Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Oh tease of teases!

Some time ago (not sure when; don't care enough to look it up), Rolling Stone issued its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf penned the entry on Van Morrison, who checked in at No. 42. In his piece, Wolf claims to have made reel-to-reel recordings of Astral Weeks in its most nascent form:
Eventually, Van managed to assemble a two-piece acoustic band and booked himself at a coffeehouse/jazz club that could only be described as subterranean. It was located three stories below a pool parlor and was deep, damp and dark. Egyptian motifs were painted on its yellow smoke-stained walls. The club justly deserved its name, the Catacombs. I borrowed a tape machine to capture the evening's music. What he performed that night later turned out to be the song cycle that made up the groundbreaking Astral Weeks. Though only a handful showed up, when Van finished playing, there was no doubt that the few present had witnessed something extraordinary.
These lost Astral Weeks tapes were also mentioned in a 2002 Boston Phoenix feature on Wolf, though it was in a paragraph simply cataloging all the detritus in the singer's Boston apartment: "Walls of music and books, art, antiques (he has a 1955 Seeburg jukebox in mint condition, for one). Mementos everywhere, some more obvious than others: zebra shoes from J. Geils's 'Sanctuary' tour; a tape reel sitting on a stack of books with the first recorded version of songs that would end up on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks."

Reading this leaves me teary-eyed. To be that close to a recording of Morrison (and presumably John Payne and Tom Kielbania) performing at the Catacombs and to not hear it—oh tease of teases! Maybe the writer asked and Wolf denied the request. Maybe the writer never asked, having been too preoccupied with Wolf's shiny jukebox. Or maybe Wolf is just a skilled fibber, an opportunist looking to exaggerate his role in the Astral Weeks narrative and the tapes don't exist at all.

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