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The Birds

March 1, 2023 Leave a comment

Today’s column is now available. You can read it here…

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Happy birthday Jim Barrett. And thank you…

February 27, 2023 Leave a comment

Today’s column is now available. You can read it here…

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“It’s work and it’s play and on the best nights one overwhelms the other….”

February 25, 2023 Leave a comment

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“The Wind tells me I’m a ghost, but I don’t believe it…..”

February 23, 2023 Leave a comment

Today’s column is now available. You can read it here…

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The Van Morrison “Moondance” essays – complete

February 22, 2023 Leave a comment

These essays were all originally posted for my subscribers over on my substack page. One for each of the songs on Van Morrison’s iconic Moondance record.. I’m including them all here, and hope after reading ’em that maybe you’d become a subscriber yourself. I need you, and I’d love to have you.

Anyway…here they are…in order. A little introduction first, and then we dive in track-by-track….


“This is what the Band would sound like if they woodshedded on Cyprus Avenue instead of Big Pink….”

I was YouTubing the other night. Could not sleep. I’m at the age where I can feel my head nodding off, about to crash into my laptop keyboard during the workday, but come 11pm my blood starts racing through my veins and I start pacing and worrying and my dog gets that look in his eye that says”here we go….”

So yea, I was flicking through YouTube and saw an ad or a trailer or something about the Kenneth Branagh film “Belfast”, which I watched a few months back. It’s a lovely coming of age film that featured a Van Morrison soundtrack, including a brand new song called “Down to Joy”….a breezy, instantly memorable song reminiscent of Morrison’s classic sides. I immediately went diving for it on Spotify, but Van, ever the curmudgeon, refused to allow its release on streaming services. So I found it on YouTube, and its 3 minutes and 40 seconds were undoubtedly the highlight of my day. And night.

Funny how the older you get the less it takes. I’m remembering Holden Caufield in “Catcher in the Rye”, talking about his teacher. “You take somebody old as hell, like old Spencer, and they can get a big bang out of buying a blanket..”

That’s me these late nights. Scared. Alone. Anxious. But getting a big bang out of a new Van Morrison song.

And then I remembered what I did with this column a few months back. How I dove into The Band’s second album because of something I heard in a podcast while I was cutting my grass. And, you know, I got a big bang out of that. So now with this Van thing, why not try it again?

Well, other than the fact that Van is an asshole? Which I can still overlook when I’m listening to “Saint Dominic’s Preview” or “Tupelo Honey”. Not so much with his current work, which is mostly the him finding 12 different ways to say “hey you kids get off my lawn….and take your covid vaccines with you…” over generic blues shuffles.

Yea, Van is one of those Covideers. During the pandemic he actually cut a few ghastly sides with Eric Clapton, another anti-vaxxer. Both of them ranted and raved like a couple of MAGA incels, but everybody now kinda pretends that it didn’t really happen. Which I think is the proper response.

Recent Van records have featured songs such as “They Own the Media” and “Why Are You on Facebook?”, which features the following chorus…

Why are you on Facebook?
Why are you on Facebook?
Why are you on Facebook?
Why are you on Facebook?
Why are you on Facebook?
Why are you on Facebook?
Why are you on Facebook?
Why are you on Facebook?

Coming from the same guy who wrote these lines…

And I will raise my hand up into the nighttime sky
And count the stars that’s shining in your eye
And just to dig it all and not to wonder, that’s just fine
And I’ll be satisfied not to read in between the lines

And I will walk and talk in gardens, all wet with rain
And I will never, ever, ever, ever grow so old again

… can only assume that he’s lost his fucking mind. That fact that Van was promoting the song “Why Are You on Facebook?” on all his social media accounts, which include Facebook, was not something he found troubling. Nor was the fact that after an outcry he had to clarify that the “They” in “They Own the Media” were not in fact Jews… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯…..which has a bit of the racist “I have a lot of black friends” feel to it but whatever.

One critic described Van’s recent music as a “self-absorbed descent into COVID lunacy”, which sums up things as neatly and succinctly as Morrison’s own songs used to.

It’s well known that Van has always been paranoid and temperamental. And maybe just a wee bit batshit. He scowls at a largely fawning press when he deigns to talk to them at all, which isn’t often. He’s forever accusing other artists of ripping him off, an interesting take for a guy who has himself creatively borrowed from more than a few black singers. He’s capable of transcendence one night…..and bringing a clock onstage the next, with a timer set to his agreed upon set length. When it reaches 0:00 he’ll simply walk offstage, even if he’s still in the middle of a song. But where before you could spin this sort of thing as the eccentricities of a misunderstood genius, recently he’s more like a dog straining on a leash. He’s not just being a dick naturally. He’s working hard at it.

His latest album is called “What’s It Gonna Take”, and it’s so bad that it answers its own question. It’s 79 minutes of trolling. It’s his first ever record that didn’t chart in America. Hell, it didn’t even chart in Ireland. The only people listening to this fucking drivel are the guys who spent the lockdown picking fights with teenage cashiers over mask mandates.

But still, I can put on a record like Astral Weeks or Into the Music and forgive him all his trespasses. These records are part of my DNA, and can’t be erased. He’s as great a popular singer and songwriter as the 20th century has ever produced, and I’ll stand on the dinner tables of Ray Charles and Bob Dylan and repeat that.

And Moondance. My God. Like the Band’s second record, Moondance is perfect. Over 50 years on it stills feel timeless. Like it existed somewhere in the ether and was just waiting for somebody weird enough to claim it. It’s rock and roll and R & B and it’s jazz and it’s pop and it’s Irish folk music, all lashed together into what Van eventually called Caledonia Soul. This was music about healing, and music that can heal. Spiritual and mystical and childlike and even a little bit randy….this is what the Band would sound like if they woodshedded on Cyprus Avenue instead of Big Pink.

So I think it’s time I dive into Moondance, track by track. Man, that’ll give me something to look forward to. What say you?

In a bit…



Then the rain let up and the sun came up
And we were gettin’ dry
Almost let a pick-up truck nearly pass us by

–And It Stoned Me

The above lyric has driven me crazy since I first heard it. How do you ALMOST let a pick-up truck NEARLY pass you by?

But if Van needed an extra few syllables, then dammit he was gonna have them. He didn’t give a fiddler’s fart how he was gonna mess with my head. And Van was gonna mess with my head plenty. Had ALREADY messed with my head with his previous record Astral Weeks, which sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. I realized that I didn’t need to spend money to get stoned. I could listen to Astral Weeks and feel stoned. And it seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute he was the Brown Eyed Girl guy, and the next he was venturing “into the slipstream, between the the viaducts of your dreams”, playing these long, jazzy songs about as far from “making love in the green grass behind the stadium with you” as one could get.

I don’t like jazz. It sounds too squirrely to me…almost condescending. But I love Astral Weeks, which was made by a roomful of jazz musicians, because the squirreliness was held in check by a young wild mystic from Belfast who would scowl at his elders if they didn’t make the sounds he was hearing in his head. He refused to speak to the other musicians, even to introduce himself, and the only direction he gave was “play whatever you feel like playing”. Van’s previous records had, for reasons too byzantine to get into here, fallen from the hands of his shady manager into the hands of the Genovese Crime family. A low-level mobster had recently broken a guitar over Van’s drunken and combative head, which eventually led to Morrison fleeing to Boston for a time so things could settle. Warner Bros eventually paid the mob $20,000 to make them go away.

So Van Morrison would not be easily cowed, in other words. If you didn’t like it, you could fuck off.

It was my older brother Pat who turned me on to this music. Before I started paying attention to the mix tapes he’d send me, my record collection was by-the-numbers white boy stuff. Styx and Kansas and Foreigner records interrupted by spins of Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo and whatever was being overplayed on the radio. Also, AC/DCs Back in Black on record AND cassette, just in case.

My brother may have included Van’s song “Sweet Thing” on one of the tapes he sent me…..because I vaguely remember swooning when I heard it, and then rushing down to Ralph’s Record City to buy the album. And it was right about this time that I decided to pick up the guitar. With a few chords under your belt you could play these songs. I had always assumed that the best music would be the most complex…..the hardest to play. I was discovering the exact opposite. All these years later I still make do with those same few chords, and I still play this music. I don’t ever remember anybody breaking out the guitars at a party and kicking off a song by Rush.

Astral Weeks may have been a revelation, but it was still kinda weird. This was a record you put on when the party was winding down, not when it was kicking off. It was the type of music more suited to headphones than anything else. There were ebbs and flows to it. You had to listen to it over and over for it to sink in. Hailed as a masterpiece today, when it was released it got lukewarm reviews. It did not reveal itself all at once.

And then 2 years later came the sharp turn of “Moondance”, one of the most accessible records ever made. One listen was all it took. “And It Stoned Me” sets the tone. Van wastes no time, from the first note setting up a story of boyhood idyll. He and his friend “Billy”…on their way to the county fair….getting soaked by a summer rain. Reveling in it the way boys do. Eyes closed to the sky. Catching the drops on their tongues as they fall. There’s no drug that can capture this feeling.

It stones him like “Jelly Roll”, the music of American jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton, whom Van first heard from his father…

And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like Jelly Roll
And it stoned me
And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like goin’ home
And it stoned me

Even as a boy it was music that framed everything for him. Even then, the only thing he could compare something that felt almost spiritual to, was music. It was as life affirming as the water.

And home.

Later, on their way back, the boys’ throats are dry from singing, and a man “with sunshine in his eyes” gives them bottles of mountain stream water. And the reverie returns. As we get older we’re forever chasing moments like this. We convince ourselves we can drink or drug our way towards them. We cannot. We might even die trying.

Moments like this are why we grow up reluctantly….if at all. Growing up is being old. And being old is running from the summer rain, not into it. Being old is being responsible. It’s bringing your own drinks with you, knowing that you cannot rely on the kindness of passersby to quench your thirst.

“And It Stoned Me” is almost like a secular prayer….and Van would never quite sound so young again.

In a bit…



Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies


Any song with the word “fantabulous” in it deserves its legendary status. “Moondance” is like a soft dream…the kind you wake up from and immediately fight to fall back into. Van Morrison literally makes up a word, and has you thinking that no other word would have sufficed.

The loping bass line immediately hits, and your shoulders are what move first. They rock back and forth like a boat at sea, and you aren’t even aware that you’re doing it. The piano floats over the top, and the acoustic guitar cuts through the groove like butter. And then the flute and the saxophone fight to be heard over Van as he wails. Behind it all the drums tick-tock like a crazed metronome. So many things could go wrong here, but nothing ever does. I don’t like jazz but this is jazz and I love it, so I’m confused.

Or maybe it isn’t jazz. Maybe labeling something like this is pointless, since it dances all over the record store. I once visited a record store in Houston TX that got rid of all genres and simply listed EVERYTHING alphabetically, so Beethoven and the Beatles were right next to each other, and that seemed just about right to me. For a time in the 80s and 90s it was impossible to track down the Neil Young records because his genre kept changing, and one store might be current and another might still be a record or two behind. Country. Grunge. Folk. Rockabilly. Electronica. I half expected the guy to release a comedy record and have his catalog moved over to where Monty Python and The Firesign Theatre were.

I don’t care what you want to call “Moondance”. I just want you to listen to it.

I can remember getting one of my first full time jobs, and being terrified. Even barely in my 20s I had imposter syndrome, convinced that everybody in the place would be some sort of savant and collectively call me out for bullshitting my way through the door. These days, this calls for a quickie breakfast xanax. Back then there was no such thing, so I’d sit in the parking lot of the place listening to “Moondance”, and it would calm me sufficiently to where I could meet the day. Eventually I discovered that everybody there was every bit as dumb as I was. Seniority had simply given them a hall pass. Half the battle is simply showing up. It was one of life’s great lessons, and if not for this record it may have taken it longer to be planted.

As the songs winds down Van makes something like gurgling sounds. I’ve read someplace that he’s trying to sound like a saxophone. Not so sure about that. It’s the type of ad-lib that was surely spontaneous. Some sort of celtic spirit grabbed a hold of him and shook him like a rag doll for a few seconds. It was more like a spasm. And then it was gone.

For a pudgy, barely 5 footer, our man wasn’t lacking for self-confidence, that’s for sure.

And every time I touch you, you just tremble inside
And I know how much you want me that……you can’t hide

Go big or go home I guess. Radio stations cut the line “making love in the green grass” from “Brown Eyed Girl”, but they missed this?

Lost in its own loveliness is the fact that this is one of the horniest songs ever written. Van had recently married a gorgeous American teenager flower child whom he re-named Janet Planet. Van allowed her to write the album’s ridiculously hippie liner notes…..

Once upon a time, there lived a very young man who was, as they say, gifted.  His gifts were diverse, and as he gave of them to others (for gifts are for giving) he found that they were most readily accepted and much desired.  He began to regard his gifts rather tangibly after a short while, and soon the courtesans of a nearby palace were teaching him how to measure and label them, and how to mathematically compute their value…..

….and she clearly got his juices flowing. She also ensured that he didn’t get deported, which was a concern. Peace and love took all sorts of weird detours back then.

The song is the perfect soundtrack to autumn, when the leaves explode and then float gently to the floor, in no hurry at all. It’s my favorite time of year, and I never really stopped to consider why. Maybe this is part of it.

The story goes that the song was cut live. It didn’t seem to belong with the others. Van didn’t trust it. So he recorded it again. And again. At least a dozen more times. And each time he’d listen, and go back to the first take, and decide that the first take was better.

He’s sung the song 1000 times since. And never the same way twice.

When you listen to Van Morrison, it’s hard to dabble. You get immersed in this music, and everything else sounds out of place for a time. This record led me to so many others, and one night at the time of the job I mentioned I was home alone listening to his song “Saint Dominic’s Preview”, and I heard somebody coming up the steps. I mean, it was clear as day. Somebody walked up the steps.

I called out. There was nobody there. I searched. There was nobody there. I was suddenly terrified. I went downstairs and would not go back up there until somebody came home. When I listen to the song now I do so with eyes in the back of my head. There’s no telling what kind of banshees Van is unleashing.

In a bit…



Take away my trouble, take away my grief
Take away my heartache in the night like a thief
She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love

–Crazy Love

I’ve been singing this song for years. I’ll be singing it until the day I die. I hope somebody sings it to me when I’m lying in my coffin. It would be badass if they sang it in a falsetto, like Van does. I don’t do that, because I don’t want clear out the room. But I would if I could.

When Van was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2003, Ray Charles sang this song with him. Ray Charles does not duet on non-great songs. If Ray Charles sings one of your songs, that song belongs in a safe deposit box.

In the late 80s Van had a chance meeting with Bob Dylan in Greece and the two filmed an impromptu duet of “Crazy Love” from the hill of the muses, with the Acropolis as a backdrop. Needless to say, Ray Charles is a better duet partner than a bemused looking Dylan, but just seeing two of finest songwriters on the planet plowing through some songs on their acoustic guitars like frat buddies is worth the google search. Dylan has covered “Crazy Love” in his own shows. Hard to think of a higher compliment than that. Van’s first wife Janet said that her husband “thought Dylan was the only contemporary worthy of his attention”, saying he would “just stare wistfully out the window at the gravel road leading to Dylan’s place…..But back then, Bob just wasn’t interested in him…..”

If he only knew what the future would hold, eh?

The late great Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, who had a voice that could literally sing ANYTHING, routinely covered “Crazy Love” in his solo acoustic shows. There’s a special sort of poignancy there.

“Crazy Love” swipes the chord progression from The Band’s “The Weight” but you don’t really notice, because just about everybody swiped the chord progression from “The Weight” at one time or another. Van does it a bunch more times, most notably in “Tupelo Honey”, which is essentially the same song with different lyrics, which is why when I sing “Crazy Love” I always add a few verses of “Tupelo Honey” as well. Nobody really notices because I’m singing these songs in loud bars with sports on assorted television sets. A few of the screens might be right above my head, which is a bit disconcerting. It’s one of my pet peeves actually, along with when the wait staff starts sweeping the floor and putting the chairs up onto the tables during your last set instead of just letting you go home early.

But more than a few times I’ll be singing this song and I’ll spot a ringer. Maybe a guy in his 60s or so, who knows the song and sings along softly to himself at the bar. And that can make my night actually. Because singing such a nakedly romantic song in a bar filled with guys currently putting away their 10th Miller Lite is not always easy, especially when during the middle of it they’ll crash into the microphone stand and ask you to sing “Brown Eyed Girl” instead.

Love is all sorts of things. It’s terrifying and it’s thrilling and it’s maddening and it can sneak up and bludgeon you. Knowing you can go home where love is waiting, versus knowing you simply have a home… the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. We constantly sing about it because it’s the only thing worth constantly singing about.

Without it…we die mean. With it we never want to die at all. So yea, put all that together and it sounds a little crazy. So it’s no wonder it’s been the subject of about 99% of popular song. Even a known curmudgeon like Van Morrison wasn’t immune to its charms. Well…its initial charms at least, since a few years after he wrote this song for his new wife, he divorced her. Two decades later Van would write “Have I Told You Lately”, another unabashedly romantic song that has become a wedding staple. Although Van was quick to point out that he was singing about God, not his current muse at the time, who he would also divorce years later and say, in an official statement…..

“At my age, I have found it to be a hugely wearying, protracted experience and I’m relieved that it has finally reached a conclusion….”

…and if they ain’t some crazy love I don’t know what is.

In a bit…



Turn it up, turn it up, little bit higher, radio
Turn it up, that’s enough, so you know it’s got soul
Radio, radio turn it up, hmm


Here’s what we need to decide.

Which Van Morrison hill do you want to die on?

The “Gloria” hill?

Or the “Caravan” hill?

To me these are his 2 greatest works. An overheated garage band romp, and a titanic song about gypsies and the radio.

“Gloria” remains a piece of molten lava. A 3 chord burn that every guitar band worth their salt has busted out. It’s a manic piece of sexual energy with a riff so blazingly simple that you almost wonder why it took so long for somebody to come up with it. Morrison wrote it while he was 18 years old, which explains its horniness. Critic Dave Marsh called it “one of the few rock songs that’s actually as raunchy as its reputation.” Guitar players can learn this song on their first day, and if they’re lucky they’ll drop dead playing it years and years later in a sweaty bar filled with admiring females. If you’re a rock and roller, and somebody talks to you about “3 chords and the truth”……well THESE are the 3 chords they are referring to.

(“Gloria” is one of the triumvirate of classics from the early 60s…..The Who’s “Can’t Explain” and the Kinks “You Really Got Me” are the others…..that a young Jimmy Page supposedly played on. It’s interesting to note that all 3 bands (Van was fronting the band “Them” at the time) vehemently deny that Page had anything to do with their sessions. Page has remained coy about it for years, putting on “maybe I did and maybe I didn’t” airs, which burnished his legend but managed to drive Pete Townshend and Dave Davies mad….)

So what does one do when he has written and recorded one of the greatest rock and roll singles of all time? He creates “Astral Weeks”, a record about as far from the garage as one can get. Van Morrison followed his muse for sure. But Van’s muse was as weird as he was. “Them” could make the Rolling Stones sound like the Carpenters, and then he turned inward and sailed into the mystic, and stopped making loud noises.

Until he shouts “turn it up!” in “Caravan”.

As great as the song is here, he actually improved upon it twice. First in his classic live album “Too Late To Stop Now” in 1974, with his 11 piece band he dubbed the “Caledonia Soul Orchestra”. It’s a 10 minute tour-de-force…an absolute master class in dynamics. The night this was recorded it’s hard to imagine there was a better band or bandleader anywhere in the world. The band was like a lariat in his hands.

And of course, who can forget “The Last Waltz”? The Band’s farewell concert in 1976, filmed by Martin Scorsese and widely considered one of the greatest rock and roll concert films ever made. One of the main reasons? Van Morrison’s performance of “Caravan“.

It almost didn’t happen. Van showed up before the show dressed in a trench coat and fedora, looking like a CIA spy. As showtime approached he grew terrified, and rushed back to the hotel to change outfits, re-appearing in a hideous skin-tight maroon suit featuring sequins by his crotch that made it look like he was wearing a makeshift chastity belt. Band drummer Levon Helm called that night the “high watermark of sartorial bad taste in the 70s”, and it’s not hard to imagine who he was talking about.

Depending on which 70s memory you believe, Van was either whacked out of his skull from doing lines of coke with Neil Young, or drunk off his Irish ass for attempting to go drink for drink with Band pianist and herculean imbiber Richard Manuel. Either way, he had to be forcibly pushed onto the stage, where a VERY worried looking Robbie Robertson nervously counted the band in. What follows is so ridiculous that it became sublime. Van’s terror lifts like a fog and he’s suddenly caterwauling and leg kicking across the stage like a demented rockette. He managed to upstage EVERYBODY, including the Band themselves, and guests like Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan. It’s one of the greatest live performances ever caught on film.

Turn it up now
Just a-one more time
oh lord
just a-one more time baby…
just a-one more….just a-one more…

……and then he’s gone, practically falling into the wings without waiting for the song to end.

This performance did not create the Van Morrison legend. But he would forever after have a sort of aura about him. From this moment on, he could “turn it up”, or even ON, whenever he wanted to.

So which hill do I wish to die on?

I’ll gladly fall into eternal slumber in between the both of them.

In a bit…



And I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will float
Into the mystic

–Into the Mystic
(until just now I always thought the line was
”magnificently we will FLOW…”)

You learn something new everyday.

Here’s another. In a BBC poll “Into the Mystic” was named as one of the most popular songs for surgeons to listen to while performing operations. I don’t know how I feel about this. The song is incredibly soothing. I don’t dispute that. But how does this work? Is the song on repeat? If not, is the playlist all Van? If so, what comes next? I don’t want the doctor to be completely zen and in the zone…..and then “Gloria” or “Mystic Eyes” comes crashing through the speakers, causing the guy to get excited and nick an artery or something.

Among my musician friends, this is the song. This is the one they play over and over. This is the one that slapped them upside the head, and rained the soul all over them. It’s probably the only song on the record that would have fit on “Astral Weeks”, his previous release. I don’t know what sailing into the mystic means exactly, but I wouldn’t mind searching for the answer. I think that’s exactly what Van has been doing over the last 50+ years, actually.

And in the song’s final line, Van explains why all of us continue to wake up in the morning and face this shitstorm. “It’s too late to stop now” he cries out as the song ends, a line my friend and fellow Van lover Bret Alexander describes as “the polar opposite of ‘I hope I die before I get old’….and, ultimately, more accurate..” Bret calls Van “a carnival wrapped inside a small, angry Irishman.” And that’s too good a description to not repeat here. So I just did.

It’s too late to stop now.

That’s the answer to oh so many questions. It’s why Keith Richards and Willie Nelson are still on the road. It’s why Bruce Springsteen just kicked off a tour last night in Tampa, at the ripe age of 73…barely a year from selling his music catalog for half a BILLION dollars. And it’s why the Covid shutdowns drove Van into an almost incandescent madness. “Turn it on!” a fan once yelled to him during a quiet moment of a 1973 show. “It’s turned on ALREADY” was Van’s reply, and turning it off was never gonna be an option.

I was a teenager the first time I heard “Into the Mystic”. It was bewitching then for sure, but I think the song means something different all these years later. It’s a song of almost childlike wonder that you need to be a grown-up to fully grasp. Maybe it’s simple lost love. Or some sort of spiritual awakening. Or maybe floating “into the mystic” together is some sort of Romeo and Juliet pact. Maybe it’s a song about death. After all, along with operating rooms, I’ve also learned that the song is very popular at funerals. And, it must be said, weddings as well. Talk about checking all the boxes. Van did wonders here.

And is it “borne” or “born” before the wind? Oh so younger than the “sun” or “son”? One letter matters. Even Van didn’t know which set of lyrics to send his publishing company. This is why it’s folly to interpret a song’s meaning. Even the writer doesn’t know half the time. A quick google search of the song’s meaning brings back all sorts of poetic responses. And then I have to remind myself that Van was probably sitting up late at night in front of a fire, with a bottle, his beautiful new wife, and copious amounts of Woodstock weed when this song came spilling out of him. So maybe it’s not “about” anything other than being enormously talented and pleasantly stoned. After being asked 1000 times, Van (who said the original title was “Into the Misty”) finally settled on “I guess the song is just about being part of the universe…”, which is the verbal equivalent of the ¯_(ツ)_/¯ emoji.


I still remember Moondance as an album. “Into the Mystic” was the end of side 1, and you had to get off your ass to switch the record over. But there would always be a pause as the needle hung onto the final grooves. It didn’t feel right not to observe at least a moment of silence when it ended. What just finished may have been the greatest side of a pop record ever crafted.

What could he possibly do to follow this on side 2?

Let’s go find out…

In a bit…



By the side of the tracks where the train goes by
The wind and the rain will catch you, you will sigh
Deep in your heart
Then you’ll come running to me

–Come Running

Like all great pop songs, it sounds effortless. It could be a throwaway, until you realize that it’s worthy of any of the Brill Building classics. Worthy of Berry Gordy. There’s nothing to it. Three effervescent chords. It’s driven by the piano and the bass, before a simple horn chart materializes, like the sun bursting through could cover. The chorus is instantly memorable. Van sounds almost giddy. When a song like this leaps out, there’s a sense of everything being right with the world. For 2 and a half minutes at least. But anything longer would drag, and anything shorter would BE a drag.

“Come Running” is the type of track that nobody really trusts initially. Its notes fade away and everybody in the room just flash dopey grins at one another. You’re thinking “let’s just warm up with this ditty I had laying around before getting to the REAL stuff” and then you realize that it’s better than the real stuff. Not a single note is forced. Or wasted. It’s no surprise that it was chosen as the album’s first single. It’s the most radio friendly track Van had created since Brown Eyed Girl.

As a struggling new guitar player songs like this were heavenly. I could fake my way alongside it, and it gave me confidence. With the same 3 chords I could play 1000 other songs. Van Morrison was a great singer, He was not a great guitar player by any means. But he was good enough to create these songs. That was all I cared about. To this day I’d rather be the guitar player who can create “Come Running” than the guitar player who can play “Beck’s Bolero”. I realize this makes me a weirdo but I’m fine with that.

Anybody can play “Come Running”. But it took Van to write it.

Currently as I type this social media is swarming with Chinese spy balloon experts. The relentless dumbness is both embarrassing to us as a species, and absolutely stultifying for my creativity. So I have “Come Running” on repeat, utilizing it the same way I use the sound machine that sits on my bedroom dresser to drown out the traffic 20 yards from my bedroom window.

When nobody else will do, Van is there.

A slight aside, but worth the small detour I think….

An entire generation tuned into the Grammy’s this past weekend and watched Bonnie Raitt win for best song over Adele and Beyonce and Taylor Swift and Harry Styles. They collectively gasped and said “who the hell is Bonnie Raitt?” at the same exact time (the UK tabloid newspaper The Sun called her an “unknown blues singer”)…..and this moment made so many grizzled veterans like me smile, because Bonnie Raitt, like Van Morrison, can, when the moon is right, sit down with an acoustic guitar and write and sing these people into the ground. She’s been doing it nearly as long as Van. Her song “Just Like That”, inspired by the passing of her friend John Prine, is an absolute stunner. But so are a dozen other songs of hers over the years that were not nominated. Maybe time really is the wiser. Maybe, sometimes, the best woman wins.

And so……

If Taylor Swift (whom I really like) covered “Come Running” right now, it’d be all over the radio. If Adele (same) released a version of “Crazy Love” the song would become legendary. And if Harry Styles (same) cut “Caravan”? That spy balloon might have been detected earlier… as it brought itself closer to the ground for a better listen.

It’s hard to give the “respect your elders” speech to those who are not aware of who their elders are. What I like about Taylor Swift and Adele and Harry Styles is that THEY are well aware, even if their fans are not. Somebody as talented as Taylor Swift surely already has Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison records at home. It’s part of how she became Taylor Swift.

But back to the matter at hand….

Critic Greil Marcus once boiled down Van’s gifts into one word. Well, not really a word. More like a phonetic sound. He called this quality “the yarragh.” I’ve been trying to come up with something better, but I can’t.

“The Yarragh”

You either have it or you don’t. I’m not sure you can teach “the yarragh”, any more than you can teach somebody Bonnie Raitt’s touch on a slide guitar.

I don’t believe in any deity, so I’m not going there. And even if there was one, he or she or it surely wouldn’t gift somebody as crotchety as Van Morrison with anything special. It’s deeper than that.

Maybe it’s something that comes running to you.

Well, you watch the train go ’round the bend
Play in dust and dream that it will never end
Deep in your heart
But you’ll come a-running to me, yeah
You’ll come a-running to me, all right

In a bit…



And Ray Charles was shot down
But he got up to do his best

–These Dreams of You

I mean, what would you do if you had a dream that somebody tried to assassinate Ray Charles? In Canada no less!

If you’re Van Morrison, you write a song about it. A bouncy little start/stop ditty featuring a great sax solo from Jack Schroer, it’s probably the weakest track on a record that doesn’t really have any weak tracks, which sounds kind weird but I stand by it. Van could write songs like “These Dreams of You” every day of his life if he wanted to. Find a nice groove. Overlay lyrics that sound good but don’t really mean anything. Add some really cool and succinct horn parts and a simple little bridge to break thinks up. Then just sing his ass off until the song fades out. Repeat as desired.

A lesser artist might have a song like this as the centerpiece to their record. But Moondance is filled with such bangers that “These Dreams of You” just sounds like an pleasant interlude in between having your mind blown.

Back when I first heard this record I was writing my first songs. I’d hear John Prine play his 3 chords, and Van play his 3 chords, and wonder how they both did it. When you broke them down, these songs were as simple as children’s singalongs. They should have sounded like a million other songs, but they didn’t. My songs? There was not a shred of originality to them. Knowing how to play something is not the same as knowing how to create something. It took me years to learn this.

There are exceptions of course, but for the most part our greatest songwriters are not virtuoso musicians. Dylan is a rudimentary guitar player at best. John Prine once said that once he himself learned 3 chords they sounded so good to him that he never bothered to learn any more. Sometimes Van didn’t even need that many. There’s something unteachable about all of this. Something mystical. Something….well…..dreamlike.

And hush-a-bye, don’t ever think about it
Go to sleep don’t ever say one word
Close your eyes, you are an angel sent down from above

I’ve been writing songs for 30+ years now. I started out shamelessly stealing from others, and eventually found out that I need not tip my hand so blatantly. So instead of crashing through Van’s front door, I learned to silently crawl through his back window. I can still listen to Moondance and find something new….something that leads me down a road I never thought to take before. I can still listen to Van the way he probably still listens to Ray Charles. Songwriters are all thieves. The trick is to not get caught. You need to add just enough of your own flavor to cover your tracks.

Van Morrison creatively borrows as well. Mostly from black music. His blues is the celtic variety, filled with a sense of boyhood wonder, with more than a touch of the Irish poets. But his wailing is Ray Charles and Jackie Wilson. His stomp is John Lee Hooker. And he conducts his bands like James Brown. He freely admits to all of this, while allowing himself to be driven crazy by any white popular artist with a hint of soul, claiming they are all ripping HIM off. Springsteen. Bob Seger. Mellencamp. Tom Petty. Graham Parker. Elvis Costello. The more records they sold, the less Van seemed to sell. So it wasn’t that he spent a decade releasing a series of albums filled with music so bland that one critic suggested he made Sting sound like Straight Outta Compton. Van just blamed it all on his ungrateful bastard children sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

“And he’s (Springsteen) definitely ripped me off … [and] I feel pissed off now that I know about it….I’m just fed up with it. I just wish they’d find someone else to copy. In the old days, they’d have called it a form of flattery. But I don’t find it flattering at all. I mean, find someone else to copy, or else send me the royalties, you know…..I don’t see why something I’ve invented, I’ve developed and worked hard to come by should be ripped off, year in and year out, by these people.”

Something he INVENTED. Van’s lack of self-awareness is….well….interesting. He must have eschewed that vaccine as well.

I’m not really hearing “Slim Slow Rider” in “Born in the USA” or “Dancing in the Dark”. (However, if you wanna talk about “New York City Serenade”…..we can meet for a drink.)

I did a quick search and a few online forums said Van mentioned that he thought Bruce stole some of his stage moves, which sounded like parody since Van doesn’t really have any stage moves unless you count holding onto the mic stand like it’s a life preserver……and Springsteen has been known to crowd-surf, leap on and off pianos, and run around the lip of the stage like there’s a hellhound on his trail.

But it’s a good story. The problem with being a known curmudgeon is always having to find something to be curmudgeonly about. After a while it becomes schtick. You become that comedian who can’t do a show without watermelons and a mallet.

Who knows. The guy dreamt that Ray Charles got shot, so maybe he dreamt that Bruce’s boardwalk muse “Madame Marie” from Asbury Park was a direct descendant of “Madame George” in Belfast.

But I digress, as I sometimes do when discussing Van, because he’s impossible to pin down. He’s Greta Garbo and “vants to be alone”…..only to climb back into the news cycle by suggesting that a worldwide pandemic that has killed nearly 7 million people worldwide should have been shunted aside long enough for him to perform his already scheduled shows at the fucking London Palladium. Because freedom.

You gotta have LOTS of talent to get away with garbage like that. You gotta have the talent to write a great song like “These Dreams of You”, and surround it with even greater songs so that it gets lost in the (E-Street?) shuffle.

Sorry. Could not resist.

In a bit…



When all the dark clouds roll away
And the sun begins to shine
I see my freedom from across the way
And it comes right in on time

–Brand New Day

The song is immediately gorgeous. Absolutely from the first note. It’s life affirming. It’s exactly what you need when you need something and aren’t sure what that something is. Life has worn you to an absolute nub. The pillow your head is buried under is going to be your final resting place. Goodbye cruel world and all of that. And then that one tinkling piano note….announcing that it just might be worth pulling the curtains back one more time. “Because “Here Comes the Sun” ALMOST gets you, but you’ve always resisted its charms out of Beatle-spite. But “Brand New Day”? Resistance is futile. The song should be piped into elevators and hospital corridors and cop cars. The song should be the national anthem for those of us wrestling with the world’s unrelenting shittness. The song could stop wars before they start.

How about that, eh? I may have woken up a bit hyperbolic today, but so what. It beats not waking up at all.

And when you’re writing about the Moondance album, one song at a time, you know when it’s time for “Brand New Day”, and that may have been what got me out of bed in the first place. I’m tired. I’m old. I drag depression around like the chains of some Dickensian ghost. I can see the finish line and am desperately trying to keep my head down until I reach it. Social security and retirement and senior citizen discounts for movie tickets and forced to take a job as a Wal-Mart greeter to keep the heat on, because ‘Murica! Our entire adult lives are spent dog paddling furiously to keep bill collectors at bay. We flop on the couch every night like fish washed up onshore…for a few hours of respite before having to do the same exact thing tomorrow.

I was lost and double crossed
With my hands behind my back
I was long-time hurt and thrown in the dirt
Shoved out on the railroad track
I’ve been used, abused and so confused
And I didn’t have nowhere to run
But I stood and looked
And my eyes got hooked
On that beautiful morning sun

But yea, sometimes there is this too. The story goes that Van was up in Boston feeling…well…..lost….and he heard a song by the Band on the radio. It was “I Shall Be Released”. The song acted like a pharmaceutical, and he claims he looked out the window and all the clouds parted, as if they were overpowered by a suddenly invigorated sun. Van immediately picked up his guitar and the tune was already there. He compared it to a spiritual awakening, I like to think that the spirits can be roused by the voice of Richard Manuel too. Those are the types of spirits I want to conjure up when I’m feeling low down.

And then he enlists Whitney Houston’s Mom to sing background vocals.

How can you not love this song?

It’s worthy of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. It should have been an anthem for whatever walls this nation needed to knock down. Who knows why things don’t work out the way they should? As it is, even buried deep on side two, it still stands out on one of the greatest pop records ever made, so I guess that’s not bad business. And it WAS recently featured (albeit a cover version by the late South African singer Miriam Makeba) in Harry and Meghan’s recent Netflix doc, which I’m sure cheered SIR Van down to his gypsy soul, eh?

The world needs more songs like “Brand New Day”. It needs more moments like hearing “I Shall Be Released” on the radio for the first time…..or picking up your guitar and having the song you want to create already there for the taking. It needs more sun and less clouds. We slumber because we’re exhausted. I wish it was because we were chasing sounds like this.

Music is better than drugs. With drugs you need more and more to reach the same high. A song like this takes me to the same place. Every single time. For years and years.

So what if the high only lasts 5 minutes. That’s what the repeat option is for.

In a bit…



We shall walk again down along the lane
Down the avenue just like we used to do
With our heads so high, smile at passers by
Then we’ll softly sigh ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay


First off, according to Wikipedia, it’s a clavinet and not a harpsichord in this song. I call bullshit on that. Regardless, every time I hear “Everyone” I think of a manically laughing Mozart going off at a garden party, and it makes me smile like a goof. “Everyone” a song so outrageously catchy and JOYFUL that it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it was created by one of the biggest grumps on the planet.

But then again, it makes a sort of mystic sense. I think Van Morrison was born to do one thing. When the doctor slapped him on his arse Van started singing, maybe not in 12/8 time like this song, but still. He’s 77 years old now, seemingly always perpetually aggrieved over something. But when he folds himself into a room full of trusted musicians, it’s like a scene from the movie “Awakenings”. All the personality tics fall away, and what’s left is something akin to levitation. Van Morrison doesn’t have to sing anymore. He’s got more money than he can possibly spend. Yet he’s just as likely to be singing tonight in front of 300 people in a hotel ballroom than to 8000 in an amphitheater. The crowd only matters because there is one. Their size is irrelevant.

Plus, there’s always this…

“If you don’t like it, go fuck yourself”

—Van to a member of the audience in 1974

And I know Van went all anti-science “hey you kids get off my lawn” guy during the pandemic and all that….but I honestly think he lost his shit because he was being told that people couldn’t gather to hear him sing. I think that mattered to him more than the odds that he might end up like John Prine, gasping his final breaths while being intubated. I think Van was willing to take his chances (and yours) not because he didn’t believe in the virus, but because not being able to play felt like the bigger threat. This doesn’t make him less of a selfish asshole, of course. But it adds a layer of nuance to his douchey-ness.

I think he’s always searching for the feeling of writing “Everyone”. What the room felt like when the band rolled into it. Wanting to re-create the faces of everyone when the flute solo kicked into overdrive….sounding like a freshly released dove. My God. How could you not want to bottle all of this and carry it with you? I realize this is all serious hippie shit, and I feel like I should apologize but I’m not gonna because the world needs some serious hippie shit right now.

Somebody was sitting in the control room and said “lets make the intro sound like an 18th century drawing room in Austria”. The 60s were still holding on for dear life, and the weed was surely outstanding. You could do things like this and get away with it. If there were rules, everybody was too stoned to remember what they were. And then the guy with the flute showed up, or was corralled as he was walking by, and that was that. As the song winds down Van makes random guttural sounds….the kind I still make when I can’t remember the words. I would love to see him try to lip sync this one. This is what Jethro Tull might have sounded like if they didn’t take themselves too seriously. The song is classified as “Baroque Pop”, which actually has its own Wikipedia entry. I just assumed it was a category somebody made up to ram this song into.

“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that
makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody.
No good for nothing.”

–Woody Guthrie

I think Woody would have loved “Everyone”. I think it would have kicked him in the ass and solidified his faith in human beings, whom he called “hoping machines”. I’m not sure Van would call us that…..but for 3 minutes and 32 seconds he tapped into that vein at least. This is the opposite of the songs that Woody hates, and if you can create that you’ve earned some goodwill.

In a bit…



And they’ll talk to you while you’re in trances
And you’ll visualize not taking any chances
But meet them halfway with love, peace and persuasion
And expect them to rise for the occasion
Don’t it gratify when you see it materialize
Right in front of your eyes
That surprise

–Glad Tidings

The one from the Sopranos. More specifically, the final episode of season five. A great song to be whacked to. Do we remember the scene because of the song, or the song because of the scene?

Does it even matter?

Somehow you just knew when it kicked on that somebody was gonna get clipped. In this case, it turned out to be Tony B, who was blown across the front porch while still holding his recently purchased groceries, by a double barrelled shotgun fired by Tony Soprano himself. Sales of “Moondance” immediately spiked. Thanks to David Chase, an entire new generation was introduced to this music the only way possible nowadays, since the radio had already been clipped years earlier.

These days, it’s either a TV placement, or you’re stuck playing county fairs in the summer.

That bass line. Worthy of Carol Kaye. Those horns. Worthy of Stax or Muscle Shoals. When you get to the end of “Glad Tidings”, it dawns on you that side two, somehow and someway, has held its own with side one. Including the best use of la la la la las since the last song on side one faded out. “Moondance” could not be one of the greatest pop records ever made if its final song limped across the finish line. “Glad Tidings” dashes.

What’s it about? Who cares. It mentions Christmas, so maybe it’s a Christmas song. One of Van’s biographers suggests it has something to do with Van getting screwed on past record contracts (“And the businessmen will shake hands and talk in numbers”), which if true would be a drag. I don’t want to snap my fingers in eternity to a song about lawyers. Van mentioned receiving a letter from a friend who had written “glad tidings from London” and responding with “glad tidings from New York” in his reply, and that kick-started the song. Sometimes all you need is a great title. The rest is filling in the gaps.

I’ve been singing along to this song for decades now, never really knowing all the words. I know enough to fake it until we can all get to the la la la bit, with our goofy grins intact. But there’s more than just throwaway lines here. This is a finely crafted lyric. And it seems totally devoid of cynicism…

But meet them halfway with love, peace and persuasion
And expect them to rise for the occasion
Don’t it gratify when you see it materialize
Right in front of your eyes
That surprise

…which is what really struck me.

But then there’s this…

And they’ll lay you down low and easy

…which is one of those things that make you go “hmmmmm”

Maybe the Soprano dudes had it right all along. After all, what lays you down lower and easier than a bullet in the brain? Other than making love in the green grass, behind the stadium that is. If you listen closely you can hear the “Brown Eyed Girl” riff in the midst of all this, dropped just once but that’s enough. It never fails to make me grin stupid. But Van did recently have his own dealings with organized crime, which culminated with a Genovese family soldier breaking a guitar over his head. Glad Tidings from New York indeed.

I’m just riffing here, obviously. With the song on in the background because the groove is infectious enough for the repeat button. This is Irish soul music, and Van Morrison was the James Brown of Irish soul music. He could conjure up songs like “Glad Tidings” seemingly whenever he wanted to. It’s the precursor to more popular songs like “Domino”, and even Van doesn’t know what the fuck that song is about. Van’s Irish soul music existed not to tell coherent stories, but to force you to come up with your own while you were contemplating…..well…..dancing into the mystic, I guess. The lyrics existed to churn the tune. Sometimes all he had left were la la las….and when that happened it could be as transcendent as a killer Dylan couplet.

And so that’s that. That’s “Moondance”, a record that changed my life because that’s what music used to do when we actually had to pay for it. I’m not adverse to therapy but records like this are probably why I never went that route. I figured I’d get just as much out of laying down on my own couch with headphones on, without worrying about any insurance deductible or being asked what some stick drawing meant. This recent deep dive has reminded me how much sway this music still has over me.

And how the healing has already begun.

In a bit…


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The Moondance essays – Track 5 Side 2 – Glad Tidings

February 22, 2023 Leave a comment

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“Not a promise anybody can make…”

February 16, 2023 Leave a comment

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The Moondance essays – Track 4 Side 2 – Everyone

February 15, 2023 Leave a comment

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“Greased for nothing…”

February 14, 2023 Leave a comment

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The Moondance essays – Track 3 Side 2 – Brand New Day

February 10, 2023 Leave a comment

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