Monday, February 23, 2015

A sweet goodbye

They are not false endings, not in the strictest sense of the term, since there is no point during these songs where the final whistle is blown, silence takes hold, remains for a heartbeat or two, and then the music kicks off again. I suppose they are more like literary false endings, moments when you feel like the narrative is heading to a vivid, satisfying conclusion, only you discover there is a bit more to the story.

They are the false endings of Astral Weeks ... In the title track, right around the 6:20 mark, Van Morrison sings in a delicate whisper, "Way up in heaven," and the words create a sense of imminent closure. A final destination is stated and the Irishman will now deliver the listener there. Only the song continues for another 45 wondrous seconds.

But for all its dramatic effect, the false ending in "Astral Weeks" can't compare with the one heard in "Madame George." Around the seven-minute mark, as Morrison repeatedly sings the phrase "dry your eye," the violinist—who nearly outshines Morrison and Richard Davis on this track; for a solid six minutes his playing is simply otherworldly; if you were to compile a list of the most "dominating" instrumental performances on Astral Weeks, he probably makes the top three—slowly slips into the ether and we are left with strummed chords on acoustic guitar, soft touches of upright bass, snippets of xylophone and flute. It's quiet, a quiet both satisfying and unnerving. And as Morrison mourns, the doleful "ooo's" and "hmm's" pouring out, the listener believes that this is the end, that a slow fade out is nigh.

But not yet. The sweetest goodbye one could ever hear is on the way.

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