In 1967, Van Morrison relocated from Ireland to the U. S. to devote himself to a career as a solo artist. But his relationship with his first record company quickly soured. Morrison discovered he had unwittingly signed away ownership of his music. He was unhappy with how his career was being packaged. And he found himself penniless, living in a fleabag hotel in New York City as his first solo single, “Brown Eyed Girl,” was reaching the top of the charts. It was situation that Morrison began to challenge quite heatedly.
But before he could attempt to work out a solution with his employer, the man died of a heart attack, and Morrison found himself in the clutches of the owner’s wise guy business partners, men who were even less skilled at dealing with an artistic temperament. Infamously, one of them responded to an angry, drunken tirade from Morrison by threatening to kill him and breaking his guitar over his head.
Morrison took the threat seriously, and immediately relocated to Boston where he and his girlfriend crashed for a time in the apartment of WBCN DJ Peter Wolf. Yes, that Peter Wolf.
Morrison used the time away to rethink his musical direction. He lined up gigs in the Boston area playing stripped down versions of the new songs he was writing, just himself on guitar and vocals accompanied by an upright bass and another guitarist and sometimes a flutist for added color.
Lin Brehmer of WXRT tells a story he heard Peter Wolf tell on the air when he was guest on the station. Back in the day, Wolf and Morrison used to like to hang out. “And by hang out,” Brehmer explains, “I mean they used to go out and drink to excess every single night. And after one of these incredible drinking bouts where they stumbled home at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, Peter Wolf went home to bed and woke up early in the afternoon to meet Van Morrison for a cup of coffee or something. And Van Morrison said, (affects northern Irish accent) ‘Hey. I wrote a song last night.’
“Peter Wolf said, ‘You wrote a song last night? You could barely stand last night. You didn’t write a song last night!’
“Van Morrison says, ‘No! I wrote a song last night!’
“Wolf said, ‘You barely could find the keys in your pocket to open the door to get into your apartment. What do you mean you wrote a song last night?’
“And Van goes, ‘Yeah. No, I got home. I wrote a song last night.’
“And the song he wrote when he was apparently insensible,” a song that Brehmer summed up as “one of the most amazing, mystical, spiritual songs of all time…was called ‘Astral Weeks.’”