This song, although not about myself, almost feels like the most personal song I’ve ever written.
In 1888 Vincent van Gogh came to Arles to live in the yellow house his brother had rented for him, and was eventually joined by Paul Gaugin. The latter left 9 weeks later, after the famous ear incident, making haste to be gone before van Gogh would regain consciousness.
I don’t know why I picked this moment in his life. Maybe because it was a pivotal moment. The moment he realised something was incurably wrong with him. It appears to me I managed to recreate his voice pretty authentically, partly because I tried to use as many of his own words as possible, partly because when I wrote it I felt I had a deep understanding of his mind.
From the time I first heard his name mentioned I felt the urge to play detective and snoop around in his life, as if somewhere there would be a clue hidden, something important I needed to know. I don’t think I ever found anything particularly useful, although by the time I was 16, I was starting research for a novel I wanted to write about him. (To the affectionate ridicule of my family, as I rarely went on holiday without my guitar, typewriter or a several thousand page book about van Gogh. As obsessed about writing, as he was about painting.)
I eventually finished a first draft when I was in my early 20s, and it is still lying unread in a metaphorical drawer somewhere.
I much prefer writing songs to novels. Partly because I lack the patience and stamina, but also because I like having a strict limit to tell a story imposed on me. I like having to work with economical precision.