“When it comes to Van Morrison, it seems there’s three types of people. The first have no opinion really. They just like it when Brown Eyed Girl gets played at weddings, and maybe Moondance, too. The second tend to argue that Van peaked with Them, howling out the Ulster punk blues circa 1965-66, and everything since has been self indulgent whatever. And then there are those who hear the poetry of the opening lines from Astral Weeks (the song) and let’s just say, they get chills, the good kind, the transformative kind. The music humbles them, you might even say it saves them (at least in some small way) from narrow belief in a narrow universe in which everything is known, and that which isn’t will be soon enough, and thus defined by sober application of scientific data. Or nothing matters anyway, we’re all just over-evolved monkeys doing our worst to stay alive. Or it’s all fate, preordained by some all powerful, all terrible blind idiot God (and his minions). So either way – who f***ing cares?
I do actually. Which I suppose makes me a type three, the third kind, with nine Van Morrison albums on my shelf never far from reach, because you never know, nobody knows, but still we reach. And the one album that’s gotten grabbed the most over the years is Astral Weeks, the 1968 miracle that apparently just seemed to just come out of nowhere, and even today nobody’s really sure. The mystery continues, beautiful and profoundly necessary, or as Lester Bangs put it a few years after the fact: ‘In the condition I was in, it assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what’s more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction.’ In other words, yeah, what can I say? It sends me.” (Philip Random)
“So I’m twelve almost thirteen, smart enough to not believe in the God I’ve had foisted on me my entire life, and thus scared to death of death – the fact that sometime somehow I will die, maybe in ten minutes, maybe in a hundred years of old age, but either way, everything will end, my heart will cease pumping, my mind will cease minding. Then nothing. Just blank. Like a light getting clicked off. Sorry, but twelve almost thirteen year old me can’t accept this. There has to be something, which is why I just can’t buy John Lennon’s Imagine, all that no heaven stuff – above us only sky. There bloody well better be more than just sky. And Imagine’s kind of lame anyway, too hippie la-la-la. Gimme Some Truth on the other hand, from the same album. That I can chew on. Way more than just sky.” (Philip Random)
“New Mind is the lead track from the Swans‘ fifth album Children of God, and thus the first real evidence that this band wasn’t just heavier than God and/or Lucifer (as their earlier, more resolutely murky stuff had proven), but probably better too – musically speaking. Because holy shit, what an powerful f***ing band! As for New Mind itself, I’m not sure I want to know what it’s about, except to say that it feels like the work of some angry god on a rampage, or maybe one of those Japanese movie monsters that tears an entire city to pieces due to some unexplained grievance. Or maybe it’s all that sex in our souls damning us to hell, which just doesn’t seem fair.” (Philip Random)
“I discovered Summertime in England in springtime in Ireland, care of a cassette I’d randomly picked up because it was on sale in a kiosk at a bus station, and Van Morrison was Irish, of course, and it made sense to have some of his music with me as I wandered his homeland in my rent-a-car, drank Guinness, wondered what the hell I was actually doing there, which I eventually realized had something to do with finding myself at a place known as the Bloody Foreland, extreme north west of Donegal, so called because every now and then, at sunset, everything turned a fiery, almost unearthly red. And I caught one of those sunsets, with Summertime In England playing, of course, the last half in particular, where ole Van has to just go to Church, spill his soul out to the entirety of everything everywhere forever. One of those magical mystical moments that makes you shut up and not think about it anymore, you just know. God is real, God does exist, and she’s a Van Morrison fan.” (Philip Random)
“It’s Christmas 1972, a party at family friends. I’m thirteen and barely old enough to be hanging with the big kids. Just shut up and sit in the corner. And then they all go outside to smoke a joint. They even invite me along, but no way, not with my parents barely fifty feet away. Which leaves me alone with the record that’s playing – Aqualung by Jethro Tull, getting to the end of Side Two, a song about all the religious bullshit they push on you when you’re a kid, which I had no problem agreeing with, particularly the part about God not being a simple toy. You didn’t just wind Him up once a week, say few stupid prayers and then get on with your everyday lying, cheating, stealing. Nah, if there was a God worth giving a shit about, He or She or It had to be magnitudes more complex and wise than that. I don’t believe you — you’ve got the whole damned thing all wrong.” (Philip Random)
“I had a friend back in the day with ambitions of being a big deal rock video director, which never really panned out. The closest he ever got to anything of substance was meeting somebody who knew somebody that maybe had some pull with Sons of Freedom. I remember him getting all excited, telling me his killer concept for Dead Dog On The Highway. To be shot out in the desert somewhere, the band playing at the side of the highway with every shot taken from passing vehicles, moving fast, so all you ever caught were quick glimpses. Meanwhile, Jesus was being crucified on a hill in the distance (dog being god spelled backwards). Needless to say, the band didn’t go for it. But it would’ve been a good one.” (Philip Random)
“In which the band known as Guadalcanal Diary take a campfire singalong about God (or whoever), apply rock and roll thunder and voila! a glimpse of what might just be heaven (or whatever). From 1984’s Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, which is the first thing I ever heard from them, and the last thing I really needed to. The whole album’s a gem.” (Philip Random)
In which Leonard Cohen weighs in on the stuff of love and confusion and the avalanches that sometimes cover one’s soul. We’ve all known them. In Philip Random’s case, there was some LSD-25 involved and yes, it eventually occurred to him that he hadn’t completely annihilated his ego, and that it wasn’t God Himself singing to him from the far side of the room with a face as big as a fireplace, it was in fact a fireplace and a scratchy side of Leonard Cohen vinyl that someone had thoughtfully put on. And it was good.
Alphabet Street being the lead off track from the last truly great Prince album, 1988’s Lovesexy. “We didn’t realize it at the time but he really did have to reign things in, else there would have been no reason for humanity continuing, God’s own paradise of peace and love and f***ing having been achieved here on earth by Prince Rogers Nelson’s unstoppable cavalcade of genius.” (Philip Random)