I had a puzzling incident with a jogger this morning.
I was heading down the road next to my house when I approached the intersection and got in the right turn lane. I’m not sure where the jogger was at this point, but I’m certain he wasn’t at the corner…certain because he was wearing fluorescent yellow and that shit is kind of hard to miss.
Anyways, there’s traffic coming down the road and I’m slowly edging out, waiting for a clearing when I hear a knocking coming from my back window. I look back to see this dude standing there, but at the same time the way was clear so I just ignored him and drove off. My question is; What’s with the knocking? Could you not just cross behind my car, or were you so outraged that I had inadvertently caused you to slow down you had to make a show of it?
Either way, I’ve discovered that I don’t care…and that was the high point of my day.
Van Morrison is another in a long line of brilliant artists who have been pigeon holed into being defined by one or two songs. In Morrison’s case, that song is ‘Moondance’ from the album of the same name, and ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’ I’m torn between hating this phenomenon for depriving the world of a great body of work,and loving it at the same time because less people will ruin it.
There are some who will argue that “Astral Weeks” is Van Morrison’s best album, and I’m not gonna argue. It’s deep, personal, artistic and poetic all at the same time and it works beautifully as a piece of art. Hell, even Lester Bangs couldn’t stop talking about how it changed his life…but it just doesn’t rock like “Moondance” does.
George Ivan Morrison was born in Belfast in 1945, and was raised on his fathers extensive soul,jazz and blues record collection acquired on a trip to the US years earlier. It probably didn’t hurt that his mother Violet was a singer and tap dancer as well. At the age of 11 he received his first acoustic guitar and was soon playing in local skiffle bands with his friends. When he got turned down from a band he wanted to join because they already had a guitar player, he took up tenor saxophone and did that for a while. During this formative time it became clear that Van was a leader, taking on most of the singing and arranging in every band he joined.
When he finished school he was expected to do what most young men in his neighborhood were expected to do…get a regular job. He tried, but his heart was in the music, so at age 17 he went on a European tour with his band The Monarchs before returning in 1963 and disbanding. Soon after he and fellow guitarist Herbie Armstrong joined Brian Rossi and the Golden Eagles and Van had his first gig as lead singer. But the gig was short lived as Van was soon joined up with The Gamblers, who then changed their name to Them and a legend was born. Van was the only songwriter and had soon penned a number of hits for the band including the seminal rock standard ‘Gloria.’
If I was lucky enough to write a song as awesome as ‘Gloria,’ I think I’d just retire…but not Van the Man.
Van was on his way. Soon he was the lead of the resident house band at LA’s Whiskey a Go Go where The Doors were the opening act…notably influencing the other Morrison with his stage presence. But soon the band was embroiled in a dispute with Decca Records and Morrison returned to Belfast intent on quitting the music business altogether. Bert Berns, Them’s producer persuaded him to come back to New York and record a solo album on his new label, Bang Records. The sessions proved fruitful when the new album “Blowin’ Your Mind” was released in 1967 with the lead single “Brown Eyed Girl.”
The only problem was that Van wasn’t consulted on the production or release of the album…and he wasn’t happy with the results. Morrison wanted something different. Berns died soon after the albums release, leaving Van in a contract dispute and he began to slip into a downward spiral. He moved to Boston but had trouble finding gigs, although those he did find helped him get his footing back.
Warner Brothers soon bought out his contract from Bang and Van went back to work. Catching him at his most hungry moment as an artist proved a boon for Warner Brothers when Morrison delivered “Astral Weeks” the next year. An eclectic mix of folk, jazz and poetry that to this day defies any real classification.
If you don’t own it, I pity you and urge you to do something about it.
But as deep and depressive as “Astral Weeks” was, Morrison flipped it all around when he dropped “Moondance ” in 1970.If you’ve never heard anything but the title track, you’re missing out. This was a classic rock album that doesn’t sound like any of the classic rock albums coming out at that time. Upbeat and seemingly effortless, it was undeniable proof that Morrison was as much a producer and bandleader as a poet.