In April of 1993 I was finishing my senior year of college, and about that time I went for my once-a-semester haircut. While waiting my turn at the barbershop, I thumbed through the two year-old magazines stacked under each chair and found an interview with Tanita Tikiram, who had just released her third album…two years earlier. The album was, Everybody’s Angel, and I owned a copy, so I read more. The interviewer asked Tikiram about the Van Morrison influence on the album, and she replied by simply saying, “I’m haunted by Van Morrison.” Haunted by Van Morrison? Isn’t that the guy who sang ‘Brown Eyed Girl? Haunted by that guy?
And for the next few weeks Van Morrison kept popping up in my life. First, I stumbled upon a copy of Astral Weeks in the used CD bin at “Record Revolution,” DeKalb’s best record store. Next, I happened to see a magazine ad for the album’s 25th anniversary. And more than I should have, I heard Van Morrison songs, “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Gloria,” and “Domino” on the radio that week. Maybe it was a sign, or maybe curiosity just got the best of me, but whatever the reason, I went back to “Record Revolution” and bought the used copy of the CD: a graduation present for myself.
Returning to my half-packed dorm room that day, I popped-in the CD and continued to pack for home. I filled cardboard boxes with four years of college: pictures, notes from friends, graded papers, textbooks I couldn't sell back, concert ticket stubs, etc. Senior year had been disappointing, and even though I was sad to say goodbye to friends and teachers, I was glad it was finally over. I was looking forward to the next phase of life. And Astral Weeks sounded exactly like I felt at that time. Melancholy, excited, searching, and completely hopeful. Astral Weeks is filled with mini meditations, starting with the title song. “To be born again, to be born again…” Ending a chapter and beginning a new one - I could relate.
A celestial mixture of folk, blues, jazz, and classical, Astral’s delicate, remote, and visionary meditations sing about life, love, and growing up. Astral Weeks is stunning. Van Morrison’s first solo effort, the album was recorded in about three days and much of it improvised, with the musicians being instructed to just “play what they felt.” Those musicians “felt” a lifetime over those three days, and Astral Weeks stands as the perfect example of the complete album as artistic statement. There were no hit singles on this album. Nothing stands out or is catchy like that, but it doesn’t matter, because every song is stronger when heard in context with the others.
It’s only been 15 years since I first heard Astral Weeks; I was 21 at the time. But strangely, I don’t remember a time without those songs. It’s as if the album has always been a part of my life. Hearing that music makes me feel nostalgic for childhood, which happened well before “Cypress Avenue” or “Beside You” were a part of my psyche. I guess you could say I’m, well, haunted by Van Morrison.