Big article on AKA VTM

I walked into the Wicked Chicken the other evening only to hear the sound of Mr Van Morrison singing 8 minutes of And The Healing Has Begun from Into the Music [1979]. An odd experience, to be sure.

I don't know if you're familiar with this track or album, but I wore out the magnetic strip on my cassette tape copy, back in the early 80s. It is a work I love and, hithertofore, my interaction with it has been entirely personal and private, in that I have never before heard it played in public.

I always laugh at the seriousness and ridiculousness of his chat up lines (the bit about the 'drop of port' is delivered hilariously, in my opinion)

Spoken: Wait a minute, listen, listen,
I didn't know you stayed up so late.
I just got home from a gig and I saw
you standing on the street.
Just let me move on up to this window-sill a lot yeah, I got some sherry.
You want a drop of port.
Let's move behind this door here.
Let's move on up behind this letter-box behind this door.
Let's go in your front room,
let's play this Muddy Waters record you got there,
if you just open up a little bit
and let me ease on in this backstreet jellyroll….

Oh, what a charmer!

The Chicken continued playing the rest of the album (It's All in the Game/You Know What They're Writing About), and I continued staring glassily into space as I recalled every nook and cranny of Van's aural landscape, with the magnificence of Tony Marcus' dizzying violin lines spiraling off into oblivion.

Maybe I was wrong all these years? Everyone was secretly absorbing the genius of Van's last great wandering album B-side, the final album in his stunning 70s run of classic after masterpiece after magnum opus (after two slight, ahem, disappointments).

Consider these gems:

Moondance [1970]
Street Choir [1971]
Tupelo Honey [1971]
St Dominic's Preview [1972]
Hard Nose the Highway [1973]
It's Too Late To Stop Now (live) [1974]
Veedon Fleece [1974]

Yes, he is now a grumpy red-faced old curmudgeon whose voice has descended into self-parody, but if all you know of Van is Brown Eyed Girl and the Best of… albums, you don't know the real Van, the secret Van that real fans love and revere. If you're at all curious, you simply must hear each/any of those crystalised moments of inspired creativity.

As a kid, the first Van songs I heard were his mantra-stompers like Moonshine Whiskey, St Dominic's Preview, and Kingdom Hall. I loved them but didn't know why. The first song that really awoke within me a 'sense of wonder' regarding Van's artistry was 'And The Healing Has Begun.' Between the tension and release, the build up and take down, the roaring and whispering–somewhere in there is the real Van, who can reach those places to which lesser singers can only hope to fake a connection.

Then there are the two songs he sang at The Last Waltz with The Band in 1976, according to Greil Marcus he 'took the show by the throat' and 'turned the show around.' Van's entrance singing the verse of Tura-Lura-Lural: That's an Irish Lullaby is greeted with cheers from the crowd, whose enthusiasm had been flagging at this point.

Who first touted the absurd idea of Van's singing a hokey Bing Crosby Oirish ballad is anyone's guess. But his dead slow gospel ballad rendition makes for one of the finest recordings I have ever had the privilege to admire.

Unbelievably, just before the show, Van had an attack of stage fright (he hadn't sung live in two years). He ran back to his hotel room, ostensibly to change into his sparkled purple jumpsuit(!) but was finally bullied onstage by his manager. Then, despite mopping the floor with the audience, he dropped his mic and stormed off at the end of Caravan, convinced that he'd bombed.

(By the way, it was after this very performance that Robbie Robertson called out 'Van the Man!' for the first time, thereby giving Morrison his super-cool moniker for life.)

These are the backstage stories real Van fans love to hear–and there are more of us than ever these days. Incidentally, I have now discovered that it was Glen Hansard that was responsible for dragging Into The Music back into the light since he recently sang a very tasty version of And The Healing Has Begun in the cracking film Once.

But do yourself a favour, get to know the real Van.

[recently unearthed footage of Tura-Lura]