There’s a documentary, From A Whisper To A Scream, about the history of Irish music in which Van Morrison is interviewed on Astral Weeks. While other subjects in the film praise it, Morrison acts like it was just another album: He went to work, made a record, and moved on to something else.
No performer, or no person who does creative work whether it’s a novelist or a singer or film director, actor, wants to be the prisoner of his or her past work. Otherwise you can’t go to anything new with a sense that is new, that you’re going to do something you haven’t done before, [that] you’re going to break through into an area you’ve never been able to reach before. I would think that would be both incredibly tiresome for Van Morrison to always have people tell him, “I love Astral Weeks so much,” or whatever it might be. And then he might say or he might imagine, “Well, did you hear The Healing Game or did you listen to Keep It Simple?” “Oh no, man, I stopped buying records back in 1981.” That’s awful.
But music occupies a certain nostalgic position in people’s lives. If you hear a Beatles song or a Rolling Stones song from the ‘60s, that triggers a memory in your mind.
Well, I don’t know. I’m not sure it really works that way. God, no one is more nostalgic than Van Morrison. No one takes nostalgia for childhood, for being a teenager or being the kind of teenager maybe he never really was, but would’ve liked to imagine he could have been—
You think he looks back like that?
He very explicitly looks back. Over the last twenty, twenty-five years in song after song after song [he’s made] nostalgia really the centerpiece in terms both of melodies and rhythm and words of his music. And yet, I think it’s always to get somewhere, to get to the childhood [you] didn’t live; to see the things you didn’t see then; to do the things you didn’t get to do then that you only wished you could. I mean, when you listen to “Behind The Ritual,” which is on his last album of new songs [Keep It Simple], it starts out as simple and kind of puerile nostalgia and it becomes something so much richer.
When I hear something that's really powered by its own engine [and not] by whatever associations I might bring to it—say, "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones, which I hear on the radio every few days and I feel like I have heard it on the radio every few days since it came out—it's like I'm hearing it for the first time. And I'm noticing things I never noticed or some aspect of the song seems primary where before it seemed just like decoration. I don't think it has anything to do with nostalgia. I think it's about somebody responding to something and becoming more of a person because of that experience. When one's reaction is nostalgic or if it triggers a memory or some past association, that reduces whatever it is you're responding to to something like looking in a scrapbook or your old high school yearbook.