It's a bit of a lousy joke around the Beams' office that I only listen to Van Morrison. Truth be told I don't make the time for as much quality listening as I'd like, so when I do, I tend to stick to favourites. At the top of that list is Van Morrison. I discovered Van as I was entering my twenties. His sound was mature but filled with angst, search, regret, glory. That's about how I was feeling at the time. Shortly after the discovery, I was dumped hard by a girl and instead of resorting to drugs, I disappeared into my bedroom and got to know Van for about six months. What I found was an ornery mystic on a mythic journey. Van is by turns awkward, sensitive and unsophisticated. He is also filled with the spirit; it's in his bones, often at the tips of his fingers. It's only a slight hyperbole to say that Van saved my life. It was his words and the depth of his search that oriented me to a life lived in spirit.
While most people know Van as the guy who sang Brown Eyed Girl, or perhaps Moondance or Into the Mystic if they're a little more tuned in, he has in fact recorded more than 40 albums, more than 50 if you include live albums. What I've always found cool about him is the extent of his search, and the clues he's left along the way about himself. Over the years, he's sung of Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist themes. He even dabbled in Scientology (the meditative Inarticulate Speech of the Heart included L. Ron Hubbard in the thank you notes). All the while, there has been a man, half-drunk, dishevelled, disoriented and in moments disjointed, always leaning in.
That's how I feel much of the time.
He's a man of location and none at all, peppering his lyrics with streets of his youth (one of my own life hilights was meandering up and down the Sandy Row in Belfast when I was in my early 20's) while always remaining elusive, somehow translucent.
The major themes of his work were established in his first two critically acclaimed albums, Astral Weeks and Moondance. In a sense these two albums are the yin and yang of his person: the meditative, shamanic voyageur and the upbeat, celebratory (and occassionally fiery) pastor. In these albums he speaks of the Ancient Highway, a theme that would continually reappear throughout his albums (and eventually become a grinding song).
And he not-so-famously wrote 'It's too late to stop now' at the end of Into the Mystic that parlayed into one of the greatest live albums ever recorded and perhaps the best ever cover of It's a Man's World (I mean, who else would have the balls to even try it?)(I can't recommend listening to that last link enough; late at night; preferably scotch and do it with a friend).
Van Morrison: Intimate, alive, and supple with grit and teeth, all wrapped in the skin of a grumpy Northern Irishman. Let's take the journey:
Sweet Thing I consider should be on any top 10 all-time songs list. And yet, I can't exactly tell you why. Nothing so extraordinary stands out about it, save the simple perfection of the finished product.
Listen to the Lion is quintessential Van, straight from the solar plexus, urging the authentic impulse onward.
Hymns to the Silence captures at once 'the long, long journey' and the silence that pervades it all.
Youth of a Thousand Summers. I dare you to listen to this and not feel fucking great about yourself.
Kingdom Hall is pure joy in the spirit of Southern Baptist churches (though it's from his days as a child attending the Jehovah's Witness service with his Mother)(awesome footage on this one btw).
Cleaning Windows is a homage to the working man.
Dweller on the Threshold. The title speaks for itself.
Did Ye Get Healed? expresses the syncronicity of a life given over to God. Did you get the feeling down in your soul?