“I’m mumbling mumbling
And I can’t remember the last thing that ran
straight through my head”
Van Morrison, “Ballerina”
Every Monday, new music lightens our dreary drive to Eugene and back. New releases come Tuesday so thereâ€™s a weekâ€™s delay and anticipation that figures into the mix, too. Yesterday it was â€œSweet Thing,â€ the fourth song on Van Morrisonâ€™s new Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl, before he was clearly mumbling â€“ 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 Scatterâ€™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 didnâ€™t even get to Keith Jarrettâ€™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 â€“ play them in your head — plus â€œListen to the Lionâ€ from Saint Dominicâ€™s Preview (we listen to that every July 4) and â€œCommon One,â€ 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 Handkeâ€™s My Year in the No-Manâ€™s-Bay, to read the part about the singer, Morrison in disguise. Morrison sang one of Handkeâ€™s lyrics on The Philosopherâ€™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-Manâ€™s-Bay. (Connectedness is all.) But long story short, â€œBeing in song was the original condition for him,â€ says the narrator of the singer. Being in song. And: â€œIt 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.â€
Itâ€™s that perpetual â€œbeginning to healâ€ we listen for in Morrison, and if someday his voice sounds healed I donâ€™t know what we’ll do.
My wife, this morning, mumbling “To be born again . . .”