Author’s Note: I had already written this before the recent kerfluffle and, being reluctant to see the effort to go waste, I’m going to go ahead and post it. I don’t necessarily plan on continuing the thread from here. Not so much because I want to [cough] cancel Van, as because having seen now the enormity of the task — and given that it’s taken a solid eight months just to get to this point — I am not unhappy to see a graceful way out. The channel will remain open for the time being, but I can’t say for sure what will be coming through it.
In the song he wrote about his time as a windowcleaner, Van Morrison made it sound pretty idyllic. Doing good, honest work as aromas waft by from the bakery down the street; breaking for pastries, lemonade, and cigarettes; listening to Jimmie Rodgers, Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Muddy Waters, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee; reading Jack Kerouac and Christmas Humphreys; playing sax on the weekends.
I don’t know if he experienced it that way at the time. Maybe he was indeed happy cleaning windows, but when his band the Monarchs got the opportunity to tour Scotland in 1962, he did not hesitate to hang up his squeegee and hit the road.
After beginning as a skiffle band called the Thunderbolts, the Monarchs had evolved into an Irish “showband.” What is a showband, you might well ask? Our friend Wikipedia says:
The Irish showband is a dance band format which was popular in Ireland mid-1950s to the mid-1980s… The showband was based on the internationally popular six- or seven-piece dance band. The band’s basic repertoire included standard dance numbers and covers of pop music hits. The versatile music ranged from rock and roll and country and western songs to traditional dixieland jazz and even Irish Céilí dance, Newfie stomps, folk music and waltzes. Key to a showband’s popular success was the ability to perform songs currently in the record charts…. The line-up usually featured a rhythm section of drums, lead, rhythm and bass guitars, a keyboard instrument, and a brass section of trumpet, saxophone and trombone. The band was fronted by one or two lead singers, who were assisted by other band members on backing vocals. Comedy routines were sometimes featured.
Van was one of the “other band members,” but though he was initially shy on stage, he soon developed a tendency to steal the show with his antics. “Van was a complete nutter on stage,” said his bandmate Roy Kane. “We had one number based on a blues riff called ‘Daddy Cool,’ and during this he used to throw himself on the floor, split his trousers and throw his shirt off.” (more…)
Today I listened to a radio interview with Van Morrison that was broadcast on the BBC last week. He does not sound obviously nuts, but I wouldn’t call it insightful, exactly; to say the interviewer is “fawning” would be an understatement. No hard questions are asked, though at one point it is mentioned that some of the song titles on Van’s new album are “weird.”
And I can sympathize with the desire to keep music and politics separate; I generally prefer to do the same. It would have been nice if Van had just written more songs about Tupelo honey and caravans, and he could have — no one put a gun to his head and said, “Write a song about who owns the media, and one about how Western man is losing ground to his inferiors.” At one point in the interview he is heard to claim that the songs are “satire,” a half-assed excuse if ever there was one. If this stuff is supposed to be funny, what is the joke exactly?
The interviewer makes much of the fact that, at 28 songs, Latest Record Project is Van’s longest studio album to date. (And Volume 2 is promised before the end of the year.) This reminds me of nothing so much as the infamous 1968 “revenge” or “contractual obligation” session. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. (more…)
I feel a bit silly now having gotten excited about the new Van Morrison album, though they kind of tricked me by releasing the least crazy songs first. “Only a Song” almost seems calculated to (ahem) inoculate you against whatever madness might follow.
Only a song, it’s not set in stone, it’s only a song
It’s only a poem that could change in the long run, it’s only a song
It’s what I said then just to make it rhyme
Could have been on my mind at the time
Putting paper to pen, it’s only a song, it’s only a song
But now that I look at them again, the song titles on Latest Record Project more than hinted that it was going to be a bumpy ride. They include “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,” “The Long Con,” “Double Agent,” and “Duper’s Delight”; and of course there’s “They Own the Media,” which is tucked away toward the end but in retrospect flashes bright red with warning. And while I certainly agree with the sentiment of “Why Are You on Facebook?”, is it really a subject worthy of the author of “Madame George” or “The Philosopher’s Stone”?
This morning I am trying to listen to the album so I can know of what I speak. It begins pleasantly enough with the self-referential title track and “Where Have All the Rebels Gone,” which is vaguely grumpy (“Need a real live audience to perform/Where have all the rebels gone?/I can’t find anyone”) but jaunty-sounding. “Psychoanalysts Ball” could be the grumblings of any disillusioned ex-patient. (more…)
Some disturbing news came across the transom today concerning Van Morrison’s new album, which contains a song called “They Own the Media.” Here are the lyrics:
They tell us that ignorance is bliss
I guess for those that control the media it is
They own the media they control
The stories we are told
You ever try to go against them, you will be ignored
Because they control
They control the narrative they perpetuate the myth
Keep on telling you lies, telling you ignorance is bliss
Leave it all and you’ll never get, never get wise
To the truth
Cuz they control
Everything you do
Everything you do
Everything you do
Everything you do
They control the narrative
They perpetuate the myth
Keep on selling you lies
Tell you ignorance is bliss
Believe it all and you’ll never get the truth
Never get wise
Wise to their lies
To their lies
They control the media
They control the media
It is never actually stated who the “they” is, but one has suspicions. We all know who is usually accused of “owning the media”; I don’t think I need to repeat it here.
Frankly I’m not sure I’m motivated to keep writing about the man after this. Anti-lockdown songs were one thing; this is another. Thoughts?
So the good news is that Steve Turner’s book is pretty easy going; I ripped through the first two chapters yesterday afternoon. The bad news is that he paints a slightly different picture of Van Morrison’s influences than Clinton Heylin did, which is going to necessitate a little bit of backtracking.
Turner puts particular emphasis on Mahalia Jackson, who was mentioned only in passing in Can You Feel the Silence? And in retrospect this seems like the missing piece of the puzzle — a sanctified female presence to balance out all those bluesmen and country boys. Says Turner,
It was while sitting in front of the family gramophone as a child that that George Ivan [Van] experienced the first of the intense feelings he was later to interpret as a form of spiritual ecstasy. His first memory of this happening dates back to when he was three years old and heard the voice of the American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. It forged an indelible link in his mind between music and a sense of wonder.
Turner also talks a lot about Charlie Parker as an influence, and I’m going to have to recuse myself from that discussion, as jazz is not my area. But speaking of horn players, I would be remiss if I neglected (again) to mention Jimmy Giuffre, whose 1957 British hit “The Train and the River” was instrumental (haw) in inspiring Van Morrison to learn how to play sax. (more…)