Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Lisa Tracy Remembers Moondance

 Lisa Tracy’s My Word blog has a great Van post.  Lisa’s blog, like the vast majority of other blogs in the era of facebook seems to be defunct, but there was a time when she produced a misty-eyed reminiscence of Moondance.  In the words of Michael Jackson, "this is it": 
Van Morrison, time past

The first time I heard Van Morrison was in David’s apartment on West 12th Street.

He was the fashion editor for a well-known men’s magazine and George’s lover. George and I were in an off-Broadway play about then. We thought we were the epitome of cool. It was less than a year after the Stonewall riots. Kent State was still ahead of us. And Van Morrison’s Moondance album was playing in David’s elegant West Village living room when I first heard the words “And it stoned me to my soul/ Stoned me just like jelly roll …”

I heard them again just now, on a CD in the Virginia mountains, but with a different ear: “Half a mile from the county fair, and the rain keep pouring down…”

In the forty-some years since the West Village, I’d started listening to Van Morrison’s words. A tape that a pressman at the Philadelphia Inquirer gave me sometime in the ‘90s had a haunting song called Coney Island, with its refrain, “and the crack was good.”

It was a while before I learnt that the Van man wasn’t bragging about an illegal habit. “Crack” or “craic” is Irish and British slang for conversation, the kind you’d have with a really good friend while rambling hillsides overlooking the sea.

And that was also when I started to hear the strains of home in Van Morrison’s lyrics. His home, Northern Ireland. He wasn’t just a self-created great jazz and soul singer on American radio, with Brown-Eyed Girl and Tupelo Honey. He was a man who deeply remembered places in Belfast and all that the Troubles brought, and who sang of rambling the small coastal towns of County Down, wolfing down mussels and potted herring before going home to the streets of Belfast.

And so And It Stoned Me:

Half a mile from the county fair/ And the rain keep pouring down

 Me and Billy standin there/ With a silver half a crown …

 … Hope it don’t rain all day.

 Yeah. Two kids on the way to the fair with a fortune (about 25 cents, actually, but that was then) in their hands, and it’s raining, like it always does. But the sun comes out, and they fish and swim, hitch a ride, drink some brew.

About that time I saw The Commitments, about a hapless Dublin garage band in the making, and I thought of Van Morrison, and wondered … so many parallels … but no, , turns out there was a bit of bad blood between him and the movie’s screen writers in the early stages, when they were looking for a musician to play the lead, or perhaps help with the score, or whatever.  I still think there’s a connection, even if it’s only in a parallel universe kind of way.

And I think of how little we really knew or understood back there in 1970, when Moondance was climbing our charts and we were dancing and smoking and roaming the woods of upstate New York barefoot and unscathed in the days before Lyme disease. We wound vines in our hair and waded through streams, and he stoned us to our souls. We thought we were part of the caravan he was singing about. We thought we were the gypsies. Little we knew.
All the while, in his soul, he was roaming Irish roads where “gypsy” is a compliment or a slur depending on your view, or the fastnesses of County Down, where streams run down from the Mountains of Mourne. His is not Brooklyn’s Coney Island with its iconic Cyclone, though Brooklyn’s island too was suffused in its time with Irish culture. His Coney Island – for the conies, the wild rabbits that run there – is just one of many off the Irish coast.

But in the end, his longing is ours too. George is dead, a friend just told me – we don’t know how or even when. He was still young, at least in my mind, younger than me for sure. I don’t know where David is. The island, the Coney Island of the mind, is where you find it, isn’t it?

On and on, over the hill and the craic is good

Heading towards Coney Island …

I look at the side of your face as the sunlight comes

Streaming through the window in the autumn sunshine

And all the time going to Coney Island I’m thinking,

Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time.

Reader Comments

Mayzee   -   I loved Van Morrison. Thanks for the lyrical remembrance of him and times past.  Beautiful.

Susan Van Dongen   -   Lisa, thanks for delving into Van for us all….explaining what “good craic” is (we could use some rambling good craic, always good for the soul…) I have spent many soulful times with friends listening to Van, mostly on vinyl. Although later in his career, Inarticulate Speech of the Art is also one of my favourites, if only for Rave on, John Donne (with the line, “rave on Walt Whitman, nose down in wet grass…”) — you expressed many things beautifully in this remembrance. Thanks for thinking of me, and a happy Lughnasa, a little late.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Funny Things People Say - Part 9

Kevin Eikenberry   -   By now I hope you know I’m not talking about romantic love, but a deep belief in, passion for, and caring about (in fact, I’ve written about this idea before, with advice from the singer Van Morrison and tying together love and leadership with listening).  I wish you work that you love, and even more, I hope you find ways to show your love.

The Helen Shapiro
Julie   -   One of my co-workers told me yesterday that she always thinks of me when she hears Van Morrison.  That was a nice compliment.

Dave McElfresh   -   It must be fan adoration, or maybe respect for his patriarchal status, that keeps Van Morrison from being branded the most blatant hypocrite in music. The man has written and recorded spiritual songs for nearly 20 years, yet is an unapologetic and abrasive misanthrope of legendary proportion--quite at odds with the humanity-loving expectations of nearly every religion in the world, including all the ones he has dabbled in.

Patty   -   I bought some Tupelo Honey for Gerald; it's his favourite and I can only find it locally at an "Amish" store. I love the song Tupelo Honey which was written and performed by Van Morrison. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Van Morrison but my favourite version of Tupelo Honey is by Richie Havens.
Julia   -   I am pretty sure it was Van Morrison busking in Bath the other day. He does it from time to time. I gave him 30p, he was good! Everyone was passing by, intent on their Christmas shopping, or visiting the top tourist spots, or getting to a fixed appointment. Apart from two scruffy, possibly homeless, men sitting on the steps behind him. They probably knew! People pay £30 or more to see him on a distant stage. But that's okay because it's in their diary, and they know it's him because it says so on the ticket. Life dictated by diary and labels cost a lot more.

Mark Ellen   -   Van Morrison was such a howling pain in the arse I had to organise a special route for him to enter the Park Lane Ballroom from the back to avoid the paparazzi at the 1995 Q Awards. This took him through the hotel’s well-stocked and sumptuous kitchens where I feared the tuck-loving troubadour might be delayed by pies or potted herrings ‘in case he got famished before dinner’.

Steve Ray   -   Becker’s first argument compares going to Mass to going to a Van Morrison concert, which Becker indicates would be an incredibly thrilling experience for him. I don’t know Van Morrison’s music myself, but fair enough.

Ernie Lo   -   Van Morrison? I've heard of the name but never seen him or heard his music or took any notice. I think my brain automatically replaces Van Morrison to Van Halen.

Clive Davis   -   I once tried to interview Van Morrison after being driven down to his West Country retreat. It was the most unnerving experience of my career. You see, getting a complete sentence out of him was almost impossible. He wasn't unpleasant, just totally introverted.

Sabitathica   -   Nobody in Atlanta, the city I currently live in, has ever heard of Van Morrison. I don't know what fills the place in them that Van Morrison occupies in me, but I'm not too worried about it right now. I've been listening to Van Morrison a lot recently.

Jason   -   And what would Van Morrison’s Moondance album look like if it was a horror comic? All as foretold by Nostradamus, of course. And all told by Jason, whose sly and elusive meanings are hidden beneath a beguilingly deadpan style. Full-colour illustrations throughout.

Paleo Retiree   -   Based only on seeing Van a few times, reading a bit about him and my own imagination, I diagnose his case this way: he’s the rare performer/Aspie — an artist with a big drive to put his work in front of people who is nonetheless a genuine introvert. He’s a man whose inner nature is divided equally between a talent (an immense talent) that really needs to express itself and an unstoppable drive to keep the world at arm’s length. But do take my hunches with a huge grain of salt, please.

Kenny Wilson  -  I’m not that much of a Van Morrison fan. I find most of his records fairly bland and stylised. I’ve heard most of them and am not that impressed apart from his early work with the seminal rock band Them.

Rachel Semigran   -   Now, I have a hard time believing any woman who came of age in the 1990s who claims they didn’t love the Spice Girls. Oh… you were into your dad’s Van Morrison vinyls? Yeah, yeah, sure. You must have just HATED all of that Wannabe nonsense. UGH. LIES. ALL LIES! The Spice Girls were pure pop in the best way.

Our Girl   -   So, not knowing too many Van Morrison songs (I get him mixed up with Boz Scaggs), I checked into Tony's blog and see his video. These are terrible images. Cancer is no joke. It's scary and it's painful. Tony is brave and  I dig his sense of humour. So what I see is these terrible images juxtaposed against what sounds to my uneducated ear like hospital elevator music (Did You Get Healed?). 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Copycats Ripping Off My Song

Amd Whah has an interesting blog called Any Major Dude With Half a Heart with lots of musings on music.  Here's an example of one of his "copycat" genre of posts: 

William Bell – I Forgot To Be Your Lover (1971)
Billy Idol – To Be A Lover (1986)
Van Morrison – Have I Told You Lately  (1989)

When Van Morrison wrote Have I Told You Lately, most interpreted the song as a love song to God.  Van's spirituality was vaguely Christian and Christians really want to believe that those who have been given much in this world are, at least, a little grateful.  Four years later, Rod Stewart donned his tight, unnatural fibres thing and turned the song into the syrupy creation it now is.  It's ever to be found alongside songs like I just Called to Say I Love You on Love Song Compilations churned out each Mother's Day.  

Have I Told You Lately is utterly gorgeous, and very much a Van Morrison song, and therefore best heard in the version by one of the greatest songwriters of any generation. So I feel almost sorry to point out that the very line that gives the song its title is almost identical to the opening line of William Bell’s I Forgot To Be Your Lover, in melody and lyrics.

Far be it for me to accuse Morrison of plagiarism, or even deliberately copying somebody else’s melody. Morrison could even plausibly claim never to have heard the William Bell and Booker T Jones composition, which was a hit for Bell in 1968 and then was re-recorded for the soul singer’s 1971 album Wow… (it’s the slightly longer 1971 version featured here, because it is the more uncanny-sounding one).

Perhaps Van Morrison, a soul fan who described himself as a soul singer, heard it and forgot about it. Maybe it resided in the deeper recesses of his subconscious playlist, a forgotten but not erased memory, jogged perhaps by Billy Idol’s 1986 cover of  I Forgot To Be Your Lover, then retitled To Be A Lover (though Idol probably covered the George Faith version of 1977). Whatever the case, the similarity of the opening of Bell’s song and that of Morrison’s is striking.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll (1990)

Tom Holland's The Immortal Jukebox has plenty of great Van stuff.  Here's some of the recent post about the brilliant In the Days Before Rock 'n Roll.  Click above for the full article and other Van treats.  

 ‘ I like Morrison because I know that his work comes from the same level as my own poetry – the level of daydreaming; that he’s out to annihilate ego; that he’s after the same,’nothingness’ as Kavanagh was after .’ (Paul Durcan)

As a boy growing up in East Belfast, Van Morrison was close to the sea and the countryside. From his house, beyond his bedroom, he could hear voices echoing over the Beechie River and imagine the mist swathed shipyard towers looming out of the night as the foghorns guided ships safely home.  He found sustenance for his creative imagination in the sights and sounds of his home city, its hinterland, and in sounds closer to home emanating from the radio and the HMV record player. The radio and the record player would become almost sacred objects.

The sounds they produced would enter deep into his consciousness, his soul; sounds he could never forget, sounds he would store as treasure and draw on for decades – fusing them through the mysterious alchemy of art into extraordinarily beautiful and affecting visions of his own.  And these visions have their genesis in the days before rock ‘n’ roll. The days of post war austerity. Days which could seem monochrome, mundane and stultifyingly metronomic.

Together with fellow Irishman and fellow dreamer, poet Paul Durcan, he would dramatise those dreaming days in a song, In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll – a song which would catalogue some of the signposts of those dreams in a performance which has something of the hyper real, time slipping, giddy character of a waking dream. The sleeve notes tell me the song last 8 minutes and 13 seconds but that only records how long it lasts the first time you hear it – for once you’ve heard it it will be playing in your imagination and in your dreams for the rest of your life. Come aboard!

A Listeners guide to Certain Lyrics:

‘Justin'   -   Who is Justin? Just a name plucked out of the air for its sound, its comparative rarity in a world awash with Jims and Georges and Pauls? Probably we will never know who this, ‘gentler than a man’ man was. Just a thought but it strikes me as not insignificant that an Irish poet from the latter half of the twentieth century would use a name which happens to be the little know second name of the greatest Irish poet of that era: Seamus Justin Heaney!

The Wireless Knobs/Telefunken   -   Vintage radios such as those made by the Telefunken Company in Berlin were gorgeously tactile objects. Radios, humming with valve power and gleaming with polished wood, Bakelite and glass, softly lit, took pride of place in our homes in the days before Televisions took up their imperial dominance in our living rooms. No point and shoot remotes then! Radios were switched on and off and tuned to stations using knobs that clunked satisfyingly into position and dials that you set spinning to call up and capture sounds from distant lands beamed in from the ionosphere.

Radios conjured up dreams, created communities of interest and painted pictures that seared into our memories. Radio, despite all the technological developments of the last few decades remains the dreamers ideal companion. Tune in!

‘Luxembourg, Athlone, Budapest, AFN, Hilversum, Helvetia   -   One of the great pleasures of vintage radio was discovering what programmes were made by exotically named radio stations broadcasting from places which often had to be looked up on an atlas to see where they were! Not knowing what you might find and be introduced to was exciting and expanded our cultural horizons.

Luxembourg   -   Radio Luxembourg had a very powerful signal (on 208 metres Medium Wave) which washed tidally over the British Isles bringing many young people their first regular exposure to those new fangled musics their parents just knew were no good for them. Luxembourg, in contrast to the BBC, was a commercial station which meant it was happy to devote whole programmes to showcasing the new releases from record labels such as Capitol and Phillips.

AFN (American Forces Network)   -   One of the spin-offs from the presence of GIs in Europe as a result of WW2 and the ensuing cold war was AFN whose broadcasts of American music could be listened to by Europeans hungry for the jazz and blues based music which was so hard to find anywhere else. Being near an American military base was a boon both for the likely strength of the signal and the possibility that personnel from the base might have records never seen in domestic stores.

Lester Piggott   -   Lester Piggott (‘The long fellow’) was, as my Dad would have told you, the greatest horse racing jockey who ever lived. He won England’s premier race, The Epsom Derby, an almost unbelievable 9 times from 1954 as a teenager with, Never Say Die through to 1983 when he won with, Teenoso. Lester Piggott became an almost mythical figure not just in the world of the turf but in the folklore of the nation.

Fats, Elvis, Sonny, Lightning, Muddy, John Lee, Ray Charles:The High Priest! The Killer: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard   -   Van Morrison was extraordinarily fortunate to be the son of a father who had lived in Detroit and who had a fabled collection of blues and rhythm and blues records young Van could immerse his thirsty soul in. As he says he heard Muddy Waters and Blind Lemon on the street where he was born. Leadbelly became his guiding spirit. A spirit he has remained true to over five decades and more of music making.