This past Friday, Van Morrison — singer, songwriter and world class artist — celebrated his birthday. Van turned 62. Van is an artist who has absorbed all the strains of American popular music and recapitulated them in his own unique blend and voice. As such, he 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.” The song 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.
“Caravan” is one of the highlights 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. (Actually, Robbie Robertson had to talk him into the other song he performed that night, “Tura Lura Lura.”)
Van’s performance with the Band is memorably documented on film in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz.” Above is the clip with Van and the Band performing “Caravan” in “The Last Waltz.” Van famously overcame a major case of stage fright, first to save the show and then to steal it. Greil Marcus covered the show for Rolling Stone:
Van Morrison made his entrance and he turned the show around. I had seen him not many minutes before prowling the balconies, dressed nondescriptly in a shirt and jeans, scowling; but there he was onstage, in an absurd maroon suit and a green top, singing to the rafters. They cut into “Caravan” — with John Simon waving the Band