Van Morrison’s Pandemic Blues

The Irishman airs his grievances and alienates fans on Latest Record Project Volume 1

Van Morrison, NewsMax watcher? (Art: Ron Hart)

Look, we’re all stressed out these days, and why should Van Morrison be any exception?

For months, he’s been cooped up, and he’s made it clear he’s not happy with this whole non-touring situation, not because he cares about his fans all that much (they annoy him by wanting to hear songs that they know and like, the demanding sods), but because he can’t make a living sitting at home. He has kept busy, apparently, because he has released a new double album, 28 songs, and man, has he been stewing about stuff.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Latest Record Project Volume 1—that is what he decided to name this endeavor—is around two hours of complaints, and what’s funny is that people are seeming to be taken aback by His Royal Surliness, as though petulance hasn’t been his brand, as it were (the very first album his voice appeared on was called The Angry Young Them). Latest Record Project is just his most explicit bunch of spite songs, and there are so many of them, and the one that has gotten the most blowback is called “They Own the Media,” so we can add anti-Semitic (or maybe anti-Murdoch, or anti-Australian, or anti-AT&T, who can be certain?) tropes to the insults flowing from Van’s poison pen.

But there’s no one he does like, except old blues and jazz singers. Everyone else is a pain in the butt. Fans who prefer his older material, the “mainstream media,” the government that’s preventing him from going out on the road and disappointing those fans (“no gigs, no choice, no voice,” he rants on “Deadbeat Saturday Night”), the judges who screwed him over (what judges? We don’t know). “I’m a targeted individual!” OK, whatever you say. He asks, “Where have all the rebels gone?” Gone to Facebook, everyone. When will they ever learn? Oh, yeah: he does not like Facebook. He is not oblique about this. There is a song called “Why Are You on Facebook?,” on which he asks, “Do you really care who’s trending?”

 

VIDEO: Van Morrison “Why Are You On Facebook?”

Funny you should ask. The only reason I knew there was a new Van Morrison album was that I was scrolling through social media and, lo and behold, “Van Morrison” was trending. When a famous person is in his mid-’70s, and suddenly he is on your feed, the options a) are death, and b) he did something stupid. In this case, the latter. So to answer Sir Van, apparently I am on Facebook because that’s how I receive information on Van Morrison. Who knew? I went over to Spotify (does he like Spotify? Probably not) and streamed his new album. Odd how that works. On the first track, he wants to know, “Have you got my latest record project?” You mean the one I’m actually listening to RIGHT NOW? Yes, obviously. I’ve got it. It’s on my computer. This is what is known as a rhetorical question. And as I’m listening to it, he’s berating me for ignoring his current music. Which this indisputably is. It is very confusing.

You know where I found out that there was a companion live concert streaming on nugs.com? On Facebook! Go figure. Van Morrison is hyping his Latest Record Project with his Latest Live Project, on Facebook and Twitter, and his music is on Spotify and nugs, and it’s fair to say that this Latest Record Project is getting a lot more attention than any other of his Recent Record Projects, because it isn’t often that a major recording artist puts out a full-blown tantrum about social media that lights up social media. It’s like if Josh Hawley wrote a book about the insidious grip of big tech, sold that book on Amazon, and trumpeted the success of that book on Instagram. Oh, wait, that really happened. The live Morrison concert made its online premiere this past weekend, and in the line of duty, I watched it. On “Where Have All the Rebels Gone?,” he sings about how he “needs a real live audience to perform.” He is performing. There is no audience.

Van Morrison Latest Record Project Volume 1, BMG 2021

The concert was promised to feature “songs from his new album alongside classic tracks.” That is technically true. It begins with ten consecutive songs from Latest Record Project Volume 1, and let’s concede that Morrison is in fine voice, crisp and committed. “Do the Right Thing” has a Stax undercurrent, and there is a lively Tupelo Honey/Band and Street Choir vibe on “Up Country Down,” where Van recalls “playing at the Whisky when the Doors were opening up.” After the ten-song run, Morrison goes into a medley of “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Parchman Farm,” and “I Got My Mojo Working,” and then the remainder of the set is a catalog hop: “Days Like This,” “Saint Dominic’s Preview,” “Cleaning Windows,” “Have I Told You Lately,” and the whole thing closes with a John Lee Hooker medley. If you were at a Van Morrison concert, sitting in a real live audience, you would most likely have a good time during the second half of this set. But man, he does not let go of ancient gripes. On “Saint Dominick’s Preview” he bitches that “Warner Brothers is still drinking my wine.” He hasn’t been a Warner Brothers artist since the early 80s.

Van’s live show skips some of the more klutzy and/or offensive album tracks. He avoids “They Own the Media,” “Big Lie,” and the Bo Diddleyeque “Stop Bitching, Do Something,” which is like the “You Gotta Do Something” song Russell Brand sings as Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, except worse. It’s understandable why people are up in arms about Morrison’s Pandemic Blues (why no sequel to “T.B. Sheets”?), but Latest Album Record Volume 1 is distressingly timely. Doesn’t everyone have people in their lives who, up until about five years ago, were just political adversaries that you otherwise could get along with, and then Trump happened, and all this cruel, despicable resentment spilled out, and you had to say, Enough? This is Van Morrison’s last-straw diatribe.

When Latest Record Project Volume 2 comes out, with songs like “Why Is My Damned iPhone Camera Always Out of Focus?” and “Gloria Comes Up to My Room Without Knocking,” I’m not going to take the social media bait.

 

 

 

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Mitchell Cohen

RockandRollGlobe contributing writer Mitchell Cohen began writing about music and films for various publications in the mid-’70s, including Creem, Film Comment, Take One, Fusion, Phonograph Record Magazine. He is the co-author of Matt Pinfield’s memoir All These Things That I’ve Done, and a contributor to the website Music Aficionado. Follow him on Twitter @mitchellscohen.

2 thoughts on “Van Morrison’s Pandemic Blues

  • May 13, 2021 at 8:23 pm
    Permalink

    I expect Vol. 2 to have song titles like:

    “I’m Not Racist, But…,”

    “Kids These Days”

    “Get Off My Goddamned Lawn”

    “I Have My Own Facts, Thanks”

    “Fauci’s a Fraud”

    “What Has Science Ever Done For Us?”

    “Not in my Bathroom”

    “You’re One or the Other”

    “JK Rowling is my Spirit Animal”

    “I’m So Oppressed”

    “Whatever Happened to Enoch Powell”

    “They Can Say It, So Why Can’t I?”

    “Loondance”

    Reply
  • May 16, 2021 at 10:47 am
    Permalink

    Bonus tracks:

    “Muh Freedom”

    “Women. What’cha Gonna Do?”

    “Where’s My Dinner?”

    “My Only Streaming is When I Pee”

    Reply

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