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Music Blogs

#1 Van Morrison - Astral Weeks

  • By LukeDeSciscio Author Avatar
  • 11 March 2013

I am a great believer in the power of Art.

I believe it can move people, not just emotionally but spiritually.

And, regardless of whether it’s on a canvas, a record or a dance floor, I am proud to be part of a species that is capable of creating and appreciating it.

Greatness transcends genre or era or critical acclaim and over the coming weeks this blog will catalogue a series of records that, to my mind at least, deserve a place in everybody’s collection. Enjoy.


Van Morrison - Astral Weeks


Astral weeks cover

 

It only makes sense for me to start here. This is the first record that I really coveted and, once it was at last mine, the first record that overwhelmed me to the point of tears.

From the moment you first slip the plastic from the sleeve you become totally aware that this collection of songs has a stronger bind than just the period in which they were written. A and B are not labeled ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’ but ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2.’ To listen to just the first half would be to leave the cinema half way through the film.

Stay only conscious enough to flip the record.

The needle hits the groove and you are on your way. This is entirely your journey. Van is simply the medium that permits you access to the road. (Forgive the pun.)

… as those first words tumble from his mouth, you are already well on your way.

 

‘If I ventured in the slipstream,

between the viaducts of your dream…’

 

The mastery of this record perhaps belongs to Van’s choice of words. Those ‘stream of conscious’ lyrics that never linger upon the specifics. The darting vision of words that flutter from image to image with dream like whimsicality. Van continually presents to you an array of small vivid moments. Moments that implore you to fill the gaps with internal regression. Give in to the words and your mind will fill those spaces with your own eidetic dimension. It’s Van’s personal Kerouacian selflessness and you are never abandoned on your journey deep within.

By the time the needle hits Beside You I am already unreachable, ‘high on my high flying cloud’ and at the complete mercy of the teasing pirouettes conjured up in the turn around of Van’s every ‘you breathe in,’ and his every ‘you breathe out.’

Throughout the entirety of the record the musicianship is otherworldly and were it not for the rasp on his incendiary tongue one might forget the Rock n’ Roll roots Van here abandons.

Prior to recording, the majority of the ensemble had never heard the album’s 8 tracks and, during the short recording process, they received no sheet music and not a single guiding utterance from the notoriously demanding Van.

The result is - if not miraculous - utterly spectacular.

The band audibly dote upon Van’s vocal performance, following nothing but the moment and the voice. The magic here is a startling and direct reflection of phenomenal musicians imbuing the music they hear with the music they feel at the point they hear and feel it.

The journey through to penultimate track ‘Ballerina’ is, for me, about letting go. To this point Van has toyed with your history, he has guided you through memories and settled the score with the stresses in your head.

His cyclical use of melody, the ebb and flow of the band, the moments of tension superseded by those swathes of relief, the ‘dogs barking,’ trips down Cypress Avenue and fantasies of Madame George have all led to this:

 

‘Step right up,

step right up,

step right up,

Just like a ballerina.’

 

This is Van commanding you to let go. So separate yourself from that physical form and, for want of a better word, ascend.

The finale, Slim Slow Slider, climaxes with a cacophonous array of double-bass-bashing and saxophone screeching …and its generally about here I am brought down from my ‘high flying cloud.’ But, not without first appreciating the delicate vulnerability Van manages to squeeze into the final 3 minutes of the record.

Forums are wrought with speculation of this songs agenda. In interviews even Van has yet to deliver a definitive definition to the sorrow about which he sings. Abandonment, loneliness and the self-destruction of a loved one all resonate amidst the songs weary resignation, but to me, the magic is in the adaptability of its sorrowed phrases. This is your last chance to shed a tear for the life you left behind. Whoever you are and whatever reason you may have, this is YOUR chance to move on, to let go, to cry and ‘to be born again.’

 

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