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All Things Must Pass

  • 68
A Wise Man Once Said That
Friday, August 29, 2104

"The passion for inheritance is dead. Today, knowledge is displaced by mere information, or memory without history: data."
Cynthia Ozick, 'T.S.Eliot at 101' (1989)

ll Things Must Pass was the title of my very first post here at Birds With Broken Wings, published August 28, 2007. It was presented as a bittersweet tribute to the historic FM radio station, KMPX/KSAN, the birthplace of eclectic, no-holds-barred, free-form FM radio. But the underlying sentiment behind 'All Things Must Pass' was more so my lament over the demise of creative and intelligent music programming within commercial FM radio as a whole. As one who previously worked as an on-air DJ at several commercial Bay Area stations that miraculously managed to survive relatively unscathed up through the mid-1980's, the loss was palpable. It was only through determination, stubbornness, and the grace of God that those stations avoided becoming generic electronic mouthpieces for new corporate owners who were far more interested in advertising dollars than sharing engaging programming that both spoke to, and reflected the community within its signal range. But all things pass and so too did those stations eventually come to an end. And with their demise, I forever hung up my radio show-biz shoes. I'd collectively spent some 25 years behind a microphone, spinning records and sharing the music of artists that inspired me; artists who's work I felt needed to be heard. I conducted interviews with touring musicians, shared relevant anecdotes about them and their music, imparted biographical information and humorous asides, all in an effort to develop a trusted connection with my listeners. And as an integral part of all that, I obviously ended up sharing a lot of myself as well. So after having not broadcast for well over a decade, what I really needed back in 2007 was to reestablish some kind of similar relationship; finding a new outlet for doing what I had essentially done professionally for a quarter century. At the time, music blogging seemed to me a likely avenue, and thus, Birds With Broken Wings was born.

hile I still enjoyed the excitement of discovering new music and sharing it with others, I consciously made a decision not to feature anything current within the pages of BWBW. There were now plenty of alternate delivery systems available for gaining exposure to up and coming artists, not to mention a nearly three fold increase in the amount of new music out there to be discovered, some of it good, much of it bad. By employing digitized online audio previews and the various streaming services, individuals were now able to narrow down and explore for themselves whatever artists or sounds held the most interest for them, so who needed terrestrial radio? All it required was having the patience to sift through it all. Surprisingly, the new model of online 'radio' at that time did offer nearly as much eclecticism as I myself longed for, but frustratingly, they supplied me no road map. Even though streaming services claimed to provide 'personalized' recommendations, it frequently missed the mark. Their suggestions are based on data algorithms and not necessarily on informed observations from real human beings whose professional passion was not only to absorb the best of the music world, but to then educate others in an entertaining way through their gift of gab and well-tuned ears. Obviously, I'm talking DJ's here, but I was no longer a working DJ. By employing the written word and a sampling of shared music for download, I chose instead to use Birds With Broken Wings as a vehicle to champion select legacy artists whose music I believed as being honest, soulful, and vital, yet whose work had become increasingly overlooked (and sometimes even dismissed) in this new world of music that was now largely based on formula. A younger listener might potentially never become aware of the remarkable footprints these musicians made unless someone, somewhere not only directed them to it, but additionally pointed out just what made them important in the first place, and why that keeps them relevant even today.
verall, I'm not entirely certain that I accomplished the agenda that I initially established for myself. Most days I believe I have, other days it all seems like bullshit. It all depends on which side of my psyche greets me when I first look in the mirror after climbing out of bed. When I first put this whole thing into action, I wasn't really sure just who might potentially comprise my audience. As it turned out, it wasn't the younger reader I was hoping to enlighten. The vast majority of my readers not surprisingly are comprised of my generational peers, and most of you already know the importance of these artists that I've selected to profile. I guess what I'm saying here is that it increasingly feels as though I'm simply preaching to the choir, and that's essentially like talking to myself. So here we are. After seven years, this, right here, is where we find ourselves. Where's all this heading, you might ask? Well, not to put too fine of a point on it, all things must pass and therefore I've come to the conclusion that it's time for me to close the book on this labor of love called Birds With Broken Wings and hang my hat on something else. Yet I don't quite say that with brawny finality. There's never been a sense of permanence that's run through my life, except perhaps for a lingering undercurrent of sorrow and longing. Despite my often romantic notions, I generally look at life's journey in practical terms, placing aside what no longer provides me with usefulness to then set about on another course. Regrettably, my only repeated mistake has been the illusion that spiritual riches and a better life were always just somewhere over the next ridge. But nothing last forever, and all things must eventually pass. Call it artistic restlessness, or my being spiritually unsettled. Call it growing progressively irrelevant, or maybe some sort of mid-life crisis. Call it the 7 year itch, or whatever you like, but for now I'm simply calling it quits. And move on to what, you wonder? I don't really know yet. Given my broadcasting background, podcasting would seem a logical next step if I were to stick with the subject of my lifelong passion, but then again, I don't think so. Lord knows there are certainly more pressing issues that I might be better off devoting my energies to these days. On top of that, more and more the world just feels like it's changing faster than my own ability to keep pace, and in many ways, it's no longer a world in which I feel connected. Plus I really have a burning desire to curtail the ridiculous amount of time I spend working at the computer and online. It's become the new TV. I've mentioned my love/hate relationship with this before, and many of you can probably relate to that struggle as well. I'm open to any and all suggestions however, just as long as it doesn't involve more time than this has required, or an investment of $75.00 or more. Meanwhile...

here are still plenty of artists I wish that I could've covered. My short list alone could easily fill up another six months of features. I would've liked to have presented more jazz, but I found that for the most part, those jazz posts that I published tended to generate the least amount of interest. Pity. Horace Tapscott would've been interesting to tackle. So would have Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, Muhal Richard Abrams, or John Zorn. As far a rock goes (or rock oriented artists), Steve Forbert might've been fun, as well as Lucinda Williams, John Cale,  and Joni Mitchell too. The under-appreciated, Alejandro Escovedo was additionally high on my list, not to mention Danny O'Keefe (a gifted, yet overlooked songwriter), Dwight Twilley (a remarkable talent), Jimmie Spheeris (gone before he really got started), Emitt Rhodes (a hermetic cult figure and pop genius), Mary Gauthier (toiling on the margins), Jerry Riopelle (few even know his name) - there are just so many, too many in fact. Some musicians like Mitchell however are just too large to approach without a considerable amount of understanding and insight, not to mention the preparation involved. I've been feeling this close on the first two, but not quite there on the last. Some other lifetime perhaps. But of the many pieces that I have published, there are a few of which I feel especially proud - 'Those Romantic Young Men' which showcased Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (and a true story) is one, and Laura Nyro's, 'Oh, Sweet Blindness' is another (also true). Likewise I'm pretty happy overall with my work on 'TR-i (The Rundgren-index),' also 'The River Series,' several of the Sun Ra posts, the 'Biff! Bang! Pow!' compilation, select 'Jazzoetry' posts, 'Biff! Bang! Pow(er) Pop!, Vols.1-3,' and of course 'The Frank Zappa Project/Object Series,' all of which are very special to me.* I'm also pleased to have presented some other great, but criminally underrated artists such as Garland Jeffreys, Kip Hanrahan, Johnny Adams, Annette Peacock, Ronnie Lane, Iain Matthews, Michael Nesmith, Willy DeVille, Roy Wood, Paddy McAloon, Joe Henry, Terry Reid, Roddy Frame, Dave Alvin, the great Doug Sahm, and my beloved NRBQ, not to mention well regarded musicians like Robert Wyatt, Peter Green, Carla Bley, Tom Waits, Joe Henderson, Taj Mahal, and Charles Mingus too. Most of all, I'm happy to have had the opportunity to spotlight those that I feel are under-exposed artists like Ann Arbor's long lost, the Rationals, the Bay Area's, Oranger, Mark Eitzel, Dave Alexander, Eddie Marshall and Diamanda Galas, L.A.'s, Danny Peck and the Build An Ark collective, the Crescent City's, Biff Rose, and the multi-talented, Ben Sidran who makes his home in Madison, Wisconsin. Then of course there are the many others whose names and music have graced these pages. It's like this, if I didn't absolutely believe in everyone that I've chosen to promote here, then I wouldn't have even bothered to write about them. The whole of what I've created here at BWBW represents only a few of the select artists that I consider at the very least 'recommended,' if not 'required' listening for all. I deem them all as among the most vital in popular music over the last 64 years. And lastly, wrapping things up here with a Van Morrison trilogy is also particularly gratifying for me, not only because he's always been a musician for whom I've held the utmost regard, but also because he takes us out on what I believe to be an exceptionally high note, and I hope you'll agree. 
*Of course I myself am partial to a few of the original soundscapes that I created, although apparently most others found them unmemorable.
ith regard to the blog itself, everything (essays and download links) will remain up and running for at least the next 6 to 12 months, but I must point out that I won't be doing any site maintenance whatsoever from this point forward. That means that requests to re-up files will go unanswered. When the existing links expire, that's it, they'll be gone forever. Bottom line? Grab whatever you might be interested in hearing now, before it's too late.

My Appreciations

've worked pretty hard at building a readership here, and although it's not a huge audience, it's certainly a respectable and most appreciative one. I'd sincerely like to thank each and every one of you who took an interest in these pages, and especially to those who made the extra effort to leave behind a comment of gratitude. That, my friends is what a blogger lives for. Through those comments, I've come into contact with a lot of great people, and I've enjoyed all our exchanges immensely. The talented, Johnny Pierre has perhaps been my greatest vocal champion, and is now a cherished friend as well. Thanks for your unwavering support, JP. I hope to actually shake your hand one day. My comrade, Willard, from the extraordinary music blog, 'Willard's Wormholes' has also been a pillar of support to me, and I'm indebted for his willingness to share both his salient insights and gracious bonhomie with me. The 'Captain' is top-drawer and perhaps one of the nicest, most generous guys you'll ever encounter in the music blogging community. I think a lot of you are already regular visitors to his site, but if not, I encourage you to spend more time there. My additional thanks go out to Chris Rugrat from 'The Basement Rug' who was among the very first to encourage my blogging, and he's not too shabby of a journalist either. Cheers, mate. Lastly, my gratitude to Taj Mahal for believing enough in my writing to reach out to me with a request to pen the liner notes for both 'The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal,' and the 'Complete Columbia Albums of Taj Mahal.' It was an honor for me, and certainly a highlight of this journey I've been on over the last seven years. For me, that was perhaps the biggest validation of my efforts here at Birds With Broken Wings. Mahalo, Taj! My best wishes to you all. --- Miles

The Transcendent Music Of Van Morrison, Part Three

  • 9
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, and Christian mysticism. "God, woman, his childhood in Belfast, and those enchanted moments when time stands still," as stated by another. This became 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

  • 19
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)