Van Morrison: The Poet
Was the time between 1974 and now a kind of fertile void for you, or did you just flip out?
No, I didn’t flip out. I’ve never flipped out, I’m too crazy to flip out. People who change their minds a lot don’t flip out. It’s those who have one kind of fixation that do that. My mind changes too much. No, it was a conscious decision. Like I was William Buckley or somebody sitting there looking at the movie, and I wanted to change the movie.
What about the audience watching the movie, your audience?
Well, the thing is, if you’re not together, you can’t do it. I wasn’t happy in any way – I wasn’t writing – so I didn’t have anything to give anybody.
You were pretty courageous to do what you did.
The usual thing happened, you know: the William Morris Agency called me up every three days and said, “What are you doing?” “Doing a break, what do you think I’m doing?” I was traveling in England, Ireland, Scotland, Los Angeles, Switzerland – all over the place. I was just kind of living life as opposed to being somebody, being like Van Morrison or somebody. I was just looking at things, getting my energy together, doing things I like to do, and just living as if I were nobody instead of somebody. I have to be nobody so I can live my life.
In “Wavelength,” you have the lines: “I heard the voice of America/Callin’ on my wave-length/Singin’, Come back back/Come back, come back.”
It’s got several meanings. When I was growing up in Belfast, I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg and the Voice of America, which broadcast from Germany. And those lines are about returning to Europe and getting back to my roots, because being brought up in Europe is completely different from being brought up in America – it’s a completely different ball game. So that’s what that’s about.
In “Take It Where You Find It,” you sing: “Lost dreams and found dreams in America.”
I wrote that on a plane from Los Angeles to San Francisco and carried it around with me for a long time – it didn’t make any sense to me at all. I knew people were going to ask what it was about. And not really knowing or even caring what it was about, I tried changing it to “Lost dreams and found dreams in Scunthorpe” or “the Bahamas” or anywhere. But that line kept sticking. When I played it on the piano I couldn’t get away from it. And the rest of the song I wrote later on.
Some of these lines, especially, “You will build on whatever is real/And wake up each day/To a new waking dream,” suggest something common to a lot of your songs.
You get this thing coming through – it comes through in different spaces and times, and you don’t really know what it is. If you’re receptive to it, you channel it and you write it down.
Those lines suggest that reality and dreams are both real you don’t get a sense that there’s a split – and in many of your songs it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins.
I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what the answer to that one is [laughing].
You said that in 1974 your body’s energy was all blocked up. In “Kingdom Hall” now, you sing about “good body music” and about clearing inhibitions away. Almost all your songs are full of deep and lively feelings about dancing.
When I started out, I was in dance bands, and people were on the floor dancing. And that’s really what I wanted to do, when I started in this game – play dance music. And I just found myself getting further and further away from the dance thing with concerts and all that. And I wanted to get back to it.
A philosopher once suggested that even thoughts could be expressed in dance, that dancing could be a form of thinking.
I see it as a way of not thinking, really. I see dancing as just dancing. When you’re really into playing music, the words become irrelevant because you’re in that space. And I feel that way about dancing – it goes beyond words.
But a lot of your most danceable songs have very profound lyrics.
I don’t know, this thing about lyrics – I’m just catching on to this. If you get some of the facts together . . . I mean, I sell records in places where they don’t speak English. And I’ve experienced listening to Greek singers, for instance, and not knowing what the words are, but I get a story and a feeling from it even though I haven’t a clue to what’s being said. So if English-language songs can sell in non-English-speaking countries and people can be touched by them, then we can see how irrelevant the words are.
Sometimes it seems that you let the words dance when you sing them; you release them, and they take off in their own directions.
The only time I actually work with words is when I’m writing a song. After it’s written, I release the words; and every time I’m singing, I’m singing syllables. I’m just singing signs and phrases.
So you’re really connecting meaning and sounds.
I don’t know.
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