Tuesday, 28 April 2015

TB Sheets

Here's a great post from the Leading Us Absurd blog.  There are lots of great things at the site about music so check it out.

It’s still baffling that Van Morrison recorded TB Sheets in the same session in which he recorded Brown Eyed Girl.  The two songs couldn’t be further apart from each other.  Brown Eyed Girl is a perfect pop song.  And as much as I sometimes groan over the obligatory inclusion at weddings, there’s no doubt it belongs there with its infectious chorus.  TB Sheets on the other hand, is a 10-minute descent into darkness.  Morrison’s vocals never sounded so desperate, and tortured.

As a piece of music, TB Sheets is a template for the epic improvisational pieces Morrison would master just a year later on Astral Weeks. But where those songs were influenced by jazz, TB Sheets is pure blues.  It’s a slow burn of a song.  A slinky lead guitar slides its way over a constant beat and atmospheric organ. “TB Sheets” brings the listener into the late-night psyche of a man at the end of his rope. The tempo never changes, which also reinforces the drama that takes place in the narrative and gives Morrison ample room to exorcise his demons.

TB Sheets tells the story of a man who visits his dying girlfriend in a hospital room.  He tells Julie at the beginning of the song.  Throughout the entire song, Morrison feels guilty about the entire situation.  There’s indication that they’ve already broken up prior to this.  He references Frank Sintara’s seminal break-up album In The Wee Small Hours when he first enters the room.  She stills want him (“I see the way you jumped at me, Lord, from behind the door”), which disgusts him even more.

Ironically, as Julie lies in the bed dying, Morrison demands comfort from her. “Open up the window, and let me breathe” He tells her.  For extra emphasis, Morrison begins panting, as it mimicking suffocation.  Feeling guilty, he attempts to comfort her but instead of offering kind words, he mentions that he will John, “around here, later with a bottle of wine for you, babe.”

At this point, he is desperate to leave and constantly tells Julie he has to leave. He wants out, and not just from the room. As the song progresses, Morrison’s vocals become even more strained and it sounds like he is the one about to die.  In one final act before he leaves, Morrison offers to turn on the radio for her telling her she’ll be all right.  He knows she won’t, but he has to leave for his own sanity.

According to legend (there have been varying reports on this) Morrison broke down crying after the song was finished. It certainly seems like it could be plausible, considering Morrison’s performance. Morrison has always been one of rock’s best vocalists, but on TB Sheets he completely takes the listener inside the narrator’s mind.  On paper, the lyrics are vile and offer no sense of sympathy for him.  And yet as Morrison sings this twisted tale, the listener not only feels his pain but also feels the suffocation of the room and Morrison himself.

When Morrison played Astral Weeks in its entirety in 2009, he also played songs from his entire career in the first set.  During a two-night stand in New York City, on the first night he actually played TB Sheets, which as far as I know he hasn’t played in decades.  Unfortunately, I missed this performance as I had tickets to the second show. Still, it’s great to see that Morrison finally brought this gem out.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Nicky's Great Van Morrison Fan Story

I'm convinced Van Fans are really beautiful, special people.  Here's a wonderful story by one that I stole from the City Lights site.  City Lights are the booksellers and publishers who published Lit Up Inside, which collects some of Van's lyrics in book form.  Check out Van's official site for comments by well-known individuals about Lit Up Inside.  The writer Nicky C. hails from Derbyshire.      

The first time I saw Van Morrison live was in the summer of 1973, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. I was nineteen. He was touring with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. I knew he had been the lead singer with Them. I had also listened to Moondance and Astral Weeks until they were hard wired into my emotional life. I couldn’t yet reconcile his romantic image as a poet with the fierce energy of Gloria, but we were all in the process of changing our minds in all kinds of ways. Van arrived on stage with the now legendary Caledonia Soul Orchestra. I had never seen anything like it. A classical string quartet and Terry Adams’ flowing blonde hair. The venue was the home of the Hallé Orchestra and I had been to the occasional classical concert there, but at that time the two worlds rarely met. It was spellbinding.

There was a request that there be no flash photography. A few songs in, the bulbs started popping. Van Morrison lashed at the audience with his microphone lead and stormed off stage. It was a fit of anger and frustration that seemed out of character with the gentle mood of his recent music. The audience responded angrily. Eventually he came back on and continued with the concert. Here was the link between the raw power and sexual frustration of Gloria and the man who had taken us all Into the Mystic.

This short, stocky, angry man defied our expectations. He was a troubled soul. He was complex and contradictory. I was hooked.

Over the years that followed I went to see him live as often as I could, usually in Manchester or Sheffield. I even had friends who worked on his tour crew. They described him as an unpleasant man, selfish and self-centred. This was difficult to reconcile with someone who produced such beautiful music, with all the spiritual nuances of gospel and soul and the transcendence of jazz.

Only a couple of months ago I was at a festival of music journalism, Louder Than Words, in Manchester. More than one contributor made a joke along the lines of, “There are those who like Van Morrison and those who have met him.” So here we have a man without charm, who works magic. 

He connected different aspects of my life. I had studied John Donne, William Blake, and Yeats’ Irish mysticism. The singer Jackie Wilson was a Northern Soul favourite from my early teens. Irish Heartbeat took me back to my dad’s love of traditional music and the songs we sang at family parties. It’s hard to recall the element of surprise in recognising these links. Nowadays it is so easy to look up a reference or a lyric, to find out where someone is coming from, but back then it was all down to discovering a shared wavelength.

Inspired by Veedon Fleece, I spent my first holiday in Ireland with the man who was to become my husband, and father of my children. There are photos of us on the streets of Arklow. Van’s music got us through sleepless nights and long family car journeys, dark days, and divorce. All those old cassette compilations, losing track of what song came from which album. A sense of place, prose poems to music, took me from the dark end of the street to Coney Island, higher than a cloud when I needed to recover and heal. Some of his collaborations were strange. Where did religion and Christianity fit in? Were the love songs earthly or divine? Like Van, I thought there was no need for a guru, method or teacher in my life.

Raised by Catholic nuns, I had friends affected by the early days of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, so I deliberately avoided identifying which foot he kicked the football with.

The sense of his role as a spiritual healer as well as a musician hit me with the force of an epiphany at a concert at the aptly named Apollo Theatre in Manchester in the late 1980s. I now realise that others recognised him as a shaman, but this was my personal experience, and it came out of nowhere. Theatre as temple, audience as congregation, music as religious experience – it isn’t a huge leap to make. At the end of the concert he left the stage, walking through the audience, singing She Moves Through The Fair. It was deeply moving, people were reaching out to touch him. It could have been a church healing service. I couldn’t discuss this with anyone at the time, I didn’t know how to put it into words. My younger sister summed it up, “Touch a lucky leprechaun.”

She had been at that 1973 concert. At the age of 13, she was on a first date with the boy she has been married to for all these years. Van Morrison’s music played a big part in their love story. Like me, they tried to see him live whenever they could.

I continued to go and see him when I could, enjoying the contradictions. A healer who had no interest in charisma. A romantic poet who looked like one of the Blues Brothers, with all their stocky pent-up energy. A cantankerous character who could transform and transport the lives and emotions of those who followed him. him in too long. Writing this has made me realize I need to enter into the slipstream once more.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Van Morrison Saved My Soul

Rick Becker’s post Van Morrison Saved My Soul on the God-Haunted Lunatic blog really caught my attention.  The title sounded blasphemous but these are pretty interesting musings from a fan.  I like to read what people have to say about searching for God in an era of angry atheists. The atheist explanation that "nothing exploded and created everything and the everything that was created just happens to be so orderly that thousands of scientific laws can be drawn from it", just doesn't ring true for me anymore. 

Van Morrison Saved My Soul

Now there’s an inflammatory and hyperbolic title! More on that in a minute. First, drugs. I never did drugs growing up. No weed, no acid, no coke, no nothing. There was plenty around and accessible, to be sure, but I just wasn’t interested. When my friends would offer me their latest substance of choice, I’d say, “no thanks,” and that I just preferred reality. It was definitely a fork in the road: They couldn’t understand me, and I couldn’t understand them.

At least, I couldn’t understand their desire to trip out, but I think I have an inkling of what tripping out was like for them thanks to Jefferson Airplane and their song White Rabbit. It came on the radio as I was driving home the other day, and immediately I was pulled into Grace Slick’s hallucinatory riff on the children’s classic.
It’s an effectively suggestive song, even to the point of being trite or corny. There are references to hookah pipes and mushrooms, and the twangy guitar combined with the psychedelic paraphrasing of Lewis Carroll couldn’t be more reminiscent of those groovy times. The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds does the same, as do any number of songs by Jimi Hendrix or the Doors. In all, songs like these conjure up an experience I’ve never had, but through them I can sample that experience, at least as an observer and outsider, and even if it’s only for a couple minutes.

The music of Van Morrison did something similar for me, but with reference to mystical union with God. I started listening to Morrison right around the time of my flirtation with Catholicism, and his blend of Celtic melodies and images along with pop undercurrents and poetic streams of consciousness became like a soundtrack for my spiritual pilgrimage. Album after album - Common One (1980); No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986); Enlightenment (1990); Hymns to the Silence  (1991) - Morrison’s songs seemed to give voice to my own searching and yearning, and I listened to them over and over.

A good example is Coney Island, Morrison’s haunting meditation from the album Avalon Sunset (1989). It’s not sung, but instead it’s a spoken Van-Morrison narrative about a visit to the seaside with friends. Intensely evocative, the song seems to draw the listener into the scene—to join in the ambling and conversation, to feel the warm sunshine, to share in the placid joy the companions have discovered. It’s a little taste of heaven. So, fine, I like Van Morrison. Does that justify the hyperbolic blog post title? Why the heresy? Admittedly, it was a hook to get you to read on, but not only that.

In fact, properly understood, I do think it’s a true statement, and not heterodox at all. A helpful parallel, I think, is Cyrus of Persia—savior of the Jews! Cyrus the Great, the sixth-century B.C. ruler of the Achaemenid Empire, was a pagan. Nevertheless, he is celebrated in the Old Testament as God’s instrument in restoring the Jewish people to Palestine and rebuilding the Temple. Isaiah even referred to him as “shepherd” and “anointed” (or, “messiah”), although Isaiah and the Jews certainly weren’t confused about Who was the power behind Cyrus’ throne.

Same with Van and my spiritual renewal. It was as if Morrison’s music was a Cyrus for me—an instrument used by God to restore and rebuild. And, like Cyrus, it makes no difference what particular creed Van adheres to, for God was able to use him and his music regardless.  Tomáš Halík, in his description of second-wind faith that often follows initial conversion and subsequent disillusionment, says this:

Maybe we won’t encounter Christ where people tend to seek him first, but instead he will come to us like he did to the travellers on the road to Emmaus: as a stranger, an unknown fellow traveller. And then we will have to let him retell the “great narrative” of the Bible to us.
Van Morrison’s music mediated Christ to me in a fresh, unprecedented manner. For me, it was, and still is, an Emmaus encounter, recapitulating an overly familiar Gospel, and compelling me to meet Him afresh.

Make no mistake: I know Who is really saving my soul. I catch a glimpse of Christ and his grace in Morrison’s music, but I encounter them directly through the Church and the Sacraments. Even so, I return to Van Morrison regularly, on bad days and good, to conjure up those images of peace and paradise, and to help me re-set my sights on heaven. “And all the time going to Coney Island, I’m thinking,” Morrison intones in Coney Island. “Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?”
Yes, great indeed. Let it be so.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Bye Bye Van Morrison

Nathan Nothin’s blog Nothin' Sez Somethin' posted about his experience with "Van’s people".  I have a lot of sympathy with Van and other artists about how their albums are "shoplifted" online by thousands of people.   A number of blogs have official Van albums that can be ‘ripped’.  It is my belief that true fans of The Man would never rip him off.  Isn’t he worth us spending money on his albums?  Why do people want to own millions of albums in mp3 form? I don’t get it.  It seems to be a particularly ugly form of greed, particularly when Spotify exists. 

I'm not talking about the concert bootlegs. Concert bootlegs are illegal but I know a lot of hardcore fans want hundreds of these concert 'albums'.  One fan has more than 2000 concerts on tape, CD, vinyl and mp3.  
 Bye Bye Van Morrison

Today I received the following notification from Blogger:
"We have received a DMCA complaint for your blog, Nothin' Sez Somethin'. An e-mail with the details of the complaint was sent to you on Jan 21, 2010 , and we reset the post status to "Draft"; you can edit it here. You may republish the post with the offending content and/or link(s) removed. If you believe you have the rights to post this content, you can file a counter-claim with us. For more on our DMCA policy, please click here. Thank you for your prompt attention."

The offending post was the Parrot Records U.S. version of The Angry Young Them from 1965 from that curmudgeon Van Morrison & the band that dumped him. My response..."Good Riddance!"

Reader Comments About Van Asserting his Ownership Rights
Iamarobotiobey   -   Ol' Vanny seems like he'd be a dick in real life.

Anonymous   -   Just another boring, washed-up musician anyway---no big loss. His music is only good, if you suffer from insomnia and need something to help you with getting to sleep.
rock and roll history   -   I know someone who met him a few years back. She said he was a real jag off.

   -   Thanks so much, my friends. You have so eloquently described Van Morrison while I was too chicken (under the false guise of politeness) to say how I really felt. The only reason I even posted the album in the first place was because it was long out of print (at least the U.S. Parrot Records version) & contained the song Gloria that Patti Smith made me love. Thanks again, & as anonymous so rightly said...no big loss. No loss at all.

Ib   -   Yep. Van is the most guarded hump on the ethernet. The first 'threat' ever thrown my way - pre DMCA - was from the English based Web Sheriff regarding GloriaIn addition, the intimation was that if I even decided to play a cover of a Van Morrison song - Patti, in short - I might find myself back in litigious hot water.

   -   Someone logged in on another person’s blogger account??? & posing as that person left a very derisive comment on my blog...not once, but on every post on this page & he accused me of stealing one of his links for one of my posts. Since I didn't really enjoy the grade-school antics & pride myself on personal & original content, I took issue with him & the screed that boiled forth from yours truly was slightly frosty. I also posted my reply on the alleged perpetrator's blog. The real blogger left word that the comments weren't from him, but was someone posing as him, I removed my rant, & that was it.

Heve Stughes   -   Another victim of Van Morrison's blog-whackers union, I see.

Salmagundi Syncopation   -   Back in 1993 I was interviewing Maria McKee for the college radio station I volunteered with. She loves Van Morrison and told me that when she met him finally after wanting to for so long, all he did was say, "Where's Bono? More wine." Jerk. I'll never forget her telling me that.

Ib   -   If all he'd said was more wine I could easily forgive him.

Antonio Uchoa   -   Come on, guys, Van the man ain't no jerk, that's the job of record company people! a man of genius is not necessarily a nice person all the time, from Wagner to Miles, and Lennon or Waters, and so on! He must be judged by his work, not his flaws as a person.