From Music

Musical Thank You #11: Van Morrison

The Tin Can MailmanSomewhere back when I started writing these “musical thank yous,” I mentioned they would be in a random order. No counting down from the top of my list of favorites; no coherent structure at all. What I have done instead is to bloviate when the urge hits. This usually means when I am stuck in a (good) rut, with one of my faves on heavy rotation.

So here I am, finally, blathering about one artist I have often named as one of my musical Holy Trinity.[1]

Van the Man. It seems as if I have been a fan my whole life. But of course I haven’t. As late as 1981 or 1982, I knew him mostly for the singles “Brown-eyed Girl” and “Moondance.” What changed and who have I to thank for introducing me to him?

The Tin Can MailmanIn this case the “who” is more of a “what.” A shout out to a town (Arcata, California), a county (Humboldt), a climate (damp) and, mostly, to one of my all-time favorite bookstores: The Tin Can Mailman. I am thrilled to learn it is still in business.[2]

(The photo of the bookstore’s exterior used above shows it looking much as I remember it. It seems to be more than a few years old, but it probably does not date back to the 1980s. More recent photos on The Tin Can Mailman website show it looking more freshly-painted than I remember it.)

Astral WeeksHow is this bookstore to blame for the 54 compact discs in my Van Morrison collection today?[3] It’s simple, really. One day in 1981 as I browsed its jumbled shelves, inhaling the intoxicating, musty smells of vintage books, homegrown-scented flannel shirts, and earthy “Humboldt honeys,” the soft sounds of a Van Morrison mix tape permeated my being. I know now that the albums Astral Weeks (right)[4], Moondance and Veedon Fleece were represented in the mix.

It was “Into the Mystic” (off of Moondance) that prompted me to ask an employee for the name of the artist. I picked up a couple of his LPs that day. A sound investment for sure. Here is the song:

If you are spiritual but not necessarily religious (or at least not doctrinaire), Van may be the man for you. His music is steeped in a mystic Christian philosophy. Sometimes specifically Christian but often bringing in other traditions as well: Buddhism, pagan Celtic and Nordic mythology, and more. The best description of his spirituality (as expressed in his music) is also the title of one of his albums, A Sense of Wonder. A case could be made for another of his album titles: No Guru, No Method, No Teacher.

Notes

  1. With Bob Dylan as God, Elvis Costello as the Son, and Van Morrison as the Holy Ghost. In this conceit, the Beatles are the old gods of Olympus. Over the years, my pantheon has evolved considerably. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Graham Parker, Lucinda Williams, Neko Case, and Ron Sexsmith are a few of the singer-songwriters demanding a place at the table. [^]
  2. Its original owner sold it in 1994. It is for sale again. See the bookstore’s About Us page. [^]
  3. At least fourteen of which are live bootleg discs. A few are compilations or official live discs. Still, that leaves more than thirty studio albums. The man has quite a discography. [^]
  4. From Wikipedia:
        “Astral Weeks has appeared in all-time best album polls worldwide, and according to Acclaimed Music, it is the 15th most ranked record in critics’ all-time lists [an interesting list]. In 1978, it was voted the 22nd best album of all time in Paul Gambaccini’s poll of 50 prominent American and English rock critics. It was also ranked second greatest by Mojo in 1995, 19th by Rolling Stone in 2003, and 3rd by The Times. In 1998, it was voted the 9th greatest album of all time in a “Music of the Millennium” poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4 and The Guardian … [the list goes on]“. [^]

 

Musical Thank Yous:
DATE TITLE
08/19/2016 #11: Van Morrison
04/11/2016 #10: Conor Oberst
01/29/2016 #9: Reina del Cid
10/01/2015 #8: Ron Sexsmith and Neko Case
05/13/2015 #7: Elvis Costello
10/09/2014 #6: Longhair Music
08/27/2014 #5: Neil Young
06/19/2014 #4: Arcade Fire
03/14/2014 #3: Mike Doughty
02/10/2014 #2: Lucinda Williams
02/07/2014 #1: Richard Thompson