No Guru, No Method, No Teacher
Mercury (Polydor 422 849 619-2)
Review by Scott Thomas:
Van wasn't the only member of his generation getting sentimental about the past in the late 1980's. As Live Aid rekindled memories of Woodstock and record companies feverishly remastered long neglected back catalogues for CD, literally dozens of musical groups from the 60's and early 70's caught reunion fever. Though not as newsworthy as other reunions from the period, No Guru No Method No Teacher reassembles the core of Morrison's celebrated early 70's band; pianist Jeff Labes, guitarist John Platania, and bassist David Hayes (who never really left Morrison's employ in the intervening years). Leave it to Van, however, to turn the idea of the sentimental reunion on its head. Take the opening track "Got to Go Back." With jazzy rhythms, acoustic instrumentation, and woodwinds that deliberately conjure Astral Weeks, the singer emerges from a sweet, schoolboy memory to proclaim that he has "got to go back for the healing." This song, inevitably, provides a context for the rest of the album: the tracks that follow are to be taken by the listener as reminiscences.
No Guru No Method No Teacher also revisits Astral Weeks' thematic arc; a relationship forms ("Oh the Warm Feeling"), reaches it glorious climax ("In the Garden"), and fragments ("Thanks for the Information"). There is a telling difference between this remembered love affair, however, and the more immediate one depicted in the 1968 album. While the girl in Astral Weeks is certainly idealized and while No Guru is not without its traces of carnality (e.g.; the "squealin' feeling" in "A Town Called Paradise"), the balance has been altered. In "In the Garden," which parallel's "Cypress Avenue" on the earlier album, the woman seems to have heavenly origins: "And you were a violet color / As you sat beside your father and your mother /In the garden." Here is how Morrison describes the moment of consummation: "And we touched each other lightly /And we felt the presence of the Christ / In our hearts... / In the garden." As one would expect, this vision is simply too beautiful to survive for very long.
Things begin to go wrong on "Here Comes the Knight." Though the knight insists that "this love will surely last forever," the listener senses that the horsemen who "do not want this love to last" will be victorious. "There's a battle for the truth," the knight concedes with much regret, "And it says 'To thine own self be true.'"
The final three songs express the singer's feelings in the aftermath of the parting. We have the corrosive "Thanks for the Information" with its mournful trumpet and string of angry cliches, the sad and gently mocking "One Irish Rover," and the vitriolic "Ivory Tower." The nostalgic singer who went back "for the healing" has succeeded only in reopening old wounds.
One more thing about this remarkable album and the nature of memory: in "Tir Na Nog" the singer tells his lover that "[w]e've been together before / In a different incarnation / And we loved each other then as well." This cycle, then, of love discovered and love lost, of birth pursued by inevitable decay, is perpetual, repeating itself in life, in memory, and, if you believe in such things, in successive lifetimes.