While we’re at it, here’s a live version of “Cleaning Windows” from 1982:
In bed this morning I realized that I had glided right over a key point — maybe the key point — about this song. In some systems of belief it is held that a child arrives in the world in a state of purity, with its perceptions unclouded by unnecessary thought. As life goes on this purity is gradually obscured by acquired conditioning; the process of enlightenment consists of scrubbing away the accumulated layers of grime. If successful, one arrives again at something resembling the original childlike state.
[Note: After a lengthy gestation period, I decided yesterday that I was going to post this today. Then I woke up this morning to find that Van Morrison was trending, and not in a good way — apparently he is upset about having to wear a mask, and has written some songs about it that he wants us to hear. On the one hand this is annoying, and on the other hand it seems perversely right somehow. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?]
A few years ago I was listening to the radio, in the car if memory serves, when a song came on. It seemed immediately familiar, though I only found out years later — just now, in fact — that Mark Knopfler plays guitar on it. It’s a stone groove even before the voice comes in.
Morrison has haunted me for decades now. For a long time I kept my distance. It wasn’t that I ever disliked him, exactly; more that he belonged to some other realm of music that wasn’t mine. Something about him was too remote, too grown-up, too demanding of one’s patience and attention. Even a relatively straightforward song like “Gloria” or “Brown-Eyed Girl” seemed somehow out of step with the other music you heard before and after it on rock’n’roll radio stations.
So while I never avoided Van, I never really sought him out. And yet, Bowie-like, he kept showing up in different places in different guises. Eventually I had no choice but to start paying attention. I bought an LP of St. Dominic’s Preview at the thrift shop; I read Lester Bangs’ epic essay on Astral Weeks; after learning that Beck’s “Jack-Ass” was built on a loop from “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” I invested in a two-disc set of Them. But all these years later, I feel like I’ve still only scratched the surface.
It’s an intimidating mystery. The music is seemingly infinite, the man is a mass of contradictions: a curmudgeonly, recalcitrant, elusive, ever-evolving seeker who doesn’t just avoid the press, but actively tries to kneecap anyone who tries to write about him. I am a little scared to try, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Over the next few months I intend to embark on a semi-systematic exploration of the Morrison oeuvre. If you’d care to join me, there’s a subscription box up at the top-right of the page. If not, you are excused with my blessing and salutations.
Van really was a windowcleaner in his younger days, in Belfast. We’ll talk more about that later. But on the metaphorical level, this song is also about the lifetime job of trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
He covers a lot of ground in “Cleaning Windows,” which is from his 1982 album Beautiful Vision. In addition to making windowcleaning seem like just about the most glamorous profession imaginable, Van offers shoutouts to important influences, including Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Muddy Waters, as well as Jack Kerouac and Christmas Humphreys, a lawyer who was also probably the most prolific British author of the topic of Buddhism. We’ll talk more about some of these things later, too.
In the middle of everything he belts out “Curiosity killed the cat,” which is possibly a reference to something he read back then. I have not yet been able to pin it down, but there is time.
You will find greater values here. We are told: “Curiosity killed the cat, But satisfaction brought it back.” —The Titusville Herald, December 23, 1912
Satisfaction may come eventually; for now, curiosity remains.
This seems like a good time to update the list, since there have been no shows recently and aren’t likely to be any anytime soon. I finally got an “I” thanks to Iron & Wine, but sadly still no Q’s.
Until further notice, my last concert will have been the Wood Brothers at the Arkley Center in Eureka on March 8, 2020. It was a heck of a show, so no complaints here.
Abstract Rude AC/DShe (x2) Ade, King Sunny Air Amadou & Mariam (x2) Ash, Daniel Barnett, Courtney Bauhaus Beck (x4) Belly Beta Band Beulah (x2) Bird, Andrew Blacc, Aloe Blackalicious (x3) Black, Frank (x-many) Blind Boys of Alabama Bombino (x2) Booker, Benjamin Boss Hog Bowie, David (x3) Breeders (x2) Brian Jonestown Massacre Built to Spill Burnett, T-Bone Butthole Surfers (x3?) Buzzcocks Byrne, David Camper Van Beethoven (x?) Cave, Nick & the Bad Seeds Chao, Manu & the Radio Bemba Sound System Chicano Batman Chilton, Alex Clinton, George & the P-Funk All Stars (x2) Colvin & Earle Costello, Elvis Cracker (x5) Cramps Cure Darondo David, Anthony Del the Funkyhomosapien Depeche Mode Devo (x3) Doe, John (x2) Dr. John (x3) Dumpstaphunk Elliott, Ramblin’ Jack Erickson, Roky Eskimo Fall Farka Toure, Vieux Feist Flaming Lips fIREHOSE Fishbone Foetus Ford, Sallie (x2) Funky Meters (x?) Gabriel, Peter Galactic Gift of Gab (x3) Grateful Dead Guy, Buddy Harvey, PJ Hold Steady Hooker, John Lee Hooters Iron & Wine Jane’s Addiction Jazz Butcher (x3) Jeffreys, Garland Jesus & Mary Chain (x4) King, B.B. Kool Keith (x2) Kraftwerk Kristofferson, Kris Latryx Levy, Barrington Lords of the New Church Los Lobos (x4) Love and Rockets (x4) Loved Ones Lovett, Lyle Low Pop Suicide Lyrics Born Malkmus, Stephen Masekela, Hugh Meat Puppets Mexrissey Monks of Doom Morphine Murphy, Peter (x2) Murray, Bill Musselwhite, Charlie Naked, Buck & the Bare Bottom Boys Negativland Oranger Overwhelming Colorfast (x?) Ozomatli (x2) Pavement (x4) Pere Ubu (x2) Perry, Lee Phair, Liz Pharcyde Pimps of Joytime Pixies (x5) Poptone Presidents of the USA Prophet, Chuck Public Enemy Rebirth Brass Band Rev. Horton Heat Richman, Jonathan (x?) Rodrigo y Gabriela Roots Ruffins, Kermit (x2) Run the Jewels Semisonic Shankar, Anoushka Shriekback (x2) Siouxsie and the Banshees Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars Sippy Cups (x3) Sisters of Mercy Sly & Robbie/Taxi Gang Smith, Patti Smither, Chris Snider, Todd Soft Boys Sonic Youth Soweto Gospel Choir Spencer, Jon Blues Explosion (x2) Spiritualized Starlight Mints Sugar Television They Might Be Giants Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 Thin White Rope Throwing Muses (x2) Tin Machine Tortoise Toure, Vieux Farka Trombone Shorty (x3) Uncalled Four (x?) Van Etten, Sharon Voice Farm (x?) Wailing Souls Waits, Tom Watt, Mike & the Missingmen Ween Wild Magnolias Wilson, Brian Wire Wolfgang Press Wood Brothers (x2) Wu-Tang Clan X Young Fresh Fellows Ze, Tom
We lost the great Bill Withers this week, and it’s not easy to pick a song to represent his oeuvre. The man wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day,” just for starters… but for the nonce let’s go with something a little less known, a love song of heartbreaking simplicity.
And, hell, while we’re at it, here’s one more, kind of the flip side — this is a love song too, of sorts, but dark and driving:
We’ll miss you, Bill, but you shan’t be forgotten, that’s for sure.
In New Orleans last week we walked into a random club on Frenchmen St. just as the band was finishing a song. As the applause died away I heard the guitarist noodling through his wah-wah pedal with a familiar-sounding riff and my ears perked up. “Are they about to do ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley?’” I asked.
Indeed they were.
“Sally” was written by Allen Toussaint and originally recorded by Lee Dorsey in 1970:
But probably the most famous version, and the one the bar band was clearly drawing its arrangement from, was the one Robert Palmer did — with the Meters as his backing band — in 1974:
Confusingly enough, “Sally” was also recorded by New Orleans musician Robert Parker:
Apologies in advance if that last one is preceded — as it was for me — by a Mike Bloomberg ad. Fucking Bloomberg.
I can say now in all honesty that in my time I have seen Courtney Barnett perform in a barn. Said barn is on the grounds of the Gundlach Bundschu winery in Sonoma, and is equipped with a stage and a sound system; but still.
The whole thing was really rather strange. It was the coldest day I’d ever experienced in Sonoma County, with an icy wind whipping through the vineyards; fortunately the barn was walled in on three sides, at least. After an opening set by a charming little German who calls herself Hachiku, Courtney turned up with her electric guitar looking fresh-faced and chipper. She did some old songs, some new songs, some covers — including “I’m So Lonesome Could Cry” and a set-closing version of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free,” which she said was “one of the best songs ever written.” I can’t disagree.