicated artist, though.
  • Loretta from Albany, NyThey say that Van Gogh wasn't insane but was epleptic and the medication he took for it,foxglove, has the knwn side effect of eventually causing blurring of the eyes. So the swirly stars he painted may be just the way he actually saw them!
  • Sandra from Tel Aviv, IsraelAlmost every line on the song can be related to painitng of Van Gogh, aside from the obvious Starry Night.
  • Valerie from Boise, IdThis song can really make a person think. Some say Vincent Van Gogh was insane, but Don McLean presented us with his opinion, which is, above all, beautiful.
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