Happy Birthday Van Morrison! Checkin’ it Out (An Immortal Jukebox Van Fest)

There are guides and spirits all along the way who will befriend us’

Guides and Spirits. We all need them.

Pilgrims all, we need Way Markers reassuring us that there is indeed a Way and that we are not the first to have set off in this direction.

Guides and Spirits are all around.

You find those with whom you feel a certain sympathetic kinship.

You think, ‘Here’s someone who speaks to me.

Here’s someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Someone worth attending to’.

So, for me; Thomas Merton, Erich Fromm, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seamus Heaney, Emily Dickinson, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Beckett, Russell Hoban and Buster Keaton.

In music Hank Williams, Howling Wolf, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and .. Van Morrison.

One of Van’s ‘lesser songs’ but one which has always spoken to me.

Get into it like a meditation.

Taking it further.

Taking it further.

Further.

Van is tuned into the ‘Undersong’ all around us if we would but listen.

The Song of the Earth.

For Van this is first the undersong of his home place.

Belfast. East Belfast.

With the bewitching sounds of the Sea and the River.

The morning fog and the trees wet with Summer rain.

The bustle of the streets and the hushed quiet of The Avenue.

The salty tang of Belfast speech and the Mystery of voices coming through the ether.

At the same time he is tuned into the Music of the Spheres.

Music that’s always, always, all around us.

Van invites this music in and channels it for us.

On record and especially in performance he surrenders to this blessing.

Only a very rare artist can do this.

He’s a musical and spiritual voyageur opening up the territory for us to journey wherever we are brave enough to go.

I once met Russell Hoban at a book signing and said that I thought his words took us as far as words could go and then left us to explore the white space beyond.

He laughed and said, ‘Bon Voyage’.

It’s the same with Van.

His songs and his singing, incorporating the Undersong and the Music of the Spheres, act to flamingly make present the unnameable, the unsayable and the unknowable.

There’s a lot more Van to come on The Jukebox (while I toil over the, one day I’ll finish it, Book, Van Morrison : Dweller on the Threshold’).

So, on his Birthday, I offer my thanks for these gifts and wish him well in his further journeys.

I take this opportunity to present all The Jukebox posts featuring Van.

The Immortal Jukebox’s very own VanFest!

Catch up with those you may have missed and revisit those you read in the past.

It’s Too Late To Stop Now!

Brown Eyed Girl’.

An introduction telling the tale of my headlong plunge into obsession following my first hearing of Van’s best known song.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-2L

Don’t Look Back’.

A meditation on Time featuring 2 astounding versions of John Lee Hooker’s tender Blues Ballad. One a reaching for the stars take of a teenager the second the work of a fully realised master musician.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-3k

Carrickfergus‘.

A meditation on family, friendship and loss. How the shadows lengthen! Sung with infinite tenderness and bardic authority.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-7J

In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

A miraculous meditation on the persistence of memory, the power of the radio and the post war world as seen by a young Irish mystic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-bi

Tupelo Honey’.

A rhapsodic meditation on the nurturing, redemptive power of Love. A Hallelujah!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-fr

All in the Game‘.

A meditation on the carousel we all ride. It’s been sung by many singers but never like this!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-jY

Domino’ .

A Founding Father joyously celebrated by a Master from the next generation.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-pH

Sometimes We Cry‘.

Bringing it all back home to singing on the street corner Days. The sweetness of Doo-Wop seasoned with wry maturity.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-sf

I Cover the Waterfront’.

Van and John Lee Hooker, Blues Brothers and Soul Friends, conjure up ancient tides.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-tq

Buona Sera Signorina‘.

Van puts his party hat on and romps through the Louis Prima classic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Xg

Hey Girl’.

Van takes a stroll along the strand and suspends Time.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1cA

Gloria! Gloria!’

Once, Now and Ever.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1dh

Happy Birthday Van!

Van Morrison, John Lee Hooker : I Cover The Waterfont

Often, when we tell the story of our own life, to ourselves, or to others, the narrative teems with incident. An action movie filled with high drama.

Now, reflecting on my own life I have come to realise that a more apt comparison would be one of the contemplative, steady gaze movies directed by Robert Bresson from France or Yasujiro Ozu from Japan.

The meaning is won, revealed, not through a hectic series of heroic events but powerfully accumulated through close attention to small details and patient meditation on the weathering, sometimes destructive, sometimes ennobling, passage of time.

Life is mainly waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Waiting for what you want or need the most.

Waiting for your mother’s or father’s attention.

Waiting for the fabled excitement of love and romance and high passion to blow into your life like a hurricane.

Waiting for someone to recognise you as the one they have been waiting for.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Waiting on the waterfront for the one, miraculously found, to return.

Waiting, worrying, wondering why she had to go.

Waiting, never understanding why she had to go.

Waiting, rheumy eyed, obsessively scanning the horizon for her to return.

Waiting, waiting, covering the waterfront.

Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker.

Bluesmen. Brothers in The Blues.

Initiates. High priests. Orphean adepts.

Anam Cara – soul friends.

Sounders of the depths. In their music they tap the source. The energy they draw upon seems to come, direct, from the very core of the Earth.

In touch with such power is it any wonder that they are often described as, ‘glowering’ and, ‘moody’.

I Cover The Waterfront looms in our imaginations like a fevered dream. The great Booker T on organ sets up a heat shimmer from which Van and John Lee emerge like royal travellers from some mysterious distant land bringing testimony of great import.

Some say the purpose of art is to stop time. Well, here, Van and John Lee do a wonderful job of making time eddy and meander as they dig deep into the song. They are both able to lead us away from the tyranny of everyday time into new dimensions of being.

Ships leave harbour and the coast vanishes as they voyage into the open sea. Beside the vastness of the sea humans seem small, insignificant. Yet, the sea is bound by the shore while the human imagination knows no such bounds. With their voices, their intense vocal and imaginative presence, Van and John Lee take us far beyond the mere realms of cartography and circumnavigation.

Their music at its best always opens new territory bringing us visions, emotional insights and dare one say it – mystical revelations.

They bring it on home while we are waiting.

Waiting for someone to reply to the message in a bottle thrown in the sea those many years ago.

Waiting for the knock on the door – sometimes in hope, sometimes in dread.

Waiting before you go out with seed for the sowing.

Waiting before you return carrying your sheaves.

Waiting for forgiveness.

Waiting in vain for the Raven’s return.

Waiting for the Dove to return with an Olive leaf.

Waiting for a miracle.

Waiting for Ahab to sail The Pequod, laden with Whale, back into Nantucket.

Waiting for Godot.

Waiting for The Dodgers to come home to Brooklyn.

Waiting for this terrible day to become tomorrow.

Waiting for the slow train coming around the bend.

Waiting for the full moon to rise.

Waiting for two riders to approach.

Waiting for the barkeep to pour one scotch, one bourbon, one beer.

Waiting for the foghorn to blow.

Waiting for the dawn to break.

Waiting for the wind to howl.

Waiting for the circle to be unbroken.

We are all waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Whatever you are waiting for I hope it will have been worth the wait.

And, as each of us waits, for our own reasons, the music of Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker lends us peace and perspective.

Notes:

The version of I Cover The Waterfront featured here comes from the John Lee Hooker record, ‘Mr Lucky’. I’m sure of few things but I am sure you can never have too many John Lee Hooker records.

This post largely written on the decks of the M/S Lily and S/S Ukkopekka as they sailed in blazing sunshine between Turku, the Island of Vepsa and the town of Naantali in Finland.