Van Morrison, his pooch, and Carol Guida

November, has gone and past, but its effects still linger. Physically, the body feels the languidity of the environment taking over. Emotionally, the fog of memories and an overabundance of pressures; whether work, relationship, or fraternal, start to weigh on you. Spiritually, you attempt to draw on the better angels in life, to counteract the dark ones hovering around everyone’s shoulders. Its a month to take stock of what you’ve got, and what you’ve lost. When the world starts to get that much colder, doesn’t it feel that much better to get home? You may search everywhere to find that place of comfort, but once your heart feels it, its your home, and you’re prepared to weather the winter ahead. In the November of our life, before the gray of December closes it away, we want to be right we started. For me, and this blog, it was Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece.

When I started this blog, way back in April, all I could think about was how I couldn’t get to November. Around November, I’d have a seed of an idea. This idea would be that we have a common language, music, that can let someone who has heard a Captain Beefheart feel that same spirit moving, as one who heard a SOS Band, a Carlos Paredes, or a Shelagh McDonald. Hopefully, by then readers would be ready to take a journey to discover England’s new folk music. When you share your experience with the music, the bit of history that might explain it better, to someone who maybe hasn’t encountered it before, you could commute to them those same emotions you’ve felt when you heard those same songs. As the poster, although its been a difficult routine to maintain, I’ve felt nothing but renewed love for this music I get to rediscover with you. In the end, all you can hope for, is that a link is made and, if it isn’t, you move forward to find another couple.

The first time I heard Veedon Fleece I was a young, desperately broke college kid trying to understand why I was attending college in the middle of nowhere: Alpine, TX. The majority of the kids attending this school came from ranches and cities like Fort Stockton, Monahans, or Presidio, TX who probably were experiencing the opposite of what I was. For myself, I was just trying to comprehend this oasis in the middle of the wilderness.

Alpine, TX
Many times I would just fire up Soulseek and start trolling for albums I never had the money to afford, but read about when I was a much younger inquisitive kid. When I was younger I’d go to the library to read Rolling Stone or Spin, sometimes those books with 1000 albums you must hear before you die etc. just imagining one day listening to them. Before college, all I had the luxury of doing, was taping songs off the oldies station and sussing out in my head what these albums must sound like.

I remember vividly the first time I heard “Sweet Thing” on the radio. Back then, when I remained silent at the end, feeling the weight of the song, and feared moving the dial since I might miss hearing who sang that song, I realized the power of a sound I hadn’t encountered before. It was folk music, but I didn’t know enough to put that idea in words, let alone comprehend its notion. It was Van Morrison, I then found out, and I was not ready, monetarily and emotionally, enough to receive him. As a senior in highschool, when I finally received a copy of Astral Weeks, from my local library, for a brief two weeks I dissected that CD into my very being. I’d listen to that opening bass shuffle from “Astral Weeks“, open up my window, and stare out at those not-so distant Franklin Mountains from my bedroom, and contemplate about those grown man things infiltrating a young teen’s headspace. Although, I never saw the rolling hills of Van’s Northern Ireland, I could feel the pastoral abstraction of his music explaining some of those feelings to me.

El Paso, TX at dusk.

Then as a young adult leaving home, to find some version of myself, away from my comfort zone…I was lost in the abstraction of this whole new world. Far from my family, I’d struggle to make friends and felt further out of place from my peers. Music became, at times, the only gateway to experience another time, in another place…so far away. As much as I loved the serene beauty of the Big Bend area. As much as the music I was discovering then reminds me of the many natural, beautiful things I saw when I cranked up my cheap-ass computer speakers and stared out into Alpine’s beautiful horizon…I didn’t feel at home. None of the R&B, world, jazz, or rock music I was discovering could reconcile this feeling I was having. Astral Weeks, as much as I loved it, was reminding me of things I missed. When I finally heard Veedon Fleece and was struck immediately by that beguiling yearning sound coming out of “Fair Play” I knew I had to follow my heart and pack up my things, as soon as I could, and go back to El Paso to regroup. I didn’t quite comprehend everything Van was singing about, but I comprehended the feeling it left me. Only now, I comprehend why it came to be.

Veedon Fleece

In 1973, Van Morrison was experiencing the same things he felt the first time he escaped to the U.S. to make a go at striking it big. In 1968, Astral Weeks was the culmination in sound and spirit of those feelings he felt being so far away from home. Its mix of stream-of-consciousness lyrical prose, folk melodies, and jazz abstraction recalled all the vast influences Van had struggled to present up until then. At once Celtic and at once Dixieland, no other album ever will quite sound the same.

Veedon Fleece album cover.

Rather than try to mine that same territory, Van continued to explore other realms, outside of his original sound. Heavy soul and blues explorations like Moondance and His Band the Street Choir, begat equally brilliant explorations with Americana like Tupelo Honey or hard funk like Saint Dominic’s Preview, all great releases worthy of your time. Hard Nose the Highway a vague distillation of all these previous sounds, much indebted to freer Jazz, started to point at little things crumbling away from Van. In late 1973, His last primal scream before his release was the brilliant It’s Too Late to Stop Now live album which gave all his fans (of any stripe) exactly what they wanted, the fire breathing, magnetic Van they heard about, but never saw in the flesh.

However, by then internally know one knew that Van was going through great pain. Having recently divorced his wife Janet Planet Rigsbee who you see accompany him, on horseback, on the cover of Tupelo Honey he’d decided to head back to Ireland (after a 6-year absence) to find inspiration for a new album. There he traveled with his new fiancee Carol Guida and rediscovered his own ties to the country.

Influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, Oscar Wilde, Henry D. Thoreau, among others he started to feel that same feeling he felt that first time he created Astral Weeks. His lyrics now matching that more stream of consciousness process first heard then. Horns and brass, were being replaced by woodwinds and strings, his arrangements were much more free flowing than anything prior to this release. Something about the air of his land rekindled a sound he had forgotten how to attain, for so long. You can go from the modal jazz-folk of “Fair Play”, by far my favorite track, to the droning Irish eire ballad finishing the album, “Country Fair” and everywhere in between to hear how different it sounded up to everything he had released up to then. This is the Van we knew then, only now feeling at home again.

Van titled the album Veedon Fleece for a reason, for him it’s a nonsense phrase but clues lie in the songs and the sound. Aren’t there times when all you really need is something that comforts you? When I hear those first Impressionistic notes from “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights,” I remember that beautiful Alpine, TX I didn’t give a fair shake to, and an El Paso, TX I can’t wait to see again, in due time. For some people, it might be somewhere else. Doesn’t November just remind you that home is where the heart is, no matter the flux? In the good times, like today, home is right here where Veedon Fleece is playing in the background.

Listen to Veedon Fleece at Youtube.

Bonus track, a true one at that from Veedon Fleece, the soul-stirring “Twilight Zone” live at Montreux 1974: