The ageless Van Morrison still rocks me down to my soul. He turned 63 on Sunday, and 40 years ago he laid down some transcendent tracks.
I try to maintain an even keel these days.
I’ve given up smoking, all hard liquor except the occasional whiskey sour, and I don’t swear unless it’s necessary, like when I three-putt or forget to record “Boston Legal.”
Yet I still have my grandiose days. The ones where I hope I’ll still amount to something. The ones in which I spend hours thinking about the kind of sci-fi screenplay I could write if I just applied myself. The ones I get up and think, “Man, I feel about as good as I did when I was 19!”
And the days, few as they may be, on which I absolutely, positively, without question have to listen to Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” album from first note to last.
Sunday was one those days. Because that day was Van Morrison’s 63rd birthday, and - gol’ dang it! He’s nearly retirement age!
I should be over this nonsense by now. Even in his heyday, he was just a rock singer, right? And after all, it’s not the greatest album ever made. It’s not even the best Van Morrison album; musically speaking, “Moondance” is better.
Whereas with “Astral Weeks,” the whole thing has a samey-samey feel about it, with all those upright basses and jazzy drum fills and oh-so-precious lyrics such as, “I’m nothing but a stranger in this world / I got a home on high “
I can hear my long-suffering co-workers whispering already: “Oh, no; John Mark’s on another nostalgia trip. It’s such a shame ... he used to be ... well, he didn’t used to be like this!”
No, I didn’t, but then something weird happened to me: Somewhere between 1968, when “Astral Weeks” was released, and 2008, I lost my old friend rock ‘n’ roll. It isn’t that I don’t like new music; no, it’s far worse: If rock ‘n’ roll still exists, I’m now incapable of recognizing it as such.
I try. I saw “Explosions in the Sky” not long ago, and I liked the band well enough, but was that a rock concert? It was all instrumental, for one thing, and it sounded like what I think Brian Eno and Robert Fripp might sound like if they drank a lot of Amp or Monster or one of those hype-you-up drinks ...
Listen to me for a moment. No, listen to Van:
“Oh oh oh oh oh, sweet thing ... and I will raise my hand up into the night time skyyyyy ...And I’ll be satisfied / Not to read in between the lines / And I will walk and talk / In gardens all wet with rain /And I will never, ever, ever, ever / Grow so old again. / Oh sweet thing, sweet thing.”
And all the while he’s singing such magnificent blather, the drummer patterns sweet rain onto a soft cymbal, and the pulse he’s playing is as vital as the beat of your heart. And the guitarist is rolling out these chords on an acoustic, but he’s strumming with all the urgency Hendrix possessed ...
No. Stop it. I’m an old guy now. I’ll be 50 in a couple of years; 50-year-olds don’t rock out, do they? Well, I don’t know. Van Morrison is a lot older than I am, and he still does that stuff onstage, or at least he tries.
I really did think I’d be young forever. I’m sorry. This isn’t coming out the way I thought it would. I hope you’re not knitting your brows together as you read this ... as a young woman in the car beside me did recently when she looked over and caught me playing drums on my steering wheel at a red light. Oh oh oh oh oh ... sweet thing ... yeah, and young enough to be my daughter.
Forty years have passed since “Astral Weeks” came out, and it still sounds like rock ‘n’ roll to me. And a little like jazz and a little like blues and a little like doo-wop and even classical.
And I know I didn’t even catch onto “Astral Weeks” till about 1975 because I’m a Late-Not-Early Boomer. And I know it has been years now, here in 2008, since Van Morrison made a truly great album. And I don’t care, because even mediocre Van is still the Man.
And don’t bother e-mailing or calling to tell me I’m out of touch and out of time, because I know that, too.
I may go crazy before that mansion on the hill , as Van sings in “Cyprus Avenue,” the cut that closes out Side 1 of this album, and oh NO! did I just write “Side 1” here in the MP3 age? Irrelevant! Irrelevant even back in the CD age!
Yeah. I wrote that. And guess what? Someday you’ll write something equally immaterial.
Because it will happen to you, too, if you’re reading this and you’re younger than my 47 years. (If you’re older, I had you at “I try to maintain an even keel these days.”)
So go ahead, dismiss me. It’s my turn to be dismissed. But someday, you’ll hear a tune you heard when you were young. And it’ll be 2062 or something and you’ll say to your buddy, “By gum, back in a ught eight we really knew how to ROCK!” And your spouses will shake their heads and, if you’re out in public, they’ll pretend they don’t know you.
Remember: They don’t call ‘em astral weeks for nothin’. The planets keep turning, and the time passes by, no matter how fervently you believe you’ll be young forever. The days fall into the western sky. And sooner or later everybody ... everybody ... gets a turn.
// Notes from the Road
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