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Old 06-14-2008, 04:42 PM   #27 (permalink)
Son of JayJamJah
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Van Morrison: The Rolling Stone Interview
Blue Money & Tupelo Honey

by John Grissim, Jr.


This sullen, tweedy-looking little man, light sweater-vest pulled over checkered dress shirt, not saying a word, standing stiffly up there behind the mike, working his magic..."Into the Mystic," "Moonshine Whiskey," "Tupelo Honey." Six thousand people were packed into this old Ice Follies hall called Winterland to hear Van Morrison, but two songs later, when the mike went dead for an instant on the first verse of "Moondance," he took the snap as a sign. He finished the song instrumentally, thrashing at his acoustic rhythm guitar, barely allowed another song--an instrumental--to be completed, and stalked off the stage, up the back ramp, out of the smoke, away from the cheers...

Mark Naftalin, the pianist, was the first to reach him, darting into his path, pleading, not over dramatically, "Van, you gotta go back out there. We're really on!" Bill Church, the bassist, joined in, seating, eager, but Van just shook his head, still saying nothing, and marched into the dressing room. Taj Mahal, who'd played earlier, dashed in. "C'mon, man, you gotta go on again. They love you, it's beautiful. Let's get it together!" Van took a deep breath and finally sighed, resigned to his showbiz fate. Two more numbers: "Blue Money" and "Domino" to send the crowd crazy again.

Then Van Morrison dismissed his band and the Street Choir.

Two days before, he had told his manager and agent that Winterland would be his last booking. Now, despite the show he seemed to do, despite the apparent rapport with his band, and despite the audience response, he quit. Here, in November, 1971, he was convinced the world was crashing in around him.

This night, he'd been half-paralyzed by stage fright, which strikes just about every time he approaches a stage. But there were other circumstances. Just before the show, an LA Times reporter who'd heard about his impending "retirement" cornered him in the dressing room for a high-pressure interview. Van was caught unprepared and got completely unnerved, let his confidence be sabotaged. And Van kept saying he didn't know, for sure, why he wanted to to break away at this stage of his career. He was tired of being so nervous in front of large crowds. Tired of the road. Tired of doing the hits. Tired of the whole business.

Don't wanna discuss it,
Think it's time for a change,
You may get disgusted, and think I'm strange,
In that case I'll go underground,
Get some heavy rest
Never have to worry, about what is
worst and what is best....
"Domino"

But this story has a happy beginning. Van stayed in seclusion for just a few weeks, and right now he's on the road again. Crowds going crazy again.

"People have told me that I have this cult following, but I don't think that's true at all. It's really just people who have been hanging in with me for a long time."

But there is a cult of followers. And they love to give testimonials. "So there I am stuck for three days in my crummy apartment on the Lower East Side in the middle of a blizzard, right? I've had it with New York and my plane doesn't leave till Monday. I'd never heard the record but I happened to put it on and listened to it and then I just kept playing it over and over. Six, maybe eight times a day. It just kept bringing me up." This is Jeanette telling how -Astral Weeks-helped-pull-me-through story. She escaped New York, her psyche intact.

An art student back from an eight-month bus trip through India and Afghanistan tells of picking up hitch hikers, many of them with knap sacks loaded with cassette recorders and tapes of his albums.

The name of the bus: THE VAN MORRISON.

A psychiatrist friend swears he has on repeated occasions been privy to certain higher truths listening to "Into the Mystic" with headphones while under the influence of an exotic gas. And a few nights ago in a bar a 40ish woman, overhearing Morrison's name, cheered: "He's my boy, I got his Tupelo Honey -- first album I've bought in three years." Asked why, she got a bit misty: "Well, it's warm... and it's got the kind of jazz that my father used to love."

Whether or not such endorsements parallel the feelings of his audience at large, there's no question that Van Morrison writes and performs songs that carry immense impact, songs that have a way of becoming associated with personal milestones. More often than not, it's his voice that makes it happen.

Dave Mason: "There's no one to compare his voice to. It's unique. That, together with the overall effect of his band and his arrangements, makes you feel so good, so alive."

Jackie DeShannon "Van is a great blues singer, one of the rare few who can drag you through the most down lyrics, really make you feel them, yet at the same time bring you up. Billie Holiday had that quality. So did Janis. Astral Weeks just brings you up from the lowest low. That album just cleansed my soul."

John Lee Hooker: "He's my favorite white blues singer--and one of the greatest around."

Taj Mahal: "I love his ideas and the way he approaches his music. He lives it, he puts the feeling on you, and that's where it all starts from."

Tom Donahue (record producer and manager at KSAN-FM, San Francisco): "He's got the voice and lyrics that remind you of generations of hard times and misery and that kind of black Irish soul."

There is no lack of hard times in Van's background. He was born August 31st, 1945, the only child of working class parents, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at a time when post-war Europe was in economic shambles. With jobs impossible to find, his father left his family behind and went to America where he lived in Detroit and for several years worked as a railroad electrician. Van grew up listening to the family collection of jazz and blues records. He heard Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles as well as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley.

"My family was supposed to move to America when I was five. Things didn't work out, but like all the kids I grew up with thought they were American anyway. See, Belfast is not like England, even though it's a part of Great Britain. It's got its own trip going. The American influences are stronger than the English influences because of all the Irish who have emmigrated to the United States in the last few generations. Like all my relatives lived in Detroit and Toronto. Places like that."

While in grade school Van got a taste of the bitterness that today divides Northern Ireland. "I wasn't even aware of religious prejudice until one day a couple of kids I'd never seen before came up to me and two friends and started swinging. They were going around punching out Catholics. Or Protestants, I forget. It was weird, 'cause at the same time we were fighting 'em we were asking why they were trying to beat up on us. They stopped when we said we weren't whoever they thought we were. The whole thing was unreal. I really feel for what the people are going through over there, but I couldn't give you an elaborate statement because I haven't been home in over five years and I haven't followed the situation that closely."

Van began to sing at age 12, and by 13 was playing guitar, sax, and harmonica. During his early high school days he played in several neighborhood bands, some with names more reminiscent of Surf City than Belfast. "I used to play in a group called Deanie Sands and The Javelins. This chick Deanie and I did the singing and I played guitar. We did a sort of country-blues-rock type of music." Away from the Javelins, Morrison spent a lot of time hanging out in Belfast clubs regularly visited by American bluesmen such as Jesse Fuller, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim and Champion Jack Dupree.

At 16, Van dropped out of high school to turn professional. With a group called the Monarchs, he toured England and the Continent, playing five sets a night at raunchy clubs that insisted they sound like a loud jukebox. "In some of those clubs," he remembers, "the audience might've worked us over if we didn't do at least three encores of 'What'd I Say.'" For Van it was a drastic change: "I was under age. I had to get special permission from the British Embassy in every country. We worked Germany a lot, playing US Army bases and places like the Odeonkeller in Heidelberg and the Storyville clubs in Frankfurt and Cologne." Van often did stand-by duty on bass and drums in addition to sax, harp, and guitar. Those months abroad were chaotic and exhilarating, a life of cramped, sweaty backstage rooms, trains, hotels, and learning what it's like to be bored and wasted on the road.

It was in Germany, too, that Van, as a Monarch, recorded his first single--"a really bad song," he recalls--"but we gave it a dynamite instrumental track." It was a bitter experience, this encounter with a producer wanting strictly commercial product. "But we needed the session money. You do when you're drinking your pay every night."

In 1964, Van was 19 and back in Belfast, this time to form Them out of the nucleus of the Monarchs plus a couple of old friends. The group found work at the Maritime Hotel and soon turned it into a home turf. There, under Van's direction as lead singer, Them developed a hard -core regional following. For Van, the first two years were the only time that Them was truly Them:

Yeah, good times, wild sweaty, cruddy, UGLY, and mad,
And sometimes just a little bit sad,
Yeah, they sneered and all, but up there, we just havin' a ball.
It was a gas, you know,
Some good times....

To read the entire article follow this link

[From Issue 111 — June 22, 1972]
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