[The ‘Masterpiece’ series is a 200 words-or-so look at some of the albums that have changed the way I listen to music. Today: the ethereal poetry of Van Morrison]
When I was in college at the University of Oregon, I did work study in the library reshelving books. This meant a lot of time spent in the stacks, and I wasn’t shy about sitting down and opening any book that caught my eye [luckily I had an exceedingly understanding and cool boss – thanks Shelia!]. One of my favorite places to sit and read was in the bound magazine section, where I spent a good deal of time looking at the vintage Rolling Stone magazines. Much of these had been cut to shreds by souvenir hunting college kids, but plenty remained intact, including the reviews and letters-to-the-editor sections.
One album that I read about a lot in those tattered magazines was Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. It seemed that most of the writers agreed that it was special, but beyond that, it was hard for me to get a sense of what it was about. Furthermore, the way it was described usually made it sound like a soundtrack to a Renaissance Faire, so I was interested in spite of myself, and mainly because of the breathless trail of adjectives that seemed to follow it around.
Flash forward to me at one of the campus record stores [Happy Trails on 13th St. for those of you keeping score] later that year, buying some of the first vinyl records I’d purchase as an adult, and what should I stumble across? I even know the date of the purchase (12/17/91) and price ($4.95) because of the tag that’s still on the album. So I get it home and throw it on the turntable and I suddenly understand. Astral Weeks can’t be pinned down because it’s an album full of opposites: beauty & ugliness, joy & sorrow, light & dark, life & death, man & woman. It’s an album that still makes me happy and sad at the same time – which is entirely appropriate, because the memories that are bound up with it cut exactly the same way.