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kottke.org posts about Van Morrison

Van Morrison and the Boston counterculture in 1968

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018


Van Morrison wrote his spare, stringed magnum opus Astral Weeks during his time among the late 60s LSD-fueled counterculture in Boston. Ryan H. Walsh’s new book Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 covers the nine months Morrison spent in Cambridge, as well as a cast of characters both known and not. Among those orbiting Morrison were commune/cult leader Mel Lyman, members of the Velvet Underground, who played the Boston Tea Party club 15 times that year, and Carly Simon’s younger brother, Peter.

The common thread among the myriad personalities and communities profiled by Walsh is a yearning for transcendence and rebirth. These are also the central themes of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” Morrison’s route to the spiritual plane was through music, not drugs. (A notorious drunk during his time in Boston, he is said to have eschewed dope after “burning [his] brain on hash” when he was younger.) The singer seems to have been guided by his subconscious in creating “Astral Weeks.” Some of the songs emerged from dreams and reveries. Morrison was a student of the occult who believed in automatic writing.

From stories of gigs on Cape Cod where Morrison and his band improvised what became “Moondance,” to him quietly crooning about Cambridgeport “like he’s talking about a misty hobbit village,” Walsh’s book seems to give context for Boston being more culturally significant within the late 60s era than most people give it credit for.

(Image of Van Morrison performing at Spring Sing on Boston Common in 1968 via WBUR.)