In Nick Hornby’s Songbook, he says that he’d like Van Morrison’s “Caravan” – off the It’s Too Late to Stop Now live album – to be played at his funeral. If I remember right, it’s not really because of the lyrics but because the band conjures a music that sounds like a giant temple between life and death where you can think about things. He also – again, I am relying on weak memory – kind of likes that Van lists the performers in the middle of the song; the list, in his funeral fantasy, serves as a reminder that we don’t make it through life alone.
I also love that song and that album, though I’ve always had a sentimental connection to Van’s take on it with The Band in The Last Waltz. Yesterday I came on this version of “Tupelo Honey”
and felt like it had that same kind of transcendence. I remember that Hornby worries about people potentially misunderstanding “Caravan” at his funeral, because there are strings in it and the list of band members may seem weird. This version of “Tupelo Honey” thankfully lacks strings but has its own weirdnesses, like Van saying the lyrics of one of the verses and then singing them. I like it. Of all the great non-Americans to take up American music in a big way (largely the British Invasion, particularly the Rolling Stones) nobody has more soul than the Belfast Cowboy. But he’s his own man; and his eccentricities, though they don’t always work, are genuine; and when they work, they do a number on me. Pee Wee Ellis, James Brown’s great sax player, takes a fine solo. I believe he had lessons with Sonny Rollins in the 50s.