There are no links here to tracks from what I suppose is now deemed, Van Morrison: Live In Boston 1968. The title is intentionally bland, purely informational. As outlined by Ryan H. Walsh, writer of one of this year’s best books, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, the whole thing is likely a copyright maneuver – some legal wrangling to keep possession with its maker, fifty-years after its creation. There’s some hope and/or speculation that maybe this precipitates a release, but probably not. It doesn’t seem Morrison wants it to see daylight.
The recording is just that – a recording: an hour plus of the artist working out some material, in a pretty low-stakes environment. Morrison was mere months from creating his masterpiece, but in his own mind, these were not serendipitous days. This was a “tour”, one mucking around New England to land some cash — something to help get by while he laid-low around Boston. That this release, or lack there of, is not a transformational recording should be no be a surprise. For one, if it were, the lawyered-up Mr. Morrison would have likely monetized it much earlier. But further, it’s just one recording from what was ostensibly a very unremarkable time. The show is merely special because it was caught on tape, as there is no immense library of recordings from this era to choose from.
This is not to say there isn’t incredible work here, and enough for any historian or fan of the album that came shortly after to chew on. Opener “Cyprus Avenue” feels fully formed, perhaps the highlight of the evening. Indeed, all three tracks that ended up on Astral Weeks (“Beside You” and “Madame George”) feel close to their final form – stripping away any last vestige of the romantic notion, passed down by older siblings and in dorm rooms for five decades, that the album was created in some kind of trance-like stream-of-consciousness. If Morrison was merely going through the paces, he entered this show with a strong notion of direction for his new material.
As a historical document, and an important piece in a puzzle so many are eager to see fleshed out, Van Morrison: Live In Boston 1968 is a useful addition to a re-ignited area of study. In this way, listening takes on an air of the academic, for the sonic element is far from earth-shattering. It is indeed, in the context of fandom, incredible to hear these songs. But as a general piece of recording, this is not the Holy Grail, nor even a gold coin.
Certain artists transcend fandom, transform from musician into subject of study. The smoke is still clearing around Astral Weeks, a record so staggeringly powerful that, fifty years on, we clamor for a glimpses of its inception, its Eden-like origin. However, when an artist transcends the plane of fandom, where their canon is so rich and filled with opportunity for study, it is nearly impossible to stop the clamor of listeners.
Morrison’s hand was forced, in part, by the law, and in part by Walsh’s and others research. In Morrison, we have an artist who uses every tool at his disposal in the pursuit of his rights as an artist. At a time when artists are increasingly losing a grip on ownership – if they have one at all – Morrison wishes to reestablish his claim on a piece of his creation, including the ability to have it not see the light of day. But a small ray was let out the other morning, and so we confront our thirst for history and legend with Morrison’s rightful privilege. Who crafts the stories of idols? The fans? Those who study them? Or the idols themselves? words / b kramer