I’ve been trying to get to the root of my current fascination with the music of Van Morrison. My first reaction was to attribute it to one of two things. The first possibility was that as he's gotten older, Morrison's music appeals more to his contemplative side. The second is that the increased prominence of said contemplative side has led to an increase in girth (and jowl) that mirrors that of Morrison himself.
An old Borders friend of mine responded to this by noting that he’s always argued that people like the idea of Van Morrison more than the man himself. As my friend described it, this view boils down to "such boring music done with so much sincerity must be meaningful and artistic." Now that strikes me as a little harsh and I don’t particularly agree with the assessment, however much the title track to Morrison’s 1991 album Hymns to the Silence wanders over the course of nine minutes, but it’s not entirely without merit..
Thinking about the songs I’ve been listening to the most, it struck me that many of them are from a 1998 compilation called The Philosopher's Stone which collects 30 songs that were either never released or released in different (and generally less enjoyable) versions. For example, the song “The Street Only Knew Your Name” has been around since the mid-70s and the version Morrison recorded then but kept in the vault until 1998 is transcendent whereas the one he released in 1983 is just pretty good. This tells me that like Bob Dylan, whose Bootleg Series collections tend to be as good or better than the albums from the same periods, Morrison is perhaps the worst judge of all of the artistic merits of his work.
It’s worth noting at this point that another friend pointed out hearing loss as a possible explanation. I wasn’t sure if he meant me or Morrison and, rather than pursue it further, I found “Dweller on the Threshold” on my iPod and allowed it to envelop me as my thoughts turned to…