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.