Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How many bridges do we have to cross before we get to meet the boss

"Pride of place is given to the graffiti that snaked between Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park tube stations: 'SAME THING DAY AFTER DAY – TUBE – WORK – DINER [sic] – WORK – TUBE – ARMCHAIR – TUBE – WORK – HOW MUCH MORE CAN YOU TAKE – ONE IN FIVE CRACKS UP.'

"The messages themselves are not so much the territorial markers or the frantic assertion of self that we have become used to, but are anonymous, allusive, and cryptic, a window into the world of the culturally or socially dispossessed."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Double bass crimes

"It made such a pumping, breathing body sound, like running or hard work, like screwing, and he missing somebody so bad, yeah, made a sound like what a human being would make if it got turned into an instrument, that after a while he couldn't stand it."

Nicked this from Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes. She was describing a Sicilian-crafted, green button accordion, the novel's protagonist. But shit, it could be about Richard Davis' bass on Astral Weeks. His bass playing is a wonderful reminder that the finest songs, the finest albums, the best music not only gives you something that you never expected to hear, but something you never had. Something you always wanted, but never realized you wanted until it was breathlessly presented to you.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Creative thresholds

"I am into a completely different thing now. Now there is no limit to what I can do. I plan to use the type of instrumentation I like and be completely free. This is only the beginning for me."

I really dig this Van Morrison quote. It was allegedly uttered during an interview with a New York radio station. Morrison was in Belfast at the time, mired in a creative stasis of sorts, fresh off his debut album, disappointed with the overall results, eager to give it another go. There's all sorts of wonderful contradictions at work here. His words are vague and yet full of conviction. You get the sense he has possibly talked himself into believing a creative threshold has been crossed. At the same time, it all sounds so heartfelt, so authentic, so rabid.

I can pictures it now ... If Astral Weeks came packaged with a decorative promotional sticker on the shrink wrap, bearing campy words of praise for the album inside, it would include a snippet from the above quote: "This is Van's 'be-completely-free' album! Tune in—and get completely free with him!"

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Heavy, biological, metaphorical"

"During one of his early visits to [Cecil] McCartney's home, [Van] Morrison was intrigued by a book on display titled Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill, a study of the importance of contemplative prayer, first published in 1911. But what really stuck in his memory was a sketch or poster on the wall which alluded to 'Astral' travel and would later inspire the title of his most famous album. 'It was a painting,' McCartney corrects. 'There were several paintings in the studio at that time. Van looked at the painting and it suggested astral traveling to him. I don't think I went into very deep explanation as to what the paintings were about. Most of my painting at that time, the misty stuff, was based on atmospheric effects like Turner would have painted, but it was also very heavy, biological, metaphorical shapes.'"

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A period of limbo

The Astral Weeks narrative is filled with bit characters, less-heralded folks who played small (albeit important) roles in the album's creation. One such individual is Van Morrison's mum, Violet. Two passages from Johnny Rogan's biography Van Morrison: No Surrender provide details on the elder Morrison's minor role during the writing process for Astral Weeks.

This first bit is from late '66/early '67, following Morrison's bitter departure from Them and his reluctant return to his hometown. Violet passes herself off as a reticent listener. However, one can't help but speculate that Morrison was playing his compositions for his mother (who was a musician herself) because he was hoping she would be an arbiter of sorts, someone willing to offer constructive feedback.
Back in Hyndford Street, his priority was to kick-start his career and get out of Belfast. His mother looked on patiently as he attempted to translate some ideas into song, filling up tape. "He'd usually start off by playing and just humming a note and then the words would come," she recalled at the time. "He'd play the chords at first, and he'd go on and on maybe for about an hour. He'd work on a basic idea ... Then he'd work on it the next day and it might have a different tempo and the words could change. It just flows."
This second passage is from the spring of '67, after Morrison recorded his debut album, Blowin' Your Mind!, with Bert Berns in New York City. Here, Violet plays a much more active part.
A period of limbo followed during which Morrison concentrated on writing more of the impressionistic prosopography that would dominate Astral Weeks. His mother occasionally offered some musical accompaniment, thereby risking the screaming rebukes of her snappy son. "I play harmonica and I used to play guitar and a bit of organ and piano," she explains. "I never pleased Van the way I played organ because it was too square. We always ended up having rows about it ... He always said I played organ like I was in a church."

Saturday, June 6, 2015

"I don't think we did 20,000 copies"

Recently came across some interesting Astral Weeks-related quotes. Unearthed them in The Mojo Collection: 4th Edition, an extremely bloated tome that attempts to answer the burning question "What are the 1,000 greatest albums of all time?" (Answer: Who gives a shite.)

The book's review of Astral Weeks reveals that Jay Berliner didn't hear the album until a decade after its release—and that was only at the behest of friends. Said Berliner: "In those days I was so busy that I had no idea what I was playing on. I played classical guitar [which] was very unusual in that context. We were used to playing to charts, but Van just played us the songs on his guitar and then told us to go ahead and play exactly what we felt."

There's also a quote from Bob Schwaid, Van Morrison's manager at the time of the album's recording. Schwaid disclosed who really was in charge during the sessions. "In all fairness to Van," Schwaid said, "he was the one who was directing the taping. Lew [Merenstein] and I were in the control room but Van was the real producer ... I thought it was a great record at the time, but initially it was a failure. I don't think we did 20,000 copies. It wasn't until years later that people started to come up to me and tell me that their lives had been changed by Astral Weeks."