Astral Weeks and Me

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is not only the greatest album in pop music history, it’s the one that the angels listen to in heaven.* A new live version of this 1968 record has just been released, and while it’s a stunning accomplishment, it only draws one back to the original. Nothing comes close to the ineffable, haunting beauty of Astral Weeks.

I remember the day my friend Max brought it home. He listened to it through headphones, over and over. At some point, he started singing along with it. His voice was awful, even without the deafness of headphones. But my boyfriend and I were intrigued by his howling and the look of ecstasy on his face.

I was 16 years old when I first heard Astral Weeks, and it moved me beyond words, as it still does today. Sometimes, we walked down a dark wintry street in north London called Cypress Avenue, and if we were stoned enough, we’d sing Van Morrison’s lyrics: Well I’m caught one more time, up on Cypress Avenue…. Even then, the song was almost unbearably poignant.

Lester Bangs has famously written about Astral Weeks, and Rolling Stone has published more than one piece about the making of the album. The musicians came together without rehearsal, and were told by Van Morrison to “just follow where I’m going…”   The result is a blend of jazz, blues, folk and classical music that can be heard a million times without losing its power to awe.

I ended up naming my first son after Max. I married and divorced my boyfriend. Other music has featured strongly in my life, but Astral Weeks is the one that remains my lighthouse. If you don’t know this album, get a taste of it here.

*They also listen to Forever Changes, by Love, who you can learn about from Tobi Lynne.

Tags: ,

20 Responses to “Astral Weeks and Me”

  1. ash Says:

    I am going to get it! Vinyl! I love when people who do not suck suggest music!

  2. annemarie Says:

    I love that you love this album. I bought it years ago, but I must confess that I have never really been able to get into it. I will try it again. It’s amazing that a record made by a young guy from Belfast, at probably the worst time for anybody to be from Belfast, commands such reverence. It’s my shame that I haven’t “got it” yet, but I will make a fresh attempt this very night x.

  3. JK Says:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15963649

  4. JK Says:

    And then there’s the scroll on down to “Tangled Up In Blue”

    xo SW

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90995819

    Of course I’ll never see you in your “Kiss My Fat Ass” jeans so I figure I need not cut my own hair and link to “Into the Mystic.”

    And I know I need not “cut-up with farm animals” to impress Sister Wolf.

    Well fuck – I’d almost cut my hair in the mirror and buy a short-legged palamino – now that I think about it, I guess actually would.

    Speaking – near as I can get – “Eyeball to Eyeball.”

    Except in the short run, I could, and would, go on a Vegan diet.

  5. TobiLynne Says:

    Astral Weeks is, indeed, a perfect album … I’ve got a copy on hold down at the rekkid store, if only I could pull myself away from working long enough to go pick it up. Also …

    Jeff Buckley “Grace”
    Nick Drake “Five Leaves Left”
    Leonard Cohen “The Future”
    Dirtbombs “Ultraglide in Black”
    XTC “The Big Express”
    Tim Buckley “Tim Buckley”
    Tom Waits “Nighthawks at the Diner”
    Zombies “Odyssey and Oracle”
    Richard Hell “Blank Generation”

    Ok, I should stop …

  6. Dexter VanDango Says:

    Perfect albums? That’s a challenge.

    Love’s Forever Changes would be my first choice too. Beauty, spirituality, the unexpected and balls.

    Zombies’ Odyssey and Oracle shares a lot with the above, though more mellow.

    Traffics’s first album.

    Blood, Sweat and Tear’s first – with Al and not that blowhard David.

    The Door’s first.

    Sgt Pepper is obvious.

    Blonde on Blonde is my number 2.

    “Now’s the Time For” by Hearts & Flowers (cowboy poesy)

    Carmina Burana – get it get it get it in any version

  7. Dexter VanDango Says:

    Don’t know if this link will work.

    Arthur & Love live:

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/video/video.php?v=1123107079984

  8. TobiLynne Says:

    Wow, that’s a great quality video, Dexter! Thanks for posting that!

  9. K-Line Says:

    Great album – and you are British? When I first started reading your blog, I assumed you were writing from UK (not for any good reason, just vibe). When I found out you are in California I had a bit of a mental jumble moment.

    Actually, Susie B recommended you – so because she is from UK, I guess I just assumed you were too (oooh, good reasoning!)

  10. Sister Wolf Says:

    Ash -YAY!

    annemarie – And I will give poetry another chance!

    JK – Yes. Now I’m playing “Into the Mystic” in my head.

    TobiLynne -You are still the most musically literate girl I’ve ever known.

    Dexter- I remember the first time we met…and you told me your top 3 albums! I have Blonde on Blonde at #3. It’s a tie with that Burt Jansch record.

    K-Line – I am from L.A but I lived in London from age 15 to 19. Hugely formative years! xo

  11. Dexter VanDango Says:

    Burt Jansch’s Black Water Side is one of the weirdest most beautiful ballads ever recorded.

    Maybe a new thread? Fantastic and admirable musicians who leave us cold:

    Bruce Springsteen: an honorable man who writes noble lyrics for thinking adults. But he doesn’t intrigue me. He’s more athletic than ethereal. I’d rather listen to David Byrne or Johnathan Richman.

    Joan Baez: another wonderful human being but her voice is like a canary warning of gas in a coal mine. Perhaps it’s meant to be?

    Can’t stand Joni Mitchell either. She’s a genius but a high-pitched one. You lose the high register in your hearing the older you get. Hopefully soon I won’t be able to hear her or Joan at all.

  12. Dexter VanDango Says:

    Forgot to say two fabulous singers I never get tired of: Annie Lennox & Chrisie Hynde.

  13. Sister Wolf Says:

    Dexter -Hate the Boss, Hate Joni. That list goes on forever. Back to love: Dresden Dolls and Pixies!

  14. Dexter VanDango Says:

    Marie Key of Denmark..

    Great lyrics.. trust me.. very Johnathan Richman..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrmWdkV27ak

    see the one called Klyptoman too.

    She’s the real deal..

  15. Dexter VanDango Says:

    Okay.. last entry on the subject. I promise.

    I just listened to Astral Weeks for the first time in 25 years.

    Apart from the fabulous Madame George there are no really memorable melodies, there is a sameness, same tempo throughout, a monotony to the songs. I recognize Van as being one of the greatest singers in the world – but I can take max 3 of his songs at a sitting, maybe 4 if two of them are Gloria and Brown Eyed Girl. Once he left rhythmically driven songs ala Them he drifted into an almost Arabic hypnotic mantra style of vocal fluctuations all too repetitive and strung over mediocre melodies.

    I’d rather listen to Nina Simone’s greatest hits. Anyone who can turn a Bee Gees song into pure soulful gold is a genius indeed.

  16. Mark Says:

    Listening to Van Morrison right now. Thanks. It’s exactly what I need. Better than Lexapro and Prilosec and Crestor for what ails me.

  17. hammie Says:

    yep, Van is wonderful and evokes my early courtship with Mr H.
    But he is such a grumpy arsehole who pisses everyone off…
    nah wait, that probably endears him to you even more!

  18. max Says:

    Joanne, that was a beautiful piece you wrote about Van, and thanks for the namecheck! I still listen to it today, ALL OF IT, and marvel at the poetry and rhythm the pure slide of it all and the fact that he was only 22 when he wrote that amazing sequence -the Muse was really doing him hard for a minute or a mile there. And you, you got soul girl, glad to reconnect x

  19. Kjell Dahl Says:

    Hi!
    It is Cyprus Avenue not Cypress Avenue.
    A lot of people makes this mistake :)

    Kjell
    Norway

  20. Godammit, I’m Mad! » Blog Archive » Ode to Max Blagg Says:

    […] my youth, Max Blagg played a key role, which included my introduction to Astral Weeks.  He was my first “boyfriend” when I moved to London. To a 15 year old juvenile […]

Leave a Reply