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