Van Morrison : And It Stoned Me (Everyday Mysticsm)

Van Morrison is a Dweller on The Threshold.

An Everyday Mystic.

So am I  – and so are you.

Except he holds theses titles in Capital Letters while ours are lower case.

That’s because through his enormous gifts as a songwriter, singer and performer he has been able to make present experiences we have all had but are generally unable to express.

Experiences we so often let pass by.

Pass by.

Experiences he makes present in all their Revelation.

In all their Revelation.

And, it’s everpresent everywhere.

Everpresent everywhere.

The alchemy of his genius is through incandescent song to evoke, make present, states of being that are, at least in this world, necessarily fleeting.

A song like, ‘And it Stoned Me’ is a miraculous transmission from beyond the threshold (one of several such works of wonder on the Moondance Album).

An everyday event – a Boyhood fishing trip in the country blessed by Rain and Sun – gives us glimpses of Eternity.

Glimpses that once seen can neve be unseen.

Oh the Water. Oh the Water. Oh the Water.

Rest and Grace.

Coming to you like a mountain stream.

Oh, Oh, and it will Stone you right to your very Soul.

And, out of the corner of  your inner eye you can see the steps of time dissolve.

And, see yourself and the world in a new light.

Hey! There You Are!

There You Are.

Just like going Home.

Going Home.

 

 

 

Van’s vocal here flows with the authority of a great River making its peaceful way to The Sea.

On Guitar John Platania, as always, plays with elegant passion.

Jeff Labes, on Piano, makes us feel the flow and dappled delight of that River.

The Horns of Jack Schröer and Colin Tilton bring us the warmth of the Sun.

John Klingberg and Gary Mallaber On Bass and Drums provide the motive current sweeping us along.

Together with their leader they bring us balm and blessing as they stone us to our very Souls.

Dive right In.

Right In.

Dont let it pass you by.

Van Morrison : My Lonely Sad Eyes (& The Immortal Jukebox Van Compendium!)

 

The 31st of August is always a Red Letter Day for The Immortal Jukebox because it’s the birthday of Van Morrison whose glorious recordings have been the keystone of my musical life for for nigh on 50 years.

Happy 73rd Van!

No one brings together all the traditions like Van.

In his songs, singing and performance you can feel he has viscerally understood and integrated into his art; The Blues, Soul, Rhythm and Blues, Folk, Country and Jazz – all delivered with blazing Celtic devotion.

Leadbelly is there.

Ray Charles is there.

Hank Williams is there.

Arthur Alexander and Sam Cooke are there.

Jimmy Witherspoon and Mose Allison are there.

Mahalia Jackson and Rosetta Tharpe are there.

The McPeakes and O’Carolan are there.

Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis are there.

Bob Dylan is always there.

In Van it all comes together – traditions respected and added to creating a revelatory synthesis.

In celebration today a rhapsodic gem from 1966 pointing the way to the earth shattering triumphs of his solo career.

I remember at college playing a Them compilation for a friend and saying .. well here’s he honouring Ray Charles, here John Lee Hooker, here Bo Diddley and here Bob Dylan and then My Lonely Sad Eyes came on and we both shouted in exultation – here it’s all of them and it’s pure George Ivan Morrison!

Fill me my cup!

Fill me my cup!

Sparkling Wine indeed!

When Van sings like this he joins the Immortals.

You can pick out almost any line, any phrase or word and be dumbstruck by his vocal brilliance.

There’s a thesis to be written on the way he way he sings the word, ‘Lonely’ alone or on the oceanic surge he gives to :

Throw me a kiss
Across a crowded room
Some sunny windswept afternoon
There’s none too soon for me to miss.

He’s singing the Song and the Song is singing Him.

Into the Mystic.

Into the Mystic.

There are more Posts about Van than any other artist here on The Jukebox so, in case you missed one or would like to be reminded of an old favourite here’s the Van Compendium for your delectation and delight!

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

Coney Island 

A Pilgrim’s glimpses of Eternity in the everyday.

https://wp.me/p4pE0N-1OQ

Brand New Day

Born again each Day with The Dawn.

https://wp.me/p4pE0N-1kL

Happy Birthday Van!

Van Morrison : Coney Island (Epiphany)

My son and I – The Two Toms – are about to set out on a trip, actually a Pilgrimage to the Far North.

To God haunted Northumbria.

The land of Celtic saints and the Roman Wall.

The land of St Cuthbert, St Aidan, St Oswald and Bede.

Oak Groves, high moorland, the Cheviot Hills.

Bluebells, Campion, Hawthorn.

The rushing sibilant waters of  the Tyne, the Tweed, the Coquet and the Rede.

Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands – thin places where eternity whispers in the wind.

Ringed Plovers, Redshanks, Turnstones and Oystercatchers.

It’s a Pilgrimage I’ve made many times now drawn by History and deep friendship.

I’m by nature a Pilgrim.

I need to be physically present in those places, landscapes, which have challenged and nurtured the Souls of Pigrims for thousands of years.

There are two other Pilgrimages I’m planning.

First, The Way of St James.

The Camino, from my front gate to Santiago de Compostella.

More than a thousand miles.

That one requires a lot of research before I’m ready to go (though you’re never really ready – one morning you just have to tie your cloak, take up your Staff and go!).

The other Pilgrimage will be far easier to organise.

Across the Irish Sea to Ulster.

With Van Morrison, a Pigrim Soul if there ever was one, sign posting the Way.

The Way to Coney Island.

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Coming down from Downpatrick to visit St Patrick’s grave and maybe a few scoops in Mullan’s Bar.

On and On and On.

Stopping off at St John’s Point.

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Birdwatching – scanning the Sky for Arctic Terns, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Curlew and Purple Sandpipers.

Stop off at Strangford Lough early in the morning.

On and On and On.

Drive through Shrigley enjoying the craic and taking pictures as we go.

On to Killyleagh.

At Lecale District we’ll take a breath and read the papers.

On and On and On as Pilgrims must.

Over the hill to Ardglass.

Glorying in the sunshine carrying the light that has shone for thousands and thousands of years on Pilgrims – lighting their Way.

In case we get famished before dinner let’s stop of here for a couple of jars of mussels and some potted herrings.

On and On and On we go heading on over the hill, lit up inside, heading towards Coney Island.

Living, Being, in the moment, sunlight streaming, all the time journeying towards Coney Island.

Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?

Wouldn’t it!

Take it away Van.

 

A moment of eternity captured.

That’s what Van can do.

Epiphanies.

Time present.

Time past.

Time Future.

Captured in 120 seconds or so.

Cymbals, Strings, G and F.

Harp and Guitar.

Summoning up the previous time – the 1950s – before the career, before the fame.

A day trip with his Mother.

Images that enter the Soul – if you will allow them to.

Intimations of Immortality.

With Mussels and Potted Herrings.

Breathing life into reverie and reminiscence – Van Morrison.

Here’s Van demonstrating that there is a sense of humour animating the Visions.

 

 

And here’s another Son of Ulster, Liam Neeson, with a sonorous version.

On and On and On.

 

 

Things won’t ever be great all the time – this side of Paradise.

Be grateful for the Epiphanies.

Have Faith Pilgrim.

Have Faith.

On and On and On.

On and On and On.

 

Notes :

The Musicians on Van’s original recording are :

  • Van Morrison – vocal, guitar
  • Clive Culbertson – Bass Guitar
  • Neil Drinkwater – Synthesiser
  • Roy Jones, Dave Early – drums, percussion
  • Arty McGlynn – guitar

There is an excellent short Film set on Coney Island. ‘The Shore’ directed by Terry George and starring the brilliant Ciaran Hinds.

This Post for my boon companions of The Way – Tom & Ian.

Van Morrison, John Lee Hooker : I Cover The Waterfont

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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.

Van Morrison – Sometimes We Cry

‘There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love’ (Washington Irving)

‘Oh, I awoke in anger, so alone and terrified,
I put my fingers to the glass,
And bowed my head and cried’ (Bob Dylan – I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine)

Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we don’t know why. Sometimes (though we are loath to admit it) we know exactly why.

Sometimes we know we are about to cry. Sometimes the hot tears overwhelm us in an instant.

Sometimes we cry when we read, or write, a tear stained letter.

Sometimes we cry when the hearse carries our loved one away.

We knew that would happen one day, even thought ourselves prepared for it, yet we learn that no one is ever truly prepared for such an emotional earthquake.

Sometimes when we unexpectedly catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror we find ourselves surprised by tears of shame and regret.

Sometimes we cry tears of pure joy – remember the day your child was born? The day you got married?

The day that dream that you feared would never be more than a dream became miraculously true!

Sometimes we cry because with sickening finality we know that dream is over, over.

Sometimes we cry not believing just how stupid, stupid, pluperfectedly stupid we have been.

Sometimes we simply cry and cry and cry and somehow having cried our hearts out we feel a little better.

Sometimes we need a great singer to to sing about the tears in things and we feel a whole lot better.

Call for (Sir) George Ivan Morrison!

Van Morrison – It’s All in The Game

‘… This is a song from the 50s .. It’s been recorded by hundreds of people … But not like this!’

(Van Morrison’s introduction to It’s All In The Game before performing it at The Albert Hall in 2014)

Van Morrison is a dweller on the threshold.

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An artist who delights in the sensual world of earthly love and light and linear time while understanding in the very core of his being that we are also citizens of co-existing realms beating to the rhythms of a different eternal drum.

In his art he seeks to demonstrate that there are no walls between these realms but rather permeable membranes we can pass through if we would but release the flickering fires of our imaginative and spiritual nature.

So, when Van heard the song, ‘It’s All In The Game’; bizarrely written in posthumous collaboration by a Noble prize winning Vice President of The United States (Charles Dawes) and a savvy professional songwriter (Carl Sigman) he recognised that this slight, sentimental ballad from the 50s was ripe for transformation into a kaleidoscopic revelation of the simultaneously transitory and eternal landscape where the travails of all of us as winners and losers in the dance of the love are truly all in the game.

Van’s performance here as a singer, arranger and bandleader is proof of his genius as an artist. Surely, listening to such a searching performance, each of us will find our own history stirred and evoked; often in surprising, potentially disturbing ways.

One of the great gifts true artists can offer us is the opportunity, through encounters with their art, to come to terms with our unresolved subconscious struggles to find integration and wholeness.

Each of us in our own unique way will discover that we know what they’re writing about and what Van is singing about!

Van recorded, ‘It’s All In The Game’ on his magisterial 1979 record, ‘Into The Music’ which is lit with incandescent grace throughout.

Characteristically he assembled a superb team of musicians who had the technical chops and the imaginative reach to follow where his arrangements and inspirations led.

Herbie Armstrong (rhythm guitar), David Hayes (bass) and Mark Jordan (piano) were Van veterans and in Peter Van Hooke (drums), Toni Marcus (violin) and Katie Kissoon (backing vocals) he found rhapsodically empathetic partners.

The extravagantly talented Mark Isham and Pee Wee Ellis on the horns added enveloping depth and colour to the sound.

Of course, as with every great Van Morrison record, it’s Van’s heart-stirring, heart-stopping vocals which cast the spell we have to surrender to.

Here, Van in a vocal tour de force seems to hold the song up to a series of shades of illumination and heat so that, ‘Your heart will fly away’ can move magically as the song progresses from barely perceptible, deeply tender, softly shimmering candle light to searing, inescapable white hot conflagration.

And, this is not achieved through dramatic changes of tempo but through the vocal and imaginative engagement which Van brings to individual syllables, words and phrases as he utters them – teasing them, testing them, for artistic, spiritual and emotional weight.

Van makes intuitive raids upon the hoard of popular song for the mysterious values bound up in the sheer sound of the words as well as their overt meaning.

Of course, Van knows that words can only take you so far. Sometimes it’s the silences between the words and the accents of their placement which are most revealing.

Van added his own coda to, ‘Its All In The Game’ with its segue into his own, ‘You Know What They’re Writing About’ where he brings it all back home to the landscapes of his Belfast youth which will always haunt his every hour.

To my mind it is a mark of Van’s spiritual, not to say mystic insight, that he knows that there is no need to travel to distant valleys or Himalayan hideaways to find illumination.

Sometimes there’s no more words to say but its all right there in front of you. Right in front of you, wherever you are – down by the river, down by the pylons, down by the pylons, down by the pylons …..

Van Morrison is undoubtedly the living custodian of the hallowed tradition of blues based singing. He has spent a lifetime listening to and learning from those he inherited this tradition from.

So, when Van takes on a, ‘Big ballad’ he draws upon and invokes the shades of Ray Charles, Jimmy Witherspoon and Bobby Blue Bland with their ability to command a band, caress a lyric and move with fluent dynamism within a song from whisper to scream.

Van brings all this lore to his live performances of, ‘It’s All In The Game’ – each time setting forth on a new pilgrimage invoking the muse to descend.

It is possible to spend many days losing yourself while listening to epic performances by Van of this song (believe me I’ve done it!).

 

From the treasure trove I’ve chosen a performance from Dublin in 2015 where if you can’t see the muses of fire above his head you can certainly feel their presence.

What Van Morrison adds to the grand tradition he inherited is the product of his own unique Celtic soul: his gift for being at the dead centre of a song while being absolutely outside it at the same time.

So he is both hot and cool.

A relentless seeker and a still contemplative.

A dweller on the threshold.

Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey: The Grandeur of Love

‘Tupelo Honey has always existed … Van was the vessel and the earthly vehicle for it’ (Bob Dylan)

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If a songwriter is very, very lucky they might in their lifetime write one song that becomes the misty eyed anthem of love for devoted couples all over the world. A love song that incarnates love rather than merely describing it. A song that always seem fresh while yet building a patina of fond memories that increase every time it is played.

A song which flowing like a river, never the same twice, still seems to contain the past, the present and the future. A song which takes up residence in the hearts of succeeding generations – for today and every day, someone, somewhere, is discovering that they are in love for the very first time.

By my count (and on The Jukebox my count is the one that really counts) Van Morrison has written at least four songs that meet the criteria outlined above. From his incandescent second solo album the title track, ”Moondance’ with its peerless swooning swing and, ‘Crazy Love’ with its intoxicated, intoxicating, sweet surrender.

From ‘Avalon Sunset’ came the deep, devotional, ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’ – a song especially close to my heart as it was the first song my wife, Clare, and I danced to once we were married.

But, if I had to pick one song to demonstrate the depth of Van Morrison’s romanticism; proof that he was and is the great courtly love balladeer of his age I will always choose, ‘Tupelo Honey’ – a pluperfect song, glowingly alive with love’s grandeur.

Good God, what a hallelujah of a song! A song that shares the blissful total immersion in the sweetness of love with Solomon’s Song of Songs! I love the majestically sure, unhurried flow of the song which sweeps our hearts away, illuminating our deepest wish and need – to love and to be loved.

The team of musicians assembled in San Francisco in 1971 to record Tupelo Honey brought all their technical accomplishment to the track but, no doubt inspired by their mercurial leader, they brought something much rarer – a devotional surrender to the music they were making, so that ‘Tupelo Honey’ really does sound like a direct revelation from Heaven itself.

On drums, the great Connie Kay from the Modern Jazz Quartet, having already played with angelic grace throughout Van’s sublime masterpiece, ‘Astral Weeks’ outdoes himself with his backbeat and fills surging the song forward to greater and greater heights of rhythmic rapture. On guitar Ronnie Montrose plays with a shimmering, harp like delicacy that is endlessly beguiling.

Mark Jordan’s piano takes us by the hand and navigates us through the song assuring us that we can and will find our way to that promised land of love and fulfilment we all believe is out there waiting for us to come home to. Bruce Royston on flute is the harbinger of the miracles to come while Ted Templeman on organ, Gary Mallaber on percussion and ever faithful Jack Schroer on saxophones ensure that the miracles are delivered.

Tying everything together is Van’s vocal which reached pinnacles of inspiration that is beyond the reach of critical language to adequately express. So, I will unashamedly borrow my language from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘God’s Grandeur’.

Van Morrison’s singing on Tupelo Honey flames out like shining from shook foil, it gathers and gathers and gathers to a greatness that elevates everyone who listens to it – inducting them into a vision that encompasses love in all its sacred and sexual incarnations. A vision which once experienced leaves a permanent flaming brand on the heart and soul.

This post dedicated to Clare because she’s as sweet as Tupelo Honey. Because she’s an angel of the very first degree.

Note:

There’s a wonderful live version from his 1979 tour of Ireland featuring Toni Marcus on violin and the late Peter Bardens on keyboards which I urge you to investigate.