Friday, 20 September 2013

A Run-in With Van Morrison


A run-in with Van Morrison is one of those first person eyewitness accounts that I love reading. Peter  Gerstenzang wonders whether an accidental backstage encounter with Van in 1978 caused one of the shortest concerts ever.  Click on the link for the full story.  Otherwise read below for an edited version. (Some of the information here may conflict with other accounts of the same concert.) 

It was fall, 1978, and I was excited to see Mr Morrison — before the whole performance began and ended as quickly as a teenager having sex for the first time. See, I had a friend back then, Tom, who worked at the Palladium Theater where Van was singing. Tom promised me a backstage tour before the show. I was stoked. Plus, the band Rockpile was opening.

Tom met me at the side door, an hour before the show began. I'd never been backstage at such a venue before. Surprisingly, it was nothing special. Mostly dank and dirty, with lots of fat, belching Teamsters milling around. At least, I hoped they were Teamsters. If they were Van's band, I thought, they needed to shave and spend the summer at one of those weight-loss camps. But there were the sounds of tooting horns and guitar licks, so the place did bear some resemblance to a rock 'n' roll hangout.

As I walked around, past guys with ladders and clipboards, I turned left as Tom turned right. I saw a couple of rooms. One had its door closed; the other was open. And astonishingly, standing there in a robe, stood 5-foot-2 and 160 pounds of Napoleonic nastiness known as Van Morrison. I gasped.  Gathering myself, I let loose with the literary brilliance that is my hallmark. "Hi," I said. This bit of Evelyn Waughlike wit drew an immediate response from Van. He glared, stood there for a moment, then came over and slammed the dressing room door. So hard, I think he loosened one of my fillings. Sure, it was upsetting. But I couldn't help but feel that it was also a bad omen.

Tom eventually found me. I told him what had happened. I heard him gulp. And we got the hell out of there. Within 15 minutes, I was sitting in my seat. Full of anticipation. Big mistake.

The evening began well. Rockpile, lit up the hall with luminous rock 'n' roll lightning. They played hard and did covers of Chuck and Elvis, plus groovy Nick Lowe tunes and a great song by Graham Parker. All was well. But sitting there in the 10th row, I couldn't help but feel I'd cursed the evening. Simply by glimpsing Van Morrison before he came out to play.

At around 10, musicians marched out and lit into Tupelo Honey. Van, however, didn't appear until they'd played the intro about 11 times. During which, the crowd went from yelling joyfully, to that sort of horrible hiss that happens when the villain appears onscreen. To make matters worse, when he finally came out, Morrison was still sporting that disgusting purple jumpsuit he wore in The Last Waltz. I was sure the outfit would result in more projectile vomiting than during a screening of The Exorcist.

Still, the brilliant little bulldog was finally onstage. Maybe I hadn't cursed the show. Then again, maybe I had. I noticed, immediately, that every time that malevolent little rhesus monkey finished a verse and a band member started to solo, Morrison walked offstage. He must've done it done four times during "Honey." Ever the eternal optimist (kidding), I believed it was a jazzman's move.

I think the second number was "Moondance." But that moody little Lilliputian repeated his pattern of walking away every time someone soloed. The crowd began to murmur.

Then that petulant little pygmy really lost his shit. I've since blocked out what the third number was. But Van did his Rain Man/OCD thing of disappearing every three minutes. Except this time? He stayed offstage for two minutes. Then five. Then eight. And soon, even the most mentally-challenged of us realised that Mr. Morrison would not be returning. After 15 freakin' minutes of music!

We all waited for a while, thinking that the spiteful little homunculus might come back. No such luck. Food was hurled along with lit cigarettes, warm beer and curse words. Also, combinations of curse words I'd never heard before ("Unwashed pussy face" was one, I believe). Pretty soon everyone knew the show was over.

The most astonishing thing? Not a word about refunds was mentioned as the lights came on and we filed out. A couple of spiky-haired punks, clearly there to see Rockpile, tried their best to knock over the box office kiosk out front.

I stood there sadly for a moment, then quietly walked off keeping my mouth shut. I kind of knew I hadn't really done anything wrong. This clearly wasn't my fault, but I split anyway. There was no use in taking any chances. All the while thinking what I've probably thought 1000 times: 'Hell, even without this incident? My life is hard enough as it is.'

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