It would be a long while, a good long while, before I got to see Van again.
In the years that followed, I lived on my own little planet, and Van lived on his, albeit his planet was a bit bigger than mine, by a couple hundred miles at least. I satisfied my rabid interest by listening to his albums, wearing down Astral Weeks, Moondance, and His Band and the Street Choir on my two-bit record player. I thought I was in heaven having three LPs of his to balance on the spindle and let fall for hours of listening pleasure. Van continued to be a workhorse in the studio, and I was the lucky benefactor of a new release every year – starting with Tupelo Honey in 1971 and, in quick succession, Saint Dominic’s Preview, Hard Nose the Highway, Veedon Fleece and the quintessential live album, It’s Too Late to Stop Now. It’s probably been said by more knowledgeable fans than I, that if Van had made a career-changing move into basket weaving at that point, we would have been well-served with what we had.
Back on my little planet, the plot was grinding through one of those “state of inevitability” patches. Finishing up at one boarding school and a final year at another, with my record only slightly more tarnished, I then found myself living at home full-time, commuting to college in my sprint through a bit of higher education. My days of passionately singing “Four Strong Winds” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” strumming away on my acoustic guitar gave way to an interest in electric blues guitar, the more down and dirty, the better. Not that I could play – when I put down the acoustic, I left my guitar career behind. But the guitar was what I gravitated toward in what can only be called a sparsely filled concert-going schedule on my part. This is what comes from living in a French outpost, almost but not quite outside the outskirts of the tour circuit. Coupled with that, I had none of the necessary nose to the grindstone dedication it takes to scour the airwaves and news pages for who was coming to this part of the frozen tundra. Even in those days I needed a music secretary. I just didn’t know it.
The few times I did venture forth, it was to listen to some serious guitar playing. It was right about this time that I discovered the 12-bar blues, and my fascination with Ellen McIlwaine, my answer to Janis, and assorted others wailing away helped me keep my limited definition of live music alive.
By the time 1977 rolled around, coinciding with Van’s release of A Period of Transition, my academic years were a piece of history as was my first stint at holding down a job in the real world. Not to downplay the excitement of that job as an assistant librarian, but the major highlight of my week would be going down to the bowels of the building with an armful of data entry cards. Down in the basement was the Research department, where all these new-fangled behemoth computers were housed. The guys in Research would run the cards through the keypunch machines, and out the other end would come all the order information for the umpteen thousands of subscriptions the denizens of the higher floors couldn’t do without in order to keep the cogs of the machine, in this case, Canada’s oldest railroad, chugging right along. I was willing to do my bit.
But I wasn’t destined to be in the railroad business for long. The ultimatum I gave that first job was either $5,000 saved in the bank or two years, whichever came first. Then I was heading west, to fulfill my dream of hippiedom, despite the fact that all the hippies had either died or had moved to Chicago to become financial advisers. It’s been a recurring theme throughout my life that what I lack in timeliness is more than made up for in enthusiasm. By 1977, the two years were up and my bank account was bursting at the seams with that $5,000 fortune and my quest for adventure in a westerly direction got its mojo working. I was looking to dip my toes in the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the continent.
I got a ride as far as Toronto, 300-odd miles due west down the highway from Montreal, and when another ride didn’t come along right away, I decided to stop for a while. If I’d known the next ride wasn’t going to be leaving town for another 13 years, I might have kept my thumb out a little longer.
But being in Toronto had its distinct advantages, namely, as the cultural center of English Canada, it had its welcome sign out to musicians from far and wide, including all those unruly types from the big bad U.S. of A. And number one on that list, as far as I was concerned, was Van Morrison. A year after I’d set foot in town, Van’s and my planets crossed paths for the second time in a one-night stand at the O’Keefe Centre. It had been seven long years since I’d held up that wall at the Capital Theatre. The desert winds of the intervening years had finally blown me in the right direction, and I was in my seat, ready to see what the night would bring, with ample time before the lights went down.
Or rather, I was in the O’Keefe bathroom, crying my eyes out.