There is not a mixed playlist that I make on Spotify that does not contain at least two or three Van Morrison songs. He is, after all, my favorite singer and songwriter of all time. My kids would tell you that his voice is part of the soundtrack of their childhood, and they would be right. I’ve loved his music for as far back as I can remember. There were many songs I could have chosen to do for today’s post: “Queen of the Slipstream” tops the list and “Tupelo Honey” is not far behind. “Crazy Love” has recently been playing on repeat on every device I own, as well as in the space between my ears. It’s to the point where even my granddaughter, Nora, starts to sing when she hears it. There are so many more songs I could talk about, and I’m fairly certain that more than one of them will find their way into this Wednesday spotlight, but I decided to go with a request for “Into the Mystic” for today’s post. My fellow cocktail Instagrammer and friend, Steve (a.k.a. boxesandbooze), writes a blog by the same name that is an unusual combination of cocktails and puzzle boxes. His garnish skills are unsurpassed by anyone else, and I so wish I could have had him make me some kind of a Celtic knot out of a lemon peel for today’s cocktail. I enjoy and respect his work immensely and truly appreciate his constant support and friendship, as well as his encouraging (and often very funny) comments.
“Into the Mystic” was written and released by Van Morrison in 1970, when I was (dare I say it) only nine-years-old. The name of the album was Moondance. Unlike the title track, “Into the Mystic” didn’t catch my attention until many years later, and it was the music I noticed before the lyrics. It’s such an irresistible blend of acoustic guitar and horns, the occasional tambourine, and the sweetness of Morrison’s young voice, all held in place by a beat that truly does make you feel as though you’re rocking on a boat that’s sailing to somewhere. I still get chills every time he sings the line “when the foghorn sounds” and you actually hear it in the music. In terms of statistics, “Into the Mystic” ranks at number 474 on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, released in 2010, and at 42 on The 885 Essential XPN Songs compiled by WXPN listeners in 2008. My favorite interesting fact of all, however, is that according to a BBC survey, it is the song that doctors say they play the most while performing surgery. I know that I’d trust my surgeon more if I knew he was a Van Morrison fan.
When it comes to the lyrics, there is so much room for interpretation because Morrison claimed that he had no idea what he meant when he wrote the song. We know better than that though, because so much of his music reflects the ideas of going on a spiritual journey, of seeking a union with a higher power, and of transcending the here and now for something so much greater. On a literal level, the lyrics can portray a sailor’s return home through the mist and the fog to the girl he loves. He doesn’t fear “when the foghorn blows” because he knows it means he’ll soon have her back in his arms again. Take it up one level higher, and the sailor and his girl share a passion that elevate them above ordinary day to day life, where they are carried “into the mystic” by the sheer greatness of their love for one another. If we allow the song to be a metaphor for love itself, and not just what is shared between two specific lovers, then we can say that it is the only emotion capable of conquering the confines of time. “We were born before the wind / also younger than the sun” because love is timeless and endless, and it extends beyond what is merely physical to exist on an unexplainable, ethereal level, which is the very definition of the idea of “the mystic.”
For today’s cocktail, I decided to keep things very simple. Using a base of Redbreast 12-year-old Irish whiskey, I created a riff on a Manhattan by adding Celtic Honey liqueur and three full dashes of DRAM black bitters. The end result was a warm and spicy combination of flavors, with a definite kick and just enough sweetness to make you want to drink it forever, or at least while listening to “Into the Mystic” a few times. For me, it was like the sound of Van Morrison’s voice, especially in those early years, singing to us about love in a way that only he could. There’s a link to the song at the bottom of this post. Cheers everyone, and especially you, Steve. I hope you think I did the song some justice. Happy Wednesday!
Born Before the Wind
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel. Enjoy!
*available at Total Wine and More in Cherry Hill and from online retailers.
**available at Art in the Age in Philadelphia, or online from Amazon or DRAM’s website. You an also substitute regular aromatic bitters here.