In addition to being America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine, CREEM happens to be the world’s best rock ’n’ roll magazine—and, it could be argued, the world’s most masturbatory. Because we like ourselves a little too much, every now and again, we’re going to review past CREEM pieces in a series called CREEMAINS. Expect the most deliciously spoiled CREEM, like our take on Lester Bangs’ 1972 review of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., or here, in our reevaluation of Van Morrison’s post-Astral Weeks career. Lap it up! And check out more from the CREEM archive, here.
You read that right. What if Van Morrison dropped dead following Astral Weeks? Was CREEM contributor Dave DiMartino on to something (despite absurd hyperbole) in April, 1981? “There are stories about people like Iggy Pop, Brian Wilson, Lou Reed and Van Morrison. Most of these stories have words like genius, tremendously influential, tragic, and legendary floating around in them somewhere, right next to other words like disappointing, personal problems and misfit,” he wrote. “What’s unspoken in such stories is usually this: it would be better if these people had died.”
Morrison had already made his most endearing statements to the masses by the time Astral Weeks was released in 1968, a record Lester Bangs would go on to describe as “proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction.” From his ‘60s rock-and-rabid blues band Them to his pivotal pop single, 1967’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” and concluding with the cosmic poetry of Astral Weeks, in a five year window, he’d cemented himself as a genre-bending icon. Except, of course, he didn’t die. To echo DiMartino, “ESTABLISH THE LEGEND, THEN KINDLY EXIT is what’s unspoken. DON’T STAY AROUND TO TARNISH IT
Morrison stayed and tarnished. After further stellar work in the ‘70s, his 1980s albums brought some overlooked and under-appreciated pleasures—which Morrison, ever the egoist, took to heart—spending the following few decades writing and releasing palty, easy-listening releases, never quite rekindling his Astral Weeks greatness. But what he lacked in growth, he made up for in resentment: by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shaking up society and deepening political divides, Morrison found new meaning in spewing far-right nonsense (his 2021 album, Latest Record Project, is proof enough—read on for its crimes.) And I say that as a fan! Morrison has made my favorite music—but he also became a shell of himself, replacing the spotlight on his once exceptional talent with increasingly problematic behavior.
So what happened? Did CREEM see the writing on the wall? To uncover the mystery, I wanted to go through reviews of his records by his more ardent supporters (critics like Bangs, Greil Marcus, and Robert Christgau) to see if they, too, could’ve predicted such a heinous transformation.
1972: St. Dominic’s Preview
Following the critical darling Astral Weeks, and three more successful LPs including Moondance, in the October issue of CREEM, Dave Marsh reviewed Morrison’s 1972 album St. Dominic’s Preview, writing, “At a distance of three years, St. Dominic’s Preview somehow seems newly seminal, as though Van were finally capable of a conception that might transcend (though never dwarf) the brilliance of Astral Weeks. I think Morrison has made a transitional album, in a different way than [1971’s] Tupelo Honey was… Preview might be just what it claims. Most of St. Dominic's doesn’t have much to do with extending Van Morrison’s music, though.”
Marsh then ragged the tracks “Jackie Wilson Says,” “I Will Be There,” “Redwood Tree,” and “Gypsy.” “Listen to the Lion” received vague approval, but all graciousness was reserved for the title track and “Almost Independence Day.”
Lester Bangs arrived at with a doubtful optimism as well, explaining that Morrison “retrenched a bit by throwing his nets across both the mosaics of Astral Weeks prosody and what burgeoned in our confusion as a potential whole new dreamscape of mysterious, starrily extensible musical and verbal possibility.” In probably the most glowing, and genuine praise for Morrison since Astral Weeks began to catch on with critics, Bangs adulates: “Nobody knows what those songs “mean,” because they don’t mean… this was Zen, Jack.”
DOES THIS PREDICT HIS LATER-IN-LIFE RIGHT-WING NUT-JOB POLITICS? A SCORE: 0/10. Nothing to see here but a man trying to keep up with his own legacy.