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The Transcendent Music Of Van Morrison, Part Three

  • 5
Listen To The Lion
Friday, August 22, 2014

The 1980s marked a turning point for Morrison in his personal affairs, his outlook on life, and his music. The songwriter and his wife, Janet Rigsbee, had divorced and was he growing restless, pondering a return to his Celtic roots in Britain. Additionally, the music he was now creating took him further outside the pop mainstream, even beyond his own earlier musical territory. Much of what he recorded and released throughout the decade focused increasingly on themes of spirituality and faith, contemplation and meditation, ecstasy and humility, rebirth, music as a form of healing, Christian mysticism, "God, woman, his childhood in Belfast, and those enchanted moments when time stands still," evident through the titles he gave to his recordings of the period; 'Beautiful Vision,' 'Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart,' 'A Sense Of Wonder,' 'Irish Heartbeat,' and 'Enlightenment' to name a few. Morrison himself said of it, "A lot of those albums in the '80s... a lot of the songs came out of the stuff I was reading at the time. Poets like Blake. Literature was more of an influence around that period. I was just looking for knowledge, looking for light. Finding a way to describe the indescribable. It was never about one thing, or one religion. It was about finding out about myself. Trying to find some peace of mind. If anything, it was more about the journey itself than reaching some kind of destination. That's where the music of that period was at."

Although now spending more time abroad, Morrison nevertheless continued to utilize select musicians from Northern California and remarkably, his live performances also remained largely confined to the San Francisco Bay Area. As I mentioned to you previously in Part Two, we were blessed. But the 1980s also brought change to my life. While still active in my radio broadcasting career (working at KJAZ), the world around me had become somewhat busier and cluttered, eventually prompting a move to England where I briefly lived. Although I remained an ardent fan of Morrison and his live shows, needless to say, I didn't attend as many of Morrison's performances as I would have liked during that period. By the time I returned to the States to work for KKCY, S.F.'s last eclectic FM radio station, it was too late, Van had permanently relocated to the British Isles, and I wouldn't see or hear him perform live again until sometime in the mid-90s.

I'm Not Feeling It Anymore

If anything, the 1990s brought even more of a sea change in Morrison's outlook and music. In his book, 'When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening To Van Morrison,' author Greil Marcus poises the question, "How do you write off more than fifteen albums and more than fifteen years of the work of a great artist?" The writer is referring to Morrison's recorded output from 1980 through 1996, a span that includes the above-mentioned LPs, as well as those that immediately followed. While I myself can hardly dismiss the entirety of those recordings that Morrison made during Ronald Reagan's reign of conservatism, I must admit that something did appear to be amiss in Morrison's world as well. It was a period of searching as the songwriter has pointed out, but Morrison had also become increasingly entrenched in a war; an escalating battle with his record labels, his managers, the industry as a whole, and perhaps even himself. Marcus goes on to quote writer, Jonathan Lethem in an attempt to possibly explain Morrison's angst. Lethem expounds on the role of a singer theorizing, "What defines great singing in the rock and soul era is some underlying tension in the space between the singer and the song. A bridge is being built across that void, and it's a bridge that we're never sure the singer is going to manage to cross. The gulf may reside between the vocal texture and the actual meaning of the words, or between the singer and the band, the musical genre, the style of production, what have you..." As that definition applies to someone like Morrison, Marcus then suggests, "But what if there is no tension - not because the singer has lost it, but rather because his goal has been to transcend it, and he's succeeded?" Think about that. While I don't necessarily agree with Marcus' proposition as it pertains to Morrison's work throughout the 80s, it certainly has bearing on his output in the 1990s. 

Nothing could have prepared me for the Van Morrison that I encountered when I next saw him live. Upon my return to the States, I moved into a modest unit at the crest of Nob Hill, one of S.F.'s most well-known inclines. The hill is home to two fabled cable car lines, the illustrious Grace Cathedral, the historic Fairmont Hotel, and the Masonic Auditorium. The Masonic plays host to the semi-annual S.F. Jazz Festival, as well as an assortment of independently produced music programs throughout the year. Living a mere block away, the auditorium became an extremely convenient venue for me to attend concerts, made even better when I realized that I could offer my services as a seat usher in exchange for the privilege of witnessing some extraordinary nights of music absolutely free - no parking fees or hassles, no waiting in line at a will call window nervously glancing at my wristwatch with showtime just minutes away. But the icing on the cake was the ability to actually be home (or even to bed, if the hour was late) while the bulk of the concert goers were still negotiating their way out of the parking lot, or hailing cabs. Memorable performances I encountered there included Ravi Shankar,  Sonny Rollins (where I escorted Tom Waits and his small entourage to their seats), Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and of course, Van Morrison. The first with Van was during his two or three night run at the hall in 1993 where he was recording his live outing, 'One Night In San Francisco.' As I soon discovered, those shows would not focus on Morrison, the artiste, but rather on Morrison as the showman and bandleader. Each night he trotted out a small army of guests who appeared to do most of the real performing and music making while he simply directed the proceedings, assuming the role of Master of Ceremonies. While admittedly it was interesting to hear him duet with a handful of the blues masters who had influenced him early in his career, the affair was the complete antithesis of every Van Morrison concert I had previously attended. The evening unfolded as mere entertainment, a all-star musical revue rather than the deep digging, soulful days of yore. And Morrison's ill-conceived and entirely unnecessary addition of Candy Dulfer on saxophone only served to diminish it even further. 

What's Wrong With This Picture

The following year or so, Van played the Masonic again. This time around his background singer, Brian Kennedy insisted on echoing every single phase that Morrison sang as though he were some sort of star struck schoolboy mimicking his mentor. It was annoying as hell. But to make matters worse, mid-way into the show, Morrison turned the vocal duties over to Kennedy almost entirely. WTF? Something was going on here, and it wasn't good. Where was the Van that I thought I knew? I almost didn't recognize this man on stage. Perhaps his voice was strained, I told myself, or maybe it was just an off night. I'm more than willing to give the guy a break, after all, an artist can't be inspired every night, it's virtually impossible. But then came a series of lackluster recordings rife with complaints about being disillusioned and getting ripped-off by everyone around him. And then there were the questionable collaborations - a lounge jazz date with Georgie Fame, another with Mose Allison which should have been good, but wasn't, a skiffle session with Lonnie Donegan, and yet another with Linda Gail Lewis, sister to Jerry Lee, in which they drew on his recorded catalog. Had Van simply had enough? Had he perhaps grown bored and complacent? I was beginning to wonder if maybe he had lost it. Morrison sounded upset and appeared to be in a deliberate and hurried retreat from his quest for spiritual transformation, and increasingly concerning himself with a reaffirmation of his musical roots. Well, that's O.K. too, we all have our low ebbs, but my God, where was the joyous sound that had always been the hallmark of Morrison's music? Where was the self-revelatory soul searching, the feel that had driven the very best of his work? At times, Morrison's recordings of the 1990s seemed to be almost an afterthought, resembling little more than side projects. Yet invariably, as soon as I had convinced myself that he was doing little more than marking time, that he very well had lost it, Morrison would return with a clutch of songs that would serve as an impressive reminder of everything that made him such a monumental talent in the first place. It's those handful of songs on each new release that served to restore my faith in the power of Morrison's craft.

Why Do I Always Have To Explain Myself

"You have to understand that I don't choose the music; it chooses me. My love for the music is the core of it for me. Whatever that energy is, it's not something easily understood. It comes through me at some level and I have to get it and use it, make it work. That's what I need to do. That's all I know. That's all there is. People make music for different reasons. Financial reasons or ego reasons. Maybe they can walk away from it. But I can't, because my connection to the music can't be broken. This is a need. Let's be clear about this - there is no fucking choice. It always comes back to the music. That's all that's ever mattered."

Those are the words of Van Morrison himself, offering his own side to the never-ending debate that surrounds his motives, and they remind us that's there's really no reason to ever question what drives Morrison, the man, or Morrison, the artist. As Jon Wilde of Uncut Magazine points out in a 2005 interview with the songwriter, "Van Morrison stands as one of the most accomplished musical artists of our time, the one and only figure who ranks alongside Bob Dylan as a songwriter of transcendent capacity. Many of his albums are commonly regarded as classics. For the past 20 years, his undoubted masterpiece, 'Astral Weeks,' has taken it in turns with 'Pet Sounds,' 'Blonde On Blonde' and 'Revolver' to top the 'Best Album Ever' polls. And again with the exception of Dylan, there is no other artist who inspires such blind devotion in his followers. Morrison's most zealous fans claim that his music has not only enhanced their lives, but actually transformed it." Wilde's observation is not only a salient one, but it nearly stands as a definitive summation of Morrison's importance. There's no need to look any further than that, and there's your bottom line. In the end, the simple fact is that Van Morrison is human just like me and you, but what perhaps elevates him above us is that he is entirely peerless, the quintessential artiste, a bona fide master, an untouchable.

1) This Weight
2) Celtic New Year
3) Songwriter
4) Reminds Me Of You
5) Steppin' Out Queen, Pt.1
6) Steppin' Out Queen, Pt.2
7) Contacting My Angel
8) Satisfied
9) Did Ye Get Healed?
10) Take Me Back
11) End Of The Rainbow
12) Back On Top
13) See Me Through

Dweller On The Threshold, Vol.2

1) Oh, The Warm Feeling (Alternate Version)
2) A Town Called Paradise
3) Goin' Down Geneva
4) Philosopher's Stone
5) Goin' Down To Monte Carlo
6) Rave On, John Donne
7) Lonely Avenue
8) Real Real Gone (Alternate Version)
9) In The Garden
10) Valley Of Tears
11) Quality Street
12) Got To Go Back
13) When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God?

Dweller On The Threshold, Vol.3

1) Cleaning Windows
2) Fire In The Belly
3) Melancholia
4) Fast Train
5) I'm Not Felling It Anymore
6) Hymns To The Silence
7) On Hyndford Street
8) And The Healing Has Begun
9) Professional Jealousy
10) If In Money We Trust
11) Ancient Highway

Dweller On The Threshold, Vol.4

1) Starting All Over Again
2) Waiting Game
3) Green Mansions
4) Russian Roulette
5) The Meaning Of Loneliness
6) Just Like Greta
7) Foreign Window
8) Full Force Gale
9) Higher Than The World
10) Crazy Jane On God
11) Pagan Streams
12) Rough God Goes Riding
13) Underlying Depression
14) Retreat And View

Source material for 'Dweller On The Threshold, Vols.1-4' comes from the following:
Into The Music (1979)/Common One (1980)
Beautiful Vision (1982)/Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983)
No Guru, No Teacher, No Method (1986)/Poetic Champions Compose (1987)  
Avalon Sunset (1989)/Enlightenment (1990)
 Hymns To The Silence (1991)/Too Long In Exile (1993)
 Days Like This (1995)/The Healing Game (1997)
The Philosopher's Stone (1998)/Back On Top (1999)
Down The Road (2002)/What's Wrong With This Picture (2003)
Magic Time (2005)/Born To Sing: No Plan B (2012)

The Transcendent Music Of Van Morrison, Part Two

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Caledonia Soul Music
Friday, August 15, 2014
 Dedicated to Janet Rigsbee, the lovely brown eyed girl for whom many of these songs were written

Of the countless live shows that I've attended over the years, I believe I've witnessed Van Morrison in action more than any other musician who is still active today. I'm also proud to say that the vast majority of those gigs took place in clubs and dance halls, 600 capacity venues or smaller. With musicians of Morrison's caliber, a nightclub date is simply the only setting in which to really hear and experience the Irish bard live. Of course my boastful proclamation also dates me. With only a handful of exceptions over the last 30 years, Morrison hasn't played actually in a small club here in the States since perhaps the late 1970s. That would then mean that the bulk of those shows I attended took place somewhere within that particular decade, a decade that if not for disco music, Richard Nixon, and perhaps a few other prominent political events, was otherwise not such a bad time to be young and alive.

Although I first heard Morrison perform while I was attending school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it was my eventual move to San Francisco a year or two later that afforded me repeated exposure to his stage shows. Despite his growing popularity, Morrison and his band continued to be booked into small, select venues throughout the greater Bay Area during the 1970s. After all, it in San Francisco were Morrison's records first broke nationwide. KMPX/KSAN FM, Tom Donahue's revolutionary radio station and its DJs were all over Morrison's music, beginning with 1968's, 'Astral Weeks.' To paraphrase from his book, 'When That Rough God Goes Riding,' author Greil Marcus says, "(Morrison) was an indistinct name almost everywhere else with (his) albums charting in the high twenties or low thirties, but in the Bay Area, he was number one. There he could do no wrong." Is it any wonder then that Morrison and his wife decided to leave Woodstock behind to start a new life for themselves in the S.F. bedroom community of Fairfax in Marin County, just a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge?

Those of us who lived there during those years were truly blessed. The Bay Area was a hot bed of musical activity, home to many outstanding musicians, all of whom played with repeated frequency in local nightspots, Morrison included. My favorites places to catch Van were the Great American Music Hall (where he is pictured above), a former brothel, rococo in design, and tucked into the seedy Tenderloin district of the city just two doors down from the infamous, Mitchell Brother's O'Farrell Theater. The latter was then a notorious den of sex and sin, "one of America's oldest and most notorious adult-entertainment establishments" where Hunter S. Thompson once worked as the night manager. Another favorite was the Boarding House were Steve Martin recorded his first few comedy records, and where Neil Young once played a week-long residency which he billed as his entire 'West Coast Tour.' The building has since been demolished for construction a mid-town condominium complex like so many others. Additionally there was Inn At The Beginning, north of San Francisco in Cotati, as well as River City and the Sleeping Lady Cafe, both in Morrison's adopted hometown of Fairfax. And of course it goes without saying that there were also the larger halls like the Fillmore West (also slated to be razed in the near future) and later, Winterland (which long ago fell victim to the wrecking ball).

Into The Mystic

Then as now, witnessing Morrison on stage could often prove to be something of a hit or a miss proposition (see 'A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man'). You never quite knew just which side of Morrison's artistic and highly divergent personality might actually emerge from behind the stage curtains. On some nights, Morrison would fail to find heart of the music that's being made, and then on other nights, he'd grab a tight hold of it and unearth the very soul that lay within his words and the sounds. It's those latter nights that frequently held me spellbound, the nights when the songs actually sang him, rather than him singing the songs. Let me explain what I mean by that. Morrison's music first and foremost has always been built and based on feel. If the feeling is right, then it doesn't really matter whether the words he sings come out clear and legible, or whether the musicians are perhaps straying from the written arrangements. The all important quest is to collectively find the groove that lays within each song, the feel. Mining that groove then allows them to dig a little deeper in order to uncover and reveal the very heart of the song - its living soul - and that is when he and his musicians would cease making the song, and collectively become the song. It was a magical moment when it would occur, a moment that not only the Caledonia Soul Orchestra would live for, but that I lived for as well. On many occasions my expectations were met with disappointment, yet on other times, it was more than I could have ever hoped for.

Morrison has always made it clear that he does not see himself as an entertainer, nor does he go out of his way to show his indifference towards those how come to see and hear him ("mercurial genius at best, certifiable grouch at worst," remember?). His relationship with his audience is irreconcilable. When he performs, he plays strictly for himself. His only goal as it applies to the music is to reach that place within the song where he is able to transcend "the apparent boundaries of any given piece; to achieve a total freedom of form; to take himself, his band, and the audience on a journey whose destination is anything but known," to quote Scott Foundas of the L.A. Weekly. Morrison himself has stated, "I don't consciously aim to take the listener anywhere. If anything, I aim only to take myself there in my music. If the listener catches the wavelength of what I am saying or singing, or gets whatever point whatever line means to them, then I guess as a writer I may have done a day's work." Often it seems that the only way he is able to achieve that breakthrough is by way of repetition, circling numerous times around a particular phrase or passage until it surrenders to him and he succeeds in finding an entry, or on a bad night, falls short entirely of breaching the enclosure. Eyes closed, standing ramrod straight at the microphone, Morrison, along with the help of his musicians would search for that elusive gateway, and when they would glimpse a soft shaft of light escaping from beneath the door, Van would gently push it open, drop his arm, throw back his head, and BAM! With the crack of the snare drum, the band would bring it down to a whisper, and with their flashlights out and on, they'd begin tiptoeing through the shadows, exploring the warm interior to root out the beating heart of song, all the while keeping the groove quietly percolating on a low blue flame. Head now bowed as if lost in a trance, Morrison would enter into 'the zone.' At a distance from the microphone but with his arm still outstretched upon it, the singer would become a medium of sorts and the seance would commence. He momentarily hesitates as if expectantly waiting for some sort of spiritual direction from the Divine, but boldly enters nevertheless. Channeling the inarticulate speech of the heart, the singer's tongue gets tied as he grapples to articulate the voice that comes from somewhere deep inside - the voice of the lion who lives within. The band has crossed the threshold to pierce the core and Morrison has spilled into slipstream. Speaking in tongues, the singer susses out the heart of the song and lets it flow gently outward to fill the room with the kind of soul that can only come from one who truly understands and breathes it. Lost in the music, the song is now singing him. Morrison lingers in the moment, listening, groping, praying perhaps. Feelings and remembrances from lifetimes past wash over him - the sound of autumn leaves as they crunch beneath his feet walking along Cypress Avenue, streets and gardens wet with rain, fireworks exploding in the distance, foghorns bellowing in the night, Madame Joy, William Blake and the Eternals, pagan streams, and haunts of ancient past. He mumbles incoherently, adrift in a sea of emotion and sensation until he finds himself so overwhelmed by the purity and depth of what he's managed to tap, there's no choice but to resurface if he wishes to remain in this world, though he'd rather risk losing himself entirely to the abyss. He raises his arm again and with a anguished cry, lets it fall and BAM! The drummer snaps his snare drum one last time, a cue for the band to swing in to action, and charge they do, wailing on the song's final chorus to bring it all to a some kind of magical and metaphysical conclusion as Van reopens his eyes, enlightened, renewed, and born again. It's overpowering, even for those of us who merely act as witness, and that, my friend, is the astral plane, the mystic, the lion's den, the place where immobile steel rims crack and the ditch in the back roads stop - the eternal Kansas City. It's known as Caledonia Soul Music, the transcendent music of Van Morrison.  

Turn It Up, Just A Little Bit Higher

Of course that level of intensity couldn't, and didn't happen every night, but when it did, it became a night of music that could burn itself into your memory. Obviously, Morrison didn't always achieve those heights during these years, but when performing in front of a hometown crowd (albeit an adopted hometown), he often miraculously found it within himself to tap that rich vein of Caledonia Soul Music. Skeptics might be tempted to tell you that it's all merely an old showman's trick designed to play the emotions of the crowd, and it can be, but in Morrison's hand's, it's the real thing, not empty drama in the name of mere entertainment. Before he became the chronic grump and defiant performer that he is today, Van was, if nothing else, true to himself, and completely honest with his music.

The four sets that comprise 'Caledonia Soul Music' draw from the years 1968 to 1979, the period in which Van Morrison was at his most creative height. His recorded output during those 11 years stand as among the very best he's ever committed to tape. It was a productive time, and one in which Morrison also seemed to be the most content, although I use that term very loosely. God knows he was never an easy man to be around, but his music during those years resonated with a certain purity and optimism that's been lacking somewhat in the music he's written since. One might even go as far as to say that Morrison could do no wrong as Marcus surmised. The man could've conceivably sung the phone book and make it come out sounding sanctified, something which Morrison nearly does on 'Twilight Zone,' should you need proof of that contention. The song from which this collection takes its name, 'Caledonia Soul Music' is a rare, revealing, and improvised instrumental that serves to wordlessly demonstrate just how the band leader would attempt to steer his musicians towards that elusive portal that he strove to uncover in his most personal of songs. At 17 minutes in length, the performance has remarkably never been officially released, but has appeared on numerous 'recordings of indeterminate origin' with abysmal fidelity. The version you'll hear, I'm proud to report, comes from the source and is CD quality (although is presented here in the mp3 format). It's a must hear for any fan of Morrison's work - an absolute tour-de-force. Other highlights might well include a handful of songs that were originally intended for inclusion in 'Mechanical Bliss,' the 1974/75 LP that Morrison shelved. Beyond these, everything else is widely available, and all are golden. It goes without saying of course that there are bound to be a few favorites left out of the mix, but nevertheless, it took me four volumes to achieve what I believe is a well-balanced and comprehensive overview of the many remarkable recordings that Morrison made during those years, and that's hard to do with an artist that I consider as being untouchable. Hopefully you'll agree with the choices I've made.

1) Ain't Nothin' You Can Do
2) I Believe To My Soul
3) Come Running
4) You Don't Pull The River, But You Don't Push The River
5) I Will Be There
6) It's All In The Game
7) You Know What They're Talking About
8) I've Been Working
9) Caledonia Soul Music
10) Wonderful Remark (Alternate Version)
11) Domino

1) Astral Weeks
2) Moondance
3) Virgo Clowns
4) Sweet Thing
5) Bit By Bit
6) Heavy Connection
7) Contemplation Rose
8) Flamingoes Fly (Alternate Version)
9) The Streets Only Knew Your Name (Alternate Version)
10) Twilight Zone 
11) Bein' Green
12) Old Old Woodstock

1) Tupelo Honey
2) Angelou
3) Glad Tidings
4) Try For Sleep
5) Really Don't Know
6) Sweet Jannie
7) Brand New Day
8) You're My Woman
9) Into The Mystic
10) Snow In San Anselmo
11) These Dreams Of You
12) I Shall Sing
13) Ballerina

1) Lover's Prayer
2) Autumn Song
3) Crazy Love
4) Blue Money
5) Wild Children
6) Who Was That Masked Man
7) Laughing In The Wind
8) Caravan
9) And It Stoned Me
10) Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)
11) Fair Play
12) Saint Dominic's Preview
13) Just Like A Woman
14) Listen To The Lion

Source material for 'Caledonia Soul Music, Vols.1-4' comes from the following:
Astral Weeks (1968)/Moondance (1970/2013)/His Band And The Street Choir (1970)
KSAN Radio Archives (1970/71)/Tupelo Honey (1971)
Saint Dominic's Preview (1972)/Hard Nose The Highway (1973)
It's Too Late To Stop Now (1974)/Veedon Fleece (1974)
A Period Of Transition (1977)/Into The Music (1979)
The Philosopher's Stone (1998)/The Genuine Philosopher's Stone (ROIO)

The Transcendent Music Of Van Morrison, Part One

  • 9
A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
Friday, August 08, 2014

It can be a bit difficult when one stops to consider Van Morrison, the man. He's been described as "a mercurial genius at best, and a certifiable grouch at worst." As that relates to the everyday world, it might be tempting then to simply dismiss him as a practiced curmudgeon - "creative, but moody, unpredictable, perverse, and often downright willful." As an artist however, it's another matter all together. Morrison is indeed a gifted talent and a chronic grumbler, yet despite his reputation as a difficult personality, he's also been responsible for writing some of the most evocatively soulful music within the rock idiom over the last 45 years. A superlative songwriter, Morrison has additionally proven himself to be an accomplished musician (playing guitar, harmonica, and saxophone), band leader, showman, and singer, although it's similarly difficult to categorize him strictly as the latter. His voice is not one that you might rightly describe as pleasing and mellifluous, although what it lacks in melody, it more than makes up for in expressiveness. In other words, Morrison's not a traditional vocalist in quite the same way that someone like Sinatra for instance was considered a singer, or that Nat King Cole was a singer, likewise with Johnny Hartman, Joe Williams, or Johnny Adams. Vocally, what distinguishes Morrison from them and his generational peers is that Van was simply the very first 'rock' singer to emote with an uninhibited power. He possessed a voice that was every bit as emotionally charged as another soul brother, the late, great, Ray Charles. It's as simple as that. Making that quality even more substantial however was also the fact that he was not the dark-skinned man one might have imagined him to be, but rather a surly, 20 year old, red-bearded, Anglo-Celtic leprechaun of an Irishman who carried around nearly enough negative energy to create a black hole. In the early days of his music career, Morrison emitted an almost animal magnetism on stage, particularly when fronting, Them. He appeared almost threatening - snarling, spitting, stomping, and sneering more than actually singing. He injected his performances with sexual menace and unadulterated emotion, and the end result was something new - something raw, commanding, soulful, and completely mesmerizing. 

In the mid-1960s, Morrison and Them worked as the house band at the infamous Maritime Hotel in Belfast, Ireland, a gritty dance hall that was home to working class toughs. The band's residency at the hall proved to be a fortuitous workshop for the songwriter, performing night after night on the same stage, in the same room, in front of a growing and appreciative audience of regulars who welcomed his group of angry young men. The comfort of this setting allowed Morrison and his band to freely woodshed in an atmosphere that provided them not only with the artistic leeway to stretch the boundaries of their live performances, but also to receive immediate feedback on those experiments from an audience that fully supported their excursions. Frequently working without a net - no defined set list, no restrictions, no expectations - Morrison and the band often improvised, feeding off the energy of the moment and the tenor of the crowd. Essentially, they achieved the equivalent of musically painting on an open, empty canvas, and what young, aspiring, working artist wouldn't appreciate that luxury?

This is where the songwriter that we've come to call, the 'Belfast Cowboy' first developed his stream-of-conscience approach to lyrical content - a technique not as simple as it may at first seem. When he later embarked on his solo career here in America, he began expanding on these free association narratives - ruminations that seemed to spring from somewhere deep within his inner most psyche, "reflecting lifetimes behind it." This new technique added to the expressiveness of his vocalization, and signaled the beginnings of his own brand of unconventional poetry. Songs like 'Who Drove The Red Sports Car,' 'Beside You,' 'T.B. Sheets,' 'The Back Room' and 'Madame George' are all highly personal and symbolic reflections that showcase his new found voice. The lyrical content of those songs may not entirely make sense to us as third party observers, but then, the experiential window that Morrison provides us is intended to be from the perspective of our standing outside looking in. As Morrison continued to grow as a songwriter however, he perfected this approach, now shifting the viewpoint to us now being allowed on the inside looking out. Simultaneously, his narratives became something closer to meditations, or personal confessions. They were, and still remain very powerful tomes, and plenty soulful too. In fact as time when on, his approach even developed into its own self-named genre - 'Caledonia Soul.' Unlike blue-eyed soul, this was a classification applicable only to Morrison himself. One that was not only deep, artistic, heartfelt and expressive, but extremely sensitive and transcendental as well. Beginning with the two sets of music that are offered below, you'll hear the genesis of Morrison's, 'Caledonia Soul,' drawing from his very early work with the group, Them, and his first solo outings recorded for Bang Records in 1968. Then in the weeks to follow, we'll explore Morrison's artistic development and journey into spiritualism as he ventured into the mystic. Ladies and gentlemen, Van Morrison, a portrait of the artist as a young man.

'A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Vol.1'

1) Mighty Like A Rose
2) One Two Brown Eyes
3) Could You, Would You
4) Send Your Mind
5) Don't Look Back
6) I Can Only Give You Everything
7) Call My Name
8) One More Time
9) Here Comes The Night

 10) My Lonely Sad Eyes
11) The Story Of Them
12) Beside You
13) The Back Room

14) Chick-A-Boom
15) Hey Girl
16) Philosophy
17) Baby, Please Don't Go
18) Ro-Ro-Rosey
19) T.B. Sheets

'A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Vol.2'

1) Stormy Monday
2) Who Drove The Red Sports Car
3) Brown Eyed Girl
4) Gloria
5) Friday's Child
6) Little Girl
7) If You And I Could Be As Two
8) It's Alright
9) Spanish Rose
10) The Smile You Smile
11) Baby, What You Want Me To Do
12) Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)
13) Mystic Eyes
14) Joe Harper Saturday Morning
15) It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
16) Richard Cory
17) Midnight Special
18) He Ain't Give You None
19) Madame George

Source material for 'A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Vols.1&2' comes from the following:
Van Morrison/Bang Masters (1991) 

Them/The Story Of Them (1997)