Friday, June 27, 2014

"My whole being was vibrating"

I've previously written about two significant Boston-area settings in the Astral Weeks narrative: Green Street in Cambridge and the old Catacombs club. A third is Ace Recording Studio, once located at 1 Boylston Place.

It was here that Lewis Merenstein, who would produce Morrison's second album, first met Van Morrison and heard him play. The song Morrison performed was "Astral Weeks"—in its primordial, unadorned, acoustic form. This is from an interview music writer Hank Shteamer conducted with Merenstein several years ago:
Warner Brothers had contacted Bob Schwaid [Morrison's manager at the time], and he contacted me. And they had sent some producers, and they didn't know what he was talking about; people went up expecting to hear "Brown Eyed Girl," because the year before he had had "Brown Eyed Girl" on Bang Records and that's what he was last known for. So Joe Smith and Mo Ostin asked me to go up [to Boston] and listen to him. And I went up and it was at Ace Recording Studio at One Boylston Place, and there was Van Morrison, very timidly sitting on a stool and I came in very timidly sitting on a stool and he played! And the first tune he played was "Astral Weeks." Thirty seconds into it, my whole being was vibrating, because having spent all that time with jazz players, when he was playing, I could hear hear—the lyric I got right away; I knew he was being reborn. I heard 30 seconds, a minute and it went right through me, and I got the poetry of it. It was just stunning, and I knew I wanted to work with him at that moment.
According to this link, the Boston Repertory Theatre (BRT) purchased the building that housed the studio in 1974. The BRT then transformed the space into a 200-seat theatre, which opened in '75 with Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano." The building later housed a variety of nightclubs.

Trivia that may only interest readers who hail from the Boston area: "Charlie on the M.T.A." (officially titled "M.T.A.")—a ditty that most anyone who grew up in or around the Hub knows the words to—was first recorded at Ace in 1949. Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes cut the record for Progressive Party mayoral candidate Walter A. O'Brien.

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