Monday, 27 October 2014

The Mysterious Madame George

Here's some speculation from the Song Meanings site.  Everyone's got an opinion about Madame George, it seems.  

Garthc   -   Just to add to the mystery and confusion that surrounds this song's meanings: while the title is 'Madame George' the central character is consistently referred to in the actual song as Madame Joy. This was the song's original title before Van Morrison changed it for reasons he apparently doesn't remember or just as likely, given that he has always refused to be pinned down on the precise meanings of the songs on Astral Weeks, doesn't want to say. In addition whether you buy into the 'transvestite' interpretation of the character or not the line in question is definitely 'in the corner playing dominoes IN drag'.

alfiebaby   -   I am a Van Morrison expert and I can assure you that Madame George was not a drug dealer. Anyway, having said that, this is probably Van Morrison's greatest song alone for the string bit at the end. Tear jerking stuff. Madame George is still alive, by the way, living as a recluse in Eire where it was more liberal than Ulster.

Mr Wombat   -   I always read this song where 'MG' the character is a euphemism for heroin, and the song explains his departure from heroin use. Van's christened name "George' adds texture to this explanation. The drug is his 'madam'.

Paega   -   I guess it's set before the partition of Ireland, and therefore the narrator isn't Van Morrison, but a protestant schoolboy in Dublin. The song begins with his adult self in a reverie on Cyprus Avenue, remembering bygone days, seeing himself as a teenager, clutching history books, entranced by the sight of Madame George, a glamorous transvestite, leading a drunken soldier boy back to her flat.

The narrator finds himself in the flat, a sort of speakeasy, with gambling, drinking, drugs and dancing on offer - and perhaps sex. The narrator is captivated by this outrĂ© character and her Bohemian life. It's a place to which he returns again and again. The song tells of two episodes from the flat: a police raid which results in Madame George throwing the drugs out of the window; and the final tearful goodbye, as the narrator leaves for a new life in Belfast.  The song is about a juvenile infatuation with someone fearlessly living a life which breaks all the rules, and a wistful reflection of adolescent freedom and possibility. 

Lord Taylor   -   In my opinion the phrase" Clicking Clacking of the high heeled shoe Ford and Fitzroy Madam George" is referring to how Madam George looked, how she was dressed, who she was, perhaps Ford coming from the Famous Ford Models, and Fitzroy from the high end clamour boutiques and the elegant vintage look of the Fitzroy district of Melbourne. Ford and Fitzroy is her dress, her walk, her status, her image, her knowledge of who she was. Morrison was able to describe all this with two words: Ford and Fitzroy.

johnpauljones86   -   This is about a transvestite living in Belfast. This man is very nice and sociable. Every one goes to his parties and eats his food but wont even look him in the eye. He is a very sad character and Van feels for sympathetic and maybe even empathetic. Then the cops show up or maybe George gets frustrated with the whole thing and just says that in order to clear the room. He then realises he doesn't belong and has to leave. But he must leave out the back so no one will see him(is he ashamed?) He decides to go from the Sandy Row(protestant Ireland) to Dublin (Catholic). And finally he says goodbye in one of the most beautiful touching parts in music, in my opinion. This song is a little iffy on the exact meaning but in any event its sad stuff.

Snob snarl   -   Deliberately vague to encourage 'experts' to show off their speculative pectorals? Probably written while he was stoned, so trying to find any definite meaning is a waste of time, though a grand opportunity to show off how 'sensitive' one is to its vague melancholy and its confused suggestiveness. A rather unremarkable song to any sober person with his/her head screwed-on correctly.

flashdance357   -   I don't think the song has anything to do with a transvestite. If the writer's own denial is not enough, consider the slang term drag was not widely used when this song was written and the references are in Ireland. The perfume, clicking clacking of the high heeled shoe and the fascination of the soldier boy and the younger boys suggest a story about a prostitute. That may also explain her fear of the cops and why she must go off to jail.

BVZ   -   Thank you all for your comments. I enjoyed each and every one. I'm going to go with drag of a cigarette. I just saw Van perform this song in Washington DC. It was amazing! Although I was disappointed he didn't do any encores.

Frypast   -   Those are backgrounds on the subject. But I think the mood of the song is basically that feeling when you know you've moved on from youthful days... and you're stepping into a new life. It nostalgic.

WLN   -   My version of the song says in the second verse "and your self control lets go, suddenly up against the bathroom door, the hallway lights out front are getting dim, you're in the front room touching him". I have yet to find that in any of the lyric searches I've done. None the less it is my all time favourite song.

donutslikefannys   -   I agree that it is a mistake to try to pin anything too specific on the Madame George character, but I do think, whoever he/she is and whatever s/he and the narrator are up to, it is something at least highly embarrassing and quite possibly illegal. There is some kind of bust, and as the narrator tries to melt away into the street the tactless George starts bellowing for all and sundry to hear that he has forgotten his glove. George knows that this will put the narrator in a bit of a spot, but the narrator still cannot help but look on him/her fondly. The episode happens towards the end of an era: the ageing George cannot carry on like this and the narrator is probably not going to come back, but the memories are still happy.

I used to have my own over-specific interpretation of what exactly was going on - I saw George as a transvestite brothel-keeper - a "madam" in that sense, but probably not actually a hands-on trick-turning prostitute himself. When the cops arrive, the narrator/Van is maybe passing time in the lobby chatting to George after a session with one of his girls. But as I say, that is over-specific I think.

musiclover43   -   "and you think you'll find a bag(heroin) the game wink out and your knees begin to sag" i also think that the word "Drag" has been around since long before 67, the English had been dressing like women in plays(Monty Python) just a thought. 

stevecaratzas   -   I'm quite surprised to see that no one has mentioned that Van Morrison's actual name is GEORGE Ivan Morrison. Just sayin'.

EFlatMajor   -   What about these lyrics that you all are ignoring?  
And then your self control lets go
And suddenly you're up against the bathroom door.
The hallway lights are finely getting dim
You're in the front room touching him
Who is the "him" in that line?

xhohxua   -   'Madame' is one who runs a house of prostitution and George equals heroin, so the house is really run by heroin is the meaning and main character of the song. Ford & Fitzroy tendered piquant delicacies and objets d'art, along with delusions made real ... just so long as you could pronounce them with a mouthful! I know, I was there. It was a mighty long time ago -- mighty like a rose

kitoba   -   The confusion with the extra set of lyrics is because there are two versions of this song. The more famous version is from Astral Weeks, and the lyrics are as above. The other version is from a late release of some early recording sessions, and has the extra verse that a couple of people have included in their posts.  Morrison has always denied the popular interpretation that MG is a drug-dealing transvestite (the drugs presumably being the item that she drops into the snow to hide from the cops), but the deleted verse seems to add extra support to that idea.

vasnmoGo   -   The first 2 interpretations are utter rubbish. This is stream of consciousness, based in Dublin and Belfast, where Van associates his older, drug taking ladyfrined with an interesting aunt he had called Madame Joy - they were both "into the mystic". The ending describes the pain and longing of leaving and in musical terms better than any other medium.

Ida Glass   -   The song is said to be based on numerous people, not just one or two. And as for the whole transvestite thing, though plausible, I'd be more skeptical of that. I believe the song alludes to Georgia Hyde Lees, wife of W.B. Yeats. 

Bocca   -   Of course the transvestite idea is rubbish. It was started way back by a really drugged out Rolling Stone writer named Bangs and Van has denied it. Bangs based his theory on the line playing dominoes in drag. I hear it as "and drag" that is inhale. It's about mystic transcendence that's why he called it Astral Weeks. George is definitely a composite character maybe partly his Aunt Joy and partly Mrs WB Yeats who went by 'George' and probably others. Clearly drugs were involved but it's not clear how. The only thing for certain is that it means something different to everyone who listens to it and that's one of the many reasons it's the best LP of the era. I was 16 when I first heard it in 1968 and I still listen to it religiously.

Rockinman   -   I've been listening to Madame George what seems like forever. I'm convinced it's about a cross-dressing drug user who liked the company of young men. I heard long ago that he (George) was a real fella who was murdered. Anyone have thoughts on the murder thing?

willard   -   It's actually about a transvestite drug dealer from Dublin who used to travel to Belfast to do business which is where Van came in contact with him when he himself was just a boy. Madame George's death obviously had an effect on Morrison  -  "Dry your eye for Madame George"

SPLINTER31   -   The main theme of the song is about leaving the past behind. The character of Madame George is considered by many to be a drag queen, although Morrison himself denied this in a Rolling Stone interview. He later claimed that the character was based on six or seven different people: "It's like a movie, a sketch, or a short story. In fact, most of the songs on Astral Weeks are like short stories. In terms of what they mean, they're as baffling to me as to anyone else. I haven't got a clue what that song is about or who Madame George might have been."

chellspecker   -   I have a very strong emotional connection to this song. He perfectly captures the adolescent fascination with someone living completely outside the rules. It's a defining moment that many sensitive artists will relate to, the feeling of liberation that you feel in the presence of someone who simply doesn't obey the rules you were brought up to believe as the order of the world itself. In this sense, it also articulates a sense of the uncanny, the occult, which have a long association with transvestism. In native American cultures the two-spirited or transgendered were considered to have a stronger connection to the spirit world because of the fluidity of their identity. It's also a reminiscence on a young man's imagination of the adult world. Young people can distinguish authenticity better than grown-ups, and the narrator of the song senses something different in Madame George, and this has a profound effect on him, so much so that it acts as a kind of landmark in his personal history around which many memories orbit. I wouldn't say it can be reduced to a this happens and then this happens and then this happens kind of narrative, as the nostalgic perspective of the song is so poignant that the song comes to be about memories of childhood and its defining moments generally.

vasnmoGo   -   A sadly neglected masterpiece - one of greatest works of art last century

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Van Morrison Trail

Connswater Community Greenway has launched a Van Morrison themed 3.5 km tourist trail in East Belfast. The Van Morrison Trail takes visitors on a journey through the East Belfast of Van's youth. For decades Van Morrison fans have descended on Belfast making their own pilgrimages to various Belfast landmarks mentioned in his lyrics.

Speaking at the launch, Van said: “The Hollow, Orangefield, Hyndford Street, Cyprus Avenue, North Road, St Donard’s Church, and the Connswater River all bring back happy memories of my years in the East.”

The trail begins at Elmgrove Primary School where Morrison went to school. At every stop the trail map explains the connection between the place and the song or songs it inspired. Stops include The Hollow, which features in his most famous hit, Brown Eyed Girl, and Hyndford Street, where he was born in 1945 in the shadow of the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built.  Orangefield Park, which forms the backdrop to the hit love song of the same name is also on the trail, as is the perfect photo opportunity beside the street sign on Cyprus Avenue.

The map incorporates QR codes through which trail followers can listen to 12 song extracts linked to the locations. The final stop is at the site of Davey’s Chipper, now a Chinese restaurant, but formerly Mclwain’s Chippy, frequented by Van and his friends and mentioned in the song Sense of Wonder.

The song is also stuffed full of references to Northern Ireland speciality foods such as barmbrack and gravy rings, and these are explained in the trail map, and easily found in the local grocers.

The trail was developed as part of the Connswater Community Greenway project, which received funding from the Big Lottery Fund. The self-guided trail can also be walked accompanied by a mobile phone app which adds twelve song extracts at key points along the way.

Wendy Langham, Connswater Community Greenway project programme manager, said they were delighted to recognise Van’s contribution to the area. “Many people ask us for information about Van’s music and his links to east Belfast. It is great that we now have The Van Morrison Trail to give to his fans,” she said.

Van's friend and former Monarchs showband colleague George Jones said the new trail was an invaluable bonus for Morrison fans.  He added: "Reading the trail takes me back to times spent in Orangefield by the Beechie River. It's great the way the trail and the songs capture those memories and the landmarks which were an integral part of our childhood."

Morrison, who is fiercely protective of his privacy, has returned in recent years from America to base himself for most of his time in Northern Ireland, where his mother Violet still lives.

The trail is one of the first projects which he has approved to share his past with his fans, some of whom have been travelling from America for concerts which he has been staging in Northern Ireland.

Similar tourist trails have been produced in the past for other east Belfast luminaries like CS Lewis and George Best.  But tourist chiefs believe the Morrison trail will be the biggest draw of all.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

World's Strangest Album

There’s a lot of strange stuff out there in the music world. Tiny Tim, Captain Beefheart, Marilyn Manson, William Shatner and Lee Marvin have all added their own oddness to the wonderful world of contemporary music.  But the oddest collection of songs of all time has to be Van Morrison’s contractual obligation album.

After his few years fronting Them, Morrison signed as a solo artist for Bang Records and recorded eight songs, originally intended to be released as four singles. The songs and band had been chosen by Bang boss Bert Berns, but Morrison was unhappy with the sessions. Ignoring the singer’s protestations, Berns instead released all eight tracks as Morrison’s first solo album called Blowin’ Your Mind.

Van and Berns were at war with each other from that point and Van wanted to leave the label.   Berns died at the end of 1967. Morrison began to negotiate out of his record deal.  The label refused and insisted he deliver them another album of songs, preferably commercial pop like Brown Eyed Girl.    

Unable to record the music he wanted with the band of his choice, Van became understandably upset. His state of mind wasn’t helped when Bert Berns’ widow (who blamed the argumentative Irishman for her husband’s heart attack) tried to have him deported. A quick marriage to his U.S. girlfriend Janet Rigsbee ended that problem.

Finally, Van found himself a musical saviour. Warner Music stepped in and bought out his deal with Bang Records. There was still one problem, though. Morrison had to record one more album of songs for Bang. 

A true professional, Van did the only thing he could: swallowed his pride and recorded more than 30 songs in a single recording session on an out of tune guitar.  Most of the songs are 90 seconds or less. The subject matter of the songs were as diverse as they were ridiculous. They included ring worm, sandwiches, a number of digs at a guy named George (Van's real first name) and a song about saying the word France. 

The album is pretty much young man Van beating on his guitar and slurring out these spoken words that occasionally sound a little bit like singing. Now and then there’s some real vocalising that makes you think he’s about to do something serious. It sounds a lot like Dylan in places. A little before the halfway mark he starts taunting the listener, calling you Freaky if You Got This Far.  Unsurprisingly, the bizarre set was deemed unfit for release by Bang Records who seemed to think that they were somewhat below Van Morrison’s regular output. They eventually saw the light of day under a range of different titles beginning in the mid-90s and remain some of the strangest and funniest songs in rock. Sometimes the songs are repackaged on albums alongside the other Bang recordings. 
Morrison waited exactly one year before recording his first album with Warner. The rambling, jazz-influenced poetry of Astral Weeks would go on to be regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.  

I think Van made a mistake making the contractual album for Bang.  At the time it seemed like a good idea. However with the constant reissues of this material people are judging the stuff as representative of Van Morrison.  My own brother said "I don't know how you could like Van Morrison so much.  Songs like Nose in Your Blow are terrible".  

Why doesn't Van just buy the rights?  Save all these embarrassing compilations using the material.  I also have an idea that the songs could be reworked into an interesting album. That would be a challenge for Van as seeks ideas to prolong his recording career.

The Songs 
Stomp And Scream
Scream And Holler
The Wobble
Hang On Groovy
Twist And Shake
Shake and Roll
Wobble and ball
Jump and thump
The Wobble
Drivin' wheel
Shake it Mable
Just ball

Hold on George
The Big royalty check
Ring worm
Savoy Hollywood
Freaky if you got this far
Up your mind
Thirty two
All the bits
You say France and I whistle
Blow your nose
Nose in your blow
La Mambo
Go for yourself
Want a Danish
Here comes dumb George
Chickee coo
Do it
Goodbye George
Dum dum George
Walk and Talk

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Funny Things People Say - Part 7

Fat Mammy Cat   -   I need a straight answer, you see Etheline says, well, I don't really believe it, but I-wait, let me get a drink first, I know it's early but I need it, steady my nerves. Right, right, fine now. Okay, right. No, I'm fine. I SAID I'M FINE!  Is Van Morrison...well is he considered, urgh, I can't, I...  IS VAN MORRISON CONSIDERED JAZZ???

Jason Mittell   -   The Wire is to Van Morrison as Lost is to The Beatles and The Wire is the Astral Weeks of television.

Thomas Robinson   -   Beyond the word play, I think you can find some similarities in the Stone Soup Cafe and our old buddy Van Morrison.

Ben Buchanan   -   Venga Boys doing a Van Morrison track is the music genre that best describes my culinary style.
Steve   -  Could I live in a world ruled by Van Morrison? Well how much worse could it be than the world that he said. Now that we are grown up democracy people do we not know that with leadership you have to take gregarious blows.

Sam Anderson   -   Which makes me think that I would like to see Sasha Frere-Jones describe all of the major rock voices, past and present, with a cluster of three evocative-yet-precise adjectives (preferably with an adverb preceding the second one). Thom Yorke, for instance, could be ‘‘angular, partly waxed, goldenrod.’’ Van Morrison could be ‘‘funnel-shaped, dappled, loamy.’’

Alan Shulman  -   The great ones always remain inscrutable. Lennon was haunted by strange visions as a child; Dylan shape-shifted himself into born-again Christianity; and no one ever figured out what Van Morrison was talking about.  On the other hand, Bono is pretty easy to suss out.

Sg   -   The Van Morrison version of Comfortably Numb. There should be laws against touching this song if you’re under qualified, and a man like Van Morrison is clearly under qualified. And at the Berlin Wall concert, no less.

Mark Richardson   -   You know the feeling when you’ve read something and you’re so moved by it that you want to run out and talk to someone about it?  That’s how I felt last night after reading Vladimir Nabokov’s short story, Wingstroke. I think of Nabokov’s prose the same way I think of Van Morrison’s voice. I’m sure people would like to imitate them, but you just can’t.  

J. Eric Smith   -   I simply do not accept the rigid critical orthodoxy that labels Patti Smith’s Horses as a must-love, genius, landmark album, if for no other reason than its cover of Van Morrison’s Gloria, which immediately takes me back to every awful version I’ve ever heard of that song by every awful happy hour performer looking to connect with every awful frat house or fern bar audience via one of the most lowest common denominator crowd-pleasers ever, this side of Morrison’s other great lowest common denominator hit, Brown Eyed Girl (I am assuming the chord changes in the latter were too complicated for Patti’s Group, or they might have tried that one too)
Peter Paphides   -   I don’t know how many bad albums Van Morrison or Julian Cope would have to make before I stopped listening to them. I hold out hope for the good ones and I learn a little more about them from the bad ones.
Vsuk   -   What I do find strange about Van is that he is not more honoured in the country of his birth - specifically, East Belfast. Van may be a difficult individual but if they can name an airport after an alcoholic wife-beater shouldn't Van receive a little more civic recognition?

Tyler Krupa   -   In the example above, even though the usual presentation of the surname van Morrison begins with a lowercase v, it is correct to capitalise the first letter of the surname when the name begins a sentence. However, note that if the surname van Morrison is used later in the sentence or in references/citations, then the lowercase v is retained (e.g., At the conclusion of the participant interviews, van Morrison and Smith . . .)
Uncle E   -   Astral Weeks?  Astral WEAK, more like! You'd have to be an absolute idiot to enjoy this. It doesn't even have Brown Eyed Girl which is the only half decent thing Mr Morrison ever did. And what sort of name is Van? Stick to Ronan Keating for that bit of Irish soul.
Mark Morley   -   After 45 years Van Morrison is still producing music and it is the EDI VAN that has evolved into a cloud based B2B Network. It is interesting that Van Morrison’s latest album is called ‘Born to Sing’, a bit like Trading Grid, ‘Born to do B2B’
Jase Gram   -   I love socialising with the lads and I hang with lawyers, coppers, chippies, doctors, tree loppers (actually just one), farmers, teachers, retailers and bankers. I have mates who are rich and non-rich, fit and fat, crazy adrenalin junkies and couch potatoes, reserved and obnoxiously loud, straight and gay, dancers and non-dancers , those who like Van Morrison and those who don’t.