Van pre­pares to take us on a rare Moon­dance

Mor­ri­son’s love life will add a cer­tain fris­son to his gigs here, the first in years, writes Barry Egan

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - PEOPLE - MU­SIC LEG­END: clock­wise from above, Van Mor­ri­son, who will play Belfast and Dublin in Fe­bru­ary next year af­ter a long hia­tus; his wife Michelle Rocca; Gigi Lee with whom he had a baby boy and the As­tral Weeks tour DVD

ABUCOLIC sum­mer’s day in 1989. And in a man­i­cured English coun­try gar­den, ap­pears a 71-year-old man sport­ing a floppy hat and a large, pink, pe­nis-shaped false nose, held on pre­car­i­ously by an elas­tic-band. He is ca­reer­ing af­ter an­other man in the gar­den. Both men are soon in stitches. It was a very rare sight in­deed to see Van Mor­ri­son lit­er­ally shak­ing with laugh­ter.

But then the other man was Spike Milligan, time­less Goon, cre­ator of 12-man-aside por­ridge, author of Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Down­fall, as well as Puck­oon (“Many peo­ple die of thirst but the Ir­ish are born with one”) and gen­eral comic god.

With the birds singing in the English coun­try trees and the sun over head, Van re­flected on tuning into The Goon Show on the ra­dio dur­ing his child­hood in Belfast: “He was al­ways just there,” Van re­called to Q mag­a­zine of Spike. “Sun­day morn­ings, if I re­mem­ber, was The Goons, then Round The Horne, Jimmy Clitheroe, they all seemed to be on Sun­day. The Goons were huge in Ire­land: kids I grew up with talked like that all the time.”

At this point, Spike let out a chuckle-cum-roar: “My brain hurts!”

Jour­nal­ist Paul Du Noyer, who set up the le­gendary meet­ing for Q mag­a­zine at Van’s sug­ges­tion, later re­mem­bered that “we ar­rived to find Spike a most hos­pitable man. He did every­thing to make Van re­lax, and vir­tu­ally tricked him into do­ing pho­tos”.

Mor­ri­son is, of course, an in­fa­mous cur­mud­geon. A one­time mem­ber of his group re­called an all-night de­bate with the Belfast sage-cum­singer. Af­ter end­less de­bate back-and-forth, the mu­si­cian de­cided to al­low Van to be vic­to­ri­ous in the ar­gu­ment (be­lieved to be about phi­los­o­phy.) “I agree with you, Van,” he said, drained.

“You what?” shot back the burly Belfast su­per­star.

“What you said. I agree with it.”

“Well in that case,” Van an­swered, fi­nally, “in that case, you're wrong!”

Van Mor­ri­son is unar­guably the great­est singer­song­writer this coun­try has ever pro­duced (what­ever about the cranki­est). I re­call be­ing back­stage at the sun­lit Hop Farm fes­ti­val in Sus­sex two sum­mers ago when Van ap­peared with his en­tourage and I made my ex­cuses and left. Still, you have to ad­mire his mu­si­cal ge­nius, his fear­less artis­tic in­tegrity. Paul Dur­can once said that no other Ir­ish poet — writ­ing ei­ther in verse or in mu­sic — has “come within a Honda's roar of Ka­vanagh and Mor­ri­son”.

I have seen Van maybe 30 times in con­cert over the years and he is never less than in­spired and in­spi­ra­tional, the per­former serv­ing as some sort of con­duit. Like many men my age and older, I imag­ine, I find my­self lis­ten­ing to Van’s al­bums such as 1974’s Vee­don Fleece, 1979’s In The Mu­sic and 1986's No Guru, No Method, No Teacher search­ing for an­swers, for mean­ing. As Van sings on Sum­mer­time In Eng­land: “It ain’t why, why, why. It just is.”

It is a mys­tery that will never be solved how such an un­com­mu­nica­tive man can have writ­ten such works of heart­break­ingly grace­ful, beauty as As­tral Weeks —a mas­ter­piece of a record, made when Van was just 23, that is un­likely to be sur­passed for its artis­tic vi­sion. De­clan Lynch wrote in this pa­per in 2008 thus: “And yes, it is my con­tention that Van Mor­ri­son is a greater artist than Joyce … Ulysses re­mains a book that few have read and ap­pre­ci­ated in its en­tirety — un­like As­tral Weeks, which is loved by all de­cent peo­ple who have heard it.”

Iconic US rock critic Lester Bangs fa­mously re­marked: “Van Mor­ri­son was 22 or 23 years old when he made this record; there are life­times be­hind it.” Life­times ahead of the rest of us, Van was also the mas­ter of im­pres­sion­is­tic sketches: “If I ven­tured in the slip­stream/be­tween the viaducts of your dreams,” he sings on the open­ing lines of As­tral Weeks.

And you will still hear milk­men and win­dow clean­ers whistling the tune to Brown Eyed Girl. Asked by Time mag­a­zine a few years ago did he ever think songs like Moon­dance and Brown Eyed Girl would still be on the ra­dio 40 years af­ter he wrote them, Van replied in the neg­a­tive. “Brown Eyed Girl I didn't per­form for a long time be­cause for me it was like a throw­away song. I've got about 300 other songs I think are bet­ter than that.”

Van has an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful voice on­stage and on record; when he sings “I just want to rock your soul, baby,” at the end of Into the Mys­tic, you feel your soul jump­ing to Van’s com­mand.

Greil Mar­cus, who wrote the fas­ci­nat­ing tome When That Rough God Goes Rid­ing: Lis­ten­ing to Van Mor­ri­son, said re­cently “There’s never been a Van Mor­ri­son al­bum that I haven’t im­me­di­ately lis­tened to, whether with de­light or crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment.”

There’s been rather more of the lat­ter with Van’s mu­si­cal out­put over the last few years, in my hum­ble opinion. Per­haps his mind was else­where at times? “I was flab­ber­gasted by the head­lines,” Van sang on Rough God Goes Rid­ing (from the 1997 al­bum The Heal­ing Game.) Not as flab­ber­gasted as the rest of us were by the head­lines in late De­cem­ber 2009 that Van had had a baby with an­other wo­man.

The reclu­sive Ul­ster­man, who never speaks about his pri­vate life, broke his si­lence in a state­ment in De­cem­ber 31, 2009: “For the avoid­ance of all doubt and in the in­ter­ests of clar­ity, I am very hap­pily mar­ried to Michelle Mor­ri­son with whom I have two won­der­ful chil­dren. We spent a quiet Christ­mas all to­gether in Dublin”, think­ing it would be the end of the mat­ter. It was very much not the end of the mat­ter, how­ever. The rest, of course, is hys­te­ria. It soon emerged, un­com­fort­ably for the singer, that 65-year-old Van had had a love child, Ge­orge Ivan Mor­ri­son III, by vi­va­cious fortysome­thing Texan blonde, Gigi Lee.

Will there be a pub­lic back­lash of sorts about the me­dia rev­e­la­tions when Van plays his first Ir­ish gigs in over a decade in Fe­bru­ary?

Robert Hilburn wrote in the LA Times in 1997, Van will con­tinue to en­chant au­di­ences as long as he steps up to a mi­cro­phone.”

Let’s hope that is the case when Van plays Dublin and Belfast con­certs next year. I won­der will ro­man­tic clas­sics like Tu­pelo Honey, Moon­dance, Brown Eyed Girl and Have I Told You Lately That I Love You still res­onate like be­fore with the au­di­ence be­cause of what has gone on in Van’s ro­man­tic life over the last two years. Who knows? Maybe as Van might say him­self: It is not why, it just is. Van Mor­ri­son plays The Odyssey Belfast Fe­bru­ary 3, The O2 Arena Dublin Fe­bru­ary 4, 2012. Tick­ets lim­ited to four per per­son, on sale Thurs­day Novem­ber 10 at 8am.

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