I have always taken Van Morrison for granted. Even during last years recent touring reconstruction of the masterful album Astral Weeks, (The masterpiece he painted twice, Moondance being the second) his voice has always just seemed part of the world. Just as he always wanted and repeatedly sang, his work popped up from the radios not as a surprise at all, but as a pleasing sensation everyone was familiar with (and always, ALWAYS turned up as directed and sung along to) but never thought much about. Like the late Alex Chilton, he has always been a comfortable presence like plant shoots in spring, a rusted chain link fence around the lake, a limb slowly wavering in the wind, but never troubling and never in the way.
The only time I saw Van Morrison perform was the early 1980s and he was short and round like a giant freckled toad. When he took out his saxophone and raised it to his lips, the instrument rested nearly horizontal on his belly and the horn pointed directly at his face, but I knew the stage held greatness.
Marcus has created a slight book for him, far less smart than "Invisible Republic" (which was a better title than "That Old Weird America") but no less essential. Three chapters in, I was pulling out the old bootleg of the Moondance demos, Just Van the Man and a few tentative musicians. Mine come from the wonderful Scorpion Three CD bootleg which is all of his music I need. There are certain times when hearing that voice, the only Irish red-headed voice I know, tinker and capture "Domino" in every manner, (a "harmony" version, a "rap" version, a "flute" version...) is so soothing it just makes all seem well. He eventually nails it, and "Caravan" and "Everyone" (you don't recognize the titles, but you've sung along) are a revelation with just his voice, and it makes me long for the days when vocal imperfections and mistakes could be spun into gold by a true artist.
Half of the musicians who mattered moved to Woodstock before the big concert, before it was tie-die heaven, because Dylan and the Band were there. They all wanted to be in the Band. Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Bobby Charles, even George Harrison came calling and many stayed. They all went to Woodstock when Dylan lived there and the Band was figuring out what came after Little Richard, drunken sock-hops and the whirlwind Manchester. Soon it was mostly booze and drugs, but for a time it was Laurel Canyon in the Catskills. Marcus caught on early. He reviewed the original releases 40 years ago for Rolling Stone. I realize this book review is hardly that...one should always wait until you finish the book and turn the music off. But the book has already given me an appreciation which was always there and needed goosing. To me that means, already, Good Book.
Labels: Greil Marcus