Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Time spent in Larry Fallon's room

Larry Fallon's room in Van's House ("Whose House? Van's House!") is possibly the most overlooked. By no means should this diminish the significance of Fallon's contributions to Astral Weeks. His room may go unnoticed, but it's highly functional—like a walk-in pantry or maybe a laundry room.

Besides contributing the distinct harpsichord parts to "Cyprus Avenue," Fallon is credited as the album's arranger and conductor. Roughly a week after the third and final recording session, Fallon overdubbed strings and horns. However, where he completed this task is a matter of debate. In his Morrison biography Can You Feel the Silence?, Clinton Heylin claims the overdubs took place at Mastertone Studios in New York City. Peter Mills, in his book Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison, says Fallon toiled at the location where Astral Weeks was recorded: Century Sound Studio. Then there's Johnny Rogan's Van Morrison: No Surrender, which rather vaguely states that the overdubs were done "at a studio near Times Square." For the record, Century Sound was on West 52nd Street, while Mastertone—going on what little I could unearth regarding its whereabouts—was located on West 42nd Street. Meaning two out of the three authors mentioned here believe it was Mastertone. Astral Weeks minutia that will interest only the most rabid zealots ...

Anyway, Fallon performed arranging duties on another prominent album from this era: Nico's Chelsea Girl, released roughly a year before Astral Weeks. Chelsea Girl is the sound of a woman who has wept and bled. Nico's voice is flat, bloodless, a touch haughty. She was once gutted and grief-stricken; the pain is no longer fresh. She is reflecting, a widow in her final days of wearing black.

Fallon is responsible for providing balance. Lyricism to offset the wretchedness. Elegance and charm to counterweight the emptiness. Fallon's string and flute overdubs are flawless, a splendid example of how an arranger can slip inside the cracks of a fellow musician's material and create something that doesn't disturb the foundation—how one can stretch their creative wings without spilling feathers all over the other's art.

(Quick aside: Nico distanced herself from the album on account of Fallon's overdubs being too intrusive. "Oh, the flute!" she once exclaimed in an interview. "Oh my God, I was so unhappy when I heard the result of that flute taking over." It should be mentioned that with the exception of "It Was a Pleasure Then," which she wrote with John Cale and Lou Reed, none of these songs were Nico's. This material was penned for her by others—Cale, Reed, Sterling Morrison, Jackson Browne, and Gregory Copeland—or was previously written and recorded by contemporaries like Bob Dylan and Tim Hardin. This fact somewhat undermines whatever authority the vocalist believes she has over Chelsea Girl's production. It should also be mentioned that Nico is a raging, vile bitch.)

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