“I Think I’m Just Going to Listen to This Album First” (March 17th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Distracted by a cat emergency (cats are cooler than humans) and March Madness (I am a species hated in Missouri–a Rock-Chalk-Jay-fuckin’-Hawk), I didn’t get much music in. What I did spin may have been too obviously St. Pat’s-y: Shane MacGowan’s The Snake (see yesterday’s post), The Pogues’ piquantly (and accurately!) titled Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, and Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now (Volumes II-IV). The former two are indisputably A+ records; the latter piggy-backs on a vintage A+ record but staggers in a B+ / A-.

It’s not like I have a story for every single one of the over 10,000 records I own, or have heard–I’ve not thought deeply about it, and maybe I should. But concerning the original It’s Too Late to Stop Now, I do have one that I bet a few readers can relate to. It reveals something about me that I’m mildly proud of, and mildly embarrassed by. It goes a little somethin’ like this:

I was a senior at what was then Southwest Missouri University. Now it’s rather desperately called Missouri State University. I’d been buttonholed for a double-date opportunity by two old hometown friends who’d been dating forever (they’ve been married pretty much since), and the set-up was another hometown friend I’d always had a crush on but…well…timing is a pain, and when I was hot for her, she was otherwise occupied, and when I was hot for her–she was always otherwise occupied. But at this point–I assumed–she was free.

I have never been smooth. For every hetero male I’ve ever known, sexual intimacy appeared a matter of getting from Point A to Point C. For me? Point A to Point Z–with a videogame-like intricacy of obstacles in between, so complicated seeming that, I will freely admit, I just became determined not to give a shit. If the prelude to sex was a Rubic’s Cube–fuck fucking. Don’t get me wrong: this did not make me happy. But it all seemed the law of diminishing returns. Easier to bow to God Onan, you know.

So, back to the double-date. We went out to eat at some quasi-swank place in Springfield (there were no other kinds of high-end places). I recall a relatively pleasurable time, though my mind was literally racing with ideas about records, films, and books, and that mind-spray was just not gonna be tapped at this soiree. Was I thinking about getting laid? Yeah. I was 21. But it was like imagining you were going to survive The Walking Dead; that’s how it felt to me.

We retired to my friends’ apartment. In our dinner small talk, I’d discerned that my date was still seeing her old boyfriend, another hometown friend whom I’d attended every level of elementary with, whom I’d played many years of football with, and who–other then almost breaking my finger for kicks when I was a 10th grader–had always maintained ace-boon relations with me. The lights were dimmed, the wine was poured. The pre-existing couple faded almost imperceptibly into their bedroom, leaving me and my date. She whispered, “I’m going into the guest bedroom, just to relax some. Grab a beer or something and we’ll talk.”

So what does all this have to do with It’s Too Late to Stop Now? As I sat on the precipice of satiating long-tendered lust, my eyes drifted to my friends’ LP stack. If you’re reading this, I know you do it, too. I do it with books, I do it with music–though I can’t see into a hard drive. In the middle of their modest collection was Van’s double-live record. In the good ol’ “red” Rolling Stone Record Guide, Dave Marsh had “meh”-ed it with three (out of five stars). Because I was a dipshit, and was unwisely smitten with Marsh’s bad attitude, I’d taken that as deific judgment. Still, though–I fucking LOVED Astral Weeks and Moondance, and was in deep like with His Band and The Street Choir and St. Dominic’s Preview. How bad could a live Van performance from that period be? Seriously? I heard my date kind of rustling around in the guest bedroom, so I figured I had enough time to put the first disc of It’s Too Late to Stop Now on the turntable–and buy myself some time to figure out whether I’d be cheating on my childhood buddy (oblivious, some 50 miles away), even though his woman was broadcasting serious overtures right to my thick forehead.

Well, if you know the record, Van’s band is fuckin’ crack, the recording quality is superb, Morrison is dialed in (as he tells an enthusiastic audience member, he’s “turned on already!)”, and the damn thing has dynamics out the wazoo. As Van moved from totally committed Bobby Bland and Sam Cooke covers through very idiosyncratic takes on his own quirky originals, I found myself mesmerized. “Three stars? Motherfucker, this is a FIVE!”

Suddenly, I snapped back to reality. There was a woman, who’d been rustling around, and she was in a bedroom ten feet away. She had seemed to be beckoning me hither–what was that, 10 minutes ago? 20? I got up from my position right next to a speaker, tipped into the bedroom–and she was out cold. I paused on the verge of regret–then tipped back out to listen, happily, to the rest of the record. I sat amazed as Van sang through the songs, and put hooks in the audience’s lips–also, that damn Jack Schroer was a devastating secret weapon on sax.

Better than sex? I’d made the call on that. And looking back across 25 years, I not only hold to that assessment but, corny as it may seem in this era when all bets are off, feel assured that my old first-grade buddy didn’t get betrayed. I have no religion–no God compelled me not to breach a relationship that, technically, was sinful in itself. But–talk about a higher calling in the moment? My moral compass was unerring, at least in that case.

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