Monday, December 2, 2013

Futebol d'arte vs. futebol de resultados

I'm reading Inverting the Pyramid, Jonathan Wilson's in-depth history of football—er, soccer; so sorry—tactics and formations. Connections between Astral Weeks and the sport of soccer are nonexistent. (Though I find it slightly fascinating that around the time Van Morrison was at the top of his game, a fellow Belfast native was reaching similarly lofty heights in English football.) Nonetheless, one of Wilson's early observations permeated the Astral Weeks-dominated portion of my brain: "The tension—between beauty and cynicism, between what Brazilians call futebol d'arte and futebol de resultados—is a constant, perhaps because it is so fundamental not merely to sports but also to life; to win or to play the game well?"

Sheer beauty or glittering prizes? Art or results? Which will it be? One must be sacrificed to produce the other. Following Astral Weeks, Morrison abandoned the unrestricted boldness and expressive individualism of his masterpiece for a more pragmatic (read: commercial) approach. Consider this 1986 quote found in Clinton Heylin's Can You Feel the Silence?: "[Astral Weeks] was a success musically and at the same time, I was starving. Practically not eating. So for the next album I realized I was going to have to do something [that sounded] like rock or [continue to] starve ... So I tried to forget about the artistic thing because it didn't make sense on a practical level. One has to live." Or this, from Johnny Rogan's Van Morrison: No Surrender: "I make albums primarily to sell them and if I get too far out a lot of people can't relate to it."

The result was Moondance, a collection that certainly ranks among Morrison's best, but one that also reveals an artist becoming self-conscious about being too self-conscious. Moondance is more concentrated, more compromising, more devoted to efficiency and discipline. It's evidence that proper self-control is the swiftest path to the Top 40. It's Morrison's I-need-to-eat album—an LP akin to comfort food. Astral Weeks is the more meaningful and eternal release, but also confirmation that even the most enduring pieces of art typically don't pay the bills.

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