"Celtic New Year" / Van Morrison
Though I haven't a drop of Irish blood in me, I love St. Patricks' Day -- so long as it doesn't degenerate into a beer-and-brawl fest that takes over the streets. (Which is, sad to say, usually the case in New York and Chicago and Boston.) In honor of our Irish brethren, I started out listening to the Pogues and Claddagh today, but like every year, soon I found myself sidetracked by the magnificent old Belfast bard Van Morrison. And once I get deep into Van, it's pretty much impossible to move on.
If we're going to get technical, the Celtic New Year is at Halloween, but this song (from his 2005 album Magic Time) could be sung any time of year -- it's a classic Long-Distance Love Song, with the singer repeatedly begging an absent loved one "Won't you come back in the Celtic New Year?" But this isn't an I'm-missing-you-like-crazy song; it's more like an old Irish blessing, a shout-out across the miles. (Maybe "May the road rise to meet you," although I'm afraid that one always makes me picture a drunk falling down in the street.) This is Van Morrison Mellow, and personally I love its laidback groove, with stream-of-consciousness lyrics that are just an excuse for some emotive vocals. The copasetic strolling tempo lets Van scat and syncopate at will; Foggy Lyttle's deft guitar winds like a river through a meadow of lush strings (the Irish Film Orchestra, no less), and there's even a plaintive bit of tin whistle at the end, played by the Chieftans' very own Paddy Maloney. Nothing like a tin whistle to make me misty-eyed.
The words/story really don't make much sense, but I don't mind, not the way Van croons and belts this number. The first verse plays around with that slippery verb "see" -- "If I don't see you through the week / See you through the window / See you next time that we're talking on the telephone / If I don't see you in that Indian summer / Then I want to see you further on up the road." It's all missed connections, fleeting glimpses, ships passing in the night . . . modern life, for better or worse.
Verse two takes us to New Orleans, for some reason, where Van seems to be a riverboat gambler; verse three moves to a Druid wood (Van slips easily into his Irish mystic mode), with ghostly bonfires burning and the pale moon waning. I'm still working on that line, "If I don't see you when we're singing that Gloriana tune" -- Gloriana as in Elizabeth I? you've got me stumped, Van, but maybe it's some private thing between you and whomever you wrote this song for.
I do get the feeling this was written for someone particular. No wonder they have trouble getting together -- he's in his wild Irish rover mode, never staying in one place for long. But I don't hear any anguish at being apart (and we know Van can do anguish if he wants). No, I get the feeling they trust time to eventually reunite them. Clearly they go way back; real affection shimmers through every remembered scene, helped along by those melting violins and Van's caressing vocals.
Isn't there a traditional Irish toast, "To absent friends"? Well, if not, there should be. Love you all.