Today’s listening was inspired by my terrific experience with the above book. I needed a push to read it; there have been a plethora of books lately that look like this but end up having scant meat on the bone. Thanks to my friends Jeffrey and Ken, I was given no choice but to check it out from the local library and get crackin’, and let me tell you true, it’s a trip worth taking. I’m a bit tired of Van the Man, I’ve read deeply about ’68, and I wasn’t sure I needed to read an entire book about the city of Boston written by a rock musician, but I’ve learned something new and exciting every page, my mind has actually been blown a time or five, and Walsh’s tone and style are right up my alley (why the hell am I always lining up strings of clauses???). What’s the dealio? This is a book that deserves to have nothing spoiled, so let me just say that Walsh pulls back the skin of that year and reveals what very much appears to be a nervous system of imaginative radicalism (in lifestyle, in media, in art, in more) that made Beantown twitch, vault, and sometimes crash. The number of interconnections between innovators and visionaries, between locations and events past, present, and future, was almost enough to drive me to superstitious thinking, something which Walsh definitely doesn’t indulge but finds other reasons for. Who you gonna meet? Besides Morrison? Timothy Leary, Mel Lyman (if you don’t know him, you’re gonna), Michelangelo Antonioni, Howard Zinn, The Velvet Underground, James Brown, The Boston Strangler (perhaps), Bruce Conner, Edgar Cayce, Ram Dass, MLK, Peter Wolf, The Black Panthers…ok, that’s all I’m offering…it’s a must-read, so get on it.
Oh, yes–the listening! Pretty simple: I listened to Morrison’s Astral Weeks–for the 2nd time since I started the book. As a young man, it gripped me tightly, before and after I read Lester Bangs’ essay on it, which has been known to convert a listener. The searching mood, mysterious and poetic lyrics, and enigmatic and sensitive singing spoke directly to my 18-year-old soul (I think it ’80 when I first dug it). In addition, it seemed to tap into a world far, far different than I was used to in its concrete description, but very similar to what I’d been feeling emotionally (I may be repeating myself)–particularly what was being brought on by a sharpened awareness of mortality on my part. Over the last 15 years or so, though it’s one of those “fine wine albums” you reach for when you need them, the lyrics and singing haven’t really reached me like they used to–I’m less miserable and more rational. When I have selected it, I’ve listened to it with jazz ears (Richard Davis, Connie Kay, Jay Berliner and even John Payne always reward that approach), and focused on its very personal forms. However, cranking the album up and getting into Morrison’s vocals anew, I was reminded of one reason I’ve always been amazed by him: who else do you know who can not just get away with so many modes of singing, but actually sell them, masterfully at that? You name it: punk (that’s what many of his performances with Them are: “One Two Brown Eyes”?), rock and roll, spirituals, jazz, blues, poetry (singing that is like walking in a creek on slippery rocks), soul, rhythm & blues, ballads (both traditional and invented), incantation, vocalese, pop (bubbly damn pop!), dream texts, chants, country & western, hell, Sesame Street! Ok, maybe he can’t MC, and I don’t want him to take that as a challenge, but you get my point. And on Astral Weeks alone–is there another classic album in history that sounds least like both its immediate predecessor and follow-up?–he effortlessly shifts from mode to mode, though beyond “ruminations” I don’t really know what to call any of ’em but “The Way That Young Lovers Do,” which he just self-covered this year on his neat album with Joey DeFrancesco. Might I suggest you may be due for some fine wine listening yourself?
The Story of Them–Though on these records they are not really a band, for British Invasion punks I often prefer Them to the Stones. Note: Morrison’s early multi-mode acumen!
Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda–Have I mentioned how great this daring Cajun record is? Yes I have. And guess what, in case you were wondering? It’s got legs.