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Happiness wonder

by | Mar 26, 2021 | Happiness, Van Morrison, wonder

As I crested the hill west of Tyler as a 17-year-old freshman, Happiness was palpable and real.  My favorite radio station would only get stronger, a good stereo to set up in my dorm room was in my trunk, and an easy drive ahead to take me into the…. Future.  I was as prepared as I could be, and now it was only to wonder how the story would unfold.  Looking back 45 years later, wonder is what I can see in each of the various phases and steps that have landed me here… but Happiness… what actually is that? 

The one thing I can say with certainty is that Happiness is fleeting, and often looks very different at the time it is happening.  Young couples often talk about the wonder that “lean” days being some of their best – which is easy to say when you are now in a nice surrounding with a family that worked out mostly as you expected.  At a mentoring event I had a young woman describe my resume as “the perfect path”.  I was stunned, realizing that now it looks like that, but at the time, many of those decisions were at best a choice, but more often, were simply thrust on us.

The reception to Tupelo Honey was fantastic, which meant a tour, and then back into the studio for the next series of songs.  The title actually refers to a peace rally that had come to him in a dream. “I’d been working on this song about the scene going down in Belfast. And I wasn’t sure what I was writing but the central image seemed to be this church called St Dominic’s where people were gathering to pray or hear a mass for peace in Northern Ireland.  A few weeks later I was playing at a gig in Reno, Nevada. I picked up a newspaper, and there in front of me was an announcement about a mass for peace in Belfast to be said the next day at St Dominic’s Church in San Francisco.  Totally blew me out. Like I’d never even heard of a St Dominic’s Church”

The song is written in a “stream of consciousness” fashion as with the Astral Weeks songs.  Lyrics in the song refer to different stages of Morrison’s life: “chamois cleaning all the windows” (teenage years) and “The record company has paid out for the wine” (his contemporary status as a pop music star).  It was recorded as the last song on the album, and while there were additional takes done, this is mostly the first take as the band was, by this point, into a real groove. His lyrics were re-recorded to be more “live” and reacting differently to the music – now that he had heard it 😉  I think he sounds like Happiness… if it has a sound… 

The cover photo is not actually the church he refers to in the song.  It was actually on the steps of the Montgomery Chapel of the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, an interesting location if you remember your philosophy classes…The orchestration was done by Tom Salisbury – he listened on the phone to Van singing out parts, and with the wonder of his perfect pitch, the charts were generated by him and used by the musicians.  

Many of the lyrics require a lot of analysis – but not this line towards the end – “You got ev’rything in the world you ever wanted/And right about now your face should wear a smile”  That answer doesn’t need interpretation, and rarely does ours either.  At what ever point you are in the trajectory of your life or career, if you are reading this, it is likely that the wonder you look for is already around you.  It is simply upon us to reframe these circumstances into either the Happiness that we are seeking, or clues to where it might be now.  Van finally had assembled a great band, a great producer, and even a great studio… and yet, still would find ways to not embrace this until much later.

Another line in the lyrics I think also applies to how to capture the wonder of Happiness. We discussed a bit yesterday – observing who and what is around you when things seem to be going “well”.  Today, add to that the wonder what does “well” really mean?  And another hint – think about the related phrase…”enough”.  It is not easy to do this as the world continues to push you for more and different… but take note, “You’ve got your pen and notebook ready/I think it’s about time, time for us to begin” – Look at th’ Man, Look at th’ band… Saint Dominic’s Preview

Chamois cleaning all the windows
Singing songs about Edith Piaf’s soul
And I hear blue strains of no regredior
Across the street from Cathedral Notre Dame

Meanwhile back in San Francisco
We’re trying hard to make this whole thing blend
As we sit upon this jagged
Storey block, with you my friend

And it’s a long way to Buffalo
It’s a long way to Belfast city too
And I’m hoping the choice won’t blow the hoist
‘Cos this town, they bit off more than they can chew

As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
Saint Dominic’s preview, Saint Dominic’s preview
Saint Dominic’s preview

All the orange boxes are scattered
We get to Safeway’s supermarket in the rain
And everybody feels so determined
Not to feel anyone else’s pain

You know that no one’s making no commitments
To anybody but themselves
Hidin’ behind closed doorways
Tryin’ to get outside, outside of empty shells

And for every cross-cuttin’ country corner
For every Hank Williams railroad train that cried
And all the chains, badges, flags and emblems
And every strain on every brain and every eye [unverified]

As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
Saint Dominic’s preview, Saint Dominic’s preview
Saint Dominic’s preview

And the restaurant tables are completely covered
The record company has paid out for the wine
You got everything in the world you ever wanted
Right about now your face should wear a smile

That’s the way it all should happen
When you’re in, when you’re in the state you’re in
You’ve got your pen and notebook ready
I think it’s about time, time for us to begin

And we’re over in a 52nd Street apartment
Socializing with the whino few
Just to be hip and get wet with the jet set
But they’re flying too high to see my point of view

As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
Saint Dominic’s preview, Saint Dominic’s preview
Saint Dominic’s preview

See them freedom marching
Out on the street, freedom marching
Saint Dominic’s preview

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