Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
We need to talk about Van Morrison. Over the past 15 months, while you might not have been looking, the iconic Irish singer has strung together a collection of new albums at a clip that would draw approving nods from even the most prolific Atlanta trap denizens like Future and Young Thug. Three records total; the most recent, Versatile, which just dropped earlier this month. Incredibly, it appears that we haven’t reached the end of this latest spike in production either. Word around the water cooler is that Van plans on dropping yet another, as-yet-untitled new project come April, with a live film called In Concert debuting two months before then.
While Van’s popularity in the UK has held pretty strong — two out of his three most recent releases debuted in the Top 5 on the album charts across the pond and he was even the recipient of a knighthood — it feels as though in America we’ve kind of taken him for granted lately. Album announcements and release dates come and go, and there’s hardly any fuss made when he rolls out a smattering of tour dates here and there in the mostly warmer climates of North America. He’s just kind of…there…and not there at the same time.
That could be chalked up to any number of reasons, chief among them being that 72-year old crooners don’t typically generate the biggest buzz when they elect to drop new projects. But there are other factors at play as well. Such as is the case for many legacy acts, streaming has made the entirety of Van’s oeuvre more available than ever, meaning that casual fans and the mildly curious are more likely to check out his “great” works like Moondance or Astral Weeks than his more recent offerings. It doesn’t help that Van holds a deep aversion to talking with journalists, which might help drum up even a modicum of publicity for his latest creations. Then of course, even if he were to deign to speak with any of us, it’s not like there’s an obvious, easy narrative to build around in the first place. “Great Singer/Songwriter Makes Another Good Album” doesn’t exactly jump off the page.
The irony of his relative anonymity is that Van himself probably relishes in it. 50 years under the microscope is enough to drive anyone not named Mick Jagger into the shadows. There’s a track on his 2017 album Roll With The Punches that lays bare his own feelings about living and creating in the public eye. “Oh fame, they took away all my humanity,” he wails. “You’ll never be the same / Cause everyone’s corrupted by fame.” It’s telling that this is one of the very few instances in a rare, recent interview with The Telegraph that he’ll cop to writing a song about his own experience in life rather than approximating someone else’s.
“A lot of the time I’m writing songs that are nothing to do with me,” he explained. “I might pick up an ambiance about a certain place or a certain time, and that will lead into a song. But my life isn’t my songs. They’re just something that I do in the same way that someone writes a script or a story…That one’s different. That’s what I call a reality song. It would be about my life.”