25 July 2005

Too Long In Exile

      As I've mentioned here before, it seems one of my lots in life to lend out material that I'm bound never to see ever again.   I can't even begin to count how many books, videos, CDs and such I've lost in such fashion over the years, and some of them have been genuinely missed.   Years ago teaching for RK, I allowed several of my students to borrow the Branagh Hamlet, only to have it vanish into the vortex that is undergraduate self-absorption.   Then there's the quartet of CDs I leant to a former friend and bartender, a four-poofer in the world of this sort of vanishing.    And so and so forth, to the point I regularly end up thinking, "Gee, I haven't listened to xxxx CD in a while," and so I go hunting for it in my collection, only to remember that it has gone into the great wide open.   This happened as recently as yesterday, when I decided to drag out my tattered old copy of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, partially because I was reminded of the play's anniversary last week. Great, I thought, another hole in my already bleeding library.   Add that to the list of stuff I have to buy again.   Insert overly regular grumbling here.

      This morning, however, while sorting through my hard drive, I discovered quite to my surprise an old MP3 file (probably from Napster, or other such place) of Van Morrison's "Ball and Chain." The song is from 1993's otherwise lacklustre album Too Long In Exile, the few other highlights of which include another rendition of Yeats ("Before the World Was Made"), a cover of the Doc Pomus/Ray Charles standard "Lonely Avenue," and a riveting turn on Bobby Bland's "I'll Take Care of You."   (I should also mention Van's version of Sonny Boy Williamson's classic of perversion, "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl," which seems elevate lecherous growling to a kind of minor art form.)   Exile, as you have probably determined, is also one of those lost discs, so finding the file today was an unexpected delight.   There is, after all, precious little better than discovering an old favourite: there's a refreshing familiarity that underscores one's capacity to perceive things anew, and the result is serendipitous. (Serendipity, I'm reminded, is looking for a needle in a haystack and finding the farmer's daughter.)   Through the unknown, half-remembered gate, as Mr. Eliot would say.

      "Ball and Chain" is one of those overlooked songs, and sadly it's a song that never made a mark on the charts and which Morrison himself never performs in concert.   It has, however, a neat little groove, simple but jaunty, and it harkens back to days of apparently easy (as in "with ease," not as in "without difficulty") melodic arrangements.   And for a love song, it's also wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, which happily tonics some of the overly-earnest pretensions-- to say nothing of the mushiness-- of so many other songs of its ilk.    There is, contradictory as it may seem, a whimsical stateliness to it, as the main rhythmical shuffle is decorated by guitar, piano and sax complements that seem almost like little musical pirouettes. There's a quaint pastorality about it, too, that reminds me how well Morrison does with the genre, particularly in terms of classics like "Caravan" and "Tupelo Honey."   This is a song for Sunday morning strolls, when the pace is unhurried and the air crisp and clean.   Shame it is that I haven't heard this song in so long, and more so that few others beyond pure Vanatics have ever heard it.   I recommend giving it a listen so you can judge for yourself.   (It's a 5MB file, for those of you, like me, cursed to be stuck on dialup.)   But for this chap, it's a joyful reminder of a type of music that so seldom seems to be made these days.   I know, I know, I'm too old-fashioned by half, as if any of you reading this didn't already know that....

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