Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Van Morrison


I sold most of my CD collection before I bought this laptop and as a result have wound up rebuying, ripping, and reselling a few which I decided I was sorry I’d sold. My Van Morrison collection was actually all on cassettes, so in order to get rid of them I bought a Greatest Hits set (in typically cantankerous Morrison style, these 3 CDs apparently didn’t have room for some of his actual hits such as Blue Money) and have found myself listening to it repeatedly in the past couple weeks, just as I repeatedly listened to a Bruce Cockburn collection at Yellowstone.

I saw Morrison in concert once, in Boston on a split bill with Bob Dylan. I remember that Dylan dominated the show and that Morrison seemed to give a fairly perfunctory performance, letting other band members often carry the show. But from all I’ve read about both performers, it could easily have been the other way around the next night.

My music collection tends to be split fairly evenly between those I bought because of the lyrics and those I bought because of the sound. Morrison falls firmly in the second category—joyful, excited, lush, romantic, saxophone, harmonica, driving r & b, soul singing with a jazz sensibility.
But lyrics have their place and my first memory of his songs is Brown Eyed Girl:

Cast my memory back there, Lord
Sometimes I'm overcome thinkin' 'bout it
Making love in the green grass, behind the stadium
With you, my brown eyed girl

My first serious girlfriend was a brown eyed girl who worked at a motel near the stadium where the New England Patriots played. The motel and the football team are still there but I lost track of her more than 35 years ago.

Morrison’s another of the spiritual seekers whose music I was often drawn to—George Harrison, Cat Stevens, Mike Scott, Bob Marley. Morrison’s words are a mix of Paganism and Christianity—naturally, I go for the Nature worship but even at their most explicitly Christian the lyrics usually don’t bother me because of the sound. For me, a song title like Whenever God Shines His Light doesn’t sound very promising. But it’s a great upbeat song which ends with variations of the repeated line, “Put your feet back, on higher ground,” which could repeat for a couple more minutes and I’d be perfectly happy. I don’t know, maybe it’s about climbing mountains.

Most of the slow songs are intense and moving also, such as Vanlose Stairway and Celtic New Year. But to be honest, there are some songs which are every bit as lethargic and ponderous as you’d expect from the titles.

Sometimes it sounds like he’s been following me around Duluth and Yellowstone:

When I recall just how it felt
When I went walking down by the Lake
My soul was free, my heart awake
When I walked down into the town

The mountain air was fresh and clear
The sun was up behind the hill
It felt so good to be alive
On that morning in spring
--from The Beauty of the Days Gone By

There are four songs on this set with God in the title and many more on the same subject, but they’re not all about transcending this world. For instance, some words from Precious Time--

It doesn't matter what route you take
Sooner or later the heart's gonna break
No rhyme or reason, no master plan
No Nirvana, no promised land

Because precious time is slipping away
You know you're only king for a day
It doesn't matter to which god you pray
Precious time is slipping away

Say que sera, whatever will be
But then I keep on searching for immortality
She's so beautiful but she's gonna die some day
Everything in life just passes away

Sounds like a bummer, doesn’t it? At least from the dominant death-denying modern viewpoint. But this is another up-tempo tune with a saxophone playing what sounds a bit like the theme from The Benny Hill Show. I’ve been known to play it three times in a row. If walking didn’t hurt so much, I might be dancing.
Brief clips of all songs available here at Amazon.

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