In the 1948 musical Easter Parade, Fred Astaire is a jilted Broadway performer who aims to turn a chorus girl, Judy Garland, into a star. There are big tunes from Irving Berlin, including a title song that is bold enough to rhyme ‘bonnet’ with ‘sonnet’.
In the song-and-dance number ‘A Couple of Swells’, the two of them wear battered tops and tails and sing about paying a visit to their millionaire pals, the Vanderbilts, on 5th Avenue. But what mode of transport for these nouveaux pauvres? They cannot afford a car, a horse, a bicycle, let alone a yacht. But happily, they realise, it’s enough to walk up the avenue, in style.
Van Morrison also puts a cost-free option into ‘And the Healing Has Begun’. The lovers talk of descending the avenue on foot. They are not planning to see rich friends. Rather, it’s a ritual of cleansing and reunion. Neither are they in New York; this trip takes place on the mystic avenue in Belfast, where a rebirth happened in the past and where life can be straightened up with a fresh ritual. They will dress up fine, step out sincerely and afterwards, there will be love-making.
Just like that, the song changes routine. You overhear the after-gig intentions of a musician, with his port and cherry wine, courting the girl on the window sill. He’s looking for access to her front room and wants to play games of chance while the Muddy Waters record spins. The objective is ‘jelly roll’, the flourish of sex. Like John Donne before him, Van finds heaven in the wild thing, righteousness in the really wrong.
(This is extracted from 75 Van Songs: Into the Van Morrison Songbook by Stuart Bailie. Click here for more info.)