Thursday, 28 November 2013

Comfortably Numb

Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb first appears on the 1979 double album, The Wall. It was also released as a single in the same year with Hey You as the B-side.  The melody and most of the music was written by David Gilmour while Roger Waters contributed the lyrics. The song had the working title of The DoctorThis was the last song Waters and Gilmour wrote together.
The song is one of the most famous Pink Floyd songs and is known for its guitar solos. In 2004, the song was ranked number 314 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
The verses are composed in the key of B minor, while the chorus is in the key of D major. The song is one of two tracks on The Wall which are free-standing and do not fade into or out of an adjacent track. (The other free-standing song is Mother.) This is also the longest song on the album at 6:21, followed by Mother, which is 5:32.
According to Rolling Stone, the lyrics came from Roger Waters' experience when he was injected with tranquilisers for stomach cramps by a doctor prior to playing a Pink Floyd show in Philadelphia on the band's 1977 In the Flesh tour. "That was the longest two hours of my life," Waters said, "trying to do a show when you can hardly lift your arm." The experience gave him the idea which eventually became the lyrics to this song.

Other stories of the song's origins also exist. While many people thought the song was about drugs, Waters claims it is about a time in his childhood.  He told Mojo Magazine (December, 2009) that the lines, "When I was a child I had a fever/My hands felt just like two balloons" were autobiographical. He explained: "I remember having the flu or something, an infection with a temperature of 105 and being delirious. It wasn't like the hands looked like balloons, but they looked way too big, frightening."
(Note to Clinton Heylin here: You see Clinton, here's two different accounts by Waters about the inspiration behind the song.  And you attacked Van for his inconsistent memories!)
Waters and Gilmour disagreed about how to record the song as Gilmour preferred a more grungy style for the verses. In the end, Waters' preferred opening to the song and Gilmour's final solo were used on the album. Gilmour would later say, "We argued over Comfortably Numb like mad. Really had a big fight, went on for ages."  For the backing of Gilmour's vocal section, he and session player Lee Ritenour used a pair of high-strung acoustic guitars (i.e. just the treble strings from a 12-string guitar), a tuning also used for the intro to Hey You).
Dave Gilmour wrote the music while he was working on a solo album in 1978. He brought it to The Wall sessions and Waters wrote lyrics for it. Gilmour believes this song can be divided into 2 sections, dark and light. The light are the parts that begin "When I was a child...," which Gilmour sings. The dark are the "Hello, is there anybody in there" parts, which are sung by Waters.
Van Morrison played Comfortably Numb with Roger Waters at the July 21, 1990 concert Waters organised in Berlin to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. This version was used in Scorsese's 2006 movie The Departed and also appeared in an episode of The SimpsonsThe song has become an established favourite, and an essential part of any live set by Pink Floyd , and also by Waters and Gilmour during their respective solo careers.
At The Wall – Live in Berlin concert Roger Waters sang lead, Van Morrison sang Gilmour's vocal parts backed by Rick Danko and Levon Helm of The Band, with guitar solos by Rick DiFonzo and Snowy White, and backup by the Rundfunk Orchestra & Choir. Van Morrison's 2007 compilation album, Van Morrison at the Movies – Soundtrack Hits also includes this version.
In July 2008, Van Morrison began to include this song on the set list of some of his live concert performances. After singing it at the Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada he remarked, "I hope you liked that. I'm not numb and I'm not comfortable."

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Van Morrison rocks with Jesus

Eric Schansberg wrote the following post regarding the religious aspects of Van and his work. 
Van Morrison rocks with Jesus...
Ever since Van Morrison emerged in 1965 as the R&B-shouting lead singer of Them, record stores have stocked his music under "rock," but they could've just as easily stocked it under "soul," "blues," "jazz," and—occasionally—"gospel." 

Perhaps the only completely accurate Van Morrison category would be the one that Morrison himself has repeatedly embraced: "mystic." In dozens of songs documenting his Celtic soul's restless quest, he's made a career in popular music seem like a higher calling. 

In January Polydor/Universal Music launched its Morrison reissue campaign by releasing the first of what will eventually comprise 29 remastered, bonus-track-enhanced editions. Of the initial seven, Tupelo Honey (1971), Wavelength (1978), and Back on Top (1999) have long been bestsellers, but it's Into the Music (1979) and Avalon Sunset (1989) that will continue to fascinate Christians. (This was written a few years ago.  Albums were being reissued and then the work suddenly stopped.  Fans have a range of opinions about the whole process, but what most appreciated was the bonus material.) 

On Into the Music, Morrison sang of reading his Bible (Rolling Hills) and finding "sanctuary in the Lord" (Full Force Gale), on Avalon Sunset of God's all-sustaining omnipresence (When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?) and the healing power of "Jesus' name" (Whenever God Shines His Light). The reissue adds a version of When the Saints Go Marching In, in which Morrison name-checks St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. John of the Cross. Coming from someone famous for Brown-Eyed Girl, such sentiments are attention-getting. What makes them compelling is Morrison's dramatisation of them as statements of deep conviction.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Transitional Justice

A site for students called Transitional Justice has a Northern Ireland case study which looks at the music of Morrison as part of the healing process for Northern Ireland.  It also focuses on Nazi Germany, Rwanda and South Africa.   Here’s some of that interesting site:    

 Connecting through the Music of Van Morrison

In the aftermath of mass violence and instability, what role can music play in promoting unity and reconciliation in a society imagining peace?
Music has the potential to affect people in ways unlike any other form of communication. And although it can be used to divide, music can also draw together people who are struggling for connection and common ground. In communities in Northern Ireland, it sometimes seems that there are three of everything: schools, sports teams, restaurants, community centres, etc. There is one for Protestants, one for Catholics, and one for both.

Are there things in Northern Irish society that are shared, that bring people together, and rise above this "rule of three"? When asked this question, a group of teachers confided that there were, in fact, a few. One of them is a love for the music of singer/songwriter Van Morrison. His songs represent neither Catholics nor Protestants, he employs both in his band, and his concerts draw everyone. With real joy, these teachers reflected on the importance of this shared musical connection.
Once, following a visit by President Clinton-the first U.S. President to visit Northern Ireland-Morrison played for a peaceful crowd of 80,000 people; a crowd with representation from many groups within the country. This was a moment that these teachers remembered and cherished. Nearly a decade later, they recall the event as something that allowed them to imagine peace, the possibility of living together, and being a part of a crowd that together sang Morrison's song, Days Like This.

Connections for the Classroom...
The group of teachers were all deeply affected by the concert. What role does such shared moments play in peace building? Why are symbols and music like some of the songs of Van Morrison so important to peace building efforts? Are there songs, people, or events you can think of that you-or your country-might share with a group that is considered an enemy or a former enemy?

Pick a line or two from the lyrics of Days Like This that most affect or interest you. Share the lines in full or small group discussion and explain why you chose them.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

40 Years of the Roxy

On September 23, 1973, the Roxy Theatre opened its doors for the first time in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip.  The past 40 years of The Roxy has provided a rich legacy for the West Coast’s musical heritage.  The original owners were music producer Lou Adler and Elmer Valentine, along with original partners David Geffen, Elliot Roberts and Peter Asher.

The Roxy kicked off its opening week with multi-night performances by Neil Young and his then-band the Santa Monica Flyers. A wide variety of local and international acts have followed Neil with appearances at the Roxy.  Because of The Roxy’s intimate setting and ideal acoustics, it’s not surprising that dozens of acts recorded live albums at the venue. Most notably, nine songs from Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s Live/1975-85 album were recorded at the Roxy including Thunder Road, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), and Backstreets.
Van Morrison, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, Bob Marley & The Wailers and Warren Zevon also recorded live albums during the early years of the venue.  According to "Mr Statistics" Gunter Becker Van played one live gig at the Roxy on November 26, 1978.  He played 14 songs and the concert lasted 1 hour 28 minutes and 2 seconds.   
The Roxy has also hosted numerous non-musical.  Paul Reuben most famously debuted his classic character Pee-wee Herman on stage there in 1981, which also featured Saturday Night live great Phil Hartman.  Also, the cult classic musical The Rocky Horror Show debuted its live shows at The Roxy in 1974, before being made into the film version The Rocky Horror Picture Show the following year.

Long may The Roxy continue as an iconic music venue.  

Saturday, 16 November 2013

What It’s Like to See Van in Belfast

Bob Meline's Review is offered in a shortened form below.  For the full review click on Bob's name above. 


MARCH 16, 2013
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Europa Hotel. Tonight, this is the best place in the world to be."

It was an eclectic crowd, pretty much the norm for a Van show. I guessed that I might be the only single at my table, but my seatmate was Alan, who had flown over from Denmark for his first Van concert, a definite fan. I thought perhaps I’d travelled the furthest, from Northern California, but apparently there was someone there from Australia. 

Shana Morrison was there to help out pop and she “opened” the show with an abridged version of the band, doing three quick numbers, including And It Stoned Me and a kickass (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. With barely a break, the rest of the band was onstage and broke into the intro for Only A Dream. With a simple “Van Morrison” from one of the band, the man appeared—and magic happened.
He interacted with band members, rather than just calling the tunes and pointing for solos. He introduced songs and spoke to the audience, at one point even going on a bit of a rant about how some “grumpy” people (including the Queen) manage to get away with being grumpy. In short, tonight we got the happy Van.  

The music was nonstop. As a member of Van’s band, you’ve got to be paying attention at all times. He doesn’t work from a setlist, and when he calls the tune and counts it off, you’ve got to be ready to go—lest you get one of those “looks.”
The second tune out of the gate was “Makin’ Whoopee,” with Shana adding some nice interaction to a very jazzy version of the song. He went to the new album, Born To Sing—No Plan B, for Open The Door To Your Heart, and a bit later for Goin’ Down To Monte Carlo. He introduced “Monte Carlo” by saying, “This is off the new CD. It’s not being promoted at the minute, so who cares?” Ah, Van, still at odds with the music industry…

There were classics, to be sure. After a brief discussion with the keyboard player, he introduced Got To Go Back by saying, “If this doesn’t work, it’s your fault!” The whole band had a part in a gorgeous rendition of Standing In The Garden, and the beginnings of Beautiful Vision got a gasp and a whoop from the audience.

There were also the covers that Morrison makes his own. His country side came out with the Don Gibson classic I Can’t Stop Loving You. And his introduction of, “We’re getting too serious here, I’ve gotta get back to the Las Vegas set,” preceded That Old Black Magic. (Glenn Miller, eat your heart out.)
There were two high points in the show for me. The first came five songs in, when Morrison did an incredible rework of Wavelength, dropping the speed of the original a bit, twisting it into a jazzy shuffle and mesmerising the crowd. He followed that with Sometimes We Cry, from 1997’s The Healing Game. Brian Kennedy and Georgie Fame, a couple of Morrison cohorts, did some of the vocal work on the original, but Van and Shana have been performing it live together recently. I had heard about it, but never heard it. Father and daughter were never better together.

The other high point ended the show. The evening was seasoned mostly with a jazz feel, but as a lover of Morrison’s blues side, I was thrilled to hear the intro guitar licks of Baby Please Don’t Go. Van gave credit to Big Joe Williams, who penned the song back in the 30’s, and then tore through alternating harmonica licks and vocals with a vengeance. And with a nod to Sonny Boy Williamson, he said, “We’re gonna stay with the blues here,” and went directly into a 10-minute version of his live-show staple, Help Me.
Morrison left the stage, which usually signals the end of the show, but the unmistakable three-chord intro of Gloria brought the man back out for one more. As much as I’ve disliked the version of Gloria that I’ve heard at other Van shows, this one was special. Everybody got up from their tables and made their way to the front of the room, thereby decreasing the size of an already small space. It was like seeing the band at the corner pub. The fans loved it, the band members loved it, and I think I even saw Van himself smile a bit.  
Reader Comments

Candy Dearborn   -   I can only wish to do something like that! how awesome that must have been, i can only imagine it all! someday…I have loved Van since day one…way way back when…he was just a kid himself! I LOVE THAT MAN…VAN THE MAN!!
Aw   -   so jealous!! last time I saw him was Killyleigh Castle ’95!!

Ann Marie Denelle   -   Sounds blissful and very much my dream! I would love tossed Van and Bono play each others music acoustically. They both serve such higher purpose…keep me connected to my soul.
Lynne   -   I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. M. Ten times… I have to say every show I’ve ever seen I have felt the great joy that you write about, such a gift, always a blessing, a moving experience!

Kevin Lynch   -   Great review, sorry I missed the show, saw our man in January at The Culloden Hotel – absolutely excellent. I have seen our friend dozens of times and never ever been disappointed, he’s class and a gentleman.
Ruth Astbury   -   Yes I flew from Australia just to see Van Morrison. I sat on Table 3 next to another solo Van Morrison fan, named Pat from New York. Thank you for mentioning me in your review.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Van Morrison's Folly

Here’s a post from Shawn Quinn in 2010 about a Houston area concert on May 1, 2010.  According to stats guru Gunter Becker the concert lasted 1 hour 36 minutes and 39 seconds and 16 songs were played.   The concert was held at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion at Woodlands.  Here’s most of Shawn’s post: 
Van Morrison’s Folly

A recent post to the Houston Press Rocks Off blog details Van Morrison’s rather unusually conditioned visit to the greater Houston area. While it is Van’s right to attach as much fine print to his performances as his heart allows, I feel it equally my right to expose the flaws in his logic.

1.        Van didn’t allow reviewers or photographers at his shows unless he was in an especially good mood.

This is just crazy. A performer with any confidence in his or her talent should take no issue of this sort with either reviewers or photographers. Are they going to run every ticket holder’s name through the major Web search engines and have everyone sign declarations under penalty of perjury that they will not blog about the show?

2.       Subscribers and ticket holders received emails from the Pavilion with a list of dos and don’ts for Van’s show.

Besides the stuff that we already knew, like that Morrison will go on at 8 p.m. sharp with no opener, among the other “unique items” the Pavilion informed ticket holders that no “alcohol-related beverages” would be served during Morrison’s performance. The Pavilion will suspend alcohol sales at 7:50 p.m., the same time that Morrison has “requested” that all ticket holders be in their seats.
Humility never came naturally to me and I have always felt like being truly humble was not being myself. But there’s having an ego, and then there’s REALLY HAVING AN EGO. And from the looks of these requests, Van Morrison REALLY HAS AN EGO. Honestly, this is not only needless egotism, but this turns me off to Van Morrison as a fan. It’s enough of an ego to make stars like Madonna look humble, and that’s a lot. I’m not easily offended by ego, but this egregious display of ego does offend me a bit.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Extra Fan Stories

Joe Creighton   -   Back in '64 and '65 Robin McClelland, myself and a few others from the Bangor crew would make the trip up to Belfast to see some bands. Saturday afternoon The Jazz club in (I think) Royal Avenue was a great place to go and hear some great R&B music as there was quite a strong culture of this kind of music in Belfast which was giving rise to many bands playing blues and R&B. On Saturday night there was The Maritime club where Them would often play. I remember we would go to Austins of Ann Street to buy our tab collar and button down collar shirts and Cuban heel boots. Ann Street was like the Carnaby Street of Belfast.
Them were always a great band to see live. Van always seemed like he was pissed off about something and would go off as the band progressed into their set. I remember seeing him kick mike stands and finally a Vox Continental organ off the stage in a frenzied rage at one of the 'Inst' dances (Royal Belfast Academical Institution) I don't know if it was rage or pure show biz, but it sure got the place pumping. We were all impressed that he was a 'wee hard man'. (A Belfast term for someone not to be f#*~ed with)
I was playing with my own band 'The Aside' doing local dances and clubs. I was the lead singer, Paul Lyttle on vocals and guitar, Mike Harrison (cousin of Billy Harrison, guitarist with Them) on bass, Len McCormick on drums, and Jon (Jonas) Brown on keys. We played everything from Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters to Stones, Them and the Animals. Some of our memorable highlights as a young band was doing support for The Troggs and I don't know why but, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch.
Michell Longo   -   The most important instruction to the band at my wedding was that they were, under no circumstances, to play Van Morrison's Brown-Eyed Girl.  No matter what compromises I was willing to make, I simply would not tolerate a song that caused girls to stand in a circle holding hands and sway like Brown-Eyed Girl does.  If anyone requested it, our DJ was to instruct the guest that by order of the bride the answer was no. 

During the wedding, I made my rounds to each table.  By the time I reached the table where my coworkers and boss were sitting, I had hit the whiskey bottle pretty hard.  Then I heard a few familiar notes giving way to some familiar lyrics.

Hey where did we go
Days when the rain came...

My boss was mid-sentence when I cut him off.   "That mother f###er!  I told him not to play this f###ing song!"
Jaws dropped.  I heard something like "no one dressed in a white gown should be swearing like that," but I was already on my way to give the DJ a piece of my mind.

Saturday Buddha   -   I saw Van Morrison live on six occasions here in a very different London during the late Eighties and early Nineties - including a brilliant performance with The Chieftains at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and one at the Royal Albert Hall during the Avalon Sunset tour. Been revisiting his material quite a lot recently in turn by way of the great lost Mechanical Bliss album from the mid-Seventies which can now be accessed on youtube. Some very raw hard rock blues jams to be heard here on You Move Me, Feedback On Highway 101 and Not Working For You that are utterly unique within Morrison's work. The album also includes the extraordinary title track as delivered in rambling aristocratic style worthy of our current rulers in Austerity Britain, the driving funk of Naked in the Jungle,  jazz instrumental Much Binding In The Marsh and an original version of The Street Only Knew Your Name which ranks with anything else in the artist's magnificent back catalogue - indeed truly as priceless as the equally reflective Madame George, And It Stoned Me, Saint Dominic's Preview, Linden Arden Stole The Highlights or Irish Heartbeat in my opinion.
Jillian   -   After breakfast Nik dropped me off at Inlet Yoga for a “yoga for athletes” class with my cousin, Heather. Holy moly. I’ve never worked so hard in a yoga class in my life. I knew it was going to be an awesome class when the music started with Van Morrison’s These Are the Days. If there were a soundtrack to my childhood, Van Morrison would be up there with Bruce and Dire Straits. When I wasn’t slip-n-sliding around my mat (yes, it was that sweaty), I managed some new poses and a hard core arm and shoulder workout.

Cormac Looney   -   The opening piano fill on St Dominic’s Preview puts me in Alamo Square Park on a sunny afternoon that same summer.  Beside You brings me to the house I grew up in in the Irish Midlands in the early hours during a late 1990s’ summer; Tupelo Honey to a climb of Carrauntoohil in 2010; Linden Arden Stole The Highlights to the kitchen of W’s home, overlooking the river Shannon, on an evening sometime in the past decade. Why this happens more with Van Morrison (and a small number of other composers) is unknown to me.
JB   -   The most problematical song on the album is If in Money We Trust. If you listen only to the band and the sound of Van’s voice, it’s a hypnotising groove that runs eight minutes and could run eight more. But the content of the words—short, mantra-like phrases telling how we’ve replaced God with filthy lucre—eventually becomes strident. And ironic, too. Van Morrison’s a guy who spent several years making war on the Internet, going after anybody who dared post anything he considered to be his intellectual property, and even warning those of us he feared might be tempted. A few years back, after a Morrison-themed post—which didn’t contain an mp3, Youtube video, or snippet of lyrics—I got an from Web Sheriff thanking me for my interest in Van but also reminding me, in creepy, Big-Brother-is-watching-you fashion, that Van’s intellectual property was his and his alone. So his protestations about how evil money is tend to ring hollow with me. Although he’s come around on the value of Internet promotion, for a long time he locked down his intellectual property like Hetty Green. Money doesn’t matter? Really?

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Melancholy of Van Morrison

Andrew Hidas’ post called Hearts Like Wheels: The Melancholy of Linda Ronstadt and Van Morrison contains some interesting perspectives about both artists.  Below is some of the Van material from the post.  Click above for the full piece.

I was talking with a friend recently about my previous post on Van Morrison and his mood-laden song, When the Leaves Come Falling Down. (Also “stolen” or re-posted by this blog!) He was telling me how another Morrison mooder, Melancholia, is reportedly Morrison’s only truly autobiographical song and, indeed, also represents my friend’s truest and deepest stance toward life. This surprised me a bit, inasmuch as my friend, whom I’ve known pretty well for most of my adult life, presents a rather relentlessly cheerful public persona, far removed from the dark brooding pathos of Melancholia. Yet it also put me on notice, again, of the deep sadness that underlies so much of life and so many people, a sadness virtually everyone meets on various and shifting terms throughout the peaks and vales of our brief tenures here.

For Van Morrison and his own melancholia, the longing is for nothing as distinct and potentially attainable as a love object. No, his darkness is in his DNA, something no earthly love or other indulgence is apparently capable of overcoming:

Well it’s in my blood and it’s in my veins
Here it comes again, when I’m in the rain
In the wind and rain, well the sun don’t shine
Well it’s always mine, all of the time
And it’s in my life and it’s all the time
It doesn’t go away when the church bells chime
In the evening time when I drink my wine
In the evening time when it’s on my mind

Morrison is a master of prayerful incantation; one can almost smell the incense as dark-robed and hooded monks shuffle down the aisle at the Midnight Office, chanting: melancholia, melancholia, melancholia…
To examine Morrison’s vast body of work—running frequently to titles such as Sometimes We Cry, In the Midnight, Underlying Depression, No Religion, Wasted Years— is to be reminded of how close he seems to sidle up to that edge, and how it is perhaps only his writing and singing that keep him on this side.


Loren Webster   -   If I were to venture a guess, I’d say that it’s quite possible Van Morrison is a manic-depressive, or, at least, that his songs give that impression, moving from incredible highs to incredible lows. Songs like Full Force Gale, Domino, etc. are about as happy as I can handle in a song contrasting with the melancholy masterpieces he’s written. I’ve always thought that one of the most remarkable things about Van’s music is how he can take blues rhythms and translate them into uplifting songs.

As far as being his most biographical song, I don’t think you get more biographical than Cleaning Windows or New Biography where the narrator complains about phony biographies. Oh and then there’s numerous songs where he complains about record producers cheating him, if they aren’t autobiographical one has to wonder why Van would think that they would appeal to 99% of his listeners. On the other hand, I don’t trust any of his songs to accurately reflect his true views. I believe Van when he claims that he’s a song writer and his main concern is producing a great song. In the end, though, don’t all writers write from their own personal experience, even if they claim otherwise?

Robby Miller   -   As the sometimes melancholy fellow in question, I can say that every morning I wake up and realise that I have the choice to choose the ugliness of life or the beauty. Now, more often than not, I choose the beauty. The ugly is still there, and still needs to be confronted, but the day begins with an affirmation of all that is good.