Thursday, June 11, 2009
Van Morrison: the reluctant astral light...
This is an article, abridged, originally published by Reuter's UK on June 10, 2009.
LOS ANGELES - Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks," which failed to crack the U.S. or British pop charts when it came out in 1968 is now regarded as one of the greatest musical works of the rock era and is generating new interest more than 40 years (after) its release. Undaunted by the initial commercial setback, the Irish soul singer says he "just moved on" to his next project: The 1970 album "Moondance" whose title track is one of his best-known songs.
If "Astral Weeks" had generated the sales commensurate with its eventual stellar status and transformed him into a huge pop star, Morrison (has) no doubt(s) about his reaction. "I would have quit the business had that happened," he said in an e-mail interview. "I am not one who has ever taken well to fame and what that attracts. It's a drag. I just wanted to be a songwriter and a singer. I did not bargain for all the rest..."
Morrison, now 63, has spent his entire career trying to dodge "all the rest..." in the process becoming one of rock's most unknowable figures. Morrison has earned a reputation as a grumpy old man and has zero tolerance for showbiz frivolity. He even failed to turn up (for) his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1993.
But Morrison remains proud of "Astral Weeks," which ranks at No. 19 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the greatest albums of all time and is now a steady seller. The (original album), recorded in less than two days in New York City with a jazz quartet was a marked departure for the singer of "Gloria" (with Them) and "Brown Eyed Girl."
Morrison had spent years crafting the songs, setting mysterious lyrics referencing his Belfast childhood to multilayered arrangements. The centerpiece was "Madame George," a 10-minute piece whose meaning confounds the writer and his fans to this day.
"I was practicing songwriting... Each composition is a fictional story I made up to work on my craft... The rest of the stories people (create) about my music is fiction(al) as well. I do not... write about me. I write about the collective, the collective unconscious."
While many artists of a certain vintage avoid dwelling on their past glories, Morrison is simply revelling in "Astral Weeks." To mark its 40th anniversary, he performed the album in its entirety at two shows in Los Angeles last November, and released the DVD "Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl." A CD was also released. He has also revived "Astral Weeks" at sold-out shows in London and New York City.
Morrison has been accompanied on stage by an orchestral string section (and) a band comprising two of the veterans from the original "Astral Weeks." Morrison said movie studios have expressed a lot of interest in licensing the live recordings. It helps that the vague lyrics can be applied to virtually any situation. "Any film would be done right by the live versions of these compositions," he said. "Each can tell a story - whatever story one wants to make of it. That is their stuff - not mine."