Monday, July 21, 2014
A certain 'consciousness of place'
The Atlantic, Harry Levin (who I've written about previously) had this to say about James Joyce: "The first consideration, with an Irishman, is nationality. Joyce, like Stephen [Dedalus], was 'all too Irish'—all the more Irish because he was a 'wildgoose,' because he resided mainly in foreign countries after his twentieth year, seldom as long as a year in the same domicile. From first to last, his underlying impulses were those of his racial endowment: humor, imagination, eloquence, belligerence." Van Morrison has been slapped with the "all too Irish" tag by both friend and foe (for his creativity and lust for life as much as his recklessness and bombast). In interviews, Morrison has spoken quite earnestly and enthusiastically on matters concerning Irishness, nationalism, and racial identity. On the surface, Astral Weeks is devoid of such subject matter: it's an album about personal experiences that are singular and intimate—those extraordinary and not-so-extraordinary moments in life that shape and define individuals. But consider this: by infusing Astral Weeks with a wonderfully powerful "consciousness of place" (a phrase lifted from that Levin piece), does Morrison in fact make the album a subtlety nationalistic one? It's hard to hear couplets such as "And you know you gotta go / On that train from Dublin up to Sandy Row" and not be affected by Morrison's attachment to, and reverence for, his home. In a way, this is nationalism, with Belfast as the nation.