Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Patti Smith's Gloria

Ray Padgett has written a great piece at the Cover Me blog about how Patti Smith's version of Gloria came to be.  Cover Me concentrates on "the Cover Song".  Here's most of the post about Patti Smith's Gloria:

The Story Behind Patti Smith's "Gloria"

Before there was a song called Gloria, there was a poem called “Oath.” And the transition from one to the other might never have happened without forty bucks and one loud bass note.

Smith wrote “Oath” in 1970, opening with a line that wouldn’t become famous for five more years: “Christ died for somebody sins but not mine.” A giant kiss-off to her cult-like Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, the poem rattled off lines like “Christ, I’m giving you the goodbye, firing you tonight” and “Adam placed no hex on me.” The hostility towards religion that shocked so many in Gloria pales in comparison to the text of the original poem.

She performed “Oath” at her very first poetry reading, at St. Marks Church’s prestigious Poetry Project series in February 1971. She kept performing Oath in both solo and duo incarnations for the next few years. When she released her first book of poems, 1972s Seventh Heaven, she left Oath out. It wasn’t until 1975 that “Oath” would get any sort of release – and by then it had changed rather dramatically. 

Smith’s poem “Oath” and Them’s garage-band staple “Gloria” merged in a spontaneous moment one day in 1974. Playing regular concerts at Max’s Kansas City and other small clubs, Smith now had a three-piece band and the practiced what they called “fieldwork,” or what a different sort of band might call jamming.

“In the beginning it was just Lenny and I, and then we brought in a piano player, who was Richard Sohl,” Smith told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 2006. “So it was just the three of us… and we did very simple songs, because the configuration was so simple. We just chose songs that were basically three chords, so I could improvise over them.” A song so simple a child could play it, “Gloria” was a staple of these sessions – at a later point they auditioned second guitarists by playing Gloria for forty minutes or more to see who dropped out first (after many others couldn’t handle it, Ivan Kral stayed the course and soon joined the band).

One day though, it evolved into something new. In practice Patti wanted to play it. She hit a big E note: boinnnggg! She recited a bit of ‘Jesus died for somebody sins but not mine.’ You know, moving into Gloria seemed like a natural progression. Especially when we began, there was not a lot of forethought into what we did.”

From the moment Smith hit that E note, Gloria ceased being a cover by the strictest standards. Over half the words in the final version are her own, and even the bits she takes from Van Morrison are often radically rewritten. 

From the original seed, Gloria evolved. Smith began adding new lyrics until only the first six lines of “Oath” remained. They began playing it live in late ’74, where it opened with a bass guitar playing the familiar piano riff, reminiscent of that first bass note inspiration.

For a live radio concert in ’75, Smith even used the occasion to put the call out for a drummer, the last missing ingredient in the transition from poetry to rock-and-roll band. After a little self-mythologising about how the band got together, she reaches the next stage while the band vamps behind her: “So they got together and they looked for a drummer. And I know you’re out there! And I’m waiting for you! And we will go, and the rest will follow! The rest will follow! And oh it will be so good…” and right back into the song. After the show ended, Clive Davis went backstage with the contract for a seven-album deal on his new label Arista. And before long, they added Jay Dee Daugherty on drums.

With the Clive Davis deal in place, the band set out to record an album. Going into the studio in August 1975, Smith wanted to keep covers to a bare minimum. “On my record, I’m trying to reveal as much about myself as I can,” she told Crawdaddy around that time.

Some have written that Kaye talked Smith into including Gloria on the album, a story he disputes. “Nobody needed convincing because we were all on the same page,” he told Rock Town Hall. However, there was little question this song was closer to his heart than it was hers.

Kaye had been performing the song in its more traditional form since before he met Smith, and has often called it “the national anthem of garage rock” (having released the acclaimed Nuggets compilation a few years prior, he was the undisputed authority on the subject). “To me, Gloria is the greatest of them all,” he told author David Todd in 2012. 

Smith didn’t seem to feel as strongly. In her earliest interviews, she constantly mentions a trinity of musical heroes: Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, and Jim Morrison. Yet that other Morrison – Van – never comes up, despite, by that point, having proven himself in both the worlds of rock and roll raunch and highbrow poeticisms that Smith herself would draw upon. Nevertheless, Kaye – or good sense – prevailed, and the recording got underway at Hendrix’s Electric Lady studios.

The Velvet Underground’s John Cale was producer, but once he agreed and the sessions began, she began thinking she’d made a mistake. “My picking John was about as arbitrary as picking Rimbaud [as my favourite poet],” she told Rolling Stone in 1976. 

Over the month-long recording sessions, they fought over everything, from the band’s cheap instruments (Cale made them buy new ones) to the amount of improvisation – Cale pushed for more, eventually pushing the formerly 4-minute track Birdland past the nine-minute mark. The fighting didn’t appear to damage Gloria, though, which emerged relatively unchanged from the live versions the band had been playing around town.

The band – Smith, Kaye, Kral, Daugherty, and Sohl playing the studio’s massive grand piano – recorded the track totally live, according to engineer Bernie Kirsch in 2009. “The band was a live group; they were playing in the clubs and they had the songs down, so when they went in the studio it was mostly a matter of picking which performance was best,” he said. “There were not a lot of fixes I can recall.”

By the time it came to mixing, Cale was gone. “I’m not sure what occurred, but he didn’t complete the project,” Kirsch said. “If I recall, he wasn’t there for most of the mixing. I don’t know what the politics were — it wasn’t in my domain. So I basically took over and did the mix with Patti.”

Horses was released on December 13, 1975, with Gloria as the opening track (a month later it was released as a single, backed with a live “My Generation”). The critical reaction was immediate, with plenty of praise (the New York Times called it “extraordinary”) and a few detractors (the Village Voice derisively dubbed it “an ‘art’ statement”). But whatever the reaction to the album, many honed in on “Gloria” in particular.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many focused on the first line of the album, slightly rewritten to “Jesus died for somebody sins, but not mine.” Was this a call to arms for atheism? A reflection of Nietsche’s “God is dead”? Simply your everyday punk-rock provocation? For anyone following Smith’s career, that attitude wouldn’t have been a surprise. She speaks about rebelling against her strict Jehovah’s Witness upbringing in many early interviews. “My father taught us not to be a pawn in God’s game,” she told Interview in 1973. "The religious part I guess is from my mother, who is a complete religious fanatic.”

Yet anyone outraged – or even anyone thinking Smith was taking a definitive stand – perhaps missed the sense of humour, the tongue just a little in cheek. In her first-ever interview in 1972, already regularly performing “Oath” live, she told Victor Bockris, “When I say that bad stuff about God or Christ, I don’t mean that stuff. I don’t know what I mean; it’s just it gives somebody a new view, a new way to look at something. I like to look at things from ten or fifteen different angles, you know. So it gives people a chance to be blasphemous through me.”

Smith’s definite statement on the matter may have come thirty years later, when she reflected on Gloria to Terry Gross. “People constantly came up to me and said ‘You’re an atheist, you don’t believe in Jesus,’ and I said ‘Obviously I believe in him’… I’m saying that, y’know, that the concept of Jesus, I believe in. I just wanted the freedom. I wanted to be free of him. I was 20 years old when I wrote that, and it was sort my youthful manifesto. In other words I didn’t want to be good, y’know, but I didn’t want him to have to worry about me, or I didn’t want him taking responsibility for my wrongdoings, or my youthful explorations. I wanted to be free. So it’s really a statement about freedom.”

“I always enjoyed doing transgender songs,” she told The Observer in 2005. “That’s something I learnt from Joan Baez, who often sang songs that had a male point of view. No, my work does not reflect my sexual preferences, it reflects the fact that I feel total freedom as an artist.”

A lot of people had opinions. The obvious question was: What did Van think? If he ever said anything to her privately, Smith hasn’t said. His one public statement on the matter, in a Rolling Stone profile two years later, reveals muted approval.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” he said when asked about the cover. “I could even dig that for what it is. It doesn’t floor me like some things. I’m the type of cat that would listen to black soul music or black gospel music… that’s what I would listen to. But if something comes along like what Patti Smith is doing, I have a tendency now to accept it as what it is and get off… it’s just what it is and I enjoy it that way.”

Since then, other artists have been more forthcoming. “The opening to Gloria might be one of the greatest moments in American music,” Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha said when inducting her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Johnny Marr called it “a massive influence on me” and said that “she gave new energy to American garage rock.” 

With Horses having her raised her profile outside of New York, she continued to tour and perform Gloria as her regular set closer. Most notably, she performed the song on the first season of Saturday Night Live, supposedly singing the “Jesus died” line right as the stroke of midnight signalled Easter’s arrival. CBGB tuned all their TVs in the bar to Channel 4 so everyone could watch – and earned themselves a shoutout at the performance’s end. 

In January 1977, Smith’s relationship with the song changed forever, without her even playing it. Six songs into a show in Tampa opening for Bob Seger, she fell 15 feet off the stage and broke several vertebrae in her neck. After an experience than could have killed her, she began reevaluating “Gloria”‘s message. In fact, she blamed her attitude toward the divine for her injury.

“I fell during ‘Ain’t It Strange’,” she told Melody Maker not long after the accident. “Now all this sounds like mythical bull but it is a truth – just like the guy at Altamont got shot during ‘Under My Thumb,’ I fell just as I was saying ‘hand of God, I feel the finger.’ And I did feel the finger push me right over. It was like, I spend so much time challenging God when I perform and in everything I do… that I feel it was his way of saying, ‘you keep battering against my door and I’m gonna open that door and you’ll fall in.’”

“I did say ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,’ and I still believe that,” she continued. “I wasn’t saying that I didn’t like Christ or didn’t believe in him, just that I wanted to take the responsibility for the things I do… I’m a one-to-one girl and I have always sought to communicate with God through myself. And I feel that was one of the reasons I fell offstage.”

When she returned, the song stopped getting played quite as often. Then on September 10, 1979, in Florence, she played her biggest concert ever, her last before a 16-year retirement. For the first time ever, she opened with her usual show-closer: Gloria. And she made one dramatic change to reflect her new beliefs. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins,” she sang. “Why not mine?”

Smith continues to perform Gloria regularly at her concerts in its original form, but she’s lucky she released it when she did. If she tried to get permission now for her quasi-cover, she probably couldn’t.

“You can’t really do that with most songs, because artists won’t give you the licensing,” she told LA City Beat in 2007. “I developed the Prince song When Doves Cry and put a biblical verse in the middle of it, and he blocked it. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Into the Mystic

Songfacts is a great site for song information and 26 Van songs are currently on the site.  Each song has some site-generated comment and then reader’s are invited to make comments.  Below is the page for Into the Music

- This is about a sailor at sea thinking about returning to his lover, who is back on land. Normally a foghorn signals danger, but in this case it means he is close to home and his love.

 - There is room for interpretation beyond the superficial meaning. It might be interpreted as expressing an understanding that life is finite (the ship sailing on its round trip) and must be lived to its fullest ("I want to rock your Gypsy soul"), and an acceptance of its inevitable end ("We will magnificently float into the mystic, when the foghorn blows I will be coming home"). When you have seen the world and loved someone, you should have no reason to fear the end because you have lived your life to the fullest.

- The original title was Into the Misty.
- According to Morrison, he couldn't decide whether the first line should be "We were born before the wind" or "We were borne before the wind."

- According to a BBC survey, because of this song's cooling, soothing vibe, this is one of the most popular songs for surgeons to listen to whilst performing operations.

Reader Comments

Barry   -   On May 3rd 1970, Johnny Rivers' 20th Hot Top 100 charted record, "Into The Mystic", entered the chart at position #90; eventually it peaked at #51 and it spent 8 weeks on the Top 100.

Meggan   -   My brother Jason recently passed away from brain cancer. Into the Mystic was his favourite song. I always knew that and I loved it as well but never really listened to the words. After really listening to the meaning of this song I can see why he loved it so much. It had a much deeper meaning for him. He was one of the greatest people I have ever known and every time I hear this song I think of him. Van Morrison has an amazing way of telling a story and I am so thankful for this one.

Neil   -   I have known this song for many years, since it first appeared on "Moondance", but I only recently rediscovered it. I am not a huge Van Morrison fan like many are but, along with a couple of Leonard Cohen tunes and Sting's Fields of Gold, Into the Mystic is now my favourite contemporary song. Mostly I like opera and classical music, yet I can listen to Into the Mystic over and over, which I cannot do for any other songs except a couple of arias such as Mozart's "Voi che sapete". For reasons that I cannot explain, probably the spiritual connotations of the lyrics, I weep every time I hear Into the Mystic, but especially when hearing/seeing it done by Diane Villadsen on You Tube.

L from Florida   -   I want to know if anyone thinks Into the Mystic was written about the legend of Arturo and Katerina.  They were young lovers, but destined to be together forever...We were born before the wind/also younger than the sun... He is coming home to get her, in the legend, the foghorn blows 3 times to let her know he is coming, and in the song, the foghorn blows 3 times.  In the legend, she jumps into the sea, to swim out to him in the boat , the lyrics "come on girl", and he loses her in the fog... the lyrics, "too late to stop now"...he jumps into the sea after her, they are finally together...and drowned, the legend says the sea spray against the rocks is evidence of them making love forever, is the "Mystic" eternity?

Sherm   -   During the AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards Ceremony on TV Land 7-19-09, the first line of this song was played while giving honour to Michael Douglas. I'd not heard it before and I'm glad I surfed to learn about it. The female singer reminds me of Janis Joplin and her great talent!

Mercedies   -   I'm not religious and when I listen to this song I don't like to think of it as religious. This song is amazing and the lyrics are powerful. This song has helped me through some dark times. This is literally the greatest song ever written. 

Malachi   -   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 Method, 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.

Sandi   -   I too first heard this song from the "immediate family" movie. I loved it so much I went out and bought another two Van Morrison CDs, one being Moondance (fantastic album!!). About 7 years later, When I was pregnant with my first born, I made my fiance watch that same movie. While the credits were rolling at the end and they played a reprisal of Into the Mystic, my water broke and I went into labour!!! My firstborn has been raised on this album- we used it as his lullaby CD for bedtime and I have fond memories of rocking him to sleep to this song and the whole album!

Jonathon   -   "Bonny" is a Scottish word which means handsome or pretty. As pointed out below, "won" not only means attained, but also abide or dwell. The words of the first verse, when spoken, have multiple meanings (borne/born, also/all so, won/one), so what Van is exactly talking about is open to the listener to interpret. I think the poet is creating a sailing metaphor to not only talk about love but to point out that we are timeless and love exists beyond the physical plane (the bonny boat) we live in. That's what the mystic is.

Brett   -   Just in case anybody was wondering on Morrison's website they list the lyric as we will FOLD into the mystic.

Thomas   -   When I heard this song I always thought he was singing about a woman. But having read the lyrics, it struck me that he was singing about transcending his fear of death and that it would just be a continuance of his life's journey. Quite an up-lifting song when you get past the romance aspect of it.

Spins   -   Someone mentioned Into the Misty. Misty is what a young Van and he band mates in the Monarchs used to call alcohol.

Michelle   -   This song was played at the spreading of my mother's ashes. This was her favourite song. I love you mom and miss you dearly.

Dan   -   If you like this song and album then you owe it to yourself to get at least three other Van albums- Tupelo Honey, St.Dominic's Preview and His Band and the Street Choir - these three are almost as good as Moondance

Friday, 14 November 2014

Calling All Van Fans

Mr Vinyl Lee Hillman, owner of Backbeat Records

Dear Fellow Van Morrison Fans, 

Joe's - a long time supporter of live music
I hope you'll take time to write to me sometime.  You can either comment on this blog at the various posts or write to me at:  brianevans444@yahoo.com  I'd love to hear about your Van experiences, your Van collecting or simply to know what you think about all things Van.  What's your favourite Van album?  What was your first Van album? How many Van concerts have you been to?   
Time Machine  -  The Biggest Retro Shop Around 

Also, I'm open to taking any contribution to this blog.  Please send reviews or any Van-related stuff you think might be "worthy" enough to me at the above email address. 

To any local Van fans (local to the Sunshine Coast - the one in Australia, that is) or any visitors to the Sunshine Coast -  maybe we could meet up and talk Van for awhile.  Looking forward to hearing from you. 

Brian Evans

Proud Supporter of:   

Joe's Waterhole, Eumundi

Backbeat Records, Nambour

The Time Machine, Nambour

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Van's Likes and Dislikes

Whiskers on kittens?
This is more like a work in progress.  Got any more to add?


reminiscing ("wouldn't it be great if it could be like this all the time")

old English comedians

Romantic poets


hats, sunglasses

esoteric writers

Jack Kerouac

anonymity (apparently)

kids, probably - he's had three

Favourite Jazz Musician: Miles Davis

Favourite Miles Davis Album : In a Silent Way

Favourite song from The Philosopher's StoneCrazy Jane on God

Favourite TV show:  Fawlty Towers

Favourite people: The Goons, Georgie Fame, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Sonny Boy Williamson,  George Best,  Bobby Bland, performers who can get on stage at any moment and 'do it', various backing musicians over the years, Farrah Fawcett, Pamela Anderson, people from the old days who didn't talk to Clinton Heylin, all of his kids, people with no 'angle',  etc. 


sevenths  ("Sevenths are an abomination")

new music



sharing the green room

people drinking at his concerts

questions about his private life

watching footage of old performances

people writing about the Van in the old days

Brown Eyed Girl




neighbours staring

British tabloids

autograph hunters

doing publicity

Van Morrison websites

always having to explain

backing musicians missing their cues

people sharing bootlegs of live concerts

people illegally downloading his songs

Richard Gere, Rod Stewart, Bert Berns, anyone related to Bert Berns, music journalists, Linda Gail Lewis, Clinton Heylin,