Monday, March 23, 2009

"Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)" - Don Mclean, 1971 (ballad)

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,
How you suffered for your sanity,
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 field 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,
How you suffered for your sanity,
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 head 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 of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will...

Most well known by its opening line, "Starry Starry Night" was one of Don Mclean's most popular songs. True to his tributary form, this song gives a nod to Dutch post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. Perhaps more than in any other song, the lyrics reveal Mclean's personal feelings for the artist and his works.

Van Gogh produced more than 2,000 works, including around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches, during the last ten years of his life, but he is particularly known for the works that he painted during the last two years of his life. These last two years are what Mclean focuses on in this tribute. They are also the years of which Van Gogh is most noted for...and ironically the ones during which he suffered the worst of an as-yet undiagnosed insanity. In his later life, it was his constant battle with severe mental illness that led to the infamous incident in which he stalked his friend and roommate Paul Gauguin with a razor and then cut off the lower part of his own left earlobe.

While Van Gogh experimented with many different kinds of media, his artwork is made unmistakable by three distinct characteristics: dots, yellow, and swirls. Looking closely, the viewer will see that each of his "signature" works (not counting earlier works, sketches, or commissioned works) contains each of these elements.

The use of dots, called 'pointillism' is a unique and creative approach to mixing colors. The canvas is stippled with tiny dots of primary colors. The dots are placed far enough apart to be individual, yet close enough that their proximity causes the viewer to see secondary and intermediary colors instead.

Van Gogh's predominant use of yellows has always been a point of intrigue, but he didn't use it because he liked it, and his use of it had nothing to do with any metaphorical color-related emotions. There are many medical theories as to why the artist used this color so often. One theory suggests that Van Gogh's affinity for drinking absinthe might have affected his vision. Absinthe is an alcoholic beverage that contains the neurotoxin 'thujone'; high doses of thujone have been reported to cause xanthopsia, which is a condition that causes the person to see objects in yellow (although recent studies have shown this cannot be possible before the person becomes unconscious from the amount of alcohol consumed to reach this point). Another theory speculates that his physician, Dr. Gachet, had prescribed him digitalis as a treatment for epilepsy. The evidence for this is found in one of the portraits of Dr. Gachet painted by Van Gogh, in which is depicted the stems of Common Foxglove from which the drug is derived. A side-effect of digitalis treatment was the yellow appearance of everyday objects surrounded by a lighter halo, which appear in many of Van Gogh's later paintings. It has also been supposed that Van Gogh may have suffered either lead poisoning, as this was the base of his paints, which causes swelling of the retina also possibly resulting in the appearance of a halo.

The final period in Van Gogh's career came during his self commitment to the mental hospital of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in a former monastery in Saint Remy de Provence. While his brother saw to it that Van Gogh had a studio room to paint in, it merely consisted of an adjoining cell with a small barred window. During his confinement, it was the lack of subject matter that found him painting new interpretations of his own earlier works and the works of other artists. All of this he did from his own memory. This is how the swirls began. Those famous swirls landed him an invitation to participate in the annual art exhibition in Brussels, hosted by the illustrious, avant-garde artist society Les XX. This then later led to his works being on display in Paris, where contemporary Claude Monet declared them to be the best in show.

Though he was finally beginning to receive a little of the recognition he longed for all his life, it came too late to pull him from his downward spiral and 70 days after his release from Saint Remy, he tragically took his own life. His last words were reportedly, "The sadness will last forever."

**Note: In the song, there is an historical inaccuracy in the first verse. "Look out on a summer's day..." This would have been impossible for him to do since at the time The Starry Night was painted he was confined to the mental institution and had nothing more but a small, barred porthole for a window.

"Vincent (Starry Starry Night)" - Don Mclean, 1971

~information found swirling around all over the internet, and cool places like this:


Beth in NC said...

Oh cool, thanks for bringing that song back to my memory. I used to love it and haven't heard it in MANY years. Those are some series lyrics aren't they?


LivingDedGrrl said...

Yes they are. So sad, too.

I'm not much of an art person. I'm a musician, but I really don't like visual arts. I could be done with the Louvre in about 15 minutes.

But I have a "thing" about Van Gogh. It's weird. I could stare at his works all day. I like his stuff, even though I don't know why. I have always liked his paintings even when I didn't know they were his. His are really the only paintings I truly enjoy. I would look at his paintings and I was like "I get it!". They always "felt" kind of sad (but in a weird way) to me...and then I found out that all the paintings I was really liking were all painted by the same guy, and that was before I even knew his story.

Fong-er-fei (鳳兒飛) said...

Your blogs are very detail!

LivingDedGrrl said...

(formerly LivingDedGrrl) Thank you. I enjoy doing them because I'm learning, too.