The Sum­mer of As­tral Weeks

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - GUIDE - EMILY HOURI­CAN

www.rte.ie/ra­dio1/do­conone/2018/1004/1001009-the-sum­merof-as­tral-weeks THIS was made by Alan Tor­ney and Tim Des­mond, and is part of the ex­cel­lent RTE Doc­u­men­tary On One se­ries. It tells the story, in won­der­ful de­tail, of the mak­ing of Van Mor­ri­son’s As­tral Weeks, an al­bum that reg­u­larly fea­tures in the lists of great­est records of all time.

It was 1968 and Van, then only 23, was at a low point. De­spite Brown Eyed Girl hav­ing been a ma­jor hit just a year be­fore, he was broke, tied into a bad record­ing con­tract, liv­ing in New York un­der threat of mob vi­o­lence (fol­low­ing a late-night ar­gu­ment with a mob­ster, who smashed an acous­tic gui­tar over Van’s head), and fac­ing de­por­ta­tion.

“It was a very scary time,” says Van’s girl­friend at the time, Janet Rigs­bee (aka Janet Planet). “We were in a ter­ri­ble po­si­tion. We had no money. Still Van wanted to con­tinue on and make his mu­sic.”

In one year, Van en­tirely turned his life around. He mar­ried Janet, wrote As­tral Weeks, and signed to Warner (he had to be bought out of his pre­vi­ous con­tract for $20,000 in cash, de­liv­ered by Warner ex­ec­u­tive Joe Smith to “the ninth floor of a ware- house at night when it’s dark”). The al­bum was recorded in three ses­sions, many of the songs cap­tured on the first or sec­ond take. Mor­ri­son him­self has called the ses­sions that pro­duced the al­bum “un­canny,” adding that “it was like an al­chem­i­cal kind of sit­u­a­tion”.

Van him­self rarely talks about As­tral Weeks, and de­clined to take part, but this doc­u­men­tary tracks down nine peo­ple who all played sig­nif­i­cant parts in the story, in­clud­ing Janet and the mu­si­cians — many of them stu­dents at the time — who recorded the al­bum. Part of the in­au­gu­ral RTE Ra­dio 1 Folk Awards, this is a mes­meris­ing doc­u­men­tary.

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