Happy Birthday, Van. Thanks for the joy and inspiration. Aug. 31, 1945
52 years ago a determined, multi-talented individual arrived in NYC and fought the greatest battle he had ever faced. His vision, thwarted by powerful men in suits and long black limousines, vindictive record companies, and immigration officials, only came to fruition after his desperate struggle to be heard. All had underestimated the resolve and commitment of the fair-haired boy from Belfast town and the result was the seminal album titled “Astral Weeks,” released 52 years ago in November 1968.
At the beginning of 1968, Van Morrison became involved in a contract dispute with Bang Records that kept him away from any recording activity. This occurred after the sudden death of the label's founder Bert Berns. Born with a congenital heart defect, Berns had a fatal heart attack and was discovered dead in a New York hotel room on 30 December 1967. Prior to Berns's death, he and Morrison had experienced some creative difficulties; Berns had been pushing Morrison in a more pop-oriented direction, while Morrison wanted to explore newer musical terrain. Berns's widow, Ilene Berns, held Morrison and this conflict responsible for her husband's death. Years later she would downplay this scenario, but Morrison's then girlfriend Janet (Planet) Rigsbee has since gone on record describing Ilene Berns's subsequent vindictiveness towards Morrison.
Following Bert Berns' death, Ilene Berns inherited the contracts of Bang Records. Morrison's annual option on his recording contract was also due less than a week after Berns's funeral. Legally bound to Bang Records, Morrison was not only kept out of the studio but also found himself unable to find performing work in New York as most clubs refrained from booking him, fearing reprisals. Ilene Berns then discovered that her late husband had previously been remiss in filing the appropriate paperwork to keep Morrison (still a British citizen) in New York, and contacted Immigration and Naturalization Service in an attempt to have Morrison deported. However, Morrison managed to stay in the U.S. when Janet Rigsbee agreed to marry him. Once married, Morrison and Rigsbee moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he found work performing in local clubs. Morrison gives an account of his struggle in the song titled "Big Time Operators."
In the Slipstream
If you dwell on the threshold, on the edge of that higher plane, and if the big-time operators have been defeated and faded from memory, and if you can project and touch the silence as it wraps you in its cloak, like a mystic’s vision, and if you can turn and pivot like a lithe ballerina, then it is time to venture into the slipstream. There between the viaducts of a dream, where immobile steel rims crack, and the ditch on the back-road stops, there, at last, you will find yourself. On Hyndford Street where the window panes glisten and reflect bright and clear as the stream at the headwaters of the Lagan, there you will remember when it all began. When you inhale the sweet aroma from the bakery across the street, floating on the air, tangible in its permeation, when that scent invades your senses with its ruthless relentlessness, then you will be home.
As you await the coming of the night, walking in gardens wet with rain, where droplets cling and reflect the stars in your lover's eyes, there you will vow to never grow so old again or to read between the lines; only then will your mind be still and allow your heart to hear itself think. In the shadow of the clock, the bell tolls blend with the clang of the steel hammers that once forged cold pigs of iron and the sounds from the Maritime still float endlessly on the cool, languid streams of magical air. On a tree-lined avenue, a girl with outstretched arms beckons you to dance with her under silver moonbeams, the rainbow ribbons in her hair glinting in the soft light and the Belfast child sings once again and then you know that it’s too late to stop now.
© John A. Brennan 2018. All Rights Reserved. https://www.amazon.com/author/johnabrennan