The following is the second of two articles I am posting here now on the music of Van Morrison that I’ve published in the Falls Church News-Press, this one appearing June 16, 2005.
It could be said that the words to the greatest love duet of the modern rock genre is sung by one person and go, “Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-te-da,” repeated with a final, “La-te-da.”
They’re words we all know, and more often than not, sing along to with head bobbing and body bouncing whenever we hear one of the most universally loved hits of the ages, Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” is played on the radio.
In Atlantic City Saturday night, over 4,000 packed into the arena of Trump’s Taj Mahal remembered those words all too well, and let the 60s-somethingVan Morrison know it. The Irishman remains one of the most seminal influences in modern music beginning in the mid-1960s and progressing to his latest, totally innovative and universally acclaimed album released this spring, “Magic Time.”
Morrison’s music melds the pure mellow with a deep-running passion. The little man may be buried under a bowler hat and tightly-buttoned sports jacket, but his powerful and haunting voice and uncanny sense of improvisational melody meld with an exceptionally tight team of guitarist, drums and keyboard to generate the signature Van Morrison sound. Saturday, the group started promptly at 8 p.m. with Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” and went an hour and a half without stopping, wrapping up with an encore of his first big hit, “Gloria.” He and his group had an uncanny ability to move smoothly between his greatest hits of the past and his newest stuff with always plenty of time for improvisational riffs.
Over the many, many years, Van Morrison’s music has lost some of a grittier, sharper edge of the late 1960s through about 1973, but the core is unchanged. His “Moondance” and “Astral Weeks” albums from back in the day remain some of the most popular to this very day. For folks who knew his music in that period, most would include one or both of those albums on their all-time top ten.
In Atlantic City Saturday, Morrison completed a brief, two-part tour of the U.S for 2005. He performed in New York and Boston on three dates in mid-March, and came back this month to do four successive nights, starting in Santa Rosa, California, and going to San Francisco, the Red Rocks in Boulder, Colorado, and Atlantic City. Everyone knows Morrison is not so keen to perform on this side of the pond, doing many more shows all over Europe and in his home of Belfast.
It’s a good reason why, whenever he gets anywhere close to this area, it’s worth making a special effort to show up. Many folks Saturday came from long distances to hear him, even though a casino is an uncommon place for him to perform.
The writer has waxed poetic about Van the Man more than once on the pages of the News-Press, the last time being two years ago when he showed up in New York. I saw him more than a half-dozen times in San Francisco’s Fillmore West in the 1970 to 1973 era, and in other venues in the Bay Area, where he lived for more than a year. His album, “St. Dominic’s Preview,” was written and performed in homage to San Francisco and Morrison’s experiences there. I had the privilege of interviewing him as a young writer for the legendary Berkeley Barb in November 1970.
Morrison’s music has a remarkable ability to evoke emotion-laden imagery. In this respect, “Astral Weeks” remains this writer’s personal favorite, progressing like a personal diary with an extraordinary use of orchestral strings.” There’s been nothing like it, before or since.
Which brings me to one of the most enduring of Morrison’s classics, his biggest “Top 40”-style pop hit, “Brown Eyed Girl,” originally released in 1967. The refreshing tempo and pep of the tune is matched by its nostalgia for a cherished time of puppy love, prior to the loss of innocence, when young lovers ran through the green grass behind the stadium and sang their timeless love song, complete with the accent on the second “la-te-da.”
Don’t you remember the smells, the special secret places and, most of all, the beautiful color of the eyes of your first love? It’s all there in that special song, and as much as Van the Man looks on the exterior to be a rough and grizzled blues legend eccentric, on the inside, as his many musical triumphs reveal, is as passionate a lover as ever walked the planet.