Friday, February 28, 2014

A commodius vicus of recirculation

For me, Astral Weeks has no ending, no definitive conclusion. The album's spastic, startling terminus—the bleats from John Payne's soprano saxophone, the final, labored gasps from Richard Davis' bass, the thumping from Van Morrison thwacking the side of his acoustic guitar—heard during the final seconds of "Slim Slow Slider," only makes sense when it flows immediately into the opening of the introductory title track. The abrupt, alien-sounding finish to "Slim Slow Slider"—then the sudden, rich, melodious cacophony that kicks off "Astral Weeks" ... It's not unlike another complex work from another renowned Irishman: In James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, the fragments at the novel's opening and close link up to create one complete, visually arresting image. For Joyce, the end is the beginning is the end (or as he wrote in Finnegans Wake, "a commodius vicus of recirculation").

Astral Weeks is similarly cyclical. Its sounds and themes and styles go around and around and come back again. Life is presented in all its circular totality: joy and despair, sin and redemption, home and exile, love and heartache, birth and death. I can't summon up the first time I heard the album; meanwhile, its perpetual presence in my life means I often can’t recall my most recent listen either. Astral Weeks is absolute; Astral Weeks is infinite.

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