Archive for the ‘Van Morrison’ Category

We finished the second and final season of Joan of Arcadia yesterday. For those of you counting at home, that means we whipped through the 23 Season 1 episodes and 22 Season 2 episodes in exactly 22 days. One of the things I like about the series is that it avoids the typical pitfalls associated with dramas that explore faith and humanity. Within the show, as in real life, faith leads to questions, doubts and realizations, but never easy answers.

One of my favorite moments comes near the end of its run, in the “Common Thread” installment. God commands Joan to return to knitting, a hobby she stopped when she was a kid. As always, there’s far more to the episode than just that; we don’t just see Joan casting on, stitching and purling for the next 40+ minutes. I’ll skip the rest of the story, however, to the moment in question, when Joan gently rebuffs her folks, who are trying to ease her guilt regarding a bad decision made by her former boyfriend, Adam. “I mean, we’re all connected like the scarf. One piece of yarn, if you cut it up into little pieces, it’s useless. You can’t make anything out of it. I am responsible, partly. We all are…for everything that we touch and everything that touches us.”

It’s never us vs. them, as much as we sometimes wish it so. It’s us vs us. 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Of Questions & Faith (aka Joan of Arcadia, Part II)…

1) Kasey Chambers – “Abraham”

2) Van Morrison – “When Will I Ever Learn to Walk in God”

3) Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer – “Into My Arms”

4) Bruce Springsteen – “Rocky Ground”

5) Paul Weller – “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)”

And two bonuses…

6) Natalie Merchant – “I May Know the Word”

7) Maria McKee and Bryan MacLean – “Sweet Dr. Jesus”

Every Monday, we rolled out of bed, ate breakfast while scanning the sports section of the morning newspaper, and headed to the bus stop, where we waited with a motley crew of kids from the neighborhood. At school, we navigated the halls on the way to and fro’ class, and fled at day’s end unless we had an after-school activity of some kind. The next morn, we did it again. And again after that, times three, until summer break came.

After school, depending on weather and mood, we played in the street or the park, rode our bikes or walked to independently owned music and book stores in our small town’s business district, or hiked the long hill to the Village Mall, where we browsed the chain-store versions of the same. The main difference: the folks behind the counter at those independent stores knew my name. At the chain stores? They only knew my cash.

In 1982, social media would have meant talk radio. Cable TV was around, but channels weren’t many. In the Philly area, the most important to get was PRISM, an HBO-like premium channel that, in addition to movies and specials, carried the home games of the Flyers.

In some respects, life was less hectic. The news cycle played out in drips and drabs via the newspapers and evening newscasts, not the incessant drumbeat of disagreements that fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds. But, make no mistake, life was no less difficult then as now. June 1982, for example, saw America stuck in a wretched recession: Inflation clocked in at 7.2 percent while unemployment was 9.8 percent.

I was 16, going on 17.

New movies released this month include Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T., Grease 2 and Blade Runner. True story: one day later this month, after school had let out for the summer, a friend and I trekked to the Village Mall, which was home to an two-screen Eric movie theater. He took in Poltergeist. I took in…Grease 2. That’s just how I rolled.

The top TV shows for the just-concluded 1981-82 season included Dallas, 60 Minutes, The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, Alice, The Dukes of Hazzard, Too Close for Comfort, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. (Of those, I only watched the last two on a regular basis.)

In the world of music, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were atop the charts with “Ebony and Ivory” – a 45 I still own – for all of June. Other hot hits included Rick Springfield’s “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ cover of “Crimson & Clover.” (As always with all things charts, I rely on Weekly Top 40.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: June 1982 via Creem. Joan Jett graces the front cover of the issue and, via an ad, the back.

1) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “I Love Rock ’n Roll.” The Iman Lababedi-penned cover article chronicles Joan Jett’s ascent from the generally ignored Runaways to this point in time, when she was on a roll, having finished a seven-week run at No. 1 with “I Love Rock ’n Roll” on May 1st, and then cracking the Top 10 again this month with “Crimson & Clover,” to say nothing of her platinum-selling I Love  Rock ’n Roll album.

2) Quarterflash – “Harden My Heart.” “In the United States, statistics show, a girl is walking out on her no-good man every 15 minutes. Statistics also show that 15 minutes later they’re going out and buying the Quarterflash record.” So begins music journalist Sylvie Simmons in this in-depth profile of the Portland, Oregon, band, which – to my ears – always sounded somewhat like Pat Benatar. Interestingly, the songs weren’t written by singer (and saxophonist) Rindy Ross, but her husband, guitarist Marv Ross.

3) The Jam – “A Town Called Malice.” Penny Valentine checks in from Britain with a good piece on the Jam. “Not since the Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ has a record so well captured an urban mood and sent out its own warning: ‘Better stop dreaming of the quiet life/‘Cause it’s the one we’ll never know/And quit running for that runaway bus/‘Cause those rosy days are few.’”

She also delves into the album the song springs from. “So ‘Gift,’ an indecisive, incomplete, somewhat directionless collection musically and a set which reflects Weller’s own confusion between a salvation that lies with love and individualism or collective action, somewhat accidentally reflects exactly the political climate at the moment.”

4) Van Morrison – “Cleaning Windows.” Richard Riegel has the lead review, of Van Morrison’s Beautiful Vision, in the Records section. Of this song, he writes that “‘Cleaning Windows,’ which opens Side Two of Beautiful Vision, picks up some of the threads of ‘Summertime in England,” and is the most interesting song on the new set as a result. ‘Cleaning Windows’ stars Van Morrison as a repatriated Belfast window washer, who measures his life in the number of sparkling panes he’s left behind…”

He also laments that “nowhere else on Beautiful Vision does Van Morrison allow us such crystalline metaphors for his life. All 10 cuts have his trademark beautiful-vision melodies but lyrically too many of the other songs celebrate those vague bromides favorited by Bob Dylan in recent years, songs in which the satisfaction of the singer’s belief is supposed to substitute for acute lyric detail.”

5) The Call – “War-Weary World.” Riegel also contributes his take on the Call’s eponymous debut to the Rock-a-Rama roundup: “Clenched-jaw, urban-melodrama-verging-on-paranoia, a la Talking Heads, but far icier and more detached music than David Byrne would ever allow his disciplined-to-funk urban soul to express.”

psu_desk_86001Thirty years ago today I was but a few weeks into my senior year of college. The picture to the left is of my desk in my dorm room, and it tells much about me then – a print of the Gilbert Williams painting “Celestial Visitation,” which is probably known to most as the cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1982 Daylight Again album; beside it, the fold-out poster that came with Madonna’s True Blue LP; my Ballad of Sally Rose button, which I purchased the previous year when I saw Emmylou Harris in concert, is beneath it; and, beneath that, a picture of the Beatles, circa 1967, that was taken by Linda Eastman (though I didn’t know it at the time). To the left of that: a postcard from the Wings Fun Club that looked cool to me; and, beneath that, a Marilyn Monroe postcard. I can’t make out the rest, but suffice it to say that I had one foot in the past, another in the present, and an ear for hip country sounds.

According to the Weather Underground, September 5th, 1986, was a rainy day in State College, home of the Penn State mothership, with a high of 75 degrees and a low of 55. Hot movies that summer included She’s Gotta Have It, Stand by Me and The Fly; and Shanghai Surprise, which starred Madonna and Sean Penn, had cratered at the box office the previous weekend. In America at large, the economy was still in the midst of rebounding from the nasty recession of 1981-82; the unemployment rate at the start and end of the month clocked in at seven percent – not a great number, but much better than the double-digit rates of late 1982 and early ’83 – and inflation, at all of 1.8 percent, was a non-factor.

The state of my personal economy was fairly good, too: I had a summer’s worth of savings thanks to full-time shifts at a department store back home. I continued selling my plasma twice a week like clockwork, most weeks, and rented out my student pass for Nittany Lion home games; while I attended every tailgate, I actually only saw one game during my two years at main campus. (And no regrets about that, either.) My expenses consisted primarily of fast-food, alcohol and cigarettes.

Looking back, the ‘80s were somewhat like a snow globe: America was shaken at its start, but everything settled into place by decade’s end. That the era is often derided for its fashion miscues, pop music and political retrenchment is a shame; there was much good to be found. As for 1986? It’s likely remembered most for the tragedy that begat the year, the Challenger disaster –

– but the year was far more than that sad day.

Anyway, inspired both by Herc’s Hideaway’s recent countdown of the Top 100 Albums of 1984 (the link takes you to the Top 10; navigate to older posts and you’ll find his 11-90 entries), here’s my Top 10 from ’86. Why that year? Well, “It Was 30 Years Ago Today” has a nice ring to it…

1) Paul Simon – Graceland. Selected track: “The Boy in the Bubble.” Rolling Stone recently ran down 10 Things You Didn’t Know about the album, which was released on Aug. 25, 1986. To my ears, it sounds as fresh today as it did then. The title track is sheer genius, and I almost spotlighted it, but this song contains what may well be the one line I quote more than any other (by any artist): “Every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.”

2) The Bangles – Different Light. Selected track: “If She Knew What She Wants.” Yeah, some folks may not rank this album quite as high as me, but – I loved it then, and I love it now. Back when it was released, in early ’86, much of my music purchases was on cassette – they took up less room and, too, I had a cassette deck in my car. I actually played my original tape so much that you could hear the music on the flip side bleeding through.

A quick side-note: Those top two picks are easy enough for me to recall, as I noted them at the time; and have kept them on one list or another every year since. Numbers 3 on – I’m guesstimating to an extent, as they’re albums that I loved then and still enjoy today. Where, exactly, they fall…that’s up for (internal) debate.

3) Dwight Yoakam – Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Selected track: “Honky Tonk Man,” the lead single to Dwight’s debut album, is a remake of a classic Johnny Horton song. It’s just plain intoxicating; and, at the time, it sent out a signal that Yoakam was pursuing a more purist sound than the era’s Urban Cowboy-flavored norm.

4) Steve Earle – Guitar Town. Selected track: “Guitar Town.” Another country-music outsider, another great debut. It was considered too country for rock audiences and too rock for country folk, but it found its niche with those of us who liked both.

5) Belinda Carlisle – Belinda. Selected track: “Mad About You.” The former (and future) lead singer of the Go-Go’s released her solo debut during the early summer, and it’s a gem. As with the four preceding entries, it’s an album I still listen to on a regular basis. And here’s some trivia: Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran) plays the guitar solo on this song; and the album also features former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber and non-Rolling Stone Nicky Hopkins in addition to fellow Go-Go Charlotte Caffey, who wrote one of the songs and co-wrote four others.

6) Robert Cray – Strong Persuader. Selected track: “Smoking Gun.” As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, part of my time at Penn State included spinning discs on the weekend Folk Show on WPSU. I first learned of Cray in late ’85 or early ’86 from a fellow deejay, and – as a result – already owned one of his other albums, Bad Influence, which was a good, not great, affair. This release was simply phenomenal, and this song… well, you kinda know something’s an instant classic when a bar band in the boondocks, aka Bellefonte, Pa., plays it – and that’s exactly what happened sometime in… egads. Late ’86? Early ’87? God only knows…

7) Madonna – True Blue. Selected track: “Papa Don’t Preach.” Yeah, yeah, some people will undoubtedly smirk upon seeing Madonna’s name in this list, but I have no shame. I loved it then, as evidenced by the poster above my dorm-room desk, and still find it enjoyable today. It was also the last of her albums that I liked from start-to-finish.

8) Van Morrison – No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Selected track: “In the Garden.” One of my favorite Van albums, and one of his all-time best. Words really don’t do it justice.

9) Hank Williams Jr. – Hank Live Selected track: “My Name Is Bocephus” It may seem bizarre to some that I was (and, to an extent, still am) a fan of Hank Jr. But I am. At his best, he’s authentic country and authentic southern rock. He released a string of what I consider good-to-great albums throughout the 1980s – 13 studio albums and this live set (plus three greatest hits collections). Think about that for a second. Most acts release, what? An album every other year (if we’re lucky)? He was on a roll. This song is one of my favorites by him, though it’s likely not the performance from the album. (Update: Hank Live was released in January 1987. So much for working from memory!)

10) Lone Justice – Shelter. Selected track: “Wheels.” Lone Justice Mach II wasn’t on a par with the original lineup, and this sophomore set wasn’t as strong as the original lineup’s 1985 debut. Yet, even with that, it contains some of Maria McKee’s greatest songs, including “I Found Love,” the title cut, “Dixie Storms” and this.

In retrospect, there are other albums I’d rank higher than a few of these – Janet Jackson’s Control, for instance, deserves mention – but I didn’t become familiar with them until the late ’80s, when I worked in a new-fangled CD store. But that’s a post for another day…