Tuesday, March 10, 2015

His wheels are put in motion

As far as epiphanies go, this was a modest one. But for the sake of this blog, let's pretend it was quite consequential. One late summer afternoon, as I navigated the shadowed and serpentine Kancamagus Highway, it occurred to me that I fancy listening to Astral Weeks while on the move. There's nothing wrong with certain fixed settings: loafing in my den as it plays on the turntable; stretched out on the deck as it plays on small speakers. But if given the choice, I prefer an automobile, soft speeds, empty roads, sprawling landscapes, a not-too-distant destination.

It's because Astral Weeks is so heavily infused with movement. Van Morrison packs the songs with action verbs (venture, stroll, march). He lists various modes of transport (chariot, railroad, truck, ferry boat, carriage—even a Cadillac). He sings of wheels and footsteps, highways and lanes, avenues and train trips, back roads and back streets. His feet can't keep still, his wheels are put in motion.

In tracks like "Sweet Thing" and "Beside You," Morrison creates a sense of acceleration by rapidly repeating particular words ("my" in the former) and phrases ("You breathe in / you breathe out" in the latter). At these moments, the listener is pitched forward suddenly, heart-stoppingly (I'm reminded of the start of a roller coaster ride and the way the cars jerk into motion). Off the listener goes, hair streaming, eyes tearing, knuckles whitening, not caring about the journey's endpoint or duration, just exalting in the thrill of the journey itself.

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