Van Morrison

Once upon a time, on Twitter, I observed that I wanted to give a copy of Astral Weeks to an architect and tell them to design a home for me that embodied the spirit of that album.

It has been a long time since I listened to that album.

And I suspect I may never listen to it again.

Two weeks ago, Van Morrison announced he was taking legal action against Northern Ireland’s ban on live music due to COVID-19.

This followed on several anti-lockdown recordings he made, and a statement calling out the ‘pseudo-science‘ around COVID-19 that led to the lockdown.

I get that he is frustrated.

A lot of musicians are.

But his songs, his statement, his legal action, all undertaken as the UK has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, have essentially ruined his music for me.

Morrison has always been a crank and a contrarian.

If you know his back story, some of that is understandable.

But not this.

Over the past year, we have lost John Prine, Manu Dibango, Lee Konitz, Adam Schlesinger, Matthew Seligman, Wallace Roney, Alan Merrill, and Charley Pride, among others, due to COVID-19.

And millions have lost relatives and spouses and friends to the virus.

The fact that Morrison has decided that the best approach to this crisis is to call the evolving science around it ‘pseudo-science’ and to call measures to contain it a form of slavery is not just ill-advised or ignorant.

It is dangerous.

I know people say ‘separate the art from the artist.’

But the art is the artist.

One does not exist without the other.

And so, I am essentially done with Morrison.

To think I once thought that his dabblings in Scientology was his biggest failing

Phil Spector

Phil Spector was a monster.

There is no disputing that.

Yes, Spector had mental health issues.

But Spector was aware of those issues.

And they do not excuse the fact that he was a murderer and an abuser.

Did he revolutionize music?

He did.

But it does not change the fact that he was a monster.

Many great artists are or were.

You don’t have to look far for examples.

They are legion.

Some people can separate the art from the artist.

I do that for a few.

But generally, it is for artists who have long since passed away.

Not for artists who are living, which Spector was until this past weekend.

Much of what Spector did, the stories of him holding a gun to the neck of Leonard Cohen for example, seems to have been looked at as eccentricity.

The kind of weirdness that embellishes a rock and roll legend.

But such acts are the acts of a monster.

As was his abuse of Ronnie Spector.

As was the murder of Lana Clarkson.

There were signs all along that he was not an eccentric, but a monster.

Should you engage with his art?

That’s up to you.

There is an argument that has been made that cancelling all the work he was involved with essentially sidelines women such as Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love, and that we choose to listen to his compsitions or recordings, it should to celebrate their talents, not his.

I get that.

Apart from one song on his Christmas album, I haven’t engaged with any of his art for a very long time.

And I have little inclination or interest in changing that.

My hope is that we look at his life and use that as encouragement to look critically at our artists and their actions, and maybe not separate the art from the artist, or at least think about why we do that.

And at the very least we stop looking at the monstrous acts of people like Spector as eccentricities that add to their mystique.

That needs to end.

Diary of a Record Collector, Vol. 2

Radio was my first conduit for experiencing music.

But it wasn’t the only one.

My parents had record albums.

And people gave records to me when they grew out of them.

I am not sure how that came about.

I was young so I have no memories of how I came to possess these records that were older than me.

Mostly they were pop albums and singles from the 60s.

One of them was Every Mother’s Son’s Back.

This is the only ‘song’ that I remember from it, which just missed the Billboard top 40 but did go Top 10 in Canada.

It’s not quite psych, it’s not quite rock, and not quite sunshine pop, but it seems to sit at the crossroads of those styles.

The other thing I remember about it is this – a ‘birthday party’ for band member Larry Larden:

I also had a copy of this soundtrack given to me on the United Artists label:

I also recall having the first two Stones albums on London Records:

And I remember having Something Special! The Best of Tommy James & the Shondells:

It’s odd, but I don’t much remember playing or getting into The Beatles and the Stones.

It was the Sons and, more specifically, James and the Shondells that resonated most from those handoffs, and I think I know why.

It wasn’t the hooks or more agreeable nature of those albums.

It was a sense of wistfulness I was hearing in songs like Mirage.

(Okay, the novelty of a birthday party on vinyl explains why Every Mother’s Sons remains a strong memory).

I also recovered a memory of having this album given to me, which is funny, because years later I ‘discovered’ Scott Walker through a second-hand copy of It’s Raining Today, a compilation pulled together by, uh, Marshall Crenshaw:

All of those albums are long gone.

I cannot imagine they were in the best shape when they were handed off to me.

And I am pretty certain I removed any musical value they had left.

If I wasn’t accidentally spilling beverages on them, I was scratching them or breaking them.

I remember someone giving me a bunch of 78s, which is pretty much like giving a kid a box of broken glass because I reduced a lot of them to jagged pieces by grace of being a child.

One of them was a XMas song my mom tried gluing back together and never fails to remind me I ruined, even if she cannot remember what the song was.

But most times, I’d just press the needle down into the groove to try and fix skips or scrape the needle heavily all about the groove if I didn’t like a song.

That drove my father crazy because I am sure there were weeks that he was going to buy new needles almost daily for the monster stereo cabinet I somehow came into owning.

So the memory of those records was about all I retained.

And it would be my parents’ LPs I would have to content myself with if I wanted to listen to music on demand.