10 Things You Didn’t Know About Van Morrison
Van Morrison's reputation speaks for itself, both musically ('Gloria,' Brown Eyed Girl,' anybody?) and with the multiple honors that have been bestowed upon the Irish singer/songwriter. He's a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and the winner of multiple Grammy Awards. In fact, about the only other accolade that's left is a well-deserved knighthood from his homeland -- wouldn't 'Sir Van The Man' sound mighty nice? Well, until that day, as he celebrates his 66th birthday today (Aug.31), we'll share 10 things You Didn't Know About Van Morrison:
Van cut his teeth in the music business at a young age in the late '50s, playing a variety of instruments, from guitar to saxophone, for Irish showbands. As typical for the time, his repertoire consisted of covering popular hits of the era. The time that he spent paying his dues would be good practice for when he eventually started writing his own hit records.
Literally thousands of bands and musicians have covered Morrison's classic 'Gloria,' which he wrote at the age of 18 and recorded with his first professional band, Them, in 1964. The lyrics were often ad-libbed during his live performances, which would stretch the song out to as long as 20 minutes.
Seriously, and you thought that 'Deadhead' was an interesting descriptor for a fan? Van Morrison fans are dedicated....or at least, that's what we realized when we heard about the fan who got an album cover and the autograph on said cover tattooed on his arm, a process that took 13 hours. Another Van fan has seen over 700 shows, including 56 out of the 90 shows that Morrison played in 2003. That's quite a few “wild” nights.
When Van Morrison assembled a grouping of musicians to record 'Astral Weeks' in 1968, the sessions featured a nearly complete lack of structure and music charts. Morrison preferred to embrace a free-form style of recording that stayed true to the jazz-based feel of the material. His instructions were simple: Follow me and don't get in the way. Simple enough, right? He went on to reuse the same formula when he recorded his classic 'Moondance' album.
Van Morrison acquired his famous nickname while performing with The Band during their 'The Last Waltz' farewell concert. After completing his performance, guitarist Robbie Robertson called out 'Van The Man!” as he made his exit from the stage, and the rest is history!
Van is reluctant to discuss his personal life, but dispels the notion that he doesn't do many interviews, saying that in fact, it's quite the opposite. But while he's willing to discuss his craft, he makes it clear that he keeps his personal life very separate. Summarizing his stance, he said that any communication about his personal life will always be “through my music, which is what I am known for."
As the late Farrah Fawcett, a big Van Morrison fan, was battling the cancer that would eventually take her life, Morrison heard that she would be unable to attend his concerts in Los Angeles because of her condition. So he had the shows filmed and sent her copies for at-home viewing. It was a mutual love affair – Farrah had been a fan of Van's music since the '70s, and Van himself was a fan of her film work, especially in 'The Apostle.'
Van cites Howlin' Wolf, Leadbelly and Billie Holiday as a few people that he wishes he would have gotten the chance to work with. The fact that the late legendary Miles Davis is also on that list seems to be one of his bigger regrets. Morrison almost had the chance to work with the jazz legend, but unfortunately, reports that he “didn't get to him in time.”
Morrison was an important influence for Bob Seger, who admired Van's ability to make albums that were consistently good and “committed” to a certain style of material, without being overly uniform. He told Bob Costas in an interview that he loves Morrison's “dream-like, trance-like” singing style and his jazz-like method of “winging it.”
In 1985, an interviewer asked Morrison about his thoughts on being an influence to so many fellow artists, mentioning Bruce Springsteen specifically as someone who borrowed a lot, including “ripping off” Vans '70s stage movements. Surprisingly, Morrison had been previously unaware of Springsteen. He had harsh words for 'The Boss,' saying that he felt “pissed off” now that he had discovered what Bruce was up to. So much for paying tribute to your idols, huh?