Thursday 17 January 2019

From a ridiculous debate to the sublime Van

Declan Lynch's Diary

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Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

It had been another carnival of eejitry, this presidential debate on RTE Radio One last Saturday lunchtime - but there was something different about this one. Or rather, there was something different at the end of it, something so different it might have been a kind of an experiment in altered states of consciousness.

Or maybe it was just some crazy accident - it is now well known that LSD was discovered by accident in the laboratory, so when a documentary on the making of Astral Weeks was scheduled directly after this particular debate chaired by Cormac O hEadhra, perhaps the people who made that decision noticed nothing unusual about it at all, until it happened.

Or there may even have been some demographic logic to it, with RTE deciding to mark the 50th anniversary of the making of Astral Weeks straight after a programme which they felt would be of interest mainly to very old people, who might linger awhile to listen to the music of their youth - but for whatever reason, we moved from the vision of Peter Casey to the vision of Van Morrison, one after the other, so that now and for ever more there is a precise illustration of what it means to go from the ridiculous to the sublime.

It has now been established that for the spirit to recover from an hour of presidential campaigning, you need nothing less than the extreme goodness of Van the Man himself - I have explained in the past that Van is the greatest artist of any kind ever to come from this island, and I would also say that Madame George, from the aforesaid Astral Weeks, is his greatest song.

Therefore in order to combat the after effects of a six-way scuffle for the presidency of Ireland, it has been demonstrated that you need to spend some time in contemplation of the single greatest work of art that Ireland has ever produced. It is the only thing that will do it for you, my friends, the only thing.

Just to hear people talking about it on that documentary will do it for you, without even getting to the music.

The story of the making of Astral Weeks is itself marvellous - how Van found himself in the suburbs of Boston in a whole heap of trouble after a terrible record deal left him and his partner Janet Planet destitute. How they got married to save him from being deported, and how he got together with a few student musicians to work on these songs that eventually became the album described thus by Lester Bangs: "It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain, but… there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swathe of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work."

He didn't mention that it's the only thing that could get you through the rest of the day after listening to a lunchtime debate about the role of the president in a changing society - but he didn't have to.

Indeed, well beyond those debates, last week in general you would need all the Van Morrison you could get, all the time.

Most mornings we were listening to a discussion about Brexit - which was even more spirit-sapping that a discussion about our future president, because at least the presidency of Ireland is an actual thing. It exists, in real time, there will be a result at the end of this election, and then it will be over.

Brexit is nothing but a mirage that grew in the minds of the worst men in Britain, which is why it is so maddening to all good people. There's no "solution" to it, because it is not a proposition in the first place, it is more a kind of a toxic emission.

Yet we feel obliged to engage with it, and then we're hearing the latest from Saudi Arabia, and sometimes we can't take it any more.

Marty Whelan on Lyric FM has always provided sustenance for the soul in torment, indeed I am grateful for all the interviews with CEOs that I have missed on the business news on Morning Ireland because I have chosen Marty instead.

But last week there was a sense that something more formal was required, and that the Astral Weeks documentary had shown what could be done - that some days the schedules should just be cleared, to be replaced by people talking about Van Morrison and playing his music... whatever is needed really to restore some of our desire to go on living until there is no presidential election any more, no Brexit any more, no Saudi Arabia any more if that can be arranged, too.

Take it away, Van. Take it all away.

Sunday Independent

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