British philosopher R. G. Collingwood in 1937.
Christ only knows why this wonderful stuff is not in my top 10.
Maybe it's my stubbornness that's keeping it off the pedestal that it's normally afforded by others. There will surely be lesser achievements above it. Having just immersed myself in these spellbinding enchantments I need to loosen this rant now...
It's easy to dismiss Van as an old curmudgeon these days and, frankly, he doesn't help himself with the grumpy whinges and tiresome whines. But back in the day he was a maverick troubadour who'd turned his back on the pop charts and Them.
Back in the day, 1968 to be specific, Van was a man in search of magic.
There's what Lester Bangs called "the mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work".
It's an insubstantial yet spellbinding beauty that's as difficult to detail as it is to describe sea mist or the smell of freshly cut grass. I'll be posting no audio clips; you need to sit through the whole thing to taste the flavour and absorb the sense of wonder.
The same intensity resurfaced in 1974 on Veedon Fleece, an album that I always hear as an extension of Astral Weeks' tenuous template. The Veedon Fleece itself is seen as "the symbol of everything yearned for in the songs; spiritual enlightenment, wisdom, community, artistic vision and love. It's suggested that the Fleece might be Van's Irish version of The Holy Grail. Morrison himself explained the title with: "I haven't a clue about what the title means. It's actually a person's name. I have a whole set of characters in my head that I'm trying to fit into things. Veedon Fleece is one of them and I just suddenly started singing it in one of these songs, It's like a stream of consciousness thing."
Maybe this is where Van rediscovered the initial dream state that informed Astral Weeks with such otherworldly beauty.
And as we walked through the streets of Arklow
Oh the colours of the day warm
And our heads were filled with poetry
In the morning coming onto dawn
Here he was again, trying to harness something intangible, to bottle the sea mist, the essence of a time and a place, trying to reclaim the innocence lost.
And here he was again, trying to conjure something holy; something from nothing...
Call this wonderfully willful music what you will, I'm calling it 'magic'.
The only response to the listening of this is silence...