For the first time ever, I’m still somewhat uncertain as to who I will vote for in a major election.
With Nevada’s caucus now ten days away, however, I now have a lean. I am prepared to announce this preference in today’s column. This is a fragile choice subject to change. I’m no longer on the fence, but the fence is still easily within reach. I never understood voters who said they made up their minds right before the election, in the past. Now, I’m part of that “semi-undecided” group.
 First and foremost, my voting decision and activism are entirely predicated upon one thing. I’m only interested in removing the evils and dangers of Donald Trump and any other political leader associated with his toxicity. My ideology is totally irrelevant to the discussion. And since I’m an ideologue, this is a significant departure in practice for me, something that’s very difficult to do.
 Every Republican — from the president down to local judges — must be defeated. Period. Exclamation point. Any candidate with an “R” next to their name is an automatic — FUCK NO. Indeed, I wish there was a “FUCK NO” box to check. I bring this up because the candidate at the top of the ticket has a huge impact on down-ballot races. The coattail effect will be huge in 2020 (i.e., there will be very little vote splitting, I believe). So, we need to get the top of the ticket right, by choosing the best candidate who will help the other races (which means keeping the House and perhaps even flipping the Senate).
 I strongly supported Bernie Sanders in 2016. He’s the closest in philosophically to my own politics. However, I have several serious and justified concerns with Sanders. While he has done wonderful things to educate millions of Americans about (democratic) socialism and he has energized many young people, I fear he may tarnish the movement from this point forward. I would be thrilled to be wrong on this point. But I’m not wrong in having concerns. If Sanders loses in the general election, Republicans would certainly maintain control of the Senate (ensuring another six years of McConnell) and there’s even some chance Republicans might re-take the House. If this happens, the consequences for our country and democracy would be utterly catastrophic.
 I’m glad Pete Buttigieg is in the race. He’s a fresh face. He articulates a centrist Democratic position, and I’m good with that politically speaking (though I don’t agree ideologically). His surprising success and national exposure will go a long way towards broader acceptance. I wish Buttigieg was running as a congressman, senator, or something other than an inconsequential mayor. I like having him as a choice, but don’t see any chance of supporting him at the caucus.
 I might get sick if Joe Biden wins the Nevada caucus. He reminds me so much of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign. If I thought Biden had any capacity whatsoever to re-energize his candidacy, I might be persuadable to supporting him or at least reserving judgment. But there’s nothing to jump-start here. He’s the old car battery that’s been sitting in the Dodge out in the driveway that hasn’t started in four years. Biden served his country well and is a good person. But he’s nearing his public service expiration date and would be a bad choice for the nomination. I can’t think of a single person excited about Biden’s candidacy. That said, given the dysfunction and corruption of the DNC and the role of superdelegates, I’m not sure he’s done quite yet.
 Elizabeth Warren will drop out of the race after Super Tuesday, on March 3rd. It’s sad really. She’s had a good ground game here in Nevada set up for more than a year. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t get a call or text from the Warren campaign asking me to come to see her speak or lend my support. I actually think Warren’s Nevada campaign has done a good job, and I have the frontline experience to say that. However, these first two primaries have been devastating and she won’t do well in South Carolina, either (which is next). I can’t see Warren finishing in the top three here, which is what it would take to get her back in the race.
 I’m leaning towards supporting Amy Klobuchar in the Nevada caucus. I would measure this support at 60 percent certain. She’s more of a default choice at this point. She checks some key boxes — particularly on gender and being midwestern. I have some serious differences with Klobuchar on issues, but I’m willing to set those aside from pragmatism and practicality. Her third-place showing in NH was a breakout, and I really liked her speech afterward. That was the first time I’d seen Klobuchar catch any fire. I also like her personal story, which is now getting some press. She seems like the best chance to beat Trump at the moment, though I’m perhaps weighing the NH results too heavily.
 Finally, all of this could change. I’m disgusted with the Culinary Union here in Las Vegas, which is demonstrably anti-Sanders. The disgraceful and corrupt practices of the Culinary Union in the 2016 race, rescuing Clinton’s campaign which was floundering, was scandalous. Right out of the old Chicago machine political playbook. Now, they’re trying to torpedo Sanders, astoundingly under the guise that universal health care (Sanders’ core issue) would disrupt the negotiated health care plans between casinos and their workers. In other words, “WE GOT OURS–SCREW EVERYBODY ELSE.” That’s the Culinary Union’s position. I’m generally a huge supporter of unions, but this backstabbing on universal health care smacks of perversion. Read on…..
 If I arrive at my local caucus (The Lakes/ Las Vegas) and see the Culinary Union people there all wearing Amy Klobuchar t-shirts and marching around like Hillary Clinton’s failed flunky robots, I might bolt across the room and stand with the Sanders supporters in the caucus. I’m not sure how I will react. But I will have a very hard time standing with that union crowd against my ideological brethren. I hope it doesn’t come to this. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do.
 If anything I’ve written causes you to rethink your position, then that’s good. I hope by sharing my own conflicts and decisions, this might help others going through the same thing. Thanks for reading.
Writer’s Note: New Hampshire results are still unknown at the time of this writing. My random comments here are non-partisan and do not reflect support for, or opposition to, any candidate. As I like to say, political science doesn’t care about your feelings.
— If Bernie Sanders wins the NH primary, and he should win today, DNC and old guard Democrats will become even more panicky. They’ll attempt to create a moderate-wing firewall in the SC primary (coming in late Feb.), where Sanders floundered in 2016. In the meantime, look for establishment Dems to become more outspoken in their concern and criticism of Sanders in national media. They’ll openly question his electability in the general election. Hillary Clinton has already latched onto this “stop-Bernie” resistance. If Obama speaks out as well, that weight might be enough to stop Sanders’ momentum and kill his chances of winning the nomination. This division between liberals and moderates will likely turn ugly, especially given there’s still resentment from the way Sanders was treated by the Dem establishment in the ’16 race. This divide should be very alarming to those who oppose Trump in Nov. Should he be the nominee, Sanders will need the Dem party establishment and moderates. And any presumptive moderate Dem will need Sanders’ 25-30 percent voting bloc to turn out heavily in Nov. to win.
— Pete Buttigieg continues to gain momentum and has become the wild card in the Dem race. This is totally uncharted territory. Experience used to matter in elections, but Buttigieg’s thin resume might not be a factor as he improves his stage presence on the campaign trail, sharpens his message, separates himself from the much older candidates, and continues to attract followers. With little or no voting record, there’s not much to criticize (one reason presidential winners often come out of nowhere — Trump, Obama, Clinton, Carter). Buttigieg’s being gay won’t be talked about by his opponents but lingers as a serious concern as to his electability. Given minority-support is absolutely essential to winning the nomination, and Buttigieg lacks significant Black or Latino support at the moment, combined with those constituencies being more traditional towards gay acceptance, it’s difficult to foresee any path to the nomination for Buttigieg. The March 3rd primaries will determine if he indeed becomes the “moderate” firewall to stop Sanders. My projection is, his percentages will top out at around 25 percent and then fade after Super Tuesday. Just way too many obstacles here.
— Ideally, Buttigieg wants a two-person primary race — himself vs. Sanders or Warren. He believes he’ll win over moderates and establishment Dems while also pecking away at some percentage of progressives. This is Buttigieg’s best chance to win the nomination (Biden and Klobuchar dropping out). However, don’t discount Bloomberg in the race.
— Joe Biden’s support continues to fade at an alarming pace. He stands the chance of finishing fourth yet again (Biden was fourth in Iowa). This would have been utterly unthinkable a few months ago. Ex-vice presidents aren’t supposed to be struggling on this level. Typically, they’re way in front or among the co-leaders in early primaries. Biden has run a horrid campaign, so far. While Trump’s attacks and phony allegations of corruption would be a factor in the general election particularly when fueled by the conservative slime machine, the disinformation campaign has no impact on the primaries. What’s ruined Biden has been his own repeated gaffes and probably more consequential, his failure to excite voters and/or attract new supporters His debate performances were uninspiring. And now, Biden has gone on the attack, even running ads targeting Buttigieg. Who would have thought an ex-VP would have to resort to blasting a mayor that was polling at just 5 percent back in December? This is a sure sign of desperation.
— Biden looks doomed. He’s looked upon as stale. But he could stage a comeback should he somehow finish in the top 2 in Nevada, which demographically is a good state for Biden. The old so-called “Harry Ried political machine,” which put gave H. Clinton a primary victory in ’16 seems to be Biden’s biggest lifeline. This is a shame, really. Nevada is one of the final caucus states and party insiders hold all the cards. Nevada skews slightly older (good for Biden), is wielded to unions (good for Biden), has a comparatively small student demographic (good for Biden), and doesn’t vote as an outlier (good for Biden). If Biden doesn’t do well in Nevada, that will foretell of serious problems to come.
— Elizabeth Warren appears frozen at 15 percent. Her percentages look immovable at the moment, unlikely to lose much support but even less likely to gain new supporters since Sanders is (arguably) the current frontrunner and has raised a huge campaign war chest. Short of some coup ‘de tat within the party ranks designed to stop Sanders, using Warren as the last firewall, I don’t see a path for her to the nomination. Warren has also committed some self-inflicted errors in the campaign which will be difficult from which to recover. If/when Warren drops out, that sets up a fascinating scenario: Her support is likely to split, with ideological progressives going to Sanders while the more feminist #NeverBernie contingent latches on to the opposing frontrunner (anyone but Sanders).
— Amy Klobuchar desperately needs Biden to crash. And fast. If Biden bombs in the Nevada caucus and somehow Klobuchar pulls off better Super Tuesday numbers than her moderate rival, she could become the presumptive Dem establishment favorite. This would be key to gaining endorsements and campaign donations, which will be essential. She also needs a win somewhere come Mar. 3rd, if possible (Minnesota, her home state, would be a nice start). Klobuchar should be playing a long game here, a sort of horserace scenario where she runs 3rd or 4th the first half of the race and then closes strongly down the stretch. There’s some concern Klobuchar will be able to get into the top three, but comparatively speaking, she looks like the far better runner over Biden (and perhaps Buttigieg, also). The major question is, can she whittle away support from Biden (and perhaps Warren)?
— Andrew Yang is the Liberal-to-Moderate-Pro-Business-Social-Libertarian candidate in the race, holding at 5 percent. He’s unlikely to extend his percentages beyond that, but given his message has resonated with a contingent of loyal followers, he’ll be taken seriously for another month or so. Yang is counting on getting at least 10 percent in Nevada, and perhaps finishing 4th or higher, which would keep him in the race into the spring. Yang’s problems are Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg — all of whom will gain supporters as rivals decline. It’s hard to foresee how Yang factors in this race, other than tossing his support to one of the other candidates and having a small role as a novelty speaker at the national convention.
— Michael Bloomberg is running a most unconventional campaign, carpet bombing the national airwaves with ads and using his vast personal fortune to set up a formidable political organization. While Bloomberg is polling poorly, his message (“I’m the only candidate in the race who can beat Trump”) is likely to gain some traction. Bloomberg faces obstacles, namely his lack of personal engagement with Dem primary voters and his vast wealth which is looked upon in some progressive circles with suspicion. Bloomberg needs Biden to exit also, as quickly as possible, in an effort to become the presumptive moderate frontrunner. Bloomberg may also be counting on a brokered Democratic National Convention coming in the summer. He’s got the money to ride out a series of primary defeats and even fade the perception of irrelevance until he possibly comes out of nowhere as the compromise choice among delegates.
— Tulsi Gabbard should have done much better in this primary race as a candidate. Early on, Gabbard looked to be a JFK-for-the-21st-Century Democrat — youthful, vibrant, military background, ethnic, female, effective as a speaker and debater — but she never caught on and has been little more than a distraction in the race. Gabbard has no constituency in the party at this point and is presumably staying in the race to posture for name recognition and future speaking engagements. Big mistake by Gabbard in deciding not to run for re-election in 2020 as a congresswoman.
— Tom Steyer might be relevant here if it were not for Bloomberg, who has both a name and a resume. It’s difficult to understand why Steyer stays in the race, other than the chance to get some free press. He’s certainly sincere in his beliefs, but one would think it’s time to throw his “support” behind another candidate. He should be out of the race after Mar. 3rd.
— Final Thoughts: This should be a three-person race so far as serious contenders go, after Mar. 3rd. Sanders will be one of the frontrunners. The other two are expected to be moderates. Sanders has unusually high negatives within the party at this point, as insiders remain mistrustful of him as a bona fide independent and self-described democratic socialist, a socialist sheep in democratic wool. However, none of the moderates, aside from Buttigieg, generates much enthusiasm. Michael Bloomberg seems poised to be the unknown factor in this race, particularly if he can climb into contention with some delegate support.
A friend on Facebook asked me this morning why I chose Midnight Cowboy as a favorite personal movie. This does seem like an odd choice. It’s rather dark and depressing and not the typical film associated with inspiration.
I didn’t plan on writing this up, but since my answer wouldn’t fit into a simple post, I decided to create a new thread, and ultimately this article, which is admittedly very personal to me. I hope this will answer the question about Midnight Cowboy and its continued impact, 50 years after it was released.
Initially rated X when it was released, the film was shocking for its time. It was part of a tidal wave of cinematic creativity following the MPAA’s relaxation of restrictions and implementation of a rating system. I was eight years old when I saw it. Think of that in all its implications.
All movies are viewed with an impenetrable prism, and that prism is our own experience and perception. We filter all stimuli through our own screens, which inevitably distorts the reception of art. It’s why two people can watch the same movie — or hear the same song or look at the same painting — and come away with entirely opposite impressions.
My own prism clouds my judgment of Midnight Cowboy in a positive way. I had really cool parents, who exposed me to things when young that other kids simply didn’t see. They divorced when I was 2, but each took me to the movies, even R rated movies. Other kids were going to see 101 Dalmatians and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Meanwhile, my mother — a single parent in her 20s — was taking me to see films like Midnight Cowboy, Serpico, Patton, The Godfather. Same with my father, on weekends.
I mean, I was like 8 or 9 or 10. Those things make an impression. A powerful impression.
For me, Midnight Cowboy was really frightening at the time. New York City looked so scary. These two losers were selling blood, one was a male prostitute living in an abandoned tenement in Harlem. But there was also something quite beautiful about it. The love. The compassion amidst the chaos. The humanity on streets paved with indifference.
Now, let’s fast forward 45 years later and please listen to this story:
I don’t think I saw Midnight Cowboy again at least all the way through until an entirely accidental encounter and I’d like to share this because it gives such a (I hope) poignant perspective of how movies impact us.
My last working WSOP was in the summer of 2016. We worked 54 straight days with no time off, 16 hour days. Brutal on the mind and body. You have to go through it to understand. Trust me, the body and mind are wrecked. I came back home on July 16, 2016 and arrived at 5 am at home. 5 am. The sun was just coming up. Marieta had the door open to the house. She had just made morning coffee.
My mind was so wound up I could not sleep, so Marieta turned on the TV (at 5 am) and it was TCM channel and Midnight Cowboy was just starting with Harry Nielson’s famous “Everybody’s Talkin'” theme song. We sat there and for the next two hours watched this movie from start to finish that I had not seen in 46 years. I can’t describe it, but my memories of that morning are tearful. She had never seen it before, so this was oddly a joyous experience, being able to reconnect with something from my own past as a child and then watch Marieta as she too became absorbed by the oddest couple, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.
That was my morning on July 16th, 2016, which also happened to be Marieta’s 55th birthday. And the day began at 5 am watching Midnight Cowboy.
“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.”
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: WEEK 8
DAY 50: Van Morrison at Montreux
“Smoke on the Water” (Deep Purple — 1971)
“Smoke on the Water” begins with one of the greatest guitar riffs in rock history.
“Dun, dun, dun dun-dun, dun-dun dun, dun, dun, dun-dun….”
Then the rat-tat-tat of drum cymbals come in, accompanied by a thundering bassline, which then launches into vocals that, until this writing project, I’d never really contemplated before.
I doubt many rock fans reading this who likely know every note of the song are quite as familiar with the backstory which led to the unusual lyrical narrative. Word-for-word, the true story is told of what happened during a deadly fire that broke out during a rock concert inside the casino ballroom at Montreux, Switzerland.
In December 1971 British rockers Deep Purple arrived on the shores of Lake Geneva to record a new album. The entertainment complex was part of the Montreux Casino…..
“We all came out to Montreux On the Lake Geneva shoreline To make records with a mobile We didn’t have much time.”
The night before recording was set to begin, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were playing at the casino. The scene got really wild. Someone in the crowd fired a flare gun into the stage cover, which suddenly burst into flames. The scene turned into chaos.
“Frank Zappa and the Mothers Were at the best place around But some stupid with a flare gun Burned the place to the ground.”
Deep Purple watched the bizarre scene from their hotel room. The entire casino complex and entertainment venue burned to the ground. Frank Zappa’s band also lost all their equipment in the fire. Witnessing the surreal experience, “Smoke on the Water” somehow materialized out of the ashes and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky.”
The entire casino and entertainment complex was gutted by fire. Deep Purple’s recording plans were ruined. With no other option, they set up a makeshift recording studio in the hotel and laid down most of the tracks for what would become their most successful album, titled Machine Head.
The impromptu song wasn’t expected to do much and was a reluctant addition to the album. It became Deep Purple’s biggest hit. Today, “Smoke on the Water” is honored by a sculpture along the shores of Lake Geneva.
Which now brings us to….Van Morrison.
Van made his first of 18 appearances (so far) at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974. He’s performed at Montreux more times than anyone, other than anyone other than B.B. King and Herbie Hancock. Van’s first of two live shows the first year ignited a bit of controversy when he screamed to someone in the audience to “fuck off.” Often cantankerous while onstage and obtuse to the extremes of disbelief, the debut performance is nonetheless, widely regarded as one of the best of his career.
During this week’s installments, I’ll be writing more about Van’s live concerts at Montreux, because there have been so many and such great music came from that stage. But first, it’s fun to know the real backstory of the special venue where all this takes place and its indelible impact on our rock n’ roll memories.
This song and soundtrack (posted here) have a great video collage of the 1971 fire.
DAY 51: “Street Choir” (1974 — Live Performance at Montreux)
After the Montreux Casino on Lake Geneva in Switzerland burned to the ground in 1971, the famed international jazz festival was in limbo. There were questions about where to hold the performances. There were also fears that unruly crowds might recreate the incident that inspired “Smoke on the Water.” But the real crux was rapidly changing musical tastes at the time, and a debate as to whether rock n’ roll, R&B, and other non-jazz acts belonged on the festival bill.
The Montreux Jazz Festival would quickly grow into the second largest of its kind in the world, thanks to the pragmatic decision made by organizers to broaden the invitee list to big names, some not commonly associated with jazz.
Fortunately for Van Morrison, his jazz credentials were solidly in the bag by 1974. He’d recorded numerous jazz-infused tracks, had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz standards, released a transcendent smash hit album, Moondance that enjoyed rare crossover appeal with both rock and jazz audiences. And — Van played the saxophone!
Van and his hastily assembled band played two shows at Montreux in their first year. It’s inconceivable as to why these live shows turned out so well. The best explanation is superior musicianship, led by drummer Dallas Taylor, sitting in with Van for the first time. Taylor was the drummer for Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
Van’s debut at Montreux is a juxtaposition of awkwardness and near-total withdrawal from rock superstardom which oddly metastasizes into par excellence. The four musicians onstage had barely even rehearsed together, yet they cover an entire set of Van’s original recordings, with no notes nor sheet music. It’s astounding to watch. Van is clearly in a period of transition here as a live performer. He’s abandoned all pretense of rock expectation, showing up on stage looking like a math tutor. There’s even a false start at the beginning of the track.
“Street Choir” was the only song played that night known to the audience. Fans expecting to hear “the hits” were upset, leading to an infamous incident that shall be discussed later. “Street Choir” was originally written as an acapella song, intended as the title track on an entirely non-instrumental collection. In fact, the entire album was to be acapella, which would have been quite a stretch to pull off. But Van abandoned the concept after a few sessions.
“Street Choir” ended up as the title track for the album His Band and the Street Choir, released in 1970 as a rapid follow-up to the success of Moondance. Van, already bitter towards the music industry, was infuriated when Warner Bros, the record company decided to rename his album without his consent. It was originally titled “Virgo’s Fool.”
Van’s gradual slide into loathsome anger at the music industry, which he often took out on his audiences, was well underway. Nonetheless, as the Montreux shows from the 1970s reveal, it’s all about the music.
Put on the headphones, crank up the volume, and watch brilliance on display.
DAY 52: “Moondance” (1970)
“It’s a fantabulous night for a romance…”
So writes and sings Van Morrison in “Moondance,” one of the most successful songs of his storied career, which was released 50 years ago this week.
Since then, “Moondance” has been covered by hundreds of different artists, of all genres — from harpists to sax players, from jazz and blues bands to the winner of last year’s Mongolia’s Got Talent. Really. They’re covering Van in Ulaanbaatar.
The title track on Van’s widely-acclaimed 1970 album, this song was considered an oddity that didn’t fit the norms of the day. The style of music certainly didn’t comply with conventional rock playlists. Indeed, rock-oriented radio stations were reluctant to play the track because it didn’t sound like a hit song with the usual instrumentation common to the most popular artists of the era.
Instead, “Moondance” was entirely jazz-infused, with its idiosyncratic timing, a standup bass, and Van’s offbeat vocals, punctuated with a swinging piano laced with brass. Fortunately, album-oriented radio was coming into its own as a force, and the staggering quality of content spread throughout both sides of the Moondance album became immensely popular, thus becoming Van’s first bona fide collection of solo hit recordings. “Crazy Love” covered by Ray Charles became a hit. “Into the Mystic” is also off the Moondance album. It is certainly among the most whole of “album rock” collections ever made, the sprawling sum of its parts greater than any single.
Indifferent to commercial tastes and appeal, Moondance did enjoy tremendous critical and popular success as an album but the actual track wasn’t released as a single until seven years later. It charted in 1977, making it one of the most unusual recordings in pop music history both for its duel release dates and staying power as an enduring record now five decades later. “Moondance” is the song Van has played live more times than any other original recording.
The song’s origins go back to a jam session in 1967 when Van was rehearsing in Boston. His pick-up band was covering an old show tune called “Lazy Afternoon.” Van began to improvise from that standard and quickly came up with the melody that would later become “Moondance.” He had no idea at the time it would reignite his career and establish him as one of pop music’s most creative yet unpredictable artists.
Here’s the original recording from the 1970 album.
As Van would say, it’s “Fantabulous.”
DAY 53: “Troubadours” (1979)
“Troubadours” is a gorgeous track off of Van Morrison’s 11th studio album, Into the Music. It’s a celebration of life and love laden with neo-classic instrumentation. This song and most of the album’s collection foretells the looming horizon of Van’s songwriting and music, which increasingly will become more introspective and spiritual into the 1980s.
When Van took the stage at the 1980 Monteux Jazz Festival in Switzerland just months after the album’s release, most in the audience were hearing “Troubadours” for the first time. Indeed, most of his band, which includes the great Pee Wee Ellis on sax, is performing live with Van in a spontaneous, unrehearsed setting. Throughout this stage performance, Van can be seen displaying uncertainty as to entry points and occasionally barks out chord progressions to his fellow bandmates. A few of his sidemen had been part of the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, which backed Van’s albums and live shows in the early 70s (they disbanded in 1973). So, they were somewhat familiar with Van’s free-flowing format.
Also, note Van smoking a cigarette during the song.
We’re covering the “Montreux” period because it merits a closer and more thorough retrospective. His 1974 and 1980 performances were among the best of his career, though he’s far more subtle, even distant, from the typical rock routine. This too foretells Van’s evolution into a deeper more withdrawn state, which certainly alienated some audiences far more accustomed to flashy rock acts and the pizzaz of the disco period. Van is about as un-cool as he can be in this show, which (I believe) allows us to focus on the marvelous song structure and vocalization. One can almost see the patriarch of David Byrne (Stop Making Sense) in this clip. Byrne later noted Van’s influence on his own (anti-) style and faux act.
Van has played Montreux on 18 different occasions during the course of his storied career, mostly concentrating on jazz compositions, which is third in line to a huge list of greats which includes Herbie Hancock (27 times) and B.B. King (21 times). After the Montreux Casino burned down in 1971, the venue shifted around. However, this stage hosted many of the greatest performers and show in jazz history.
Rarely is Van ever upstaged, but “Troubadours” allows his band to flourish. Especially the piccolo trumpet. The song really takes off at about the 2:00 mark.
DAY 54: “Twilight Zone” (1974)
Van Morrison’s first live appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival was by all accounts a disaster.
Fresh off the stunning It’s Too Late To Stop Now USA-UK tour (which resulted in an ambitious three-disc collection many critics label as one of the greatest live albums on rock history), Van arrived at Lake Geneva in the Summer of ’74 with a scaled-back band and much more mellow sound. The Caledonia Soul Orchestra’s lush brass and string section were replaced with a simple keyboardist and bassist. Even Dallas Taylor, from Crosby, Stills, and Nash on drums couldn’t keep up with the crowd’s restless expectations.
Making the sour mood even more acrimonious, Van opted to perform unfamiliar material almost exclusively from the Veedon Fleece sessions, along with tracks which were supposed to be on the (later shelved) follow-up album. He skipped all his well-known hits, an omission that didn’t go over well with the audience. Moreover, Van didn’t seem to put in the same vibrant energy his fans were used to seeing. In Van’s defense, he presumed the more laid back “jazz festival” setting would be far more open to new music and sounds, but then quickly discovered he couldn’t escape the shadow of his own towering reputation as a dynamic live performer.
At Montreux, on a makeshift stage, Van played an esoteric setlist, which also included his sax solo and a harmonica solo. Then, for reasons unknown, Van took longer than expected to return for an encore, up to 10 minutes by one witness account. In the awkward void, an intoxicated fan jumped up on the stage and began yelling into the microphone, commanding Van to play his “hits.” Finally, Van arrived from backstage to do a rare encore. As the fan was escorted out of the venue, Van — in characteristic disdain of criticism that would mark his career as a live performer — barked out, “Hey, I’m going to play what I like, and if you don’t like it — go fuck yourself!” Almost as though to rub it in, Van and his three bandmates then closed with the instrumental “Harmonica Boogie,” and with that, the concert was over.
Sometimes referred to as the Go Fuck Yourself show (which became the title of the bootleg album before the actual live concert was released years later), the show opens with “Twilight Zone.” Note the awkwardness and lack of production in the clip. This is actually the first time (and song) Van had played with this band, which appears in other segments of the series because they are quite good. “Twilight Zone” is highly unusual as Van, typically a bass-baritone vocal sings in falsetto during most of the song. Van’s intentionally-mistuned guitar also adds a raw folksy feel to the sound.
“Twilight Zone” was an outtake from the Veedon Fleece album, which bombed both commercially and critically. This disappointment led to a three-year hiatus from touring. The song was later included as a bonus track on the re-issue 30 years later, which is now acclaimed as a collection ahead of its time, much in the vein of Astral Weeks. The studio outtake also made its way onto The Philosopher’s Stone, a 1998 compilation album.
DAY 55: “I Will Be There” (1972)
Van Morrison was heavily influenced by the classics, especially by what’s been called the “great American songbook of standards.” Musical icons included the Isley Brothers, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and many others. Morrison even cited country acts, including Hank Williams and the Carter Family as part of the foundation for his vast musical canopy.
Long before doing retro-recordings became chic, Van wrote a new song that was clearly inspired by Duke Ellington’s jazz standard from the year 1940, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” I haven’t seen anyone make the direct comparison; but to me, this original composition credited to Van is nearly identical in rhythm, melody, and timing. Van’s songwriting repertoire was overflowing with material by the time the Saint Dominic’s Preview album was released. He didn’t need to copy other artists. However, this track has the trademark Ellington sound. It’s unmistakable. Perhaps even something from the subconscious.
During the early 70s, Van was in the midst of his flirtation with many different styles of music. But he always seemed most comfortable within the R&B groove. This outlier of a recording, mostly forgotten now, fits in nicely with the other material on the album.
Saint Dominic’s Preview became Van’s most successful US-album all the way up until 2008’s Keep It Simple. Remarkably, it contains only 7 songs, but each has resonated with critics and fans alike long after the release date.
“I Will Be There” deserves more love and attention, and we’re delivering that today.
DAY 56: “Wild Honey” (1980)
Van Morrison was once asked to name his favorite album. He gave a surprising answer. From his vast pantheon of dozens of studio albums and live recordings, he chose the somewhat obscure and esoteric 1980 release Common One.
Indeed, Common One is one of those magical brews that takes time to process and savor. This is not a party album. It’s the disc you play loud while driving a long trip, or sipping a goblet of Port alone, reflecting. Its five disjoined tracks do not make for a concept album. There’s no prevailing theme throughout. Two of the songs are more than 10 minutes long.
“Wild Honey” doesn’t fit either, as a song or track on the album. It seems oddly misnamed. There’s nothing wild about it. It’s the slow dance song that comes on 15 minutes before closing time.
Two things stand out from this long-forgotten track — Van’s phrasing and the unique sense of timing, which seems slightly off, but fits perfectly, infused with the STAX-like horns.
Van closed out the 1970s with yet another album that was eviscerated by critics, but which today is looked upon with far more curiosity and appreciation.
Usually indifferent to criticism and openly hostile to commercial metrics, Van was greatly disappointed with the response to this album. Common One marks a demarcation in time, a transition from one era and sound to the next. This album buried Van as one of the decade’s greatest R&B soul singers and most gifted songwriters, but it stands today as a glorious tombstone and a proud exclamation point on a definitive chapter of the VM canon.
“Can’t you feel my heart beating, just for you….”
Miss a previous week? No problem. Here are direct links to all the prior installments:
Sitting here on Thursday afternoon in disbelief watching a live “speech” from the White House — a ranting, rambling, wrecking ball from a madman surrounded by ass-kissing sycophants, with more *I*s and *ME*s than an alphabet soup factory.
It’s stunning to witness the manifestation of a political cult in America.
Years ago, in his contrition speech, Bill Clinton apologized to the American people for putting them through the ordeal of impeachment.
Today, in his boast reminiscent of what we see in third-world dictatorships, Trump attacked…..
∙ Barack Obama
∙ Hillary Clinton
∙ Joe Biden
∙ James Comey
∙ Bob Mueller
∙ Mitt Romney
∙ Claire McCaskill
∙ Jerry Nadler
∙ Adam Schiff
∙ Nancy Pelosi
∙ Chuck Schumer
∙ “the top scum” of the FBI