The Van Morrison MasterClass: Week 10
“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 10
DAY 64: “Caravan” (Live–1976)
You’re about to witness a shy, short, pudgy, balding, funny-talking Irish dude with lamb chop sideburns dressed in a maroon-sequined jumpsuit, mispronouncing the words to his own song, barn-yarding the whole wild scene, kicking it up Saturday Night Live style, and mic-dropping the show in a Martin Scorsese concert movie
It’s a parody, only without the parody. Like the half-drink karaoke guy or the embarrassing uncle at the wedding who doesn’t know everyone’s watching, but also doesn’t give a fuck.
This incredible moment almost never happened.
The Band was set to play a farewell concert on Thanksgiving Day at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. This came to the attention of famed movie director, Martin Scorsese, who was a big fan of Robbie Robertson and The Band’s music. He came in and shot the entire concert, which included guest appearances by Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and many others.
Van was a reluctant addition to the all-star lineup. He had been known to withdraw into a shell while onstage, often singing with his eyes shut, not to mention his occasional profanity-laden spats with fans. Asking Van to appear seemed risky. Moreover, Van hadn’t released an album in two years and had essentially disappeared from the pop music scene. No one knew what to expect when Van was scheduled to follow Neil Diamond, then at the height of his popularity and probably the worst possible superstar act to replace in the spotlight. Van was in a horrible spot.
Making matters far worse, Van got hit by a last-minute panic of stage fright, which plagued him sporadically throughout his long career. While waiting off in the wings, Van relayed he didn’t want to go on. As Robbie Robertson and The Band began warming up to Van’s intro, Van’s tour manager had to physically push the befuddled singer onto the stage. Van sheepishly approached the microphone and then somehow morphs into an out-of-body experience. Even members of The Band were shocked to watch Van become increasingly animated during the 5-minute transformation. The song had been unrehearsed, so when Van shouts out, “turn it up!” and “one more time!” the band responds at his command.
While editing several hours of concert footage for what would become The Last Waltz, Scorsese later saw the act and was stunned. Eric Clapton said Van stole the show. Perhaps it was because expectations were so low that Van knocked this one out of the park. Known as a great songwriter, but also a deeply private man, jumpsuits and karate kicks simply weren’t in the singer’s wheelhouse.
“Caravan” was only a modestly-known track off the 1970 Moondance album. It certainly didn’t seem like much of a showstopper. Oddly enough, this guest-appearance stands as perhaps his best-known live performance. Unfortunately, it also set up false expectations for future fans who anticipated seeing the “Caravan” version of Van. Instead, they would get a different Van with each successive year, album, and tour.
This — ladies and gentlemen — is how you strut the effing stage! Talking about running the roost! Nailed it, bitches! What a classic!
“Van the Man!”
Note: This begins a week of the worst Van Morrison performances. While this appearance is perhaps his best, it’s a forebearer so some cringeworthy moments to come, which includes television appearances and interviews. This project intends to provide a comprehensive portrait, which includes some rough edges around the performer.
DAY 65: THE WORST PERFORMANCES — “LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN” in 1995 with SINEAD O’CONNOR
This comprehensive examination of Van’s life and career would not be complete without posting some of the disasters, and there have been many.
Perhaps his worst show was the special occasion of Van performing his own song (made famous by Rod Stewart) with fellow Irish free-spirit, Sinead O’Connor. This clip is an embarrassment for Van, who was thought to be drunk during the performance and completely destroys what should have been a memorable duet.
O’Connor grew up idolizing Van, which makes this disaster all the more disappointing. She’s wonderful, as are the musicians — The Chieftains, who backed up Van on numerous albums. However, Van fails to take the occasion seriously, lapsing into a cringe-worthy rendition of one of his most beloved songs.
This fiasco took place in London. David Letterman did a week of shows there and his guests were predominantly British and Irish. Unfortunately, what should have been one of the highlights turned into a musical train wreck.
Oddly enough, though he came out of the 1960s, Van was never known for drug use, nor bouts of addiction, nor even any missed shows. For more than 55 years, Van always shows up on time, sober (usually), and ready to perform. This appears to be a rare exception.
Watch for yourself, one of Van’s worst performances, even though Letterman, perhaps sarcastically announces at the end, “that was great!”
DAY 66: “I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” (1970 song on the “Proof of Life” movie soundtrack, from 2000)
You’re watching the closing scene and credits from the 2000 film starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, Proof of Life, which is an espionage thriller set in South Africa. The film was burdened with problems from the start, including financial issues, an avalanche during filming, and trouble on the set. It didn’t fare well at the box office, either and has since been forgotten.
Van’s original composition is used, which is from the 1970 album His Band and the Street Choir. The track in simple 4/4 time features only four musicians — including Van, with a drummer, bassist, and a guitarist.
“I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” reveals Van at his soulful best. It’s easy to understand why this song was chosen for the final fade-out of a tense movie which concludes with the angst of lost love.
More than likely, you haven’t heard this track before. So, play the short clip and listen. Like so much of Van’s music, it’s the perfect emotional match for the moment.
See if you agree…
DAY 67: “Hungry For Your Love” (1978 original release, also on the “An Officer and a Gentleman” movie soundtrack, 1982)
Van Morrison’s “Hungry For Your Love” is a mellow-sounding feelgood song from the 1978 Wavelength album, which enjoyed two brief bouts of radio airplay — once during the initial phase of the album’s release and again when the mega-smash movie An Officer and a Gentlemen produced a pitch-fever of hits off the soundtrack (“Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker was the clear standout).
This is one of the favorite songs of many Van aficionados, most notably Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, who has released multiple alternate cover versions. The song contains some unusual qualities. First, it’s a throwback to Van’s earlier work done nearly a decade earlier, which doesn’t really meld with the more modern sound of Wavelength released at the height of the disco era. The song also contains a rare demonstration of Van playing the electric piano. Musically gifted and instrumentally versatile, nonetheless, it’s one of the few released recordings with Van on the keyboard.
There’s a nice groove to this song. In the movie, it appeared as background in a scene when stars Richard Gere and Debra Winger wake up the next morning after their initial romantic tryst.
DAY 68: “Irish Heartbeat” (1983)
“Irish Heartbeat” is an original composition by Van Morrison. It has been recorded several times over the years and covered multiple times by other musicians, many from Ireland. The song seems an appropriate choice on this St. Patrick’s Day.
The track debuted on Van’s 1983 studio album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. It reappeared on the 1988 album collaboration with the traditional Irish folk group, The Chieftains. Then, 25 years later, it was re-recorded as a duet with Van and Mark Knopfler. This is the version off the 2015 Duets: Reworking the Catalogue album.
Van has demonstrated extraordinary musical ability over his nearly six-decade span as a songwriter and performer. It would be futile to identify a musical icon who has covered more territory and crossed more bridges. He’s not only excelled in rock, blues, and jazz but also commands such a deep knowledge of traditional folklore. Van’s extensive career is packed with live performances of his playing and singing classic Irish songs, far beyond the typical pop music wheelhouse.
“Irish Heartbeat” is a yin and yang of a song, the soulful Van meeting his inner Irish roots halfway. Off putting to his rock fans and those who grew up accustomed to “Brown-Eyed Girl” pop hits, it’s Van reaching deep, looking back, tilling the fertile musical plain. To his credit, Van doesn’t always take us where we want to be, but in directions where we need to go.
Today, we’re all Irish. And when we listen to Van, we’re all lucky.
DAY 69: A Van Morrison Impression by Sean Cullen (2013)
How exactly does one do an impression of Van Morrison? Well, Sean Cullen absolutely brilliantly nails it!
DAY 70: Van Morrison St. Patrick’s Day Impression by Jimmy Fallon (2009)
A few years back, late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon began doing impressions of classic rock stars. Most amazing, he did his own music and sings original material. His impression of Jim Morrison (The Doors) is astounding.
Fallon did Van Morrison on St. Patrick’s Day, having a bit of fun with the drunken stereotype. It’s all in good fun. I’m not sure how many appreciate how good this wild rendition is, but hey — how the hell do you pull off am impersonation of Van Morrison?
Fallon nails it here. Nice compliment on this Irish holiday to the previous posts in the series.
Hope you enjoy.
- WEEK 1: (You’ve Got the Power; Days Like This; Here Comes the Night; Just Like Greta; T.B. Sheets; Domino)
- WEEK 2: (I Heard You Paint Houses–The Irishman; Into the Mystic; Wavelength; Bright Side of the Road; Take this Hammer; Queen of the Slipstream; Haunts of Ancient Peace; News– Remembering Joe Smith)
- WEEK 3: (Celtic New Year; Cyprus Avenue; Sometimes We Cry; Wild Night; Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo; Enlightenment; Don’t Look Back)
- Week 4: (Whenever God Shines His Light; Ordinary People; Gloria; Down to Earth; Golden Autumn Day; On Hyndford Street; Celtic New Year)
- WEEK 5: (Your Mind is On Vacation; Naked in the Jungle; Spanish Steps; Tupelo Honey; Fame; The Way Young Lovers Do; Van Morrison Documentary–The Early Years_
- WEEK 6: (Go On Home, Baby; Comfortably Numb; These Are the Days; Brand New Day; Bulbs; Rough God Goes Riding; Interviews: 1967 and 2017)
- WEEK 7: (Beside You; Little Village; Never Get Out of These Blues; Someone Like You; I’ll Take Care of You; You Gotta’ Make It Through the World; Under Review–Documentary Film)
- WEEK 8: (Van Morrison at Montreux; Street Choir; Moondance; Troubadours; Twilight Zone; I Will Be There; Wild Honey)
- WEEK 9 (No Religion; Allow Me; When I Deliver; The Healing Game; Help Me, And The Healing Has Begun; Linden Arden Stole the Highlights)