Today, in the chaos that is working at a college during midterms, I hoped for just a moment of solitude. When yet another student came in, I sighed. “I’m gonna go take my test,” he said. “But you’ve gotta listen to this.” He handed over his iPod and gianormous headphones and insisted that I listen to his favorite new CD: Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s rare you get an assignment from a student, one who was still high on his new gig as a DJ at the college station, so I was game.
I’d read a review of Astral Weeks from the 70s that made it sound like a watershed moment in music history—the best album since the birth of albums. The column, by rock journalist Lester Bangs, was so glowing I went to the library to check it out (buying was still too much of a commitment). And while I enjoyed the collection, I didn’t bring enough musical knowledge to the album; I didn’t hear what I was supposed to hear.
Today though, today—well, I didn’t hear it either. But I liked the new live version a whole lot more and felt it more at a deeper level. Maybe I was listening harder because I saw how excited this kid was. I suspect though, that the beauty of the moment was that I had nearly 10 uninterrupted minutes of privacy where I rocked out (OK, sat quietly in my office listening) while I didn’t have to respond to anyone because the headphones made it clear I was unavailable. So, I listened to it again. And again. And one last time for good measure. By the end, I was with Van Morrison all the way singing, “I believe I’ve transcended” because for a few glorious minutes, I had.