2021 Song Draft- Round 7 Pick 6: Hanspostcard selects: ‘Madame George’- Van Morrison.
‘Madame George’ is my favorite song from my favorite album- Van Morrison’s -Astral Weeks. ‘Madame George’ which is about leaving the past behind- is centered on a drag queen named ‘Madame George’ although Van Morrison has denied it was about a drag queen – he said the song was about six or seven people but I don’t believe him.
I was first turned on to Van Morrison in the last 1970’s -I was late to rock and roll- getting Beatlemania when I was fifteen. It was the summer after I graduated that I read about Astral Weeks and what a great album it was. I must admit on first listen it sounded interesting but there was so much there to take in. The younger Hans was at least wise enough to keep listening- and over forty years later I think I love that album more with each listen. I was startled when I learned that Van was only twenty-three years old when he wrote ‘Madame George’ and the rest of this album. The album sounds like something that would have come from a much older man. ‘Madame George’ which clocks in at 9:45- was immediately my favorite from this bag of riches. ‘Madame George’ never feels like a ten minute song. It feels like a movie- a movie you hate to see end. While the stream of consciousness lyrics and singing are incredible on this song- we shouldn’t short change the music- and the great band he had behind him. A group of musicians who barely knew the singer. He kept his distance from them during the recording- giving little instruction. Richard Davis on double bass, Connie Kay on drums, John Payne playing the flute and Larry Fallon-string arrangements.
The greatest rock music journalist of them all- Lester Bangs wrote in 1979 that the song “is the album’s whirlpool. Possibly one of the most compassionate pieces of music ever made, it asks us, no, arranges that we see the plight of what I’ll be brutal and call a lovelorn drag queen with such intense empathy that when the singer hurts him, we do too.” Bangs also remarks that “Morrison has said in at least one interview that the song has nothing to do with any kind of transvestite – at least as far as he knows, he is quick to add – but that’s bullshit.” Indeed, the lyrics contain the lines “In the corner playing dominoes in drag/The one and only Madame George”.
In 1974 when asked what his best single track was- Van was eight solo albums into his career at the point- Van’s reply was -“Definitely ‘Madame George’, definitely. I’m just starting to realize it more and more. It just seems to get at you… it just lays right in there, that whole track. The vocals and the instruments and the whole thing. I like that one.’ Nearly fifty years later I think it still is- as Astral Weeks is his best album- my desert island album.