Many an evening in the early 1970s I would lie in bed late at night drifting into pleasant, edgy dreams while listening to Van Morrisons’s great album Astral Weeks on the stereo. All these years later, I can still give a listen and agree with music critics who’ve described the album with adjectives or phrases such as “transcendental” and “sublime” and even “perhaps the very best album in pop music history.”
Somehow this album reminds me of the word Yule. With song titles like “Beside You,” “Sweet Thing,” “Cyprus Avenue,” “The Way Young Lovers Do,” “Madame George,” “Ballerina,” and “Slim Slow Slider,” I get visions of pre-Christian rites and sacrifice and ale and mirth and Odin and wild hunters racing across the winter sky, and yet these images of personal mysticism aren’t quite enough… They fall short of being a “newborn sun,” and they can only hint at music of the soul.
With arrival of another Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, I listen yet again to these songs recorded in the late 60s and note how the eight songs form a long, coherent cycle of “intangible narrative of unreachable worlds.” The music, Morrison’s masterpiece, is a stone that dropped into a pond of cosmic being, still rippling to the shore of present time.
I’m not a music critic but I know what I like. I generally write from personal experiences rather than from purely academic viewpoints, but I’ve got some help from friends with better musical knowledge. My son, a trumpet and piano player who started his college life with a minor in music, helped me get a grip on the complicated (but somehow “simple”) structure of Astral Weeks, and my friend Kyle sent me a Christmas card that, oddly, helps to camouflage my musical ignorance when…
…listening to the album I assume the title of Fish Whisperer rather than Object of Fish Laughter, when I step into a wild river of impressionistic lyrics, of stream-of-consciousness evoking deep emotions, and of Van Morrison’s saxophonal, virtuosic singing.
“This card reminded me of you,” wrote Kyle. “If you could walk with a tree, the fish wouldn’t know you were on the riverbank, and you could sneak up on them.” And that’s how it is with a listen to Astral Weeks. The music goes where it wants to go, and I flow with it. A simple idea, but give a listen, and try it…
Sneaking around with tree camouflage worked for certain scenes in Shakespearean and Tolkien drama. I like to think it might work for me, as well, especially in fall when the streams are low and clear and the trout are wary, but to pull it off on a place like Cedar Run defies… probability.
Ah, to slip back into the music camouflaged in dreamy late-night 70s fabric… to pass off my appreciation…
“If I ventured in the slipstream/ Between the viaducts of your dream/ Where mobile steel rims crack/ And the ditch in the back roads stop// Could you find me?/ Would you kiss-a my eyes?/ To lay me down in silence easy/ To be born again, to be born again// ….
So begins this album of emotional outpouring from an upbringing in Belfast, Ireland. So begins this record of delicate musical structures unlike any recording before or after. So begins a mountain stream of blended musical currents, of blues, folk, jazz, and classical elements. And so begins a season of rebirth, at Yule.
While reading this, I’m listening to another bunch of celtic music-makers, the Welsh lads who collectively called themselves Badfinger. “Baby Blue” just might be the perfect pop song. Van the Man always brings it, even if it isn’t his own song. Have you heard him with Roger Waters on “Comfortably Numb”? It’s a great track.
Bob, My recollection of the Badfinger tune smacks of poppishness, but maybe I should relisten to it. Have never heard Van’s version. In fact, I kind of lost interest in V.M.’s work after, what was it, the Hard Nose the Highway record, which I didn’t care for. And yeah, I have heard (once) the Waters/Morrison cover of “Comfortably Numb,” and thought it very interesting, although I assumed that it was Gilmour who I heard in the mix.
I’ll admit, I have only started to appreciate Badfinger in the last few years, some of their stuff being poppy to the point of obnoxiousness, but I do admire the arrangement of their better songs. “Comfortably…” might well be a whole Floyd effort; I frequently “misremember” things. Of course, now that you’ve posted this, I had to throw on “Astal Weeks”!
Bob, You could be right about that collaboration, I’ll have to check it out. I was so surprised to hear this pairing on satellite radio while riding around in Washington, D.C. that I could only make an assumption. Gilmour is, of course, a shining light on the original recording.
P.S. Checked it out. Nice work. Looks like Snowy White on guitar (?).
Music was one of two minors I toyed with and ultimately abandoned, only to pick history as my minor instead. Happy Solstice to you, and I will see you in a couple days!
Thanks for your help with this. Happy Solstice, and with safe travel North!
One of my favorite albums of all time. I have most of Van’s work, including a lot of live performances. No matter how many times I listen to Astral Weeks, it is always fresh and new. A true classic.
Hey Michael, glad to hear from you! I knew you were a Van fan from way back, and I agree… With Astral Weeks, the music is fresh as ever, inspirational and new.