1986 vinyl promotional interview album

Interviewed by Mick Brown
Released as part of the No Guru, No Method, No Teacher promotion
Transcribed by ear by Tricia Sonne


Up Musical Roots

MB: Van Morrison, Hello, how are you?
VM: Oh fine, thanks.

MB: Good to see you again.
VM: Good to see you too.

MB: Was Ray Charles an early influence of yours?
VM: Mmhumm, Yeah.

MB: How did you first come to hear his music? Did you grow up around Ray Charles, and around rhythm and blues and around blues music?
VM: Uhm...I first heard him on the radio I think. (pause) Yeah.

MB: Because your father collected blues records as well, didn't he?
VM: Well, yeah. - He didn't...he didn't... I don't think...I didn't have Ray Charles... I heard it on the radio (pause) actually.

MB: So what sort of things were you listening to when you were very much younger?
VM: Uhm let's see, Sonny Terry, Muddy Waters, Joyce White, uh (pause) Hank Williams,... country and western blues... those sort of things.

MB: And a lot of Celtic music as well?
VM: Well it wasn't called Celtic music then. I mean It was just like, singing. I mean, you know, my family used to get together, you know - sing. But, uh,... just for fun really.

MB: What was it that you first got out of that music when you first heard it? What was the thrill, the excitement you first felt in it?
VM: Uhm, I suppose it was like gospel. That's what it was. Sounded like gospel. (pause) That was it. [in a tone to mean that's all]

MB: So a sense of transcendence, a sense of something other than day-to-day life?
VM: Yeah, I suppose so. Yeah, I think so.

MB: Is that what interested you about becoming a singer? Is that why you wanted to become a singer yourself?
VM: (Pause... ) Uhm, I...not really sure actually. I mean, I started uhm (long pause)... I heard Lead Belly records and I thought uhm, well I'd like to play that and sing those songs. That's really how I started. So uh, I started to learn some of the riffs, uhm, on guitar uhm, and Carter family records. So between Carter family records and Lead Belly...that's how I got into singing. Uhm...that's...there wasn't...that's all... there wasn't that... there wasn't any deliberate thought about it. But that's how I started.

MB: Its a long way from Belfast though, where you grew up to an ex prison inmate singing work songs, which is what Lead Belly was. What was it that excited you about it?
VM: Uhm well it wasn't that long actually. There was a guy called T R - Roy McCewen that was on the "Tonight" show...I think it was entitled "Tonight" or something. Roy McCewen was on that and he did - he used to do Lead Belly songs on that show... So I mean it wasn't something...at least I mean there's a connection there because he did Scottish music and Irish music as well. So, uhm, it really didn't seem like that was too distant at that time. You know maybe it is now, but then it wasn't. Certainly. Uhm, and maybe there was more folk music then or something. Could be.


Up Musical Beginnings

MB: Did you buy your first guitar yourself?
VM: No. No. Uhm, my father bought it.

MB: And how old were you then?
VM: Uhm... 12, I think... 12.

MB: You obviously took to it very quickly. Because you actually started performing professionally at what? 14 years of age?
VM: Uhm, let me see. Professionally, no - 15. When I left school. I mean I was, I used to play at the school you know. The annual school sort of get together, but then I didn't play professionally til I was out of school. So - 15.

MB: And where were you playing then?
VM: Well, it started off as playing you know we were doing hospital stage productions and, uh, dances. Like local dances and you know just local halls and uh,... Let's see one gig was the Brookeborough Hall, that was it. I remember we played there on Saturday nights. It was like the Sandown Road in Belfast. Then there's a place on Chamberlain St - The Hut on Chamberlain St... Dances, they were dances really that's what they were.

MB: So they would get quite exciting-those places. What kind of songs were you singing? Were you just singing folk songs or were you playing...?
VM: Uhm, no it wasn't folk. This was, It was, um, this was strictly -- any groups were doing rock uhm at that point. Uhm, we sort of, you know, like Johnny Kid and the Pirates material, the Shadows, Cliff Richard, uhm Jerry Lee Lewis, uhm... it was mainly Jerry Lee actually. We got a lot of material from Jerry Lee, Johnny Kid, you know, that type of thing.

MB: So you'd be doing "Great Balls of Fire"? "A Whole Lot of Shaking" --
VM: (interrupting) "A Whole Lot of Shaking", yeah. Um I remember doing a whole lot of shaking. That was a big one. (you can hear him smiling here) We did some of the more esoteric type things that Jerry Lee did you know. Cuz he did put out a lot of singles then. I mean it was practically a new single every couple of months from him. Uhm, B sides, things like this. You couldn't - I mean you really couldn't have played blues then. I think we did about one blues number. But it was very sort of "esoteric" to do blues at that point you know. So you had to sort of back off a bit. You know like we did one or two blues.

MB: What was the name of the group you were playing with?
VM: Uhm, this group was called...well...it was various names. It was, you know, The Thunderbirds, The 4 Jacks, uhm, all sorts of names depending on which way the wind was blowing. Or, you know if the club thought it was a good name, then they'd "oh yeah" and we kept that name. But then you know, we'd changed the name about 6 times you know. The Thunderbirds originally.

MB: How much would you be getting a night then?
VM: Aaahh, nothing. Nothing. I mean 2 bob (VM sort of snorts) Uhm, 2 and 6 at the most maybe.

MB: Were you excited very early on by the response you could get from an audience? Did that, was that something that connected with you immediately. That you could excite people by gettting up and singing?
VM: NO! (emphatically) No. That didn't excite me at all. I mean I was never really excited by it. I was just...like I've been playing on my own..I mean I started you know playing. I did listen to records and the the Carter Family and you know...Dah da da Dah da da Dah dah da da da da dah...Dixie Darling, something like that. So I tried to play this guitar style and then I'd listen to these Lead Belly things. Good morning blues, then I'd play that.

And then, you know,... there was this guy down the street that was heavily into Hank Williams and sometimes we'd get together with him. I'd play with him or you know he'd just be singing in the back or something. Uh, there was a lot of music going on the street. It was like one of those streets... where they had a lot of people that rented.

Country and western was big. So then the skiffle thing was starting to happen then so I formed a skiffle group. (A long pause) And then all of the sudden the whole thing just changed into just sort of rock groups. Skiffle was completely gone, and then any sort of folk thing was like that was what you did for enjoyment . But most all the gigs started to be just rock at this point.

So mainly I just wanted to play, so in order to keep playing with other people I'd.... you know that was the only avenue. And that, - I really just sort of wanted to just develope. I mean, I mean, it wasn't sort of like it was ultra-exciting or anything. It was sort of more like that was the only outlet for music left. Really. To keep playing.

MB: You were picked up quite early on then, weren't you? You toured Europe and those things didn't you? USAir bases in Europe and that sort of thing, didn't you?
VM: We did US Air Bases in England and Germany. No. No. It was here, just here actually. We just did Air Bases in England actually. And then we just played clubs in Germany. That was it. Uhm, about 4 months we did that - every night for 4 months. Grueling.

MB: You were what? About 16, 17 at that time?
VM: Well no... I was 17 by then. 17, yeah.

MB: You must have grown up very quickly then. You're suddenly being thrown into this deep end of being a professional musician and having to hack it around fairly menial clubs and pubs and such .
VM: Well it was.... definitely grueling but, that the way it was done then, Later on it was like everyone sort of like "well now you have to go to America you know". But in those days you had to go to Germany. That's the way everyone was doing it then. They had these auditions where they'd just ran thru about 20 bands and decided well 10 of them are going and 10 aren't sort of thing. Everybody just played in Germany then. That's just the way it was.

MB: How did your circumstances alter when you went back to Belfast and formed "Them"? And then the whole thing started all over again. Them came back to Britian and you started to have chart success in Britian and America. How did your circumstances alter then?
VM: Well I'd say less control over what your doing. Less control over what your playing. Oh, it became a different thing, actually. A different thing.

MB: You said less control. I wondered did that then instill the idea in you that what you actually needed to do in order to make the music you wanted to make - was to gain control, to get control?
VM: Well I mean it started out that the... we were trying to establish an R&B club in Belfast. Um, this had been an idea for a few months or something and people came to me with this idea and I'd thought it was a great idea. So uh, that what I did. Um, you know, its one of those situations where of course, where things change and you know, by the time I decided to do it; then eventual light comes; things had changed and, and maybe the idea you know the original people changed and you know they were working in other bands and all of the sudden they didn't think it was a good idea you know. So it was sort of a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush sort of number. So they stayed where they were. So by the time this thing started to get off the ground it was sort of half of what it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be you know, trying to get together to play at that authentic R&B in that situation because I came over here for a weekend or something and went to this 51 Club. There was this group called the Downliners Sect. you know. And I thought this was great you know. I have to do something like this in Belfast. So that was the whole idea behind it. It was sort of like the 51 Club situation. And then that's what we did. Um, but I think by that time the whole R&B thing in Britian as a whole was being hyped so now we got these people coming in from record companies and we made - at least - the strange thing is these records we made, right? Most of them had absolutely nothing to do with what we were doing or playing live. They were sort of purely manufactured produced items, you know, for the commercial market. In fact, the whole point of the club was the opposite of that. It was like the ironic thing. It was a complete opposite. It was like the most obscure piece of music we could find on blues albums was what we were playing you see. So that's really what it was about.

MB: So then it very quickly departed from what you'd originally visioned it to be?
VM: Oh completely (emphatically). Completely (almost a whisper). Yeah.

MB: Altho, you did actually start writing songs then didn't you? I mean....
VM: Well, I actually started writing songs like before then. But I'd never really thought about doing my own songs. I mean, I'd play them for a few friends and they'd say that's good. You should do that up. But I'd, I never...I never visioned actually doing my own songs. At all...So that I mean that really just... I don't know how that came about really. (pause) It came about I'd just started doing one or two . Then I did 3 or 4 and then it grew from there.


Up Solo Career

MB: You wrote "Gloria"?
VM: Yeah. Yeah.

MB: What else did you sort of write for Them?
VM: Uh,...well that period...uh, I uh, let's see. I wrote "Gloria", "Mystic Eyes". I wrote a song called "Could You, Would You", and uhm... "Lonely Sad Eyes"...uhm. I can't remember. I mean, they weren't,... they weren't, really that good. [clonies it sounds like], they sort of.........

MB: Did you decide to knock Them on the head because it wasn't doing what you'd wanted to, or going in the direction you wanted?
VM: Well, I was the one that wanted to get more into uhm, you know, developing songs and arrangements and all this; and you know that didn't seem to be what was happening with that particular band anyway. And then what happened was the band split up, you know, I mean, so it was like....

Then the management wanted me to organize another band and all that. So I did that. But it was like going through the same thing again. I'd left that it anyway at that point in my head. So couldn't - after the original group split up, I couldn't get into it, so I --- I'd left it mentally so then I left it physically about 6 months later.

MB: You then went to NY didn't you and worked with Bert Burns on your first single?
VM: No,no. No,no. No, I didn't. I was working in Belfast, writing songs, myself and a tape recorder, and some musicians. I was doing some demos and uh, I was making tape demos on a 2 track. And then I was in the process of getting a celluloid deal with Phillips records. Which somehow didn't come about in the fruition because it was taking so long. And then I had gotten this call from uh, America to do a couple of singles there, or something like that. So while I was trying to negotiate with Phillips, I went to NY to make a couple of singles. And then I got myself involved with that situation. So by the time the Phillips deal was ready, I couldn't do it because I was really in over my head with this other company. So that's really the way it happened.

MB: So how did Bert Burns come into the picture? Did he - was he...
VM: (interrupting) Well, he had produced some singles for us- I mean he'd produced for the group actually. I mean it was actually him that sort of made this whole thing commercial really, so I mean really that's how we met him... (long pause)

But you see he was also a good R&B producer but...uhm.... (pause) a lot of that stuff, I mean, I heard later on. I didn't hear it then, but I heard it later on. But I heard it was very sort of low-key sort of R&B music and I thought that was what he was really into, right? But I suppose by the he'd got around to doing those, he'd become sort of sold out on the commercial level or something.

MB: He brought you some good people though, actually. Didn't he? I mean Howard tape, and uhm Freddy Scott, I think and...
VM: (Interrupting) Yeah, Yeah. I know he'd-was a good R&B producer but I mean it seemed to be... you know, uhm... I suppose he saw me as more of a commercial entity. You know, a money making situation rather than the music. By the time I met him, you know, that had all changed.

MB: So did you see the first solo album you did with Bert Berns for 'Bang'? Was that sort of a transition period between the dissatisfaction with Them and actually finally realized what you'd wanted to do with Astral Weeks? What you got control of yourself?
VM: Uhm well no, not really. It was a very contrived of situation, and actually that album was very contrived. And any recordings that I did for that particular company were very set up, you know. "Session musicians" and uh, you know that - that wasn't even clear it was an album. That wasn't an album, that was like 4 singles together to put the album out etc. etc. You know; all this kind of stuff. You know so, so it was kind of like the blind leading the blind. Whatever you want to call it. MB: So it wasn't really until Astral Weeks that you felt you'd actually find 'your voice' as it were.
VM: I don't really know. I mean- (whispering) found my voice... (long pause) Yeah. I probably - Yeah. Maybe I could say that. I suppose you could say that. Yeah. That's a way of putting it, yeah.

MB: Well that's - that certainly the first album that defined the theme of poetic mysticism that dominates your music ever since then to my mind.
VM: Well, yeah, I suppose. I think that was sort of the break through - actually what it was, I know what happened. It was that - uh, yeah. I didn't really want to be in the rock n roll scene so I decided, well I have to do an album, you know, that's really just singing and songs that is about something and isn't R'n'R. Because you know I want to get out of the R'n'R scene. So what happened was I did that album, and I did get out of the R'n'R scene to a certain extent. Then the critics started saying it was a rock album, right. And I mean it's obvious isn't it ? Anybody with two ears would say there's no R'n'R on that album at all, right? So this was sort of a bit strange in the first place because I'd get these reviews and they'd say 'great rock album' and I'd thought - I mean they were good reviews and all that. But the whole point of it was NOT to make a rock album. And now I'd - they're saying its a rock album. So it was like a - trying to put that together was a bit puzzling. So I'd say in interviews "It's not a rock album" but nobody listened anyway. Further on down the line I realized that there was a success - the album, musically and creatively, right? But at the same time, I was STARVING. (Mick softly chuckles). So I was in a situation where I was up against the wall because I didn't have any money...and...(phew) and practically not eating then at the time because this - you know critical acclaim was one thing but I mean... uh... you know money's something else so I'd actually...

The next album was when I realized, well I have to sort of do something sort of like rock because otherwise I'm going to starve. You know, because the Astral Weeks thing didn't - it sold a bit, but I mean I didn't get all the money, one of those stories, you know. So...uhm... (pause) ...you know then I sort of forgot about the -- I had to forget about the artistic thing or put it away because you know when it didn't make sense on a practical level. You know, one has to live sort of thing. So then, uhm, I had to - I couldn't really go in fully in that direction because I suppose they'd were stopping me anyway because you know, nobody wanted to break through on those terms anyway so. It was just a question of not being able to do it then - what I wanted to do.

MB: "The next album" you were talking about was Moondance?
VM: That's right, yeah.

MB: At what point did you actually feel you'd arrived? At what point you could actually do what you'd wanted to without having to either tailor your music for a rock audience or tailor your music for what record companies expected. At what point do you actually feel you'd broken through to pure unadulterated...
VM: (interrupting) Well, I think, ...I think,... I could do what I wanted - that period was I think, like..., like with Astral Weeks. I think like creatively that was something like, I think that was a break through for me creatively. But then again, I didn't have like any particular repor with those musicians outside of that, and they didn't really - they were, you know, session jazz musicians, who didn't really work in any other area that -- I couldn't sort say, "Well you're my band" sort of thing "Let's do this" because I didn't have that sort of rapport that it takes to do that with. But, uhm, than when I'd find these other people that I could use live and on the album so that was more of an ideal situation where you could use them live and you could use them on the album, and it worked. So I would say that would be the Moondance album.

MB: And then on through the Band and Street Choir?
VM: Yeah, Yeah.

MB: And St. Dominic's Preview?
VM: Yeah, yeah. But then I'd had to forget about getting too far out with that because that had to be structured.

MB: So are you at a point now, where you can work purely to your own criteria? I mean, are you into a satisfactory working position to your mind? Where you have all the requisites you need?
VM: Uh, not really. I mean I think, I've said what I've had to say in, you know, in these particular periods of time. I've said what I've wanted to particularly say during those periods and I don't think within that framework - at this point - there's anything in particular I want to say. Uh, you know, so it's not a good working situation or a bad working situation its.... basically a neutral working situation where, um, you know I'm not.... You know I don't feel particularly one way or the other. When I just have enough song I record them and put them out. But there isn't any real sort of - there isn't any curve one way or the other. You know what I mean?

MB: But the songs keep presenting themselves don't they? Almost in spite of yourself, don't they? You sit there, and they still keep coming up with -- the thrust is still there to write the songs?
VM: Yes, but it's kind of a different world you know? With different motivations, than when I'd write say in the 60's or 70's or... I mean it sort of a whole different ball game now at this point. So....(pause).... Its sort of like if I knew then what I know now then I'd..., right? I mean I'd probably wouldn't even had done it the, if I knew then what I know now. Given what I know now and given the way it is now, what I have to work with now. You know I say most of the time... I mean I'm only doing this when I'm doing it, and the rest of the time I'm not sort of thing. So if I'm recording, I'm doing it, or if I'm doing a tour or whatever, then I'm doing it. But the rest of the time you know, I just lead my own life and go my own way sort of thing, you know? I'm not really hooked into it.


Up Music Business

MB: Are you happy, though, to be less apart of the record business or music business than you were in those days?
VM: Well, I mean its not the record business. I mean I was NEVER a part of the record business. EVER. Well, my situation is that I'd.... I basically deliver tapes and distribution happens with a record company. So I never see myself as a part of the record business. Just, you know, that's the only framework I have to work in at this point. And you can't go back. So you have to go on. So in order to go on that's what I have to work with. You know because obviously I can't go back, I have to go forward. But this seems to be the only sort of outlet, at present,for me - creatively, you know. So I don't see myself as part of the record business.

MB: You're in a position where you can - you're left alone to write the records and produce the records, prepare the records, without anyone concerning....
VM: Well, yeah, we deliver everything. I mean, we - my company - delivers THE product, right? Then, its a distribution deal after that. You know I'm not under any obligation to anybody.

MB: You say you're in a position now where music is the one way creatively where you can express yourself and do what you have to do. Would you like to explore other ways?
VM: (Long pause) Uhm... well yeah, I would but I don't really know what they are at this point. You know, I mean, I'm a lot sort of, older and a lot wiser. But what's happening you know in terms of uh, what this sort of situation is all about and in terms of like, you know, stars making records, fame, and all this kind of stuff, right? Uh, you know, the total sort of emptiness of all that. And basically what I'd like to do is talk about THAT and get that across to people because I think there is a terrible lot of illusions in this world. That have to do with these sort of things. You know, that when you really get into them and examine them, and you know basically everybody knows anyway. The man in the street knows it - this is all nonsense. But its all sort of perpetuated - the illusions are perpetuated yearly obviously. And all because, why? Well because there is a lot of money being made out of it. Its as simple as that. (He smiles). There is a lot of people that are making a lot of money out of it. So that's why it keeps going and that's why its - you get this group and that group and the other group, and the flavour of the month, so on and so on, year in and year out, and that's why it happens. You know? Its not happening for artistic reasons. Record business is not artistic, the film business is not artistic. They are money businesses. So how does an artist, how does somebody - you know?

There's an - the "alternative gap" has widened for quite a bit like say in the '60's you had an opening where - "Oh yeah, well they're singers and they write songs, and they play their own stuff, right? Well that's what they're doing". So for a while you had this sort of "alternative gap" for singers who wrote songs. Then that closed up (he claps hands together) again. Then in the '70's you had an "alternativey thing" sort of like a bit of an intellectual music thing came about there for a while and there was an opening there and then you got "OK". Then that got closed up again so now its sort of back to the Doris Day routine. Uhm, you know, so you just have to look at this thing and every once in a while, you know, see where you stand in it. Because I mean, certainly there's nothing about it I ever believed, so I certainly can't sort of, you know, put myself on a pedestal, you know, because people want me on a pedestal. Because you know what happens - you know - we fall. So I mean, I just want to be myself. And I don't care whether I'm in music or out of music, as long as I can be myself. If it gets to the point where I don't have any of my own space left anymore,, then it has to mean getting out of it. And that's the way it is. Its called survival, I suppose. You know?

MB: Do you feel that a lot of music that's made now a days is just on a level of a sort of oral tranquilizer. Just a sort of pacifier which has no --
VM: (Interrupting) Well I don't really have an idea because I don't really question other people's motivations. I can't keep up with other people. I mean, I can only - you know what I'm doing and a small circle of friends, people I know and that's about it. I don't know what other people's motivations are. I don't know what other people's making albums are for, what's their reasons. I don't know and it would probably take me several lifetimes to find out. And I'm not even interest, so - NO. (He smiles)

MB: I do sense, though, that there's - you believe - there are very strong reasons why you make music, and they are very strong reasons behind "good" music, and music that connects with you. Why that is made ("I'm already saying that", MB mutters). That has a kind of --
VM: (Interrupts) Well, I mean I don't see myself separate from this sort of predicament. I don't see myself - I see this as a basic prerequisite to, you know, either you have the capacity to be in a situation where you're in a PR business, where you can sell yourself, or you don't. Right?

If your prerequisite is making music, or painting a picture, that's your prerequisite. So you can't go - you know, you can't go and be something you're not. So I see that people that set themselves up as stars - that's what they want to do. That's - they want to see their pic on the front cover of this that and the other thing and that's what they do. So that doesn't even come into the picture. But I don't think I'm separate in this. I think its the other way around. I think that this separate part is that part that exists outside of the basic creative impulses. Why people want to paint, why they want to play music, why they want to do this. A large majority of those people of course - they're not in the R'n'R business, you know? They wouldn't want to be. Because that's not the game they're playing. So I mean, people in the R'n'R business are playing a definite game. A definite set of things that they want.

MB: Do you think, then, that the R'n'R business actually corrupts right motive in terms of doing....
VM: (Interrupting) Well I don't know. I couldn't say about what the RnR business is doing, right? I can't say, because I really honestly don't know. All I can say is about what I'm doing and how I view things. But I can't speak for that business or anybody else. I can only be responsible for my end of it. And that's me end of it, and I don't know. What I'm saying is, I'm not against the R'n'R business, right? I think that that's fine for those people so -- what I'm saying is that if you can et on with that, and I'll get on with what I'm doing, right?, I'm not about to make moral judgments about anybody except me. You know, so that would probably be in my music. I haven't really analyzed it to that extent enough. It might be to a certain degree, yeah.

MB: But you're clearly not interested in making videos for MTV and entrance into the Hall, circus-like aspects that seemed to be required in that R'n'R business.
VM: (Quite calmly and quietly) No. ...No. ...Why? Why should I be? You know?


Up Meditation

MB: Can we talk a little about the latest record? (You hear Van mm hum in the background). The latest Van Morrison record's called No Guru, No method, No Teacher. What is the meaning behind the title?
VM: Uhm (long pause) Well - its actually in one of the songs. Where there's a song on the album called "In the Garden" where I actually take, uhm, I take you through the meditation program. From about half way through the song until the end. But I take you through a DEFINITE meditation process. Which is a form of transcendental meditation. Its not TM. So forget about that. That takes you right from the middle to the end. Uhm, and there's some sort of, you know, uhm, (pause) ...what you should have, if you listen to the thing carefully, you should have gotten yourself some sort of tranquillity by the time you get to the end. So when this happens in the song, I say, "And I turn to you and I said, 'No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Just you and I and nature, and the Father and the Son, and the Holy Ghost'". So really - you have to do the whole line to know what it means. And we were going put the rest [the whole line] on the album. But we realized that would be too long. But that's the whole thing. "No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Just you and I and nature, and the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost". Its the whole thing in a nutshell. Its much longer than THAT. So that's what it is saying.

And on another level what its says is that... uhm, due to what popular opinion says and all this sort of stuff... uhm,... its been implied that I - you know, this guy and that guy and the other organization was my guru. Uhm, when I don't have, you know when this is saying, well I mean, you know, that's all uhm, speculative uhm, and its not real. So you know this is a statement. You know you could call this a press statement. Also a press release. You - its making it quite clear that I'm not affiliated with anyone or organization. I don't have a guru. I don't have any teacher. And there's no method that I subscribe to. And that's really what its saying as well. So that's what it saying in the song.

MB: So it was rejecting dogma, in a word.
VM: Uhm, you could put it like that. Yeah.

MB: What is shares in common with previous albums is, is the very strong strain of what might be called poetic mysticism. Which is an acknowledgment of the desire for a state of transcendence. Or a yearning for a state of transcendence which has come through in particularly in writings of people like W. B. Yeats and John Donne, Walt Whitman. I wonder do you see your writing as being as much in a literary tradition as in a musical tradition? Or do you share with those writers a sense of, a window through to transcendence if you like.
VM: Well, uhm, well no. I see it more of, more of in a poetic tradition than a writing tradition. Than a literary tradition. I mean that's - I think a literary tradition is got sort of as much dogma attached to it as you know, various other things. But you know I see it more as like an instinctual intuition feeling thing that uhm,... that this is more what I get from these people like Donne, Whitman or something which is about them. They were writing about a sort of definite uhm, you know, states of transcendental mysticism. The best way they knew how. So, this is not to me, literature. This is something else, you know. Its like,...Ah.... (long pause) you know its a way of putting down an experience. But I mean you don't necessarily, uhm, you know it can be in a literate frame work or it can be in a, uh, in any oral framework really I mean. It doesn't - it's not really specific - its not literature as far as I can see. Its more like experiential. Its like trying to come close to, you know, putting down your experience so that somebody can read it an have another experience. I mean to me Blake is not uh... it's not a literary exercise. William Blake for instance. I mean his poems I wouldn't call them literature. I would - I get a direct experience from reading one of his poems. You know, that I wouldn't get from say, from reading something Green, Green or something. So to me its not literature in there.

MB: I wonder if its the same experience you get from hearing the gospel sung by the Clark sisters or hearing a sax quin solo by John Coltrane.
VM: It could be similar but its different. I mean you see there you're getting into different areas but you know. (Long pause). Uhm, I mean its in the same area but its not exactly the same thing, you know what I mean? It all depends who's doing it. And all that kind of thing.

MB: The experience that those kind of writers are defining, that moment that your talking about, is that the point at which a lot of your songs take off from. Do you think?
VM: Actually, I take people through this process in the songs. But the things about is like, it's like, ...., you know it only takes uhm... it only takes about ten minutes to do this process. So then you ask yourself I mean, why, why make albums, why tour? When the whole thing, the whole thing I'm saying, it only takes ten minutes to do it actually. If I can take the people through a meditation process, which is what I'm really about, which is what I'm saying. So, its very difficult to do this. You know, the bigger the audience is, you know then the harder and the more difficult it is to put across what you're doing. Because just in terms of when you got intimacy then you got more of a chance of, you know, taking people through this, experiental, experientally.

Uhm, so this is really it. Uhm, so like, this is what I'm doing in this one song. Uh, "In The Garden" but I used to do that quite a bit you see. Like, but for instance, when I did this in the 60's, we'd get you to a place where there's the meditation part, right, say at the end of "Cypress Avenue" or something, but the whole "Cypress Avenue" was just a build up to bring it to a point where we could go into meditation.

Now, uh, maybe this wasn't explained to people properly. Or maybe if it had been explained to people - But it wasn't that in the air that we could come and say to people, well you know this is - if you mention anything like that - I mean but what actually what really happened was when it got to that point some people got that this was about meditation. And they were willing to receive it and other people thought that this was a chance to say uh,... "Right on" or something. You know? So, it didn't really come across you see. It was just, there was just so much other stuff going on. Politically and uh drug wise and all this that uhm, I mean people, you know couldn't really relate, alot of people on that level for this so that's why uh, you understand that this is very difficult to do this is a situation where its rock and roll because rock and roll is not set up that way. Its set up to do the opposite. It is set up to stimulate. Its got to be very exciting, uhm, all this kind of stuff. Well that's got nothing to do with the meditation process. Which is what I'm about. And what ultimately the songs and every thing else is all about. And that's not what rock and roll is about. So at some point I'll have to make that split from rock and roll you see. Because that's just not what I'm about. Uhm..., does that answer it?

MB: Yes, very much so. I wonder, I mean, do you see live performances as an extension of that then. As, is there a way of doing the same thing on a more....
VM: Yeah, I see it as live performances as an extension of that but what I don't see is that, I mean, you don't have to have an album out to do this. And you don't have to be on the charts, you know? And you don't have to necessarily be famous to do this, you see. So, what I'm talking about is trying to eliminate ALL the bullshit, you know? Because that's all in the way. I mean the fact that, that I can do this you see if I have an album out or something, you know, or I get the right promo or something, you know, it has nothing to do with anything. So, I mean all that, all that stuff is got to be all lot more defined from my situation. At this point. Because, uhm, why should you want to do something like that within this other game? Because that's just uh..., I mean that's just like everything else, I mean thats like uhm... may as well watch MTV.

MB: It like trying to grow a rose in a sewage tip.
VM: Well I mean its not really the market place to do that. You know what I mean? Its not really the-- you know you don't really want to do that in that market place because that's not what that market place is. That market place is fine for THAT. Plenty of people want to see that and jump around, but my thing is that I don't really feel that I should do my thing because if I can come up with another load of songs and another album then uh, that's an excuse to do it. I mean, you know life is happening all year round in every day that we live, 24 hours a day, usually, and meditation is happening more than an album being out and all this kind of stuff. So, uh, that's something I'm working with at the moment . I mean I'm having to struggle with like, Why should I only do my thing, you know when this is happening? You know, when maybe I could do it with a smaller lot of people which is what I really want, smaller lot of people without having to go through this sort of game about playing an album and having to deal with all these other this that detract away from the thing itself. So that's what I'm having to think about now.

MB: So then you think that ulimately music could just fall away... completely?
VM: Well I mean what I have to say is got nothing to do with being on the charts or anything like this, is what I'm saying. You know, so I mean after that it has to break down at some point you see. Because I'm not willing to go through this process just to say whether - cuz I can say what I have to say, like I said, in ten minutes.


Up The Album - No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

MB: You're going to be touring unless - aren't you in America ..later this year?
VM: Yeah. But uh, after this I'm going to wind it down. Uhm, hopefully this will be the last time I'm doing this because I don't want to do this anymore. And I'm too, I mean I know enough - I'm too wise to say that I'm going to retire after this. Because I know that's not what's going to happen. And I know that the press used to get a hold of things like that and they make something out of it. So I don't want that. So I'm not going to say that this is my last tour or anything. I'm just going to say that hopefully I'm not going to do this - this way anymore. I'll say that much. I'm not going to quote sort of thing "Oh, Van Morrison says this is his last, blah blah." you know? I'm certainly not going to feed that out. Because that's just asking for problems. But hopefully I would like this to ....uhm.... you know maybe lead me to the next stage or something where - which I think it will. I think there's - there's some things happening, which I can't really talk about at the minute, that are coming in that look like I might be able to say goodnight to this sort of thing. Because it doesn't - its not working for me anymore. You know, and maybe people can come and see me under different circumstances in different sort of places. That aren't sort of rock and rolley places you know? Hopefully that might happen. But I certainly don't want to do this sort of album tour bit anymore and I'd like to make this the last time I do that.

MB: Can we talk a little bit about the music on the record? It sounds to me and a lot of other people as one of the most fresh and inventive and just plain enjoyable musical Van Morrison albums for a long long time. Did you get that sense as you were making it? That, That you were onto a winner, as it were - musically?
VM: Well I mean I always get that sense otherwise I'd never - I'd never do it. I always get the sense I'm on to a winner but I mean a winner in terms of what? It just means a winner in terms of what you're experiencing at the time. Uhm, in retrospect, that's all I have to work with. I mean ....(long pause) I don't really know about means even. [he chuckles while saying it]

MB: Let's talk a little about some of the music. You actually play rhythm guitar throughout. Is that right?
VM: Oh yeah.

MB: And piano too?
VM: No piano, no.

MB: Because you have played piano too in the past, haven't you?
VM: I play piano, and I've played it in the past, but this one I didn't play piano. I just played rhythm guitar, bits, stooly bits and some harmonica. Bit and pieces.

MB: Do you have any songs on there which are your own favourites?
VM: No, I never have favourites or anything like that, no.

MB: Actually that tune called "Paradise", and also "Thanks for the Information" which has an unusual sort of sound for you. Unusual sort of chord structure.
VM: Mmmm. .... Mmmm.

MB: Were you conscious of that when you were writing it - about wanting to play it this way?
VM: What the song? Not at all. No. [at this point Van has done a REAL fade out in that his voice has lost its strength, he sounds bored, or like he wants to end the interview perhaps ? Next question, you find out why he clammed up.]

MB: Does that happen more or less spontaneously now. I mean having done it for so long. Do things happen in the studio spontaneously without your.....
VM: (interrupting) Well you sort of get an idea when its happening and when it isn't. You know it depends on a lot of factors. I mean that's the reason why I don't really like talking about this because there is so many factors. It depends on - it could depend on whether it rained that day or not. I mean its ... you know it's what these people call chemistry or something. It depends on the chemistry of the moment, who you're playing with, whether they're in tune with the song, or the lyrics, or the rhythm, you know? Its the whole chemistry. The whole thing - there's no, I mean I haven't found for myself - there's no definable way I can make an album. It depends on what's happening then, the material, the rhythm, tempo, personalities (he chuckles), all kinds of things.

MB: Again the music seems to be pointed very much towards - the whole thing being very much a meditative experience. As rather than an excitable experience. Or rather than being an arousing experience?
VM: That's what it is. Its not meant to be exciting. Uhm, its not meant to be rock and roll. It's meant to be a meditative experience. That's absolutely right. Yeah.

MB: Is there anything that you've like to do musically that you haven't yet done? Anybody you'd like to work with? I know you said once - one time that you're recording with James Brown - would perhaps do something for you. Or Ray Charles as well.
VM: Well I think there was a time when I would like to have done that. But, no I don't really have any ambitions along that level. In fact I don't really have any - I don't have ambitions. I don't really have ambitions.

Immediately leads into the song "Ivory Tower" from the record.

Part of the van-the-man.info unofficial website

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