‘Astral’ Response

Morrison's breathless Celtic poetry inspires an ode of its own

the arts | visual arts |

BARD: The decades haven’t dimmed Van’s powerful mysticism.

By Bart Schneider

Van Morrison Reprises ‘Astral Weeks,’ Greek Theater, Berkeley


Forty years ago, as a teen, I saw Miles Davis impersonate an ancient horn player here, aiming his trumpet into the night sky.


Tonight, after the rain, I surprise myself by appearing under a floppy felt hat, not unlike Van’s— a baby boomer already boomed, with grown children and at least one life left behind. 


It’s strange to be co-opted by corporate America on the campus at Berkeley, but, sure enough, I flash my Visa Signature card for a free seat cushion. 


With cushion and Anchor Steam, I cruise the crowd. So many people, once raggedy-ass and roused at anti-war rallies, now affluent, carrying their cushions. 


Before I settle into my hundred-dollar cheap seat, Van’s onstage. Seven-thirty on the dot, like he’s punching a time card. 


At first, even with a fourteen-piece orchestra, he’s nothing more than his own warm-up band, banging out a forgettable ramble on the keyboard. 


But pretty soon he’s segued into “It Stoned Me,” stoned me just like Jelly Roll , and an uptown “Moondance,” the horns miming in sleek, muted brass, a minimalist skyline. 


When he slows it down for “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the country classic becomes aching soul music, and I can’t help thinking that every one in the place is musing on the one they can’t stop loving. 


Van was a pretty boy blond in a paisley shirt when he cut “Astral Weeks.” You marveled at his muscularity. Tonight, stout and leathery, obscure as ever, it’s the man’s tenderness that gets you. 


At intermission they’re out of Anchor Steam. I climb the muddy hillside to the top of the theater. The moon is out. The wind is still. Just the slightest flutter of eucalyptus leaves. 


Before I’m back on my cushion, the man opens up with “Astral Weeks.” The braided beauty of two acoustic guitars. If I ventured in the slipstream Between the viaducts of your dream . . .  


emote as naturally as breathing.
To never never never never wonder why at all
Never never never never wonder why . . .
I’m standing beside you.

I’m standing beside you.  


As vocal dervish driven by the beats of language, it’s as literary as Yeats and Joyce, and Beckett. The sweet stuttering of the Irish echo:
All you gotta do
Is ring a bell
Step right up, and step right up
And step right up Just like a ballerina . . .


Novelist Bart Schneider was the founding editor of ‘Hungry Mind Review’ and ‘Speakeasy Magazine.’ His latest novel is ‘The Man in the Blizzard.’ Lit Life is a biweekly feature. You can contact Bart at [email protected]

View All

Museums and gallery notes.

Reviews of new book releases.

Reviews and previews of new plays, operas and symphony performances.

Reviews and previews of new dance performances and events.

Sonoma County Library