Tag Archives: Astral Weeks

‘Astral Weeks’ onstage: just think radio

By Bob Hicks

A few nights ago, as I watched the premiere of Find Me Beside You, Jessica Wallenfels’ “rock story ballet” stage adaptation of Van Morrison‘s 1968 concept album Astral Weeks, three things crossed my mind.

The first was the tradition of the minimally staged Broadway musical — in essence, concert versions of full-blown theater pieces — that has been popularized in the Encores! series at New York City Center and emulated across the country, including productions by the Portland company Staged!

Dave Cole and Elizabeth Klinger in Jessica Wallenfels' "Find Me Beside You," produced by Many Hats Collaboration, Portland. Photo: Zachary RouseThe second was Working Girl, the 1988 romantic movie comedy starring Melanie Griffith as a working-class sharpie who, as a gopher for conniving big-biz baddie Sigourney Weaver, figures out how to make a stalled television megadeal work: let a little air out of the tires and reap big profits in radio instead.

The third was Winterreise, Franz Schubert‘s 1827 song cycle based on poems by Wilhelm Muller.

Ben Waterhouse has reviewed Find Me Beside You here for Willamette Week, and Catherine Thomas here for The Oregonian; both were in general impressed, with reservations. I tend to see a little less diamond and a little more rough, but I agree that what’s good here is promising. And I have a modest suggestion: let a little air out of the tires. Find Me Beside You tries to do too much on too many platforms, and its high ambitions make it a sprawling muddle instead of the focused gem it might be.

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Being in song: to be born again just in time

“I’m mumbling mumbling
And I can’t remember the last thing that ran
straight through my head”

Van Morrison, “Ballerina”

flyerEvery Monday, new music lightens our dreary drive to Eugene and back. New releases come Tuesday so there’s a week’s delay and anticipation that figures into the mix, too. Yesterday it was “Sweet Thing,” the fourth song on Van Morrison’s new Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl, before he was clearly mumbling – clearly mumbling, words as sounds tumbling and rolling out of his chest and throat — and we knew it was going to be a great drive. Astral Weeks (1968) has tracked this Scatter’s nearly forty year marriage and yesterday as the music washed over us, in scat-time to occasional shower, we were driving South Dakota back roads, not down I-5 and back. We didn’t even get to Keith Jarrett’s new Yesterday, which will now be next Monday or later.

Recorded last November, all the Astral Weeks songs are here, in different order and with some improvisations: Astral Weeks Beside You Sweet Thing Cyprus Avenue The Way Young Lovers Do Madam George Ballerina Slim Slower Slider – play them in your head — plus “Listen to the Lion” from Saint Dominic’s Preview (we listen to that every July 4) and “Common One,” one of those mystic church-Swendenborgian things we put up with to have the rest of Morrison.

So when we got back to Portland I opened Austrian novelist Peter Handke’s My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay, to read the part about the singer, Morrison in disguise. Morrison sang one of Handke’s lyrics on The Philosopher’s Stone and one of the photos of Morrison on his Back on Top (another great album with those chilling, barely registered, barely mistimed backing vocals by Brian Kennedy) is on the jacket of My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay. (Connectedness is all.) But long story short, “Being in song was the original condition for him,” says the narrator of the singer. Being in song. And: “It seemed to the singer as if something in him was beginning to heal, something which, although he had sung about it again and again, he had not even wanted to have healed.”

It’s that perpetual “beginning to heal” we listen for in Morrison, and if someday his voice sounds healed I don’t know what we’ll do.

My wife, this morning, mumbling “To be born again . . .”