“Don’t wanna discuss it / Think it’s time for a change / You might get disgusted / Start thinking that I’m strange / In that case I’ll go underground / Get some heavy rest / Never have to worry / ‘Bout what is worst or what is best. Get it!”
Oh oh, Domino. This was the first song I knew of by Van Morrison, back in December, 1970, when it showed up in the Top Twenty. I didn’t take to Van’s vocalizing immediately. I remember still being pretty arms’ length about him as late as 1977 or so. I bought Wavelength in spring of 1978 because it was his first release after I’d been “converted.” The album that did it, which I didn’t hear till around then, was Astral Weeks. And the love extended to Moondance and Van Morrison His Band and The Street Choir, gradually. But I already knew this song, the lead-off of the latter, and “Blue Money,” the lead-off on Side B, and it was maybe my sense that I knew this stuff too well, as radio songs, that kept me at a distance. Now, of course, I look back to the radio of 1970 as a golden age, but then—I was much more in search of things you just don’t hear on the radio, not even FM, and forget AM.
Still, this is a great AM radio song. It’s infectious, it’s got great horns popping out all over, it’s got Van in his best white-boy R&B vocal à la James Brown, with its “I just want to hear some rhythm and blues music, on the radio, on the radio, on the radio. . . .” And I have long found its opening verse, quoted above, as a kind of definitive “fuck this,” but a “fuck this” from a position of strength, of moving on, of changing the game, not a “fuck this” in disgust or depression or disillusion. It’s all in that “never have to worry about what is worst or what is best”—this is beyond those categories. Which is a way of saying that “the charts” and “the lists” of who makes the cut and who is better than whom is all just somebody else’s problem. The speaker of this song is simply confident enough to get on with what he wants to do.
I remember that feeling when, in 1979, I decided not to stick around to take a job my dad had been working to get for me. It’s one of those things that, if it had happened as soon as I got out of high school, I would no doubt have grabbed up gratefully. But I had to cool my heels a bit first and that gave me time for second thoughts, and, while I had no alternative plan, I simply knew that I didn’t want that job any more. Didn’t want to stay in DE to make that work. “There’s no need for argument / There’s no argument at all.” Y’know how it’s hard to reject what someone offers you without sort of suggesting you have an argument against it. Like, it’s not enough to say “it’s not for me,” it’s almost like you’re saying “it’s not worth it, period.”
Maybe I was, deep down. Maybe I just wanted any excuse to walk away from it all. “And if you never hear from me / That just means I would rather not.” Then: “Get it! Oh oh, Domino, roll me over, Romeo, there you go.”
There’s a personal joke in that line too, as the “Romeo” epithet was not one that anyone would’ve ever labeled me with, based on my high school experiences. But suddenly, ‘round about that same time, 1978, I had two women in mind who were, as they say, a little sweet on me, at least for a while. So there was that too. A sundering and a bonding, and a time for a change . . .
Better to see what other ways might be open. Float, drift, divaguer, as the French say. “There you go, hear the band!” I won’t deny this line of thought was largely influenced by rock’n’roll, by the promesse de bonheur that comes with pursuing one’s bliss. Remember that there Declaration: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Which is actually leading me to another song I should cite on this thing soon: Keith Richards’ “Happy.” Maybe later.
Right now, we’re basking in the authoritative rave-up of Van the Man, a golden 25 years old himself in 1970 and on a roll that would produce some of his best music—I’m saying from Astral Weeks in 1968 to Veedon Fleece in 1974. Top of his game and top of whoever else’s game you want to throw into the mix. Though we don’t have to worry about whose is worst and whose is best. Let’s just dig it all, pilgrim.
Van kept it coming though, and like few others—Dylan, Neil Young—I’m always sort of interested in whatever he’s doing at any given moment because somewhere amidst the more pro forma stuff there’s bound to be a gem. Probably the last one I really got invested in was as recent as 2005, Magic Time. So there. And here he is singing “Domino” live later in the Seventies.
Lord, have mercy!