Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Place/Person/Album (thank you, Tim Robinson)

The opening words to something grand, something bold ...

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks

It begins: like a sudden gust from the sea, a melodious rush of upright bass and acoustic guitar, an opening lyric—"If I ventured in the slipstream"—touched with echo and distance, as if the artist's words are drifting through the narrow backstreets of his native Belfast, drifting down from the soft, heathery hills that horse-shoe this lonely, obstinate city. And it ends: a chaotic din not unlike the throb and stammer of Belfast's once great shipyards, a din that casually evokes Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney's assertion that "our island is full of comfortless noises"— shrieks of soprano saxophone, the heavy hammer of that upright bass, the dull thwack of human flesh pounding a hard surface.

Between these two moments the pop music medium is crushed and expanded. A new future is brought about through the past. The statement made by this groundbreaking collaboration of form and sound and feeling is immediate and irrevocable. Never before has a popular music artist examined with such power and grace all that being alive can mean.

The album is a space where contrasting elements—the old and the new, the conscious and the unconscious, reflection and action, individuality and collectivity, adolescence and maturity—land on common ground. The album, released in the fall of 1968, is the greatest ever recorded. It's a singular voice going out into the world, a voice that close to five decades later remains unanswered, unchallenged—unequalled. The album speaks its own language.

This self-sufficiency demands reverence and to present additional information on the album's subject matter and on its creator is not an attempt to buttress it, but to assemble a base on which to display its paramountcy.

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