But I remember Them (the group). I remember "Madame George" (Astral Weeks, 1968), and Van Morrison the great Irish poet.
His voice is the sticking point -- it's not for show. They sound black, but Janis Joplin is affected in a way Van is not. He doesn't seek to impress -- so says my gut. Touring the U.K. from an early age, Van lived. He paid his dues. As such, everything's been eaten. His voice is full of Dublin, Belfast, and London. The native tongue adds a prismatic touch. It's got soul. Caledonia soul. You can't nail it down, and you can't deny it.
Them was Van doing the Stones. Turnover was fierce. They look fierce because they never really broke. The step-kids of Beatnik pride, they sang the spokes of rock & roll: sex, cruising, and sex. If you're an Anglophile who likes rock & roll, straight up and stripped down, Them is it.
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (Them Again, 1966) is the prep for "Madame George." They both say goodbye (Van opens the door to Bob Dylan's song; scorn leads to hope), but "George" trumps all. Here Van steps out. The words, the spirit, the slurs... He takes you on a journey.1 The acoustic roll call is Dylan's, but the song is not.
"George" is a dazed look back. Think "Strawberry Fields Forever" (The Beatles). It's not about running away from a dad in drag. It's about growing up and moving on. Both songs describe the end -- the past blowing your mind. "Madame George" is more surreal because the arrangement is basic. Nine minutes long, and it flies: We identify with the singer. To get back to feeling, he traces the path he took, certain that to lack feeling is to die. And, haunted by his own refrain (he watches himself "say goodbye," over and over), he gets on a train. Does the train move? I don't know.
Maybe it does for you. For me that moment hangs, a freeze-frame to study for the rest of my life.
1Astral Weeks sets a mood. Both happy and sad, the record floats on angst, leaves it, and resigns. Couched in character, the woe of life is made universal.
2006-01-19 - Jack Cormack