Vincent (Starry Starry Night)
McLean wrote “Vincent,” also known as “Starry, Starry Night,” in the fall of 1970, while he was working for the Berkshire School District. He was living in the Sedgwick House, a beautiful Federal style house in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Sedgwick family included Edie Sedgwick, a colorful figure whom Andy Warhol had filmed in the 1960s. McLean wrote “Vincent” in his apartment full of antiques. The inspiration came to him one morning while he was sitting on the veranda looking at a book about Vincent Van Gogh. As he studied a print of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” he realized that a song could be written about the artist through the painting.
“The more I thought about it, the more interesting and challenging the idea became. I put down the book and picked up my guitar, which was never far away, and started fiddling around, trying to get a handle on this idea, while the print of “Starry Night” stared up at me. Looking at the picture, I realized that the essence of the artist’s life is his art. And so, I let the painting write the song for me. Everyone is familiar with that painting.”
Van Gogh painted “Starry Night” during one of the most difficult periods of his life, while he was locked up in an asylum at Saint Remy. He had to paint the scene from memory, not outdoors as he preferred. Van Gogh mentioned “Starry Night” only twice in his letters to his brother, Theo. It is therefore one of the more mysterious and intriguing Van Gogh compositions.
The tremendous increase in value of Van Gogh’s works during the Seventies and Eighties may not have been caused by McLean’s song, but “Vincent” has become a permanent part of the Van Gogh legend.
Vincent was a bigger international hit than American Pie. In
1972, it reached number 1 in the UK and number 12 in the USA.
In recent years, the song has become even more well known thanks in part to Josh Groban's successful version and to the song being sung by contestants on high profile shows such as American Idol and as a tribute to football legend George Best (making the UK top 3 in the process).
According to the movie “Tupac, the Resurrection,” Tupac Shakur
was influenced by Don McLean, and his favorite song was “Vincent.” "Vincent",
along with “American Pie,” “And I Love You So,” and “Castles in the Air”, has
been played over three million times on American radio.