Astral Weeks

My favorite album is Astral Weeks. It was recorded by Van Morrison in 1968, when he was only 23 years old. It starts like this:

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch and the back roads stop
Would you, find me
Would you, kiss my eyes
Lay me down in silence easy
To be born again
To be born again

The lyrics go on from there, in a series of eight mysterious and poetic songs. Van Morrison has said that the lyrics just came to him, that he doesn’t know what they all mean. It seems as if they were channeled.

Astral Weeks was recorded in two afternoons. Van Morrison sat alone in a sound booth and sang and played the guitar. He didn’t know most of the musicians…several of them where talented studio jazz musicians brought in by the record’s producer. Van gave them no instructions, only asked them to follow him as best they could.

There are many stories about this recording session, because it was short, and strange, and resulted in such an amazing album. Some people say the musicians recorded for a just few hours in the afternoon, after going out for a few drinks while they waited for the session to start. I don’t know if that part is true, but I can imagine it was.

Van Morrison was not a superstar, like the Beatles or Rolling Stones. Making this album was not a big risk, with lots of money to spend and pressure to succeed. It was practically an experiment…six hours of recording, two afternoons, no expectations. 

But somehow, everything lined up. The doorway to something deeper opened, and a powerful and spiritual force rushed in. The result is an album that is regarded by many critics as one of the top albums of all time. It is certainly unlike any other album ever made, and in fact Van Morrison himself never made another one like it.

And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats and they’ll get high
On a blue ocean against tomorrow’s sky
And I will never grow so old again
And I will walk and talk in gardens all wet with rain

It’s beautiful, poetic, powerful…and unplanned. It is from a moment that could never be duplicated again. And sometimes the best things in life come unexpectedly, just like that.

Sometimes I am sitting alone, in an ordinary coffeeshop, at a booth covered in vinyl, drinking a cup of iced coffee that tastes like nothing special. 

And then suddenly the warm sun rolls through the window, and I see the soft light and notice that everything around me is exactly right, just the way it is, and I feel my soul open to the let the world in. 

It is unplanned and unexpected, as all the beautiful moments are. If I come to the same coffeeshop the next day and wait, the moment won’t return. It is shy and mysterious, waiting at the edges of my vision. Waiting for me to relax, to let my guard down, to let the world in, exactly as the world is now.

How many such moments will come to me? A dozen more this year? A dozen in my lifetime? How many magic moments, when the jazz musicians drink their afternoon wine and play their soft music, and the gates to the universe open up?

Such moments are the juice of life. To experience one is to have a treasured memory that may last for years. Moment to relive….that special time…when the two of us decided to turn down that strange narrow street, and found the tiny restaurant the waiter told us jokes, and there we stayed until the sun went down and the talk flowed easily, and everything we ate was perfect and we glowed together as the stars came out.

It seems that such moments can’t be planned. The only way to have more of them is to plan less. To open our hearts to the possibility of the moments, and relax, and wait. Again and again. And then one moment something will bring down the magic…the morning sun, a piece of music, the moment after friend tells a joke and we smile and relax into the world.

There are things we can do to help us experience these things, but in the end they are gifts from heaven, given to us when we are ready to receive, but unsuspecting. Waiting, but open to the world.

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