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Posted by on Dec 14, 2019 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays | 0 comments

NFL 2019: Week #15

 

roulette wheel

 

One of the many things about how sports betting is covered in the media that drives me crazy is the careless use of lazy terminology, including “sharps” and “smart money” and “wiseguys.”

There’s no such thing.

Sure, some bettors are more sophisticated than others.  In some cases, they work harder.  But the only way to determine if one side is is preferred by so-called sharps is to watch and see if the line moves after a “sharp” leaves the window (or the online app).  If the line doesn’t move, the sportsbook doesn’t respect the bettor.  Mark that down.  It’s that simple.  So, the next time you read some bogus article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal about a “sharp bettor” being on one side or the other, you can dismiss it, that is, unless the sportsbook then adjusted the line based on that wager.

And even if the line moves, it still doesn’t mean all that much.  I did my homework on this.  In fact, some time ago I tracked a decade worth of line moves in all sports and there’s essentially no value at riding or fading the move — more on this another time.  When you read a quote about a “respected bettor” or something similar making a large wager on a side or total, you can be assured that’s quote is a fluffer.  Big bettors tend to have egos.  They like seeing their wagers respected and mega-sized bets being referenced in the media.  Most of it is garbage.  Meaningless.  Fluff intended to keep the dope sucker-hooked to the same book.

The most ridiculous falsehood about sports betting is the mass misperception of big bettors, as though a huge bet equates to wisdom or inside information.  A big bet with lots of zeros means absolutely nothing, except that the bettor has a lot more money to gamble with than the rest of us.  I’ve known many terrible gamblers who bet $5,000 a game who lose half a million a year and also know some winning handicappers who bet $100 a game.  There is no correlation between bet size and smart handicapping.  None whatsoever.  

For example, last week, it was reported that some clueless idiot bettor here in Las Vegas wagered a whopping $220,000 on a football game about five minutes before kickoff (he took the Buffalo Bills at the worst possible number).  His bet ended up winning, but it could have just as easily lost.  Anyone betting that kind of money and taking the worst number possible at the last minute, especially when a half-point or full-point was available elsewhere (and earlier in the week) is a moron.  Why these big bets get reported in the media is baffling to me.  Most of these gamblers are losers no different from the regular betting public.

Here’s a plea:  Stop giving these bettors, these worthless articles, and these insider reports any weight.  They’re about as meaningful as a drunk millionaire spewing chips and betting roulette numbers.  They mean nothing.  Here’s an alternative idea:  I’d much rather read articles on gamblers who bet wisely, and hammer out 55 percent winners year in and year out.  Show me a sports gambler who makes $60,000 a year on average or more, with little or no variance.  That’s a winner.  Not some dope with some outside source of income who bets two-hundred grand at the last second on an NFL game and gets lucky.  Spare me, please.  No one fucking cares.

Yeah, this is a pet peeve of mine.  Can you tell?

Now, on to NFL Week #15…..

 

**************************************************************

2019 NFL WAGERING RECORD

Wins — Losses — Pushes          47 — 46 — 1

Starting Bankroll:   $ 8,398.

Current Bankroll:   $7,291.  (- $1,107.)

Last Week’s Results (Week #14):         8 — 5 — 0  (+ $615.)

**************************************************************

 

THIS WEEK’S WAGERS:  This week, I made 13 wagers.  I’m laying $3,227. to win $2,950.  Here are the plays (each wager is listed at -110 unless noted otherwise):

Tampa Bay / Detroit OVER 45.5 — Risking $275 to win $250
Chicago +4 vs. Green Bay — Risking $275 to win $250
New England / Cincinnati UNDER 41 — Risking $275 to win $250
Houston + 3 vs. Tennessee — Risking $275 to win $250
Denver / Kansas City UNDER 44.5 — Risking $275 to win $250
Denver +10 vs. Kansas City (-120) — Risking $300 to win $250
First Half:  Denver +6 vs. Kansas City — Risking $110 to win $100
Miami +3 vs. NY Giants — Risking $275 to win $250
First Half:  Miami +2.5 vs. NY Giants — Risking $110 to win $100
Buffalo +1 vs. Pittsburgh — Risking $275 to win $250
Cleveland / Arizona OVER 49 — Risking $275 to win $250
Atlanta / San Francisco UNDER 48.5 — Risking $275 to win $250
Indianapolis +9 vs. New Orleans — Risking $275 to win $250

 

THOUGHTS ON EACH GAME:

Tampa Bay -5.5 at Detroit — Total 46

Tampa games tend to be high-volatile outcomes, with the Bucs scoring well above the league total in points, but often giving up more on defense.  Indeed, the Bucs have been an OVER machine, eclipsing the total in last 10/11.  Currently riding a surprising though meaningless 3-game winning streak, look for the Bucs to continue the ariel assault against an opponent that’s terrible against the pass.  This total is the next-to-lowest total of the season for Tampa because there’s little faith in the Lions offense, which has struggled in backup QBs since Matt Stafford’s injury.  However, back home again in what will be perceived as a winnable game, look for the Lions to exploit Tampa’s defensive secondary, which ranks 31st in the NFL against the pass.  Given these two teams are a combined 18-8 to the OVER this season, it’s a little puzzling as to why this total isn’t just a bit higher.  The dome and rubber grass at Ford Field only helps perfect conditions for these offenses.  I got this number at OVER 45.5, but it’s risen to 46 in most places.

Philadelphia -6 at Washington — Total 39.5

I’ve lost all faith in the Eagles, which have been a glaring disappointment this season.  Four straight non-covers are grounds for skipping these underachievers, especially as divisional road favorites.  It’s never good to indiscriminately lay points in division games on the road favorite, and Philadelphia sounds off as an even louder alarm bell.  Credit Washington for three straight covers.  Some might be tempted to take a generous number of points, but not me.  I have some interest in the OVER here since the total is lower than average.  Eagles could click for one game and run up the score if everything goes right.  If you can capture the win on 40, the OVER looks to be worth a look.  But I’m passing for now on an official recommendation.

Chicago at Green Bay -4.5 — Total 40.5

I took the division dog here, much as it pains me to bet on the offensively-inept Bears.  This is much more of a fade Green Bay wager, based on some metrics that reveal the Packers are far closer to a mediocre team than their 10-3 record indicates.  This is a choppy inconsistent Packers team that’s ranked 23rd offensively in yardage gained and 22nd defensively in yards allowed playing versus a top-10 ranked defense (Chicago).  In a game projected to be 15 degrees at kickoff where points could be at a premium, I like the +4 points.  Note that I did get a bad number here, since I bet this at +4, under the mindset that the line could drop to +3.5 based on frigid weather.  I wish I had +4.5, but still think the Bears are the right side at +4.

New England -10 at Cincinnati — Total 41

This is a betting angle I uncovered from data mining which basically says take the UNDER in games forecasted to be blowouts (double-digit lines) late in the season.  I won’t give away all the details, but this has been a solid 58 percent winner over the past 20 years with more than 100 trials.  The theory is — the favorite won’t exert any extra offensive energy and facing an outmatched opponent will simply be content with the win, especially on the road where these percentages are higher.  New England has struggled offensively the past month, which helps this UNDER play.  And the Patriots also field the NFL’s top-ranked defense.  Cincy has gone 8-4-1 to the UNDER this season while the Patriots have been an UNDER machine, going 9-4 UNDER the total, which has pushed this total way down to 41.  Cincy averages just 15 points a game this season and they’ll probably be lucky to reach that number in this game versus a very motivated New England defense.  It’s also time we adjust for the fact this isn’t the same New England team that blows opponents out by five touchdowns.  I’ll ride all these factors with the UNDER in this game.

Houston at Tennesee -3 — Total 51.5

The entire NFL handicapping world seems to be on the OVER in this game and I was tempted to join the crowd at 51.  Titans have crushed the number for seven straight weeks, going 7-0 to the OVER since Tannehill took control at QB.  But the number is up to 51.5 now, and something tells me total — way higher than any Tennessee game this season (average total of Titans games with Tannehill starts has been 44) — is an overreaction.  Something else to look at:  These two teams will play each other in two of the final three weeks.  So, with first place in the division at stake, I expect a more conservative game plan than might be forecast by the number.   I’m also taking the Texans plus a field goal for the game because I expect this to be close and go down to the final minute.  Note that Houston was humiliated last week in what perhaps was a look-ahead situation (versus Denver), but in every game this season the Texans lost, they came back and won the following week (a perfect 4-0).  Hoping to see a lower-scoring close game between two rivals competing for the playoff birth in the division.  So give me the dog plus the points and UNDER a very high total.

Seattle -6 at Carolina — Total 49.5

I expect most of the chump money will be on Seattle here and it’s hard to make any case for betting the Panthers who appear to have mailed in their season.  But someone scares me about this matchup since the Panthers have scored 20+ points in three straight games and they face an opponent at a serious travel disadvantage.  Seattle got thumped last week in LA, in an embarrassing loss.  Seahawks have also surrendered an alarming number of points the last eight games — 27, 26, 51, 20, 24, 29, 34, 29, and 40.  Those are ugly numbers, very un playoff-like.  I want no part of a team that plays an early start across three time zones and can’t seem to stop anybody.  If anything, the Panthers are probably the right side here if you decided to bet the game.

Denver at Kansas City -9.5 — Total 45

I have three wagers riding on this game, and I’ll try to explain the reason for each.  Admittedly, the Chiefs look like a Super Bowl contender again after rattling off three straight wins, including last week’s statement victory at New England.  That’s a major emotional hill to come down from and Kansas City could be in for a flat spot, schedule-wise.  Let’s credit Denver here which has covered in 6 of last 7  with the lone misfire at Buffalo, which fields a top defense.  No one ranks the Chiefs in the upper echelon of NFL defenses, so I’m looking for Denver to enjoy some success in the time of possession battle, keeping the ball away from QB Mahomes and Co.  Broncos’ defense is well above average and should keep them in the game with any effort that matches their season averages.   I realize it’s somewhat cherry-picking of data, but the last nine weeks, both of these teams are 5-4 straight up.  Getting +10 juiced up to -120 (which I found) looks to be a solid play.  I’m also taking the UNDER based on my data angle about games forecasted as blowouts being good UNDER bets late in the season.  One final sweetener to the betting trifecta is a small wager on the First Half and Denver at +6.  The Broncos are getting too many points here, as evidenced by a better than average first-half performance in games this season, and getting a push on the key number of +6.  Weather could help the dog and UNDER here as well — forecast at 26 degrees and foggy.

Miami at NY Giants -3.5 — Total 45.5

NY Giants off the short week and a tough loss at Philadelphia are at a slight disadvantage here, especially versus an opponent that hasn’t given up, covering in two straight, and 7 of their last 9.  I also like Miami having played in this stadium last week (a heartbreaking loss to Jets due to getting fucked by a horrendous PI call in the final minute).  I have a suspicion Miami can’t wait to take this field again after losing that game 22-21, and facing an opponent that might not be as well-rounded at the Jets.  I bet NY Giants last week based on part on Eli Manning returning at QB, but that swan song novelty may wear off quickly here after the rush of a rare MNF appearance.  Giants have lost NINE straight game, yet are laying a field goal.  That’s probably the correct number based on the perception of Miami.  But in a game between two losing teams going nowhere, I like taking the +3, especially given what happened last week to the Dolphins.  I’m also taking the underdog for a small wager in the first half based on some motivational edge, getting +2.5.

Buffalo at Pittsburgh -1 — Total 37

All I hear is how great the Steelers defense is — but who have they played?  Total crap.  Steelers backup QB Hodges will face his toughest foe in weeks facing the Bills, who are 9-4 and on the verge of locking up a Wild Card spot (they could still win the division if New England collapses).  Buffalo brings in a more seasoned offense, looks to be well-coached, clearly has at least as solid a defense, and a better W-L record, and is the underdog.  I can’t resist the temptation to bet the team with some slight advantages.  Buffalo seems to like the highway, as well — going 5-1 this season on the road.

Jacksonville at Oakland -6.5 — Total 46.5

The Jaguars have quit.  There’s no other way to put it.  I would need double digits to even consider wagering on this team, which might now be the worst lineup in the NFL.  They’ve lost each of the last five games (all non-covers) by an average of 20 points.  This line does seem a little low, considering the ineptitude of Jacksonville.  That said, Oakland has proven to be a fraud.  They were 6-4 four weeks ago and appeared to be in playoff contention before getting destroyed each of the last three weeks, nearly as badly as Jacksonville.  Some say Oakland will rise to the occasion in their final game ever at the Coliseum, but seriously — if this team couldn’t get up in their previous two home games with something to play for, what makes anyone think they’ll flip a switch this week?  I see the argument for betting the Raiders based purely on emotion, but that’s not enough for me to lay nearly a touchdown on these frauds.  Pass.

Atlanta at San Francisco -10.5 — Total 48.5

Another in my data-driven UNDER plays based on an out-of-whack line and high total late in the season.  It’s scary to bet the UNDER in a Falcons’ game given how porous the defense is, but the 49ers could be licking some wounds and be content with what should be an easy “W” after playing two of the toughest road games of the season back-to-back.  San Francisco’s defense should also rebound after a weak effort in New Orleans last week.  I’m hoping the 49ers shut down Atlanta and get away with an ugly win that falls under this number.

Cleveland -3 at Arizona — Total 49.5

I got this total at 49 but the number is now climbing.   Arizona surrenders the most yards per game and also rank last in pass defense.  They have surrendered 21+ points in every game this season.  In a game where Cleveland should be looking to build some confidence and the coach’s job could be at risk, one expects the Browns to try and roll up some style points.  Meanwhile, gets their softest defensive opponent after a brutal stretch of opponents since early Nov. having to face SFO (twice), NOR, PIT, and LAR.  CLE is a major dropoff for an offense looking to get back on track.  Also, as my capping friend Stephen Nover pointed out (credit where it’s due):  “As a side note, there is bad blood between QB Mayfield and Cardinals head man Kliff Kingsbury stemming from when Mayfield played for Kingsbury at Texas Tech before he transferred to Oklahoma.  So both teams will be looking to run up a score with no letdowns.”  I’ll play OVER this number with two teams out of the playoff race, but still with lots of motivation to put up points against below-average defenses.

LA Rams -1.5 at Dallas — Total 48.5

Some bettors might keep drinking Cowboy kool-aid and there’s a reason for the wager on Dallas as a home dog.  On practically every metric, Dallas is among the league leaders — yardage gained, point differential, yardage allowed, etc.  But the Cowboys haven’t defeated a team with a winning record this season, going a horrific 0-6.  What a dichotomy of decisions on the team and game.  LA Rams defense is back in top form, allowing 17 or less in 6 of last 7.  Wade Phillips will have no problem with motivation for his defensive unit returning to Dallas, where he coached for five seasons.  Still, I don’t trust the Rams on offense, which I view as soft.  Dallas is in an absolute dogfight here at home and everything should point to a strong effort.  The added 10-day rest (Dallas played last Thursday night) also helps the Cowboys.  Way too many variables to predict here, although I lean strongly to the UNDER.  Cowboys also replaced their kicker this past week, which could be a factor, only adding to the unpredictability.

SNF:  Minnesota -1.5 at LA Chargers — Total 45

It’s got to be the Vikings here at a cheap price, which seems the obvious pick at struggling San Diego-Carson-Los Angeles.  Prior to last week’s automatic checkbox win over Jacksonville last week, Chargers had lost three straight.  No home-field edge.  I would need at least +3 to take the Chargers and even think I’d give it a hard reconsideration.  Nonetheless, Minnesota remains too inconsistent for my betting tastes at 7-6 ATS.  With Packers on deck next week, I’m concerned Minnesota might be in a look ahead situation.  No play for me on this game.

MNF:  Indianapolis at New Orleans -8.5 — Total 46.5

The Colts have collapsed and are essentially done for the season, but I think that makes them more dangerous now.  This remains a well-coached slightly above-average team that is capable of beating anyone (wins versus TEN, KC, and HOU this season — all playoff contenders).  Saints will be up emotionally for a home MNF game and certainly could run up the score in a blowout.  But they’ve also failed to cover their last three games in the Superdome and have occasionally come up flat, as home struggles versus Carolina and Atlanta showed in the last month.  Getting +9 is enough points for me to play the dog in a season that’s been very good to road pups getting points.  Saints also face some injuries and with two road games coming up to close the season, I look for Sean Peyton’s team to be content with a “W” here turning the game into a shootout like we saw last week in the 49er thriller.

 

CONTEST WINNER ONLY/NO POINTSPREAD [$200 entry fee]

Season Record To-Date:  121-87-1

 

BD /SM INVESTMENT GROUP [37 persons Active]

Investor  —- Amount —- Pct. of Total Fund
Heldar $ 211 2.51%
Watanabe $ 100 1.19%
Peter Lucier $ 1,000 11.91%
Kramer $ 302 3.60%
Finbar O’Mahoney $ 200 2.38%
Howler $ 100 1.19%
Linda Keenan $ 500 5.95%
John Pickels $ 100 1.19%
Patrick Kirwan $ 100 1.19%
Sean McGinnis $ 300 3.57%
Jim Anderson $ 252 3.00%
Chad Holloway $ 200 2.38%
Eric Schneller $ 500 5.95%
Randy Collack $ 351 4.18%
Dave Lawful $ 100 1.19%
Paul Harris $ 1,000 11.91%
Dan Goldman $ 51 0.61%
Sharon Goldman $ 51 0.61%
Ken QB $ 102 1.21%
Chuck Weinstock $ 102 1.21%
Peter Taki Caldes $ 102 1.21%
Kenny Shei $ 51 0.61%
Jeff Deitch $ 51 0.61%
Kevin Un $ 128 1.52%
Becca Kerl $ 22 0.26%
Corey Imsdahl $ 102 1.21%
Don Bingo Rieck $ 102 1.21%
Jeff Siegel $ 1,000 11.91%
Stephen Cohen (payment pending) $ 100 1.19%
John Reed $ 114 1.36%
George Wattman $ 51 0.61%
Mickdog Patterson $ 51 0.61%
Larry Lubliner $ 100 1.19%
Grizz Berentsen $ 100 1.19%
Edmund Hack $ 100 1.19%
Bob Feduniak $ 500 5.95%
David “Quick” Horowitz $ 102 1.21%
TOTAL $ 8,398 100.00%

$200 Invested into Pick Contest (see above)

__________

 

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Posted by on Dec 10, 2019 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews | 0 comments

The Van Morrison MasterClass: Week 1

 

van morrison

 

“I write songs.  Then, I record them.  And, later, maybe I perform them on stage.  That’s what I do.  That’s my job.  Simple.”

 

He’s been called a genius.  A poet.  A mystic.  A sage.  An original.  A nonconformist.  A hermit.  A curmudgeon.  A misanthrope.  And a boor. 

Indeed, all these tags apply to Van Morrison, arguably the most enigmatic of all popular singer-songwriters of the past half-century. 

So far, he’s released 53 albums, including 71 singles — yet, he’s never had a top-five hit.  Now, in his mid-70’s, he continues touring and performing at a tireless pace — although, he’s a self-admitted introvert in an extrovert’s profession.  He’s been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and even been knighted by the Queen of England — however, he loathes doing interviews and the all-too-predictable questions he’s asked as to what any of his songs mean.  He gets mentioned in the same breath as the Irish masters — including Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, Yeats, Moore, and Beckett — while bristling at any of the accruments of such lofty comparison, opting instead to simply be called “a soul singer.”

“I don’t feel comfortable doing interviews,” Morrison snaps.  “My profession is music and writing songs.  That’s what I do.  I like to do it, but I hate to talk about it.”

Since Sir Van Morrison hates to talk about his own music, the inevitable void has been filled by a cottage industry of writers and critics all over the world willing to proxy for him.  Including — yours truly.  

Consider this latest series, which I’ve titled the “Van Morrison MasterClass” precisely such an exercise.  It is as much an attempt at exploring Van Morrison’s rich musical legacy as a hope and a promise of new discoveries.

— ND

 

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS:  WEEK 1

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS — DAY 1

“You’ve Got the Power” (1972)

This was a stunning personal discovery. It’s the B-side of a single “Jackie Wilson Said,” the minor hit off the 1972 album, St. Dominic’s Preview, charting at #61 on Billboard. This flip-side chestnut is obscure and mostly forgotten, even by loyal Vanatics.  Reference Point:  Van fans are known as “Vanatics.”

“You’ve Got the Power” layers Memphis horns atop the Stax sound, with Van’s vocal energy as not so much the lead as the accompaniment to a rich stew of raw musical alchemy. As is characteristic of much of Van’s studio work (making this both amazing and maddening)….both “Jackie Wilson Said” and “You’ve Got the Power” were recorded in a single take.

Here’s a short recount of the session, recorded in Mill Valley, CA:

“Morrison’s band had only rehearsed the song once before the session, which led to the parts being rearranged in the studio. Despite the initial problems, the band recorded it in one take: “At the end [we] all stood in silence: had [we] got it in one go? Van called for another take, but stopped a few bars in because he felt it wasn’t working. ‘I think we’ve got it.”

Have a listen to this rare gem, which clocks in a 3:30. Headphones recommended, crank it up loud, and sing it strong.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS — DAY 2

“Days Like This” (1995)

“Day’s Like This” is the title track from the 1995 album which peaked at #5 in the UK, but sold poorly in the US, due perhaps to mixed reviews and a diverse collection of songs scattered across multiple musical genres, with tracks that were inspiring to some but alienating to others.

Although the song wasn’t a hit single when released, it’s since become a widely-played and well-known gem on the “soundtrack of life,” commonly played while boarding airplanes, heard in restaurants and shopping malls, and even in a few movies, including As Good As It Gets.

The song was even chosen as the official anthem of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement towards the end of the infamous “Troubles” period which terrorized much of divided Belfast, Van’s boyhood home.

“Day’s Like This” features an upbeat message, Van’s gruff vocals, and a marvelously catchy chorus that’s easy to hum along to. Van also takes the lead solo on saxophone.

When President Bill Clinton visited Belfast in Nov. 1995, himself a “Vanatic,” he expressed interest in performing the song onstage with Van at a live stadium concert with 60,000 people. It would have been fun to see President Clinton, a saxophone player, joining Van in concert. But the Secret Service vetoed the idea citing security concerns, especially given the threats in Belfast.

The song also includes singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy on backing vocals. Van’s musical anchorman, Pee Wee Ellis stands in on tenor sax.

Van was never part of the so-called MTV generation. He utterly loathed music videos. Nonetheless, Van was talked into making a rare and as-it-turns-out stylish in-studio B/W video release, which is posted here.

Now, nearly 25 years since its release, “Days Like This” remains as enjoyable and inspirational as ever.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 3

“Here Comes the Night” (1965)

Van’s career began with *Them* a short-lived Northern Irish band tangentially grouped as part of the Britsh Invasion. *Them* took their odd name from the 1950’s horror film. Tensions within the band and their producer Bert Berns began early and fractured into a nasty breakup, after which Van launched his solo career in 1966.

Berns, already well-known for producing several hit records including the original “Twist and Shout,” wrote “Here Comes the Night” and gave it to Them, which by mid-1965 had released two hit records, the bluesy “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Van’s own popular rock classic “Gloria.” The song reached #2 in the UK and #30 in the US.

“Here Comes the Night” isn’t Van’s best work, by any stretch. But this clip does show Van, at age 20, fronting Them in a live performance. Shy and introverted by nature, Van displayed an impersonal public persona which appeared to be alienation from his own audience. Onstage, he rarely acknowledged fans (which continues to this day). For Van, it’s always been about the music.

Van as the lead singer for Them proved difficult to work with and manage. He refused to go along with fake “live” performances and promotional gigs, instantly creating a hard-nosed reputation:

“We were never meant to be on ‘Top of the Pops,’ I mean miming? Lip syncing? We used to laugh at the program, think it was a joke. Then we were on it ourselves. It was ridiculous. We were totally anti that type of thing. We were really into the blues…and we had to get into suits and have make-up put on and all that.”

Note that Van refuses to wear a suit in this show, which turned out to be one of Them’s final live performances. Added trivia: Jimmy Page (later with Led Zeppelin) was the session guitarist on the studio recording.

This video clip clocks in at less than 3 minutes, but shows why Van, even at age 20 was clearly destined for bigger and better things to come.


VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 4

“Just Like Greta” (2000)

“Some days it gets pretty crazy,
I feel like howling at the moon.”

Thus begins “Just like Greta” is a musical tribute to the reclusive Hollywood legend and a personal plea for solitude.

Perhaps Van saw something of himself in the Garbo mystique, the late film star who retired at age 35 and didn’t make another movie or grant an interview during the final 50 years of her hermitic life. Throughout his lengthy career, Van — annoyed by fame, mistrustful of strangers, prone to stagefright, and utterly oblivious to public or critical reception — must have looked to Garbo as both guru and muse. Part of his being longs to be “Just Like Greta.”

Indeed, the vast catalog of Van’s music reflects self-doubt and the constant pursuit of enlightenment. Van albums do not make for good party tunes. Van writes much deeper songs of reflection, of pain, of loss, and of longing. It’s the voice of the subconscious. He’s the artist you plug into the iPod during a quiet airplane ride or a long drive, best when alone with your own thoughts. Certainly, Van has written and released plenty of upbeat tunes, but his heart and soul remain bronzed in melancholy.

“Just Like Greta” is one of Van’s lesser-known tracks, originally recorded in 2000, but inexplicably omitted the next album release, Down the Road. Five years later, the song was recycled on Magic Time, both a commercial and critical success. Though unreleased as a single, and no airplay was given, the song complimented a fine album that became one of his most successful releases, debuting at #2 in the UK and #25 in the US. Nonetheless, few listeners aside from hard-core Van fans, have likely heard the song before.

The song clocks in at 6:29, starting off with Van at his soul-searching best. Then, anchored by a slow but steady crescendo the mood gradually begins to shift from a soft ballad into a rousing finish flooded in orchestral strings. Van’s vocals are paired with the familiar echoes of the Hammond organ. Lyrically speaking, Van alludes to his own past, singing “I’ve been too long in exile….” which is an unveiled reference to his album released a decade earlier, Too Long in Exile.

The song’s most catchy moment occurs immediately after the instrumental interlude about midway through (at the 3:50 mark) when Van suddenly takes the song uptempo and launches into a spirited declaration about “going out to L.A. (to) get my business done,” then “going on to Vegas, then I’m going on the run.”

Today — Van, even at 74, a tireless tour performer who still writes songs, releases albums, and appears in as many as 75 live shows annually, must feel the temptation to ignore all the phone calls and the demands of the trade and simply run away from it all. You know, “Just Like Greta.”

Don’t we all have days and thoughts to do the same?

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 5

“T.B. Sheets” (1967)

Van’s breakaway solo period after leaving the Northern Irish group Them included a spell of struggle and near starvation. Even while “Brown Eyed Girl” was rocketing up the Billboard charts, Van — screwed by a really bad recording contract — made little or no money from his early work. He once told the story of having to borrow money to pay the rent.

“While I was recording, I realized I didn’t even have $2 to buy a sandwich,” Morrison told CBS in an interview many years later. “I had to borrow money to eat.”

Morrison had flown to New York from Belfast to sign a record contract he had not fully studied, nor legally vetted with attorneys. During a two-day recording session at A&R Studios starting 28 March 1967, eight songs were recorded, originally intended to be used as four singles per a verbal agreement. Instead, the songs were rushed out and released as the album Blowin’ Your Mind, without Morrison being consulted. Van said he only became aware of the album’s release when a friend mentioned on a phone call that he had just been in a record store and bought a copy.

Alas, that was Van’s first solo album — and he didn’t even know about it. Thus began a long career of loathing the music business and being mistrustful of associates, a characteristic which continues to this day.

“T.B. Sheets” was one of the songs off that debut solo album which was written and recorded during an extended creative period that became known as the Bang Sessions, in reference to Bang Records.

“Morrison had intended to record the song in one take, but there were two takes recorded that day….,.There is a long-standing, but perhaps apocryphal story of Morrison’s emotional state during the song’s recording Michael Ochs wrote later, “after ‘T.B. Sheets’ was recorded, the rest of the session had to be canceled because Van broke down in tears.”

“T.B. Sheets” is a song about death. It’s a bluesy masterpiece melding Van’s soulful vocals, his shredding harmonica introduction, tambourine timing, laced with catchy riffs on lead guitar. The song wasn’t released as a single but was covered by iconic bluesman Johnny Lee Hooker in 1972. Van’s song also appeared in ambulance scenes in Martin Scorsese’s 1999 misfire movie, Bringing Out the Dead, starring Nicholas Cage. That movie isn’t very good, but the song fits the urban underbelly as a perfect soundtrack. Note that some might find the video images to be disturbing.

This is stunning early work by Van, which is even more impressive when considering how rushed the production was in the studio and the pressure the singer-songwriter was under at the time. I love Van’s racy harmonica work here, which never sounded better.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 7

“Domino” (1970)

To date, Van has released 53 albums and 71 singles, so it’s surprising to learn he’s never recorded a #1 hit.  In fact, no Van composition has ever charted in the top five.  Even his signature song, 1967’s “Brown Eyed Girl” rose only to #10.

It’s even more surprising to find out the highest-charting single of Van’s prolific career was the 1970 release, “Domino,” the opening track from the album, His Band and the Street Choir.  To this day, “Domino” remains his best-performing song, though few hard-core fans or casual listeners would place this song anywhere near the pantheon of VM’s best recordings.  It peaked at #9.

“Domino” is a tribute to R&B legend Fats Domino.  It’s packed with blaring horns and is pure R&B all the way.  Lyrics include Van singing “Lord have mercy” during the refrain, undoubtedly mimicking the influence of James Brown, another of Van’s musical idols.  Indeed, “Domino” is a definitive in-your-face statement by Van who rejected stereotyping and refused to be pigeonholed as a rock act.  Following up on the success of the jazz-infused Moondance album which was released earlier that year, Van unexpectedly swerved into the R&B lane going full blast.  Oddly enough, following this project, his next album, Tupelo Honey marked a 180 shift to into folk-country.

“Domino” was one of many chestnuts during a bountiful songwriting period for Van.  It marked a definitive shift in intent to write music for wider audiences.  After his debut album premiered to mixed success, the extraordinarily ambitious Astral Weeks had been released the following year.  That classic collection is now regarded as one of the greatest albums in pop music history, but it was a commercial failure at the time.  Van, still plagued by a bad recording contract and essentially broke, vowed to write some catchier and shorter songs certain to receive radio airplay, and thus make money.  So, he nested on a treasure trove of fresh original material written during 1969 in upstate NY.  With a new record deal, he was determined to cash in with a flurry of pop hits and albums that would sell commercially.  When the Moondance album (with the title hit single) was released in 1970, Van’s wisdom of maintaining strict control over his work and reaping the benefits thereof was confirmed.  “Domino” was written and recorded during this period.  Indeed, much of what appeared on His Band and the Street Choir could have made for a double-album set to Moondance.

“Domino” is lyrically simple, rhythmically catchy, and one of Van’s most radio-friendly songs.

Note that Jim Keltner is on drums, described as the leading session drummer in America circa 1960-1980.  Keltner was the drummer on much of Van’s work during this period.  Keltner has appeared on countless popular recordings over the years, including each of the former Beatles’ solo albums following their breakup.

 

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