Graham Reid | | 5 min read
Artists take inspiration from so many sources we might as well just say, "anywhere".
But one of the most unexpected -- and it was to him -- comes from Jake Bugg who released his 2012 self-titled debut album at 18 and immediately won praise from the likes of Noel Gallagher.
He was a kid from a council estate and had grown up hard but sensitive (as we shall see).
One of his most important early songs was the raw Seen It All about a night out on the pills and witnessing a knife fight.
The final line is the real pay-off.
We will get to Vincent Van Gogh in a minute, because he's important in the story.
The lyrics to Bugg's song are after the clip and they are worth considering in the light of his life and who he was inspired by . . .
"One Friday night I took a pill or maybe two, Down at the car park I saw everyone I knew. And before the night had started we had planned to crash a party, Just a place that someone knew a local house belonging to a gangsters crew. And at the door they shone a light into my face, Have to admit I felt a little out of place, But I made my way inside past a thousand crazy eyes, Then a friend took me aside said everyone here has a knife.
I've seen it all, I've seen it all now, I swear to god I've seen it all, Nothing shocks me anymore after tonight.
Those little doves had sent my mind and heart a-beating, to say I felt weird really doesn't need repeating, I could sense the mounting tension the atmosphere of violence, And then they took a guy out side and someone stabbed him with a knife
I've seen it all . . . I've seen it all nothing shocks me anymore after tonight, I've seen the light . . . but not the kind I would have liked."
So how does Van Gogh enter this picture?
Because Bugg said it was hearing Don McLean's song Vincent (Starry Starry Night) on an episode of The Simpson when he was 12 which just knocked him sideways and even though he wasn't playing guitar at the time he started to pick up on it.
He couldn't have picked a better song when you analyse how the lyrics and rhymes work, and how the string arrangement enters at a key point.
Here's the song, the lyrics analysed follow the clip
Starry, starry night (repetition/alliteration st/st)
Paint your palette blue and gray (alliteration p/p)
Look out on a summer's day (the rhyme with gray, a bit obvious)
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul (longer line then short line)
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills (internal rhyme trees/breeze followed by end rhyme)
In colors on the snowy linen land (alliteration l/l)
(rhyme scheme is a-b-b-c-d-d-d-e)
Now I understand what you tried to say to me/ And how you suffered for your sanity/How you tried to set them free (three end rhymes in a row)
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now
Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze (alliteration f/f + b/b)
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue (longer line then short line)
Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand
(rhyme scheme is a-b-b-c-c-d-d-e, a variation of the first verse)
Repeat: Now I understand what you tried to say to me . . .
For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left inside
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 (alliteration h/h)
Frameless heads on nameless walls (assonance frameless/nameless)
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget (alliteration w/w: longer line then short line)
Like the strangers that you've met
The ragged men in ragged clothes (internal repetition)
A silver thorn, a bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow (visual contrast)
(rhyme scheme is a-b-b-c-c-d-d-d, another variation)
Now I think I know what you tried to say to me (repetition: I/I to/to)
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they're not listening still (variation)
Perhaps they never will
* Actually he shot himself in the afternoon but never let the facts get in the way of a good story, right? There have been recent suggestions he might have been shot but there's little supporting evidence
So from Vincent Van Gogh to Jake Bugg via Don McLean, it all makes sense.
And let's not get started on how songwriter Lori Lieberman -- going through a relationship break-up -- saw McLean perform at the Troubadour and was moved by his song Empty Chairs: "I wonder if you know that I never understood, that although you said you'd go, until you did I never thought you would".
She was so moved by those words and him it inspired her to write Killing Me Softly With His Song which she recorded.
But just as her song was moving up the charts Phoebe Snow, who had heard it on a plane, went straight into a studio and recorded it, and it was a hit for her.
So from Don to Lori to Phoebe, makes sense too.
And let's not get into Vincent (Starry Starry Night) being Tupac's favourite song.
That'll be for another day.
For something different but similar go here to see how Badfinger constructed a song out of two separate parts, recorded it . . .
and then watched as another artist had a massive hit with it.