Thursday, 20 April 2017

Van Morrison Tropes : Part 1


Have you heard of tropes? Merriam-Webster defines trope as a "figure of speech." Apparently, a trope is a storytelling device or convention, a shortcut for describing situations the storyteller can reasonably assume the audience will recognise. Tropes are the means by which a story is told by anyone who has a story to tell. They are tools that the creator of a work of art uses to express their ideas to the audience. In fiction, it can even be impossible to create a tropeless tale.  Tropes are more about conveying a concept to the audience without needing to spell out all the details.

Below are some of the examples of tropes in Van's canon:

Alliterative Title: Slim Slow Slider

The Band Minus the Face: Them, after Morrison left to pursue his solo career.

Body Horror: Implicit in TB Sheets. Truth in Television; Dying of Tuberculosis is NOT glamorous or "Romantic".

BowdleriseSome radio stations were skittish about Brown Eyed Girl because of the line "makin' love in the green grass", so Bang issued a (poorly) edited version replacing it with "laughin' and a-runnin', hey, hey" from earlier in the song.

A couple years earlier "she comes to my room" scared some radio stations away from playing Gloria. The cover by The Shadows of Knight eliminated that line and became a bigger hit than the Them version.

Breakup Breakout: Morrison's career began to soar to new heights after he left Them. His old group never recovered and sank into obscurity.

Call Back: Wavelength mentions "that song...about my lover in the grass", i.e. Brown Eyed Girl.

The Cover Changes the MeaningPatti Smith's inversion of the main lust-theme of Gloria on Horses.

Also Morrison's flat refusal to have anything to do with Dexys Midnight Runners' version of Jackie Wilson Said, which he loathed as a travesty. Amusingly, British TV show Top of the Pops also seriously changed the meaning: Morrison's horror at the cover version was probably not helped when a production crew prank meant DMR played the song live, to millions of TV viewers, in front of a massively blown up photo of darts legend Jockie Wilson. Bein' Green. Once you get past the oddity of Van Morrison covering Kermit The Frog, it seems like Van is singing about accepting his Mainstream Obscurity and how it frees him up to pursue his artistic vision without compromising.

Epic Rocking: A fair number of his songs are either over 10 minutes long or come close to it. A lesser known example comes from his contribution to the Gloriathon. In 1999, a live music venue in Austin, TX known as the Liberty Lunch was set to shut down and be demolished for the "modernisation" of the city; since the club was a staple of the city's music scene since the 1970's, several local musicians decided to send it off with a version of Gloria that played for a solid twenty-four hours without stopping. About eighteen hours in, Van Morrison himself called the club from his position onstage at a festival in Chester, England and played the song with the locals through the club's PA and a portable phone. The best part? Van Morrison hated Gloria, and for a long time he absolutely refused to play it live at all, however he made an exception for the Gloriathon.

Exhort The Disc Jockey Song: Domino turns into one of these at the end.
Well, mister DJ
I just wanna hear some rhythm and blues music
On the radio
On the radio
On the radio...

Freestyle Version: He tends to this whenever he does a cover version. His cover of It's All In The Game starts out as a conventional cover sticking more-or-less to the official lyrics, but by the end it has diverged so much that on the Into The Music album, the second half of the cover is listed as a separate track and given a new name (with songwriting credits for the lyrics given to Van).

Genre-Busting: To varying degrees on all of his albums, but Astral Weeks is a unique blend of Celtic folk, soul, blues and classical music with beatnik lyrics.

Genre Roulette: Saint Dominic's Preview. All the songs are the usual Morrison genre blends, but each one has a sound and style that doesn't get repeated on the album note . His other albums are also eclectic but usually have more of a uniform foundation.

Happy Rain: Rainy imagery is a motif in many of his songs, as in the "Fields all misty wet with rain" lines in Sweet Thing and The Way Young Lovers Do, both from Astral Weeks, as well as the whole theme of And It Stoned Me from Moondance.

Vandy Warhol
Intercourse with You: A few songs, but perhaps most obviously the song Moondance.

International Pop Song English: Morrison's singing voice is a smooth mid-Atlantic, unlike his natural strong Belfast accent.

Let's Duet: Whenever God Shines His Light, his collaboration with Sir Cliff Richard that topped the Christmas charts in 1989.

Live Album: Most famously It's Too Late to Stop Now, often considered one of the greatest live albums of all time. Also a couple of live albums recorded in Belfast, one recorded in San Francisco, and a complete concert performance of Astral Weeks done at the Hollywood Bowl.

Looped Lyrics: Blue Money is just one verse repeated several times, plus Scatting.

Lyrical Tic: Morrison has a whole vocabulary of expressively soulful grunts, moans and vocal expressions for when the words fail him. A classic example would be the conclusion of Moondance:One more moondance with you! In the moonlight! On a magic night... (presses microphone into fleshy underside of chin) Brrrrr...brrr-mmmmmm, ahhh, aahhhh, (moves mic back to more conventional singing position) In the moonlight! On a ma-a-a-agic night... Can - I - just - have - one - more - Moondance - with - you....... my love..... See also the middle section of Listen to the Lion.

Mic Drop: Morrison does this at the end of his triumphant performance of Caravan in the film The Last Waltz, dropping the mic and strolling off stage before the song is even done.

Mind Screw: You Don't Pull No Punches But You Don't Push the River starts as a coherent narrative, but becomes notably more surrealistic during the second part. "And the Sisters of Mercy, behind the sun. And William Blake and the Sisters of Mercy looking for the Veedon Fleece."

Mondegreen: Even he's not sure what some of his lyrics really are.
"Into the Mystic is kind of funny because when it came time to send the lyrics in WB Music, I couldn't figure out what to send them. Because really the song has two sets of lyrics. For example, there's 'I was born before the wind' and 'I was borne before the wind', and also 'Also younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was one' and 'All so younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was won' ..."
Mood Whiplash: The intense, cathartic Astral Weeks was followed by the bright, peaceful Moondance. Also, on his first album, Blowin' Your Mind, the lacerating, 9-minute TB Sheets was surrounded by mostly innocuous Pop and R&B songs.

Motif:"Caledonia", which is the ancient Roman name for Scotland. Morrison has Scottish ancestry on his father's side and it's referenced so often in his work that it's something of an Arc Word. It's even his daughter's middle name.
Radio is mentioned in a bunch of his songs.

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