I know, I know. But this is my last post on Van the Man for a while…maybe.
1. A pursuit of beauty. It shows up again and again in his songs and set him apart from every other singer/songwriter I know. Beauty is not only the means but the ends for Van. And when that comes through the eyes and voice and heart of a curmudgeonly old man it’s well…it’s beautiful.
2. Songs that could have been written yesterday or 40 years ago. He is writing songs that not only fit with the music he was making 40 years ago. He is writing songs that simply fit in with the old Jazz and Blues which he grew up listening to on the BBC.
3. His love of music. The music is the end for Van. He is not making music to make money. The money allows him to do what he wants, which is to make more music. He not only sings, he sings about singing and the music itself is often the subject.
4. His love of musicians. I love to hear Van sing about the musicians he loves. I love to hear him talk about them in the rare interviews he does. he seems to be constantly pointing to other great musicians. Most of which are dead. I would not have known Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and Lester Young apart from Van singing about them. And he loves to surround himself with great musicians and singers and make sure we hear them. The video below is an excellent example of this.
5. No protest songs. No politics at all. His music transcends it all. Thankfully, in a world where everything is politicized I can sit down with Van and not have to enter in to such.
6. Spirituality. Van went through a Christian phase and probably a Zen phase among others. I simply love the fact there is always an element of something transcendent going on above. The music and lyrics speak to this throughout his career. His version of “Be Thou My Vision” is the best I’ve ever heard. He does not make it sound like anything other than what it is…a hymn. By the way, did you know that “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” is a prayer to God? Below is a crazy good version of this song live.
7. A sense of place. Van name-checks towns and streets and countries and villages frequently. And so the songs belong not out in some ethereal nowhere. They are fixed very often in places you can find on a map. And usually in Ireland, his home. I get that. Because I love my home, I can understand someone writing beautiful songs about where you are from.
8. A sense of history. His own history and the history of music itself. The songs are full of the memories of a man growing old and weary of the world in which he finds himself.
9. Lyrics as poetry. You would be hard-pressed to find a song of Van’s which could not stand alone as poetry. In fact he has a few poems set to music on his albums. No wonder, for his love of poetry is evident. He references Donne, Kerouac and T.S. Eliot.
10. He’s been doing the same thing for a long time. I understand the need for an artist to grow and do different things. But I also love that Van does different kinds of music while never really doing anything different. Sure, he’s done Pop, Country, Jazz, R&B, Soul, Blues, Celtic, Rockabilly and Skiffle. But you could put it all on the same album and it’s still Van doing his thing. No compromise. Just him, “Into the Music” as it were.