a confluence of events

The record’s stuck. The record’s stuck.
On Peter Wolf’s Midnight Souvenirs. It’s been in constant rotation in the car since I got it a month ago, and when I’m not listening to it, I’ve got “Tragedy” playing ear candy. It hardly seems like eight years ago that Sleepless came out, and I used to take that one driving too. Definitely, Wolf is road music.

I’d ordered it from amazon.com, and in the same package was Tom Russell’s Blood and Candle Smoke and the two new Van-related books, When Rough God Goes Riding by Greil Marcus and Hymns to the Silence by Peter Mills. Both were discounted, Marcus’s heavily, if I remember rightly.

I hope so; it’s not worth the suggested retail price. The most interesting parts of the book are these bits of arcane knowledge (non-Van content) that Marcus references to make a point about something in Van’s music, or he’ll go off on a tangential anecdote, and after each one of these, I’d go, wow, I didn’t know this, I don’t know that I needed to know this, but surely I am a better person for having more knowledge. The other good part is that Marcus abruptly dismisses a huge 17-year swath of Van’s music; if he’d liked those years, it would have just meant having to read about more Van Morrison songs that Greil Marcus really likes. It was good that the book was short.

I used to read Greil in Rolling Stone back in the day when music was starting to get good for me, and I always enjoyed reading him – a good wordsmith and from the bit I saw of the video of a book reading he did recently in support of Rough God, well-spoken and confident, a little aristocratic. I was reading Greil before I read Lester Bangs, so you could say I was weaned on rock and roll through Greil’s eyes. He really liked Van in those days. And he really liked the music I was listening to, and it was all one big happy time of it. So, despite bad press from listers, I was, in advance, disposed to liking the book, with no grievance to bear.

There’s a line in the book that Greil recounts. He must have been talking up his impressions of Astral Weeks performed live and his wife turned to him and told him that’s what he should be writing about – Van Morrison’s music. And so he did. I don’t doubt that Greil is a fan of one particular aspect of Van’s music, something that speaks to him personally and he feels passionate about it, but I didn’t sense any of that passion coming through on the page, and I didn’t find his analysis of the music that insightful. But hey, it’s not everyone who gets asked to write a book about Van’s music, so good on him for getting it done. I’m sure he gave it his best shot.

I think I was embroiled in the headwinds of Greil’s take on The Last Laugh, Van’s duet with Mark Knopfler, when a local author’s book came to my attention, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond. Dennis had seen him do a book reading at the Newburyport Literary Festival and got Steve to sign the book for me. Here’s what he wrote…

To the Drooling Vanatic Shannon –
Please find (if you don’t have already) “Who Drove the Red Sports Car” and CRANK IT UP

This guy is one seriously devoted fan of the music, there aren’t enough hours in the day and night to cram it all in, and it’s all good, the louder the better. Ergo, the Drooling Fanatic – it’s too good to stop now! It turns out he was giving a reading up in Concord the following week, so Dennis and I went along to that. And he’s just as good in person as he is on the page – he keeps you laughing, mostly at yourself, because you know exactly what he’s going through when the music takes over. I love the story he tells about this hot young thing. for whom bedding is all he’s got on his mind, and things are going pretty good in the foreplay to bedding part, and just when he’s thinking it’s time to make his move, he walks into the living room and Air Supply is playing on her stereo. While it didn’t put the kibosh on his short-term plans for the weekend, he couldn’t stomach the idea of a future that included her singing “I’m All Out of Love” as if she really meant it. And that was the end of Elise.

Turns out, while Dennis was at the literary festival, he spotted a poster for Midnight Souvenirs in the window of a local shop, and when he went in to buy the CD, he found out that Peter was playing a few shows in northern New England before heading off to tour the album at spots along the east coast, plus one stop in Chicago.

The closest show we could get tickets for was up in Portland, Maine, which is a bit of a hike up the road from here. It’s been years since I’ve been wanting to see this guy live, and the way he tours, it was now or never I figured. It turned out to be a superb night of music…I’ll tell you all about it next time.


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