“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)
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. “All hail Lester Bangs‘ mostly lucid raving about Astral Weeks, without which I may never have found myself in the thrall of Van Morrison’s Madame George and its nine plus minutes of mystical, magical longing, all childlike visions and the smell of sweet perfume. No way, you say. Astral Weeks is famous enough, I would’ve stumbled upon it eventually. But that’s not how the universe works, I say. Because if I hadn’t spent a week or three in the grim eternity of a mid-1980s February pouring over its ever second, who knows what might have happened, what mystical butterflies would have remained dormant, never flapped their wings and set great cosmic vibrations in motion? The Berlin Wall may never have come down. The Cold War may have brewed hot and catastrophic. The end of all things. Maybe. As for Madame George, it seems to be about a cross-dresser, but it’s really about all of us, how we’ll never really get to hold that thing we desire the most, and yet the reaching for it, the yearning, well that redeems us, doesn’t it, confirms our humanity? And if you haven’t yet found the time to sit still for about forty-eight minutes and listen to the miracle of Astral Weeks in its entirety, well, what are you waiting for? The world could end at any second.” (Philip Random)
The band known as Jethro Tull blew things wide open in 1972 with a single 43 minute song/concept album that hit #1 everywhere from Denmark to Australia to the Americas, even Vietnam. Which suddenly meant that Ian Anderson and the band could do pretty much anything they wanted career wise, including the release of a double album of (mostly) unreleased stuff from the previous four years and four albums of their career (so far). Living in the Past it was called and full of odd gems it was including a live version of Dharma For One which initially showed up as an instrumental on their first album but come the concert trails of 1970 had picked up some lyrics and otherwise expanded and evolved into a longer, wilder, more progressive beast indeed. The word gobsmacking comes to mind, though the drum solo does go on a bit.
The closest thing to a good ole fashioned pop song from Van Morrison‘s 1968 masterpiece Astral Weeks that changed everything forever. Which isn’t to say that Young Lovers doesn’t transcend like everything else on Astral Weeks – it just does so with brevity and deceptively easy purpose, rather like young lovers set loose in a field of green with soft breezes blowing through.
“I had a copy of the Doors’ Absolutely Live kicking around for years before I finally listened to it, grabbed cheap for future reference, I guess, because at the time I was going through a prolonged phase of just not being into Jim Morrison and his bullshit, poetic and otherwise. Early 1990s finally, I put it on and what blew me away was the band. Hot shit indeed for a trio (guitar, drums, organ – the bass notes coming from the Ray Manzarek’s left hand). And yeah, I had to admit the singer had a certain something too, not remotely afraid to howl his angst and poetry and prophecy at the universe. We’re all doomed apparently.” (Philip Random)
We’ll give this one to Lester Bangs, because without his review, Philip Random would never have been on the lookout for a copy of Live at the Paramount, which he found at yard sale, 1980s sometime. Cost him at least a dollar. “The Guess Who have absolutely no taste at all, they don’t even mind embarrassing everybody in the audience, they’re real punks without ever working too hard at it […] In case you wondered about the drug commercial, it’s in a song called Truckin Off Across The Sky, the main character of which is the Grim Reaper. There he is … grinning, outstretched arms holding bags of you-know-what. Positively the best drug song of 1972. And this may well be the best live album. F*** all them old dudes wearing their hip tastes on their sleeves: get this and play it loud and be first on your block to become a public nuisance.”