Sunday, June 15, 2008

Astral Weeks, Common One, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart

The Van Morrison album I know best is Astral Weeks. It has moved me more than any record I have ever heard. I came across it because I was curious about its reputation. It was the favorite record of most of the members of The Doors. John Densmore recalls Van writing the lyrics to the title track on a piece of paper at a party circa 1967 that they both attended.

I love the tricks with phrasing in particular and the jazzy instrumentation. The tricks include things like stumbling on the line 'my tongue gets tied everytime I try and speak', which I think is partially borrowed from Elvis. There is also the 'and the one that loves to love the one that loves to love...' etc, etc. And another favorite, from 'Cyprus Avenue':

'Wait a minute, yonder comes my lady
Rainbow ribbons in her hair..'

The way Van draws out that second line until it's almost unintelligible is pure Van, and the reason why so many people love him or cannot stand him.

There are the curious lines like the scrapbook stuck with glue in 'Beside You' (probably inspired by Dylan- reminds me of a lyric in 'Visions of Johanna'), and whatever the girls dropped in 'Cyprus Avenue'. I have been to Cyprus Avenue, just around the corner from Hyndford Street, and it was a magical experience- analagous to wandering Arklow on the east coast singing 'Streets of Arklow' (Veedon Fleece).

It seems to me that the album takes us through the idea of birth and simple young love- Astral Weeks, Beside You, Sweet Thing- to adolescence and older more experienced love- Cyprus Avenue, The Way That Young Lovers D0- to more adult themes of decay and death in Ballerina and Slim Slow Slider. This last one seems to me to be the weakest track. But it still inspired me to go Ladbroke Grove.

By the way, 'Sweet Thing' is unbearably sweet and beautiful and has lovely lyrical, lilting joyous words, but try and hear a version from the early 80's at the Montreux Jazz Festival. It's much slower and more moving and you have to close your eyes and be swept away.

I then started buying more Van records- in fact ones that started coming out. I was at La Trobe University and I was lucky enough to experience the new stuff when Van was truly inspired again. Listen to the first song from 'Common One' and it puts you on a higher plane:

'Beside the garden walls,
We walk in haunts of ancient peace.
At night we rest and go to sleep
In haunts of ancient peace.
The love and light we seek,
The words we do not need to speak,
Here in this wondrous way we keep
These haunts of ancient peace.
Let us go there again
When we need some relief
Oh, when I can't find my feet
When I need rest and sleep.'

So many of Van's songs are about healing, and going down to the river, and to the pylons, and whatever else it takes. The words alone are sometimes nothing much, but the music is soothing and it propels the words to another sphere. This is the album where I think he first used my favorite Van Morrison phrase:

'Oh, my common one . . .
It ain't why . . .It just is . . .
That's all
That's all there is about it.
It just is.
Can you feel the light?
I want to go to church and say.
In your soul . . .
Ain't it high?
Oh, my common one
Oh, my storytime one
Oh, my high in the art of sufferin' one
Put your head on my shoulder . . .
And you listen to the silence.
Can you feel the silence?'

It is this last bit- 'can you feel the silence?'- he uses it again, magically, on the title track of 'Hymns To The Silence' years later. It is a phrase he must like. And i think it is beautiful too, and it sums up what his music, at its best, is all about. The albums at this time are all about this- Into The Music, Common One, Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart and Beautiful Vision. A great foursome. Countless good lyrics and countless moods. My favorite of these came out when I was about to start University in 1982/3- Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart. I played it to death, lost it, and only a few weeks ago went and bought it again.

It's the same old philosophy of making something that will move you and make you feel literally 'higher than the world.' You can imagine Van singing, with eyes closed, 'Rave On, John Donne', the gorgeous saxophone blaring behind him. For me the pinnacle is the last two tracks- the title track and the last instrumental, 'September Night':

Inarticulate speech, inarticulate speech of the heart
Inarticulate speech, inarticulate speech of the heart
I'm a soul in wonder I'm a soul in wonder
I'm a soul in wonder I'm a soul in wonder
Inarticulate speech, inarticulate speech of the heart
Inarticulate speech, inarticulate speech of the heart

I'm just wild about it
I can't live without it
I'm just wild about it
I can't live without it
Inarticulate speech, inarticulate speech of the heart
Inarticulate speech, inarticulate speech of the heart

I'm a soul in wonder I'm a soul in wonder
I'm a soul in wonder I'm a soul in wonder
I'm a soul in wonderI'm a soul in wonder
I'm a soul in wonder A soul in wonder
A soul in wonder.'

You have to remember there are the beautiful female backing vocals as well. What it must be to be a soul in wonder. He really means it- you can tell he feels it. And he doesn't have to say what it is that he is wild about, or cannot live without. You just know that it is true. And the last song, the instrumental, has him wailing in ecstasy as the ride for him continues. It must have been a great personal period for him.

'September Night' is an instrumental, except for the soothing vocal ecstasy in the background. It washes over you beautifully like water except if you are home alone and it is dark it can make you feel melancholy.

1 comment:


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Hi Darren,

On behalf of Exile Productions and Exile Publishing, many thanks for plugging Van Morrison and, if you / your readers want good quality, non-pirated, preview tracks from Van’s new album – “Keep It Simple” - full versions of "That's Entrainment" and "Behind The Ritual" (along with album track samplers) are available for fans and bloggers to link on Lost Highway's web-site at .

Up-to-the-minute info on Keep It Simple and Van’s 2008 shows is, of course, also available on and and, for a limited period, you can still hear Van's exclusive BBC concert at and you can also see his BBC sessions at .

Thanks again for your support.