Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Van Morrison in September


Here’s some of a magnificent piece written by Gavin Keeney in 2002.  Gavin Keeney is a landscape architect from New York and the full article can be found on a journalism site called Counter Punch. This extremely edited piece doesn't really do the original article much justice. 

Van Morrison, In September

I first understood Morrison’s legendary status — as legendary prevaricator/idler — when I read Hunter S. Thompson’s paean to Astral Weeks in Rolling Stone sometime around 1972-73. I had just started college and Rolling Stone and The Village Voice were available in the library. Thompson’s article circled round Astral Weeks and swooped incoherently down on Slim Slow Slider — the most amazing song on this extraordinary 1968 recording.  

This song shatters the mirror of innocence, played out through the other songs of sexual awakening, e.g., the delirium of Just Like a Ballerina, and represents the emergence of something purely archaic — expressed in the ravaged, wordless conclusion. This undercurrent is present throughout but erupts mercilessly at the close of the last song.  The infamous, wayfaring journalist was apparently struck dumb by the savage incantation of the song — the young girl “slipping and sliding”, riding away into oblivion. “

Many years later in the Woody Creek Tavern, outside Aspen, Colorado, and sitting just below the Hunter S. Thompson memorabilia mounted on the wall, I remembered that first encounter … Too bad he didn’t saunter through the door. He could have tried to explain himself. I’ve been trying to track down this article for years, to no avail. Sometimes I think I may have hallucinated the whole thing.

I heard covers of Van Morrison songs from the Moondance period in bars by local folk musicians in those first years of college. I was 18 years old and the music — combined with rivers of draft beer — was a near-death experience. It mattered little that it was not Morrison singing the songs. The bands were superb folk-blues bands.  I eventually purchased Astral Weeks and it was the beginning of following Morrison’s ambling career over nearly thirty years. Before Van Morrison captured my imagination, I had listened principally to the folk minstrels Joni Mitchell, Tom Rush, Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, Phil Ochs, Leonard Cohen, and Jesse Winchester. To this day I listen to Joni Mitchell’s Blue (1971).

I’ve never followed any band or artist through every up-and-down cycle. I collect the periodic releases that seem relevant, then dump them later when they seem irrelevant. With Van Morrison it was Astral Weeks (1968), Moondance (1970), St Dominic’s Preview (1972), Veedon Fleece (1974), Wavelength (1978), Common One (1980), Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983), Poetic Champions Compose (1987), Enlightenment (1990), Days Like This (1995), and, in 1999, Back on Top that impressed me.


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