Van Morrison: “It’s a Long Way to Belfast City Too”

On August 31, 1945, George Ivan Morrison was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, although we came to know him as Van Morrison. So today is a great day to listen to some Van Morrison music, even though I never need much of an excuse to hear songs such as one of my favorite all-time songs, “St. Dominic’s Preview.”

Imagery in “St. Dominic’s Preview”

The song “St. Dominic’s Preview” is the title track from Van Morrison’s 1972 album. It is a song of images, beginning with a line about cleaning windows, a reference to Van Morrison’s working class roots and an early job as a window cleaner.

The song describes the streets of Belfast during the Troubles, while also dashing across the ocean at times to check San Francisco, Buffalo, and “every Hank Williams railroad train,” but always returning to gaze out on Saint Dominic’s Preview.

What is “St. Dominic’s Preview” About?

In the excellent book about the album, Saint Dominic’s Flashback: Van Morrison’s Classic Album, Forty Years On, Peter Wrench writes that he sees the title song “[a]s a series of largely autobiographical shards from a young man who has travelled the world and achieved a great deal, but doesn’t feel nearly as settled or satisfied as people might expect.”

By another account, Van Morrison’s idea was to center the song around “a church called St Dominic’s where people were gathering to pray or hear a mass for peace in Northern Ireland.”

In many ways, the sound of the song is more important than any specific image, as I loved the song long before I had any idea about what a “St. Dominic’s Preview” might be. In the music, you hear the sound of seeking life, familiarity, and comfort.

So it does not matter whether or not you pray to St. Dominic or live in Belfast.  We all need more songs that hope for peace and comfort. “I think it’s about time, time for us to begin.”

In the above video, Van Morrison performs “St. Dominic’s Preview” in Ireland in 1979. In related news, Legacy Recordings acquired the rights to albums in Van Morrison’s back catalog and is reissuing albums including St. Dominic’s Preview. The company released a 37-track, compilation, The Essential Van Morrison, on August 28, 2015.

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