Van Morrison – T.B. Sheets

11th January 2023 · 1960s, 1967, Music

Inspired by my birthday trip back to Belfast – and today’s ambulance strike – here is what must surely be Van Morrison’s finest moment. It’s certainly his most emotionally intense.

So what better visual accompaniment to show than the Scorsese film it soundtracked, featuring Nicolas Cage as an ambulance driver at breaking point.

Written and recorded in New York back in March 1967, the story goes that at the end of the recording session the 21-year-old Van just lay down and wept, incapable of carrying on.

It certainly seems possible: how could you carry on after this?

The song is extraordinary: the free-form organ runs at the beginning, the slow blues groove with that extraordinary rolling bassline, the piercing harmonica, the filigree lead guitar.

And Van at his most passionate, and his most conversational, pouring out his heart and his frustrations at the deathbed of his girlfriend Julie.

It’s suffocating in its intensity.

And those claustrophobic lyrics: “Your little starstruck innuendoes, inadequacies and… foreign bodies. And the sunlight shining through the crack in the windowpane… numbs my brain.”

The snuffling after he demands “Open up this window. Let me breathe” is almost unbearable.

It’s the perfect fit for that bravura opening scene in Bringing Out The Dead, with Nicolas Cage as an ambulance driver at the end of his tether through overwork and lack of sleep.

“The night started out with a bang,” he recalls. “A gunshot to the chest on a drug deal gone bad. All the elements were in place for a long weekend – heat, humidity, moonlight.: I was good at my job. There were periods when my hands moved with the speed and skill beyond me.

“But in the last year I’d started to lose that control. Things had turned bad. I hadn’t saved anyone in months. I just needed a few slow nights… followed by a couple of days off.”