Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Probably come to die in this town"

Stating that Big Black's "Kerosene" could have functioned as the musical backdrop to Van Morrison's formative years is hardly a gutsy call, because "Kerosene"'s themes of enmity, disenchantment, and urgency have been widely clutched by young people everywhere. As a middle-aged adult, you can't look "Kerosene" directly in the eye. It's ugly and terrifyingly honest; the song leaves you sore from embarrassment, chiefly because you once felt the same way as the narrator (can you imagine?). But in the throes of adolescence, "Kerosene" is pure magic, the rare anthem that simultaneously delivers you to the precipice of tears (finally—someone who understands me for me; *sniff*) and gets the veins in your forehead angrily pulsing (teenager SMASH).

When I read articles and biographies that detail Morrison's immediate pre-Astral Weeks period, "Kerosene" often hisses in my head. Morrison quit Them in 1966 and resettled in Belfast soon afterward. He stitched together a new band and performed gigs at familiar haunts throughout the city. Friends and acquaintances from that time allude to him being extra sullen and volatile. Morrison's sour temperament was the possible consequence of an individual who believed he had just botched his one big shot at stardom.

"I was born in this town," Big Black vocalist/guitarist Steve Albini sneers in "Kerosene." "Live here my whole life / Probably come to die in this town / Live here my whole life / Never anything to do in this town / Live here my whole life."

It's not difficult to imagine Morrison feeling similarly powerless and pointless. But in time, this moody defeatism would stimulate him to unforeseen creative heights. Morrison was not destined to spend his years sitting around at home and staring at walls, to paraphrase Albini. America would soon beckon. And bigger and better things.

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