Van the Man released two albums in 1970, both are excellent. Moondance, the more famous, contains today’s song and is an album I always associate with 1979-80. In fact, I’ve chosen it as today’s song because today is the 35th anniversary of the first night my wife and I spent together. And, in a way, this is “our song” from that initial era.
I know people like to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and maybe that made sense as the date back when the wedding night was the first night together. But if you have to choose between those dates, then I definitely go for the latter. May 4th sticks in my mind for that reason, as the culmination of a decision made and the full flowering of a flame that had been lit, to some degree, almost a year previous. Or at least, thinking of “Talk of the Town” which I featured on the 2nd, “one thing leads to another I know / Was a time wanted you for mine.” This is one of those times when distance wasn’t kept.
It’s also the case that one has a tendency to associate songs with certain times, and even with certain people. In saying “Into the Mystic” was “our song,” I’m associating it with both of us, as we were then. It’s not balls out rock, it’s not sappy, it’s not one of those “I’m gonna getcha and do that” kind of songs. It’s not a horny song, it’s not a seduction song. Its title, “Into the Mystic,” suggests something beyond the physical, beyond the bodily. But not in too emphatic or transcendent a way. It’s more in the very souful way that Van sings it, and that guitar strum is such that, as Mick sings elsewhere, “as long as the git-tar plays / It will steal your heart away.” This song steals my heart away in that way.
“We were borne before the wind / Also younger than the sun / Ere the bonny boat was one / And we sailed into the mystic.” Or: “we were born before the wind, all so younger than the son.” Van has alluded to his own uncertainty about what he’s saying, exactly. For me, I’ve always heard it as a comparison of wind and sun, but with a play on “born/borne”: we were borne before the wind, means the wind is driving us where it will, but then to act as if one has said we were “born” earlier than the wind sets up the notion that we’re older than the wind, but younger than the sun. And is it “won” or “one”?—if the latter, I think of it as the “boat” we make together as we sail into the mystic. That’s why it’s a lovers’ song to me. In any case, the line that always drilled me and makes me recall how physical everything becomes when you’re in love and loving: “Smell the sea and feel the sky / Let your soul and spirit fly / Into the mystic.”
That’s certainly, in those high times of the late Seventies, the exact feel of the rapture of it all, as I experienced it, at nineteen, twenty. Looking back, as this song brings on some memory of it, I see it as the very pinnacle of youth, the point at which you know you’ve arrived, shed of the trappings of being “a kid,” but you also know that almost the entire adult world is older than you, has already moved on from that verge. They’ve plateaued. Van Morrison was about 24 when he recorded this song, certainly not “aged.” But still. At the time I was listening to the song he was 34. As my lover was, almost, at the time. Recently, during a discussion of poems by Paige Ackerson-Kiely, someone cited the “fact” (if it is one) that a man reaches his sexual peak at 20, a woman at 30, more or less. I recall, in the summer of 1979, us coming across that factoid and being rather pleased with ourselves. At least we weren’t wasting it.
The sexual kick of this song comes late with the ad-libbed lines “c’mon, girl” followed a bit later by “too late to stop now.” The first line is almost like a giddyap—if you know what I mean—and the second line signals that we’re reaching our big finish. You can sense that in the song, or you can experience it. It’s up to you.
And this idea of the physical and the spiritual creating a kind of “substance”—like a thing you could ride on, sail on, move with rhythmically across vast undulating distances—comes in with the passionate declaration (and the way the music pushes up that peak) “I want to rock your gypsy soul / Just like way back in the days of old / And magnificently we will flow / Into the mystic.” Then, because now we’re sailing (and coming home), the “c’mon, girl.”
For all that I’ve been making this song rather carnal, I don’t really experience it that way, which is a way of saying that when you reach the point when love-making isn’t bodily—or not wholly and solely, but rather soully something more—then you might just be sailing “into the mystic.”
for MEM & DMT
|October, 1979, Philadelphia|