Special on Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” by Kate Kiefer Lee

On the cover of 1971’s Tupelo Honey is a dreamy photo of Van Morrison’s then-wife Janet Planet riding horseback, and he’s walking alongside her. They were young and in love. It’s hard to believe Van Morrison was 26 once.

He wrote most of the record’s songs in Woodstock, and left because the place was getting too popular. His music seemed to follow the same trend though, increasing in popularity, and it has remained so ever since.  These days, you’re just as likely to hear “Tupelo Honey” performed by some middle-aged cover band on the patio of a Mexican restaurant as you are to hear it playing in an indie record store. This seeming contradiction might be the illogical dance that makes it a classic.

After Woodstock, Morrison landed in California, where he finished Tupelo Honey. Like the rest of his records, it was recorded as live as possible in the studio. He originally wanted to make a country record, but it threaded a life all its own along the way. At times it sounds like the country record he intended, full of carefree love songs and John McFee’s pedal steel floating in and out, (not to mention a song called “Moonshine Whiskey”), but it’s certainly got the soul power his fans had already come to know and love from songs like “Brown Eyed Girl.” More Moondance than Astral Weeks, the record is just so approachable—especially considering that Morrison is quite possibly the most unapproachable man in music.

Predictably, Tupelo Honey was a success—it charted at #27 on the Billboard charts and eventually went gold. But the artist and his art were on two different paths. Morrison canceled a tour after the record came out because he’d developed a paralyzing case of stage fright. And he divorced his brown-eyed girl in 1973. Tupelo Honey became a time capsule—an organic, soulful look into a life that only lasted a season.

Morrison’s an old man now, and he’s still making music, though people seem to pay more attention to his controversial personality. But it doesn’t matter, because every time Van Morrison kicks some kid off his lawn, a happy couple dances to “Tupelo Honey” at their wedding. Every record turns into a time capsule sooner or later—I can’t wait to open this one on Thursday.