Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Van the Man

The Onion AV Club once had a great post* in which it discussed how most pastimes, especially music, can be divided into two groups: the likers and the lovers. The likers are the casual fans. They are the ones who confirm trends. When a liker is into it, you know that "it" has hit the big time. And the lovers are the ones who revel in the minutiae that give them their lover status. An excerpt:

But it illustrates the difference between being a music liker and a music lover. I’d say 95 percent of the world are music likers. They like playing music while driving, cleaning the house, exercising, drinking, working, and pretty much any other activity that music can accompany without being the sole focus. Music likers buy 10 CDs (at most) every year, and it’s usually stuff they hear everyday on the local top 40 station or greatest hits collections by classic rock bands. Music likers don’t read music magazines or get into arguments about music trivia. They like music, but it’s not something worth putting too much thought into. The remaining 5 percent are music lovers. These people are irrational fans,(short for fanatic) and they buy CDs every week, read music mags, and seek out passionate discussions about music. These people will judge you based on your CD collection (whether they admit it or not), and they can sniff each other out based on the ability to name bass players and/or pre-1980 prog/funk/metal/soul artists. (The like-love split isn't specific to music. It applies to everything: movies, TV, books, fine art, theater, food, beer, whatever.

I will fully admit to my status as a liker (I don't think you could come up with a more stereotypical music liker/lover combo than me and Matt). I rarely discover truly new bands unless a "lover" friend points them out to me because they think I will enjoy the music (i.e., my friend BethAnn telling me that she thought I would like Tally Hall). And my "discoveries" are artists/bands that any music lover knew about long, long, long ago. Eons ago. When I discover music, it is likely because an oldies or classic rock station plays a catchy song that I either had never heard or haven't heard in 10 years and I remember a lyric or two, come home and Google it. Or I come across it in popular culture.

Like everyone else, I had heard Brown Eyed Girl long ago, but it wasn't until a West Wing episode that I really discovered Van Morrison. In We Killed Yamamoto, Amy Gardner cranks up Caravan and Moondance. I liked the sound and bought a Van Morrison album before the week was out. And I haven't stopped being a fan since. My 91 Bonneville -- this is a blog written by men who proudly drive crappy cars -- has a tape deck and my tape of The Best of Van Morrison was worn down by repeated listening in the time before I bought an iPod. I once took my younger brothers to Milwaukee for a weekend of baseball games. That cassette served as the soundtrack for the four-hour drive. I'm sure my brothers would be fine if they never heard Van again.

Van Morrison is a bit like the Bible: no matter what your mood is, you can probably find a Van Morrison song to fit your tastes. He does blues (like the embedded video of Van doing a great rendition of Gloria with John Lee Hooker), he does religion (Full Force Gale is probably the best song I have ever heard about the sanctuary that God provides), he does the mystical (Astral Weeks), etc. His Tupelo Honey album featured several country songs -- not this Garth Brooks type of pop/country, but George Jones-style country. Morrison wrote "Chopping Wood" about his father and it always reminds me of my working class dad. He does whatever he finds interesting. If tomorrow Van Morrison became obsessed with punk rock, I would expect to see a Nirvana-style album released within a year, followed by a tour that started in Seattle. Not only does this bring him respect, but you can hear the passion in the music. Knowing that he didn't write any songs or produce any albums simply because a label exec thinks he can get it on the radio does make it a more enjoyable experience to be a fan (and I'm guessing a more enjoyable experience for Van!)

I do and don't envy a journalist who interviews Van Morrison. Make the interview about him and he will quickly become combative and awkward. But if you ask him about his music, not only will you hear some very insightful answers about his music, but you might get a little out of him about himself.

I'm not saying anything that any Van Morrison fan doesn't know about the man. Despite being one of the most influential musicians in this era (his diverse catalog has influenced many musicians and he deserves to be listed among the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Springsteen, etc. in his influence on other musicians), he remains an enigma. I could no more describe his voice than I could explain love -- it's impossible to know where to begin. But this music liker will always love Van the Man for exposing me to so many different kinds of music throughout his career.

* -- As an aside, the author of the post is an alumnus of the same distinguished university that Blugold Matt and I are proud graduates of.