Friday, January 06, 2006

Sunday Morning Coming Down


Van Morrison
Astral Weeks
WARNER BROS.

My current fave Sunday-morning-coming-down album, Van's transcendental 1968 masterwork still holds its secrets all these years later. The converted need no further preaching about Astral Weeks, so it's the uninitiated I'm reaching out to here. First you need to dispense with the image of Van as the largely irrelevant pot-bellied sourpuss we know today. Flash back to Belfast in the mid-'60s: Van is winding down his tenure as blues shouter for Them--a roughneck collective of bruising whiteboy R&B and flame-throwing garage-punk snarl--ready to make the leap from drunk-up wailer to cosmic poet-seeker. Legend has it that Van laid down these songs with just his voice and acoustic guitar like one of those paint-by- numbers sketches, and that a team of crack session men fingerpainted in all the breezy jazz-blues swirl and Celtic-soul sorcery afterward--which, if true, is all the more astonishing given how symbiotic and intuitive everything sounds. What any of it means is almost beside the point. The closest analog is the luminous ambiguity of James Joyce's Ulysses in that Van was trying to evoke feelings and visions--tar-black blues and red wine ecstasies--that transcend literal meaning on their way to, um, higher altitudes

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