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Cyprus Avenue - Van Morrison

Way back in 1973, when there were only 4 UK tv channels, no digital alternatives, no home computers, and the only way to see music was live or on a handful of programmes such as Top of the Pops and the Old Grey Whistle Test, the first synchronised stereophonic tv broadcast of a live concert was what later became Van Morrison's first live album "Its Too Late to Stop Now". At that time, after a string of successful albums following the release of "Astral Weeks", Morrison was thought one of the best performers to see "live". The actual concert wasn't live, in reality, but a filmed recording of three concerts, in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and London's Rainbow Theatre respectively. What made it special was that you could watch it all on the tv while listening to it in stereo on the radio, through your hi-fi loudspeakers on the newly developed VHF radio facility. This meant, for the first time ever, that you could have high quality rock music synchronised with the images of a performance in your home! I banished my father from the room, rearranged his giant Akai speakers so that they were either side of the telly, turned up his Pioneer radio and amplifier, and sat back in his armchair and soaked it all in.

It is an understatement to say I was blown away.

"Astral Weeks" is haunted by Morrison's youth, and by the Belfast streets where he grew up, in particular Cyprus Avenue, the poshest street in the area, with comfortable gardened houses with driveways end to end. It is mentioned in "Madame George" (see yesterday's post) and is the subject of this song, The big road where Morrison lived was Beersbridge Road, a long street that started in the south with factory units and working class terraced houses, and became an increasingly better off neighbourhood the further north you went up it. Right at the top, there was a right turn into the high-class, upmarket, residential, leafy Cyprus Avenue.

"Well I'm caught one more time

up on Cyprus Avenue....

....and I'm caught in a car seat

and I'm looking straight at you."

Ostensibly, in the song Morrison is sitting in his car "trapped" - in a traffic jam perhaps? - while he watches the unattainable world of Cyprus Avenue go by. But the more you listen to it, you realise that what he's trapped in is his life, his working class world, trapped frozen in the moment before the "mansion on the hill" and the "little girls on their way back home from school" and it's now, and even though he's become successful he can never escape that moment, that feeling that he's not good enough, that he never can be, and there he is again, awkwardly inarticulately stuttering in front of the girl he can never hope to win. So he goes the other side of the railway tracks (literally) and gets drunk on cheap cherry wine but he still can't get over the moment, the moment of the realisation of their differences, the revelation, the vision of her unattainable beauty.

If you don't believe me, just watch the video or listen to the LP: he means it. The poetry is music and the music becomes poetry, but the hurt is still there.


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