Monday, 28 May 2012

Bobman's Rants

Bobman's Rants is a wide-ranging blog by an American computer engineer, but has only one post referring to Van.  It basically reviews the Bobman's favourite Van albums. Here's an edited (for brevity's sake) version of that post:

"I think everyone knows at least one Van Morrison song. Brown-Eyed Girl is probably his best-known, but I think a lot of people know songs like Moondance, Crazy Love, Tupelo Honey and Have I Told You Lately."
Don't get me wrong - those are great songs. I don't want to become one of those people who I complained about before, who try to say that you're not a TRUE fan unless you know an artist's entire repertoire. I just think that people are really missing out when it comes to Van Morrison if they haven't delved into more of his stuff.

Van comes to mind right now because his music epitomises autumn for me. Not just because he actually has songs about the fall (in particular both Autumn Song and Purple Heather at the end of Hard Nose the Highway), but because a lot of his music in general just has a FEEL to it that is reminiscent of a cool day in mid-October. It could be a personal thing - music is often associated with specific periods of my life, so it's possible I listened to Van a lot in the fall - but I think there's really something to it. Some albums in particular - the aforementioned Hard Nose, Saint Dominic's Preview, and most of all Veedon Fleece, feel like they were just MADE to be listened to while watching the leaves fall.
Astral Weeks is Van's first solo album. It is such a masterpiece that I can't even attempt to try and describe why, but rather will link to someone who at least did a passable job of putting its awesomeness into (quite a few) words. For me it's always been an album that creates a mood, even beyond Van's amazing lyrics or distinctive voice. The whole thing just flows together and has a FEEL to it that you can appreciate without even really paying attention, and then when you DO dive in and listen there's so much more. Sweet Thing, the third song on Astral Weeks, is undoubtedly one of my top 5 favourite songs of all time, and has a shot at being number one if I could ever make such a judgement.
I've always said that Moondance - probably Van's most well-known if not bestselling album - would be my top choice for "Desert Island Album." Even given my praise for Astral Weeks above, I would maintain that position today, maybe not because I like it BETTER than Astral Weeks but because it's easier to listen to, and where some songs on Astral are more hit or miss with me, EVERY song on Moondance is a home run. It's like a Greatest Hits compilation, and it was the guy's SECOND album released. And It Stoned Me. Caravan. Into the Mystic. Songs nearly everyone with even a passing knowledge of Van are familiar with, but like a lot of great albums, the best stuff is on what was once called the B-Side. Everyone and Glad Tidings are two songs at the end of Moondance that I'm always amazed were never hits, because they are truly great songs.
Saint Dominic's Preview - Like Astral Weeks, I doubt this album would be everyone's cup of tea. Most of the songs are long (two over ten minutes) and kind of meander around a bit, but of all the albums by Van that I have this one is most reminiscent of Astral Weeks; it just has a cohesive feel from beginning to end that drags you in.
Veedon Fleece - As mentioned above, probably my quintessential "autumn" album. According to Wikipedia he wrote the lion's share of this album in 3 weeks in October, so maybe that contributes to the "fall" feel for me. It's also a much more mellow album - I know Van is most often than not considered "mellow", Fleece is a whole new level. His voice for the most part loses its distinctive raw sound, and while still very much recognisable, it's markedly different, but in a good way.
Days Like This - At the risk of just listing Van Morrison's entire discography, I'm going to skip ahead 20 years to Days Like This. There was a 2 year period where I listened to this album and Paul McCartney's "comeback" Flaming Pie pretty much on a back and forth loop. Where Veedon Fleece is a mellow, fall-like album, Days is much more of a jazzy, fun album. 

As I said I feel like I could list nearly every one of his first dozen albums and shower them with praise, but these are the standouts to me, and if you haven't gone through a Van Morrison phase in your musical life yet, this is where I'd recommend you start.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Van Encounter April 2012

Another Van encounter and this from April, 2012 no less.  It involves Emma from Northern Ireland who went with her husband to see the great man at the Culloden Hotel for hubby’s 40th.  Her blog Adventures of an Unfit Mother blog is all charm.  Here are a few excepts from her Van encounter this past April: 

 Van the Man is in da house!!

Van the Man was playing, (and staying), in the hotel too and our room happened to overlook the suite he was performing in, so I was glued, glued I tell you, to the window all afternoon, but disappointingly, apart from a few hairy looking band types, there wasn't much to see. Later, after a champagne reception (Fabulous dahling!), and a four course meal, the concert began.

 His daughter Shana Morrison performed first, and later sang one with her dad. I honestly believe that it must be a mixed blessing to be the child of a big star like Van. Oh yes, you get all the networking and a good leg up in the industry, but you'd also be constantly compared and even if you were successful, which history shows us is pretty unlikely, you'd still question whether it was really down to you or your famous parent.

I'd googled her earlier in the day, and several websites described her as 'Van Morrison's middle aged daughter'! I mean, Dear God,  I know it's to distinguish her from his 4 and 5 year old children, but that's HARSH surely? (And very possibly a little close to the bone - I mean, she's only  in her early 40's!)

So after she warmed up the crowd, on came the man himself, and I have to say, he put on a hell of a performance. You hear all kinds of stories about him- that he's odd, antisocial and even blatantly rude, so we really weren't sure what to expect from the show at all. Well, he played with his band for two solid hours, and his voice is as strong as ever. He's obviously very musical, effortlessly playing the saxophone and the harmonica as well.  That said, he really DOES seem to have no social graces whatsoever- he kept his back to the audience for much of the time, and despite it being a small venue AND his hometown, he didn't say one word to us the whole time, nada, zip, nothing. I mean he didn't even smile!! But the audience LOVED him regardless and by the end of the night, the whole place was rocking. He really is a legend - a grumpy dour one yes, but a legend nonetheless.
The next morning while we were having breakfast, there was a little frisson of excitement when he arrived and sat down at a table by the window that was strategically placed behind a pillar. The funny thing was- on stage, with his signature suit and fedora on, he was unquestionably Van The Man, but there at breakfast, he just looked like a short, plump, (ginger!), balding man - He even had a wee old man's flat cap! As he passed us later, he actually nodded to my husband and mumbled hello.  But, as he walked away I noticed he'd a big old chocolate stain on his cream chinos,  and I was all set to run up and tell him to go and steep them in cold water AT ONCE, but then I thought he mightn't take it too well, so I didn't.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Sharay's Moondance Review

You have got to read this!  I've found one of the internet's most humorous album review and it's instantly obvious that not everyone was meant to be a music reviewer like the internet allows.  The following "review" by sharay385 is truly amazing.  Never has there been such ignorance displayed by someone reviewing a Van album.  I wish I had the means to send this guy along to do a face to face interview with Van. Van would sort him out.  Here it is in its entirety:  

Posted by  sharay385 on May 2, 2012
Posted in: Music Blog 3 Professor's Choice. Tagged: Initial, Van, Yeah. Leave a Comment

I wasn’t pissed nor was I happy when I got this album as my choice because I could have gotten something that was truly garbage worthy and which meant every copy of this album should be tossed into an inferno to burn and never be heard. Judging this album by its cover I assumed this album was going to have disco and funk theme songs because it was made during the 70s and that was the time of the disco and funk era. Plus the album title Moondance makes me think of dancing under a disco ball.
After listening to each song this is what I think:

And It Stoned Me   -   What is this? I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a bad song in my life—not true this song sucks more—but this song made no sense to me. Why? because this song isn’t in complete English.  He sounds like he’s chewing sand or tobacco while singing this song.
Moondance   -   Ha!, Just terrible. I can’t believe he’s trying to do jazz music, don’t get me wrong I’m not really a fan of jazz, nor am I a know it all jazz music snob but I’m able to tell the difference between jazz and this pretend garbage.  I think this song should have been left as a demo and not recorded,he kills this song with his monotone voice except for when he screams certain lines in the song.

Crazy Love   -   I’m crazy about this song, its way too short. He sounds so great, he reminds me of someone but I just can’t remember who. For some reason I pictured a black guy singing this, I know that sounds bad but it’s just my mother has played  similar songs like this and the singers have all been black that I know of. This was the only familiar song on this album that is actually the best too. I don’t any complaints about his voice or his diction,because he usually mumbles or smashes his words together like he’s drunk.

Caravan   -   The first thing I thought when I heard this song was what does caravan mean. I do like the piano in the beginning of the song, from the melody at the beginning I assumed this song was an R&B type of song like Crazy Love was. It sounds more like a cross between an old country and possibly R&B.
Into The Mystic   -   This is one of the most forgettable songs I’ve heard on this album. No matter how many times I play this song I can never remember a lyric,chorus or melody. This song is kind of boring and again his diction needs so much work that I thought he spoke a different language other than English with the line:

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
To me it sounds like Hargadarg nog sea the sailors cry. The song isn’t all bad it starts to pick up tempo and the sound increases without my help during the chorus.

Come Running   -   When I  heard the first three seconds of this song I was waiting for Fat Albert to say his line “Hey,Hey,Hey, It’s Fat Albert” because the beginning of the song is so much like the cartoons’ intro music. I well aware that he’s able to change-up his voice for different genre’s but he doesn’t sound anything like himself in this song.
These Dreams Of You   -   This song feels like a country song only because of the type of the familiar guitar melody,I’m confused with who he was about because at first I thought he was talking about dreams of a past lover but then the song takes a left turn when he mentions the line :
Ray Charles was shot down.
This song isn’t my favourite nor is it the worst song but again I never remember the melody or lyrics to this song.

Brand New Day   -   This doesn’t seem to fit the album either every other song is upbeat or at least slow but with a romantic intent, this however is neither.  This song seems to represent the ups and downs in his life, I don’t feel like this song was inspired by any particular memory of his, but just the daily nuances everyone goes through in life.

Everyone   -   I love songs that I’m able to get into right away. I’m not able to remember the beginning lyric but I’m able to remember the chorus because it’s repeated several times.
Glad Tidings   -   This song is a close second to the song I have listened to the least,but I do remember the multiple la’s in this song and that’s it.

I didn’t give a lot of information on every song because I still haven’t quite figured them out and because this album is starting to annoy me. I’m not used to this type of music, I like auto tuned pop songs,not this guy who doesn’t seem to fit into any of those categories, so this album has really taken me out of my music comfort zone.

Album Rating (so unfortunate): 1.3

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Songfacts is a great music forum with lots of information about individual songs.  Thousands of songs have been listed and various facts about each song have been collected. There are also some fan opinions on the site.  A few Van songs are featured like the classic Into the Mystic.  Below is a sample of some of the content at Songfacts:

"Only Van knows what it all means, right? It was number 5905 of the Moondance CD played on the jukebox at a local pub where I hung out in college... which is where I first heard it. I spent many quarters of my laundry money on this one song to the exasperation of the bar tenders who would have rather heard AC/DC, I'm sure. It got me through a period of sadness in my life. Yet, I played it at my wedding recently as well....a time of true happiness. It is my favourite song. I can't explain why except by saying that Van's music speaks to the soul! I love everything I've heard from him. Also, we played No Guru, No Teacher, before my wedding started. I read "The Shack" recently and was amazed by the parallel between No Guru and the "celebration" segment of the story in this novel. There is something spiritual about Van's music. Is it the lyrics, his Bluesy voice, or the arrangement of lovely music. Perhaps it is all of this and more still. I don't know. I just know I find solace within its ebb and flow.
 God Bless You, Van!  -   Malachi, Dublin

"Into The Mystic - a Christian viewpoint
We were born before the wind - (Adam was created or "born" before the wind which came about after his fall from grace, when the world received it's curse, that's when weather or "wind" began)
Also younger than the sun - (The sun was made on the fourth day of creation, Adam on the sixth, making him 2 days younger than the sun)
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic - (According to the traditional Irish Skye Boat Song, the line "Carry the lad that is born to be king" could be referring to the Christ child, born to be king, thus they were One with Christ or the' bonnie boat' as they "sailed" into their wondrous life)
Hark, now hear the sailors cry - (Now that man has fallen everything has changed, he feels cold, needs coverings, all Is not well, hunger thirst and corruption are its inhabitants, the people who are "sailing" through time "cry" out in their agony)
Smell the sea and feel the sky - (There was no rain before the fall of man, streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground, but now they could feel the rain from the sky come down, and smell that now raging sea)
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic - (Fallen man is doomed to an eternal life apart from God unless God's grace which was offered him, is received by letting his 'soul and spirit fly' or return to the 'mystic' or wonderful life with Christ)
And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home - (The Bible states: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call (fog horn) of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever")
And when that fog horn blows I want to hear it - (The call to come home to Christ, come quickly!)
I don't have to fear it - (It will signal the restoration to perfection and reconciliation with God)
I want to rock your gypsy soul - (enjoying the life as it was intended)
Just like way back in the days of old - ("days of old" back before the 'fall')
Then magnificently we will float into the mystic - ("float" those raging seas are now calm and glassy, and the perfectly wonderful life with our "bonnie boat" continues)
And when that fog horn blows you know I will be coming home
And when that fog horn whistle blows I got to hear it
I don't have to fear itI want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And together we will float into the mystic
Come on girl...- Dan, Detroit, MI

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Best of the Fanzines #2 Van and Bootlegs

Wavelength 29 from July, 2002 has a lot of great stuff as usual.  Simon Gee included a transcript of a seven page Al Jones interview with Van.  The interviews took place in Copenhagen in March, 1985.  At one point Al Jones was brave enough to bring up the subject of bootlegs.  Here's that section of the interview:

While we're talking about record companies, let's talk about something that's not record companies, but bootlegs.  You haven't been - a victim might be flattering - but there haven't been a lot of Van Morrison bootlegs.  But have you heard any of them?

Oh, there are quite a few. I mean, there's more than I thought.  I'm not really into this area. But there are quite a few, I mean, about. I don't have them personally, but I've been told by various people who collect them that there are quite a few. 

You've never heard any of them?

I've heard a couple. I've heard a couple of them, yeah. 

Do you have any feelings about the revenue you're losing or the quality of the sound?  Or that kind of thing?

Oh yeah, but I mean, that's old hat.  That's old hat. 

Not for most Danish listeners.

No but I mean.  As far as in terms of a question to me, that's old hat.  I wouldn't touch that with a 10 foot pole, you know.

OK... I know of one bootleg which I  think is particularly brilliant.  It's called "Strange Bedfellows".  I think it's a Bottom Line gig where Peter Wolf from the J. Geils Band - 78, I think it is,does this long introductory rap ...Doesn't ring any bells for you?

I mean, like I said. I've done hundreds - thousands of gigs. And I don't remember this.

Would you have any objection, say, to a bootleg track being played on the radio?

Sure I would!  I mean, what for?

Just as an example of the fact that you, too, have an audience that's so large and fanatical that there is a Van Morrison bootleg industry.  Just one thing to indicate that fact. 
I'm not really flattered by bootlegs. I mean, I could do without them.  I could do without them. I'm not flattered by them.  I'm, you know, promoting albums that I have out, not that I mean, it's, you know, it's illegal.  I mean, that's it.

Well that's why I was asking permission ...

No.  I don't support it at all. 

OK., that's fine ... And you definitely don't see any flattery in it?

No, I don't see ... Not at all.

You don't believe that anybody who buys a Van Morrison bootleg would not buy everything else that you do?

 I've no idea! But I mean, it doesn't ... I don't buy bootlegs myself.  I don't ... It's not something that comes up.  I'm not interested in it, you know.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison

I couldn't have said it better myself.  I've lifted a guy named Charlie's review of Veedon Fleece wholesale from his blog.  It's a really good piece of writing and I admire him for it.  People interested in music might find some other things there of interest. 

When I first started doing this Van blog I said I'd never do that.  I thought I'd include only snippets of other people's stuff and just link to it.  Now I find links grow dead and people's blogs and sites just disappear.  So in the interest of preserving good Van material from sites which seem a little inactive (three years or more without posts) I will include articles in their entirety from time to time.  Hope that doesn't offend the purists too much.  (A fellow Australian Van fan I know named Mark might tease me with, "That's not your authentic voice then.")  

So be it.  Here's a great review of a great album with a few fan comments following: 

Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison

There’s not that much mystery left in music. For everything that’s not readily disposable, there’s a lineup of reporters, publicists, critics, interviewers, and yeah, bloggers ready to compress works into digestible angles. Backstories get told, lyrics get explained, and meanings get narrowed down. It’s just a fact of business marketing that sales depend on publicity and that publicity depends on access. But sometimes I can’t help longing for a time before 24-hour information cycles, before news stories documented every footfall of a band, before we were all plugged-in infovores. In this pre-dialup utopia, all we have at our fingertips is a general sense of an artist, a few vague reference points in his biography, and a round vinyl disc of music in front of us. Buying an album is still an event, and we’re still practically trembling as we undo the plastic.

There’ve been a few albums this decade that have retained their mystery for me. Even in the face of magazine covers and analytic reviews, works like Joanna Newsom’s Ys and Sigur Ros’s catalogue are still too dense and singular for me to reduce. Even with back stories, even with identifiers they’re constantly tagged with, they've kept on dwarfing and defying their categorisations. But the work that's most successful at enchanting me endlessly is an older one, Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece from 1974. No matter how closely I listen to it, or what I read about it, it only seems to take on more folds. The more I admire its simplicity, the more complex it paradoxically grows.
Confident I won’t be able to demystify it too much, a little background: Veedon Fleece was a back-to-basics reboot for an artist who never hewed too closely to genre specifications anyway. After his divorce and disbanding his orchestra, Morrison returned to his hometown of Belfast for the first time in eight years. There and upon his return to America, he wrote Veedon Fleece in a few weeks, infusing a healthy gulp of Ireland into the subjects, lyrics and music. Closest stylistically to his classic Astral Weeks, the album also relies on a stream-of-consciousness and is largely acoustic. But unlike that other work, critics mostly dismissed it and the record-buying public shunned it.

Now for the more intangible: Morrison’s always been a leading figure in blue-eyed soul, but on Veedon Fleece, his voice sounds weirder and more idiosyncratic. The soul is still very much there, but his impassioned phrasings and ethereal falsetto are all his own. It’s hard to forget his anguished howl at the end of Cul de Sac, his guttural, throat-clearing guffaws on Bulbs. His tendency vocally to adapt and elongate at will fit the lyrics perfectly, which also tend to meander and drift like a back country river. Every song, even the largely straightforward Comfort You, bends and twists on repeated listens, stripped-down and cryptic and multifaceted all at once.

Along the way, Morrison cites Poe, Thoreau, Wilde, and Blake and his Eternals. That set of influences gives us a sense of just how poetic, natural, supernatural, and mystical his own work is. On the longest song, the sprawling eight-minute-fifty-second You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River, he details a homecoming to the fluttering strands of flute: “We're goin' out in the country to get down to the real soul,/ I mean, the real soul people,/ We're goin' out in the country, get down to the real soul/ We're gettin' out to the west coast/ Shining our light into the days of bloomin' wonder/ Goin' as much with the river as not.” Those issues of authenticity and self-discovery in nature seem especially Wordsworth-Romantic and Thoreau-transcendentalist, with Ireland, "God's green land," standing in for Tintern Abbey or Walden. From there, specifically alluding to Blake, he sings of a search for the titular Veedon Fleece. As far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s a mythical object of Morrison’s own invention, his own Holy Grail much in the way Blake dreamt up his Beulah.

Earlier, Morrison composes another mythical figure, Linden Arden, who’s a little easier to parse. Led by a sullen piano intro, Linden Arden Stole The Highlights Veedon Fleece as Arden is in America, and among references to Killarney lake and Arklow streets, the mention of San Francisco can be jarring. And yet it also fits beautifully in an album indelibly defined by struggle and searching, of people looking for home and existing in flux.
Baby Boomers Eye Chart
 There remain moments on Veedon Fleece that I wish I understood better. Sometimes, I can’t help wishing I knew which references are directly autobiographical, which are simply fantastic, and which are a redolent mash of the two. At the same time, I’m glad that this album came out in the '70s, when artists still had auras and works could still permeate listeners on their own terms. But I have a feeling, even if it were just being released today, that Veedon Fleece still wouldn’t unravel or surrender its knots of mysteries. It wouldn't be any less of a soothing antidote or a roving puzzle. After all, even after ten years of having it in my collection, it’s still just as alluring and affecting and incredible as it’s ever been.

Sample Reader Comments

The Sanity Inspector   -   I read Van's interview in Rolling Stone in the late 80s, wherein he said that fans asked him if he still had the dogs from that photo. "Listen, an album cover is not real life!" he said.
Ekko   -   I love that album--haven't listened to it in ages. Forgot how good it was. Great post.

Anonymous   -   I remember acquiring my 2nd copy of Veedon Fleece back in the mid-70's out of the cut-out bin. Already I was sure that the album was by far the best Van had ever produced. And now years later I am glad someone has the same attachment to this truly excellent album that still sounds new today. 

Obligatory Sheep Photo

Samuel   -   Veedon Fleece is currently out-of-print, but there are still a few used copies on Amazon." Now just recently made available along with nearly the complete Morrison catalogue on iTunes. Glad I downloaded the full album; this one somehow slipped through the cracks in my long attentiveness to one of the great vocalists from Astral Weeks to Pay the Devil.

Anonymous   -   Van Morrison is a lifetime project, indeed. A mystic. A searcher. I love Van. I hope I never meet him! I just want to hear him sing.

Anonymous   -   I find Fair Play to you particularly affecting and I can't explain why. This album takes several listens to get into for the first time listener but once you do this you can be hooked!

Anonymous   -   Veedon Fleece is among my all time favourite records, alternately revelatory and enigmatic, and definitely best savoured late at night or early in the morning, with no distractions. The only other artists that affect me in a similar way are Gene Clark and Townes Van Zandt, putting This record in rarefied company.

David    -   I listened to Linden Arden several times today . . . and the first two times tears came to my eyes. I don't know why. I'm a 52 year old lawyer and crying is not what I do (last time was when my mother died on Christmas day 2006). I've heard the song described, I think accurately, as "ferociously mournful."

Anonymous   -   Same thing here David/ 54 year old watching Sport - my dog noted my sudden sobbing and jumped up for a drink of tears. Most unusual.

Anonymous   -   i too am in the company of being singularly effected by this album. why? who is Linden Arden?where is the Veedon Fleecelike this album, it is shrouded in mystery.

Anonymous   -   Re: demystifying the lyrics in Veedon Fleece. I could reveal a lot, but I don't get any pleasure in bursting bubbles. It's usually a lot less "mystical" than folks want to imagine.For one example, Van sings on Fair Play, that "there's only one Meadows Way to go, and you say GERONIMO." The truth is that he was deciding where to live and begin his new life. His fiancee wanted to move to the bucolic West Marin town of San Geronimo, on Meadow Way. They lived there happily for several years.Pop! What's that sound?!

Pinup Nights   -   I am crazy about Van Morrison, and Linden Arden Stole The Highlights must be one of his best ever songs. Its a very mysterious tune but in a few sentences Van conjures the sunlight and slopes of San Francisco. I would describe the piano as "beautiful" rather than "sullen". That small grumble aside this is a fantastic review, thank you!!

Plush   -   Pulled out my original copy of Veedon Fleece today after more than 10 years and listened-- stunned again.  Linden Arden is surely a masterpiece and more so of one since it is so short in length. The poetry and expression is far beyond what I remembered and the depth of emotion is mind blowing.  I really like what you wrote about it too.

Anonymous   -   How is it possible that this masterpiece is out of print?  I can buy Chocolate Rain on itunes but not this.. such a crime.

Anonymous   -   Such an excellent review, I love the insightful in to one of my all-time favourite albums. You tap in to Van's genius.

custom paper writer   -   Besides that much of Morrison's music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles Brown Eyed Girl, Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile), Domino and Wild Night.

Richard   -   I always seem to come across people telling me that Astral Weeks is the greatest album by Van Morrison. Not for me. Veedon Fleece is like taking a seat in an old Irish tavern with the fire roaring in the corner, and listening as a wise old travelling man sings you the story of his life; all the people he's met, all the adventures he's had, all the questions he's pondered and all the places he's gone. It's an incredible album. Astral Weeks is very good but, it's not like this.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Why Bother with Van Morrison?

Howard Weaver (centre) may wear a suit but he still likes Van

What follows is an interesting opinion piece from Howard Weaver a longtime journalist from Alaska.  His title Why Bother With Van Morrison? really caught my eye because it's a question I'm still trying to answer.  This is the only Van or even musical piece on his blog so I'm including all of it.  It's always interesting to see how fans try to explain how they feel about Van. 

"My life has been punctuated by the music of Van Morrison...
Alone among the songs that enveloped my boyhood, Van's music has progressed along with me. Beatles' music, even in affectionate review, grows stale and saccharine; a Moody Blues CD, purchased not long ago in a fit of nostalgic delusion, proves almost unlistenable; listening now, Wheels of Fire isn't the powerhouse I remembered. Dylan holds up better, but meanders too far from the path I'm on. Springsteen?

Van Morrison is with me still.
I suppose I listened to Van about like anybody else until 1980, when Common One was released. For the first time I heard a mystical, otherworldly singer who thrilled me with references rich enough to linger in imagination long after the sound had faded. The lush, textured music offered sincerity and honest appraisal that wasn't happening anywhere else on my turntable.
Somehow the polished production of Wavelength -- hip, slick and superficial -- begat the growling, existential doubts of Common One. We turned a corner together, and the search was on.
Did you you ever hear about
(did you ever hear about)
Wordsworth and Coleridge, baby?
Yes, I've heard. So has Van Morrison, and even when his religious excursions grow tedious or his literary allusions embarrassing (Rave on, Kahlil Gibran...) his earnest searching touches me. The explorations mapped by these almost-annual albums have tracked my own with eerie precision.
Oh my Common One,
my Illuminated One,
my High In the Art of Sufferin' One ...
Van Morrison sings of mysteries I have pondered for myself and then heard echoed in his finely crafted pagan-Christian Celtic soul music. (A Jehovah's Witness boy from Belfast, Morrison has said he felt moments of transporting, religious rapture as a kid and has been looking for them ever since.)
In 1987 Morrison sponsored a symposium at Loughborough University called "The Secret Heart of Music: An exploration into the power of music to change consciousness." The careful listener would have to say he's been examining that question pretty much all along.
For more than 30 years he has spoken almost solely through his music -- no megastar public image, no crusades, few interviews. Although he was reportedly a wild, enthusiastic stage presence early in his career -- playing sax while sitting on the shoulders of the singer, throwing his shocking pink jacket to girls in the crowd, writhing on the dirty stage floor ... a complete nutter on stage, a Monarchs bandmate recalls -- Van came to be known later as a moody, withdrawn performer, famous for interrupted concerts and lacklustre shows following spectacular outings.
In this as in all, he remained true to his own muse. "His motto seemed to be, `The show does not have to go on,' " longtime sideman John Platania said.
I think that's because he is true most of all not to the show but to the message -- an integration of words, melody and atmosphere that sustains more depth than the rock-n-rollers with whom he is often categorised.
Voice and music, music and no music
Silence and then voice
Music and writing, words
It seems that for Van Morrison, public performance is a necessary adjunct to creativity -- an invigoration that stirs imagination, not a bath in the spotlight of celebrity.
I admire his consistency, his willingness to explore and share an inner landscape that, after more than 40 albums, is more familiar to me than many of friends'.
Recent work demonstrates a longing for simpler (or perhaps simply younger) days. The refrain from See Me Through (Part II) is emblematic:
Before, yes before, this was the way it was
More silence, more breathing together
Not rushing, being
Before rock n' roll, before television
Previous, previous, previous

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Bert Berns

Bert Berns has a certain notoriety among Van fans.  Van had his troubles with Bert and Van fans tend to take the side of their hero – Van the Man.  But the Bert Berns story is an incredible chapter in popular music history that deserves looking into.  Berns has few equals as songwriter, producer and record executive.  He is largely unknown but he wrote major sixties hits like Twist and Shout, Piece Of My Heart, Hang On Sloopy, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, Cry To Me, Cry Baby, Here Comes The Night and Tell Him among his hundreds of songwriting credits.  He also produced “Under The Boardwalk,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Baby I’m Yours” and dozens of other standards.  He also championed the likes of Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, The Isley Brothers, Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, The Drifters and Jimmy Page.
All of this was achieved in a few short years up to 1967 when he died of a heart attack at the age of only 38.  Despite his achievements he remains largely unknown and hasn’t received his dues - induction into either The Songwriters Hall of Fame or The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. 

Early Life
Bertrand Russell Berns was born on November 8, 1929 and died on December 30, 1967.  He was born to Jewish immigrants and spent an impoverished early life in the Bronx that was compounded by being struck down with rheumatic fever which almost killed him.  Berns showed interest in music from an early age.  His parents wanted him to stay focused on classical piano, but he fell in love with the eclectic music of his Bronx neighbourhood.  His Black and Latino neighbours provided a soundtrack of soul, R'n'B and Cuban quajira music

Music came to have an increasing importance in Berns’ life.  In his teens he practised the guitar and began going to music clubs. Eventually he hatched a a scheme to buy a nightclub in Cuba.  He pooled his money with his friend Mickey and went to Havana to oversee the club they had purchased.  On arrival they found out that it was actually a whorehouse.  Berns transformed the brothel into an underground club specialising in local quajira music.  However, communist guerrillas began to increasingly make life difficult in Havana so Berns returned to New York.   

Breaking into the Music Business
Bert with Phil Spector and friends
Berns began to take the collection of songs he had written to offices in the Brill Building in search of way into the music business.  Eventually he found work with a small music publisher across the street from the Brill building. He was paid $50 a week to write and plug songs. 
Bert Berns & Jerry Wexler
Shortly thereafter, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler seized the moment – partnering with Bert in a new publishing company, WEB IV Music, whose name would be an acronym: W (Wexler) E (Ertegun) B (Berns) IV.  Months later in 1965, Bert declared his desire to make records on his own label.  Rather than risk losing Berns altogether, Wexler grudgingly agreed to the creation of BANG Records.  Bang, with its smoking gun logo, was also named for its four founding partners – B (Bert) A (Ahmet Ertegun) N (Neshui Ertegun) and G (Gerald Wexler). 

What Bert Berns did in the first year of Bang is nothing less than astounding.  He signed The Strangeloves and The McCoys, writing and releasing back-to-back standards with  “I Want Candy” and “Hang On Sloopy.”  He took a chance on Neil Diamond and fostered, with the team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, all of his early classics – songs like “Cherry Cherry,” “Solitary Man,” and “Kentucky Woman.”  He also checked out European talent.  At the invitation of Decca he went to England and worked with Lulu and eventually brought Van Morrison to New York and helped start his solo career, producing “Brown Eyed Girl” and “TB Sheets.”
Bert appeared unstoppable.  And with Bang Records home to an ever increasing roster of pop and rock artists, he formed a new subsidiary label, Shout Records, to exclusively release recordings of his greatest passion – soul music. 

In the midst of all this success, Berns discovered he had heart problems.   A world-renowned heart surgeon Michael DeBakey suggested a new form of bypass surgery.  

As the twilight of Bert's life approached, a fierce struggle ensued over control of Bang.  First Wexler and Ertegun tried for more control of the label.  Then they gave Berns a buyout ultimatum. With their relationship in tatters and events threatening to spin completely out of control, they forever went their separate ways.  Bert walked away sole owner of WEB IV and Bang.
Berns began to face new challenges. Conflict erupted with Van Morrison over creative decisions. Then things broke down with Neil Diamond, culminating in a dramatic showdown between the two men over Neil's intention to leave Bang.

Days later, Bert Berns was dead.  He left a wife and three babies, the youngest only two weeks old.  On December 30, 1967, Berns was feeling fatigued and laid down for an afternoon nap.  Moments later, there was a knock at the door – it was Tommy Eboli, a mob-connected friend.  He had a dream that Berns was calling him – “I need you” – and came rushing over to the apartment, only to discover a distraught new widow.   
In the last days of his life, Bert Berns made two of his greatest and most introspective records – “Piece of My Heart” and “Heart Be Still” – songs that provided not only clearest evidence of what legendary arranger Garry Sherman called “the consummate producer,” but also autobiographical insights into deepest loves and fears. 

This is only a brief insight into the the man who deserved more recognition for his work.  For more information check out the Bert Berns website or go to the Wikipedia reference to Berns. 
In recent times CDs have been released which give a snapshot of Berns' talent across a range of music styles.  The following are worth checking out: 

The Heart and Soul of Bert Berns (2003)  -  includes 10 of Berns' best work.
Twist and Shout: The Bert Berns Story - Vol. 1: 1960-1964 (2008)  -  features 26 of Berns' R&B and rock hits.

Mr. Success: The Bert Berns Story - Vol. 2: 1964-1967 (2010)  -  a further collection featuring 26 of Berns' R&B and rock hits.