moments before the wind.

April 23, 2007

EMP Pop Conference #14 – Van the Man

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, country, distribution, folk, music, recording, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 1:51 pm

A note about a song. Charles Hughes said that “Dark End of the Street” (1967) should be America’s national anthem. I didn’t previously know the song, but the part of it he played was beautiful. It made me think of Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road,” released in 1979 on Into the Music, because of the obvious lyrical relationship.

Where writers Dan Penn and Chips Moman write:

I know time’s gonna take its toll
We have to pay for the love we stole
It’s a sin and we know it’s wrong
Oh, our love keeps going on strong
Steal away to the dark end of the street
You and me

Van says:

Little darlin, come with me
Wont you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

In my mind, there’s no other possibility except that Van is responding to this hugely popular song of the previous decade. It’s just too explicit. I wonder what Hughes would say about the racial politics surrounding Van and his music, with the mixture of a serious anglo-saxon background and a decidedly soul, R&B musical influence. Maybe he would say that the exact kind of hybrid that Van exemplifies is a direct product of the mishmash love triangle in the south. See this for more on that.



  1. Hey Ali,
    Thanks for mentioning the panel; I’m glad you dug it. I think you’re exactly right about Van, and would suggest that a lot of his best stuff is mining the same “country-soul” exchange as the folks I was talking about. (Among many, “Tupelo Honey” seems a particularly great example.)
    As far as his racial politics, I think he’s about as good as white musicians get, especially in the uniquely deft way he seems to understand gospel, both music and imagery, which makes him far less common among rockers than does his understanding of the blues, or even soul. (Once again, “Tupelo Honey” seems to be a particularly great example.)
    By the way, I feel you on Bubba Sparxxx. One of the worst concert experiences I’ve ever had was spent waiting for Sparxxx to turn up in Madison, WI. The longer he failed to show, the more it looked like the simmering tension between the rich white boys from the UW campus and the young black audience members from the city of Madison was gonna boil over. Still, I really do think that Bubba was trying on DELIVERANCE to think through some of this, which is more than I can say about most white artists (and many black artists) of either genre. I just wish he’d follow through on some of that.
    If I’d had more time to think about it, I might’ve realized that Nappy Roots is an even better example.
    Anyway, thanks again. Digging your blog.

    Comment by Charles Hughes — April 25, 2007 @ 5:23 pm

  2. Wow, “If you build it, they will come”!

    Comment by alimarcus — April 25, 2007 @ 6:00 pm

  3. That’s what they say. (smile) Let’s keep the conversation going…

    Comment by Charles Hughes — April 26, 2007 @ 12:27 am

  4. James Carr’s gospel-rooted take on “Dark End of the Street” is powerful, and I think Peter Guralnick wrote about it reverently in one his books.

    More racial divide type issues: A fair amount of over-30 Southern African-Americans listen to what is referred to as Chitlin circuit soul or adult soul. However since artists on labels like Malaco and Ecko are not marketed to the NPR audience or the indie-rock one (and because some critics find the synth sounds on such cds cheesy) they do not get the attention that White Brit singers like James Hunter get, or even the attention that African-Americn woman singer Sharon Jones gets (she has a mostly white band, plays indie-rock clubs, and her music is marketed directly to indie-rockers).

    Comment by curm — April 28, 2007 @ 10:54 am

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