Van Morrison — singer, songwriter and world class artist — celebrates his sixty-first birthday today. As a guy who has absorbed all the strains of American popular music and recapitulated them in his own unique blend and voice, Van stands shoulder to shoulder with the greats in my pantheon of popular music idols. I don’t think we have quite taken his measure.
“Caravan” is one of the beautiful fantasy songs from the burst of creative energy that resulted in “Astral Weeks,” “Moondance,” “His Band and Street Choir,” “Tupelo Honey” and “Saint Dominic’s Preview.” “Caravan” is Van’s take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman,” with a tribute to radio and to the music that has been so much a part of his inspiration. It’s a highlight of “Moondance” and it’s one of the two songs that Van picked to sing with the Band at the Band’s final concert on Thanksgiving in 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.
Van’s performance with the Band is memorably documented on film in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz.” Below, courtesy of YouTube, is the clip with Van and the Band performing “Caravan” from “The Last Waltz.” Van steals the show. The camera catches Van with the barest hint of a smile as he triumphantly leaves the stage. “Hey, Van the Man,” Robbie Robertson exults.