Skip to content

Van The Man, Indeed

“No white man sings like Van Morrison.” So proclaimed the native San Franciscan and music journalist Greil Marcus. Whenever I use this observation in a comment section, I invariably get hit with “watch the racist generalizations” or similar sentiment. To which the reply “blow me” seems to suffice. And this is what I figure Van would tell me if I ever met him and expressed my fandom. I once read a Reddit thread about Van’s famously mercurial ways. Some young dude chimed in about having seen him at a show in New York City. “Afterwards, I went into this half-empty dive bar, and there he was having a drink with Sean Penn.” Seems like a promising set up. “I got up the nerve and went over to ask them both for an autograph. Sean Penn signed my paper but Van Morrison told me to ‘fuck off.'” The kind of story to be taken with a huge grain of Celtic salt, but I like to believe it’s true.

I’ve been following Van most of my life and long ago discovered he’s got two categories of fans. The first is those who have heard the “hits,” often starting with Brown Eyed Girl being played endlessly on whatever now passes for a jukebox in their favored local. Maybe they know Wild Night from a movie soundtrack and discovered Domino along the way. They fall into Moondance by way of their fathers, getting a direct line of Into The Mystic and And It Stoned Me into their veins. If they’re particularly ambitious and the first marriage fails or the Gameboy is busted, they might even trip across Astral Weeks (though rarely the superior Veedon Fleece.) And, edging into their forties, they finally catch Van in concert and come away thinking “what the hell was that?” Predictably, they comment on his lack of crowd-friendly behavior and how he “didn’t play any of his good songs.” Ultimately, they take exception to me setting them straight in a comments section and redeem their superiority by admonishing my racist generalizations.

The second group includes guys like me (who often fat-headedly figure they’re in a third group all on their own.) They’ve seen him many times, usually in places like San Francisco and New York City because he tours frequently, typically in Europe and on short American stints. They consider buying a last minute ticket because he’s playing SFJAZZ on Franklin, and, my God, that place only seats about five hundred. Still, the idea of dragging one’s ass into the city and dealing with parking and other people is too much and … *click* they hit the button, the credit card is charged, and the deal is sealed. Cut to driving across the bridge, doing battle with a QR code that won’t scan from paper at the parking garage, and all the layered levels of squalor and residual tech opulence that define San Francisco 2023. Trying to look old man cool in your felt Macy’s sports jacket at the venue bar but ending up awkward and sweaty, hitting the bodega four blocks away for an airline bottle of Jameson as old school alternative to trendier fentanyl and meth.

Finally you find your seat, so close that you fear social awkwardness leading to public misstep and Van storming off the stage having singled you out. But no time for that because, as is typical, the house lights dim at seven-thirty sharp, and with brief introduction he walks out to that gold plated microphone center stage. He’s short, trimmer than he once was, and decked out in oversized shades with natty blue suit and matching fedora. It feels perfunctory at first. He’s not looking up, just staring through those dark lenses into the top of the mic, baring sharp front incisors for occasional growling emphasis. Streamline Train. Sailaway Ladies. I Wish I Was An Apple On A Tree. Those hoping for some Irish version of John Fogerty belting through “Fortunate Son” are already crestfallen. But most are not and if you take the occasional peripheral glance you see people curiously intrigued with this little dude who hasn’t looked up once but instead seems to be turning more inward with each song. Then at some point it happens. In this case it was Green Rocky Road made famous by Dave Van Ronk in the early 60s Village folk scene. Van’s own adaptation, no introduction, and as with all others, on the heels of the previous number. “When I go down Baltimore / got no carpet on my floor.” Somewhere in the middle of the song he’s done his thing again. You go from being uncomfortable, curiously distracted, out among the masses, to tearing up. Tell me who do you love, child? Who do you love? Indeed, no white man sings like Van Morrison, and you wouldn’t want them to. It takes too much to get there.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *