14. astral weeks

“When it comes to Van Morrison, it seems there are 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 or 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)

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18. as

As (found deep within Stevie Wonder’s 1976 monster Songs In The Key Of Life) is the best god damned love song I know (by which I guess I mean God graced … but who talks like that anymore?). Starts out as a nice and soulful ‘me and you together forever babe’ thing, but then about halfway through, something amazing happens. The Wonder genius pulls some sleight of hand, punches up the groove which somehow sets the melody soaring, and meanwhile the lyric (and the voice that’s carrying it) have also mutated. Now it’s tearing up the atmosphere, singing of that greater love, the one beyond just me and you, babe, the one that truly comes from on high.

Notice I didn’t say God. What do I know about God? Or gods. What I do know is I’m right here, right now, not anywhere else. Some of it’s on me, I guess, and some of it’s in me, but most of it – well who f***ing knows how I got here, or why, or what I’m supposed to do about it? And sometimes, this is all too f***ing much, for anyone. We need something to lift us, allow us to see past the barriers of our suffering and frustration and grasp that the only real wisdom starts with an acceptance of these barriers, the stuff of them, because maybe just maybe these trials and travails and humiliations and tribulations are precisely what our souls require. Because as somebody else’s grandpa used to say, if life was supposed to be all roses and perfume and puppy dogs, they would have called it something else. And anyway, roses have thorns, puppy dogs sh** all over the place and perfume can be toxic. Play this one at my funeral. No question. I’ll be there if I can.” (Philip Random

40. close to the edge

“So here we are, decades after the fact and it’s still difficult to discuss the music of the band known as Yes without somehow disparaging it as overwrought, pretentious, guilty of trying too hard. To which I say, f*** that (unless you’re talking about their later stuff – the 1980s and beyond, some of which I’m pretty sure is on perpetual repeat in hell’s jukebox). Because the good stuff, the grand stuff, the vast and virtuous and ambitious stuff of their early-mid 1970s phase, we need that stuff, particularly Close To The Edge (the song and the album, but particularly the side long song). Because it’s true, I think, the edge isn’t a place, the edge doesn’t exist. You’ve either gone too far and you’re falling the long fall into oblivion, or you’ve found that sweet spot just short of it where everything opens up. All those BIG unifying passions and ideas that have been floating in and around you since before puberty even – the idea of indivisibility. Jehovah and Allah and Jesus and Muhammad and Krishna and every known and unknown god or whatever, all one big happy. Bigger than any cathedral, that’s for sure. Because every church, every creed, every ideology gets it wrong the instant it claims to have gotten it all right. Because even if you have vast chunks of the truth, you can’t have it all. It’s the nature of it, beyond mortal comprehension. So the very claim of TRUTH divides us, sets loose corrosive elements, brings the f***ing roof down.

Which is what’s going on in the middle of Close To The Edge, I think, the part where the church organ kicks in. That’s the capital T Truth failing. That’s the cathedrals all collapsing, and the mosques, the temples, the synagogues. That’s the outside crashing in, the inside gushing out. Now that you’re saved, now that you’re whole. Seasons will pass you by. You get up. You get down.  It’s all so clear once you stop trying to make sense of it. Just smoke a doob, put on the headphones, stretch out and let it all be … for eighteen and a half minutes anyway. Maybe the best damned band on the planet. Ever. Or certainly close to it. Hell even Led Zeppelin had to be looking over their shoulders by 1972. Because Yes simply had more going on. Hell, they had Rick Wakeman and his mountainous stacks of keyboards, conjuring choirs and orchestras and all manner of big and mysterious colours and textures and everything really, or damned close to it anyway. As close as anyone got at the time, and maybe ever since. Because has there ever been another time like it? We were definitely close to something.” (Philip Random)

421. rainy day … still dreaming

“Jimi Hendrix’s superlative 1968 double shot Electric Ladyland features two versions of his anthem toward getting high and dreamy on a rainy day (the first more laid back one being Rainy Day Dream Away, the second more explosive one being Still Raining Still Dreaming). I long ago linked them via an edit that I can’t even find now, but trust that it all flows nicely, powerfully together, with Hendrix rhapsodics to make even the gods cry, which leads to more rain, of course, more dreaming.” (Philip Random)

JimiHendrix-1968-live

439. it was a very good year

“We’ve all gotta start somewhere. Before I got seriously hooked by the superlative noise of rock-roll-psyche-whatever-you-want-to-call-it (sometime safely before my tenth birthday in the form of The Beatles Revolution the shorter, sharper, nastier version), I only really cared for one so-called pop album: What Now My Love, a 1966 chart topper from Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (who weren’t from Tijuana, they weren’t even Mexican). Because it was the only halfway modern slab of vinyl in my parents’ collection. And now it’s in mine, the same original copy (proudly slotted between the Allman Bros and Amon Duul), because it’s actually pretty darned fine in a sangria-soaked suburban backyard barbecue sort of way. Smooth Latin rhythms and sunny day melodies and occasional gushes of rapture like the part at the end of It Was A Very Good Year when the strings come swooping inward and upward, announcing to this six or seven year old that this music stuff was way more than just fun, it was genuine magic, the stuff of the gods.” (Philip Random)

619. the big music

“The Big Music is the first Waterboys song I ever heard and it didn’t do much for me. It felt too on the nose, and anyway, wasn’t Big Music U2’s thing? But a decade slipped past and I guess I found it serving a different purpose. More of a statement of intent (from Mike Scott in particular) than some half-baked U2 rip-off. Because the Waterboys had since proven themselves entirely their own unique beast, and pagan at that, like the wild crash of surf on a northern shore, at sunset, everything turning blood red. I actually saw that happen once, off Ireland, while listening to a different Waterboys track. Proof that gods exist, and here they were showing off at the edge of things. And they’re still at it, by the way. The Waterboys, that is. I can’t speak for the gods.” (Philip Random)

waterboys-1984

973. when you sleep

“The problem with any My Bloody Valentine record is, however brilliant it may be, it can’t exist in same sonic universe of that same song performed live. Case in point, When You Sleep from Loveless. On record, it’s a superbly textured experimental pop song with a pronounced dreamy edge. Whereas live, in the Commodore Ballroom, 1992, it was a gauntlet thrown down by the gods. Swoon in our psychedelic power and complexity, it demanded. And maybe half the crowd did. The other half were gone by shows end, complaining about the noise.” (Philip Random)