Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About "Saint Dominic's Preview" But Were Afraid to Ask

Ever since Taylor Hicks performed Van Morrison's "Saint Dominic's Preview" at Warehouse Live in Houston, I've been obsessed with its lyrics. Sure, I've heard it before and while the words always intrigued me, I've never made an effort to research their meaning.

Thanks to the Internet, I was able to search every detail of this song to my heart's content. I found that other people have been curious about the lyrics as well. They asked the same questions I had. But guess what? Nobody has any answers.

Some of the lyrics are plain enough:

And the restaurant tables are completely covered.
The record company has paid out for the wine.
You got everything in the world you ever wanted
Right about now your face should wear a smile.

That's the way it all should happen
When you're in, when you're in the state you're in;
You've got your pen and notebook ready,
I think it's about time, time for us to begin.

And we're over in a 52nd Street apartment,
Socializing with the whino few,
Just to be hip and get wet with the jet set.
But they're flying too high to see my point of view.

Beautifully put, in fact. But then they go back to gazing out on Saint Dominic's Preview. Van, buddy, what are you talking about?? Saint Dominic's is a church. Got it. But what does "Preview" mean in this context? I searched and searched but found no answer. It's times like these that I wish Taylor had something like a Bat Signal or a Red Phone for REALLY important questions.

Taylor: "What's the emergency, ma'am?
Me: "I don't understand what 'Saint Dominic's Preview' is!! *sob* Ya gotta help me, man!! I can't sleep, I'm getting NO work done! For the love of God, what does it mean??!"

Sadly, all we've got is twitter and since he never replies to our tweets, we're on our own out here, responsible for solving our own musical emergencies.

But then I found it. A quote that would put this question to rest. A maddening, frustrating quote from Van Morrison himself. It comes from an old interview he did with Rolling Stone:

Well, like I've said, I'm not surprised that people get different meanings out of my songs. But I don't wanna give the impression that I know what everything means 'cause I don't.

RS: Are you sometimes surprised by some of the things that come out when you're writing?

Really. There are times when I'm mystified. I look at some of the stuff that comes out, y'know. And like, there it is and it feels right, but I can't say for sure what it means. Like take...take "Crazy Face." Y'know, where does that come from?

RS: There's unquestionably a strong mystical and visionary quality to your music.

Yeah, it's there. That's what it is, I guess. It's strange because I don't see myself as a mystical type person. But then every now and then these weird experiences happen. Like I'll be lying down on the bed with my eyes closed and all of a sudden I get the feeling that I'm floating near the ceiling looking down. I couldn't say whether that's supposed to be astral projection but it's pretty freaky when it happens.

RS: Have you ever had any similar experiences that seem related to your writing?

I had one just recently. I'd been working on this song about the scene going down in Belfast. And I wasn't sure what I was writing but anyway the central image seemed to be this church called St. Dominic's where people were gathering to pray or hear a mass for peace in Northern Ireland. Anyway, a few weeks ago I was in Reno for a gig at the University of Nevada. And while we were having dinner I picked up the newspaper and just opened it to a page and there in front of me was an announcement about a mass for peace in Belfast to be said the next day at St. Dominic's church in San Francisco. Totally blew me out. Like I'd never even heard of a St. Dominic's church.

RS: How did the song turn out?

Great. In fact I'm gonna be recording it in a couple of days.

RS: What did you end up titling it?

"St. Dominic's Preview." You know something? I haven't a clue to what it means.


There you have it. Even Van Morrison doesn't know what it means. As a writer, that irritates the hell out of me. But, I can let it go. A few deep breaths, some visual imagery and I'm fine. It's still a cool song. Hey-and on the bright side, if Taylor screws up the lyrics it won't matter.

Enjoy.



http://vimeo.com/6665801 from bonnie cheung on Vimeo.

Shammy [chamois] cleaning all the windows,
Singing songs about Edith Piaf's soul.
And I hear blue strains of "no regredior"
Across the street from Cathedral Notre Dame.

Meanwhile back in San Francisco
We're trying hard to make this whole thing blend,
As we sit upon this jagged
Storey block, with you my friend.

And it's a long way to Buffalo.
It's a long way to Belfast city too.
And I'm hoping the choice won't blow the hoist
'cos this town, they bit off more than they can chew.

As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
Saint Dominic's Preview
Saint Dominic's Preview
Saint Dominic's Preview

All the orange boxes are scattered.
We get to Safeway's supermarket in the rain.
And everybody feels so determined
Not to feel anyone else's pain.

(You know that) No one's making no commitments
To anybody but themselves,
Hidin' behind closed doorways,
Tryin' to get outside, outside of empty shells

And for every cross-cuttin' country corner,
For every Hank Williams railroad train that cried,
And all the chains, badges, flags and emblems
And every strain on every brain and every eye (?)

As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
Saint Dominic's Preview
Saint Dominic's Preview
Saint Dominic's Preview.

And the restaurant tables are completely covered.
The record company has paid out for the wine.
You got everything in the world you ever wanted
Right about now your face should wear a smile.

That's the way it all should happen
When you're in, when you're in the state you're in;
You've got your pen and notebook ready,
I think it's about time, time for us to begin.

And we're over in a 52nd Street apartment,
Socializing with the whino few,
Just to be hip and get wet with the jet set.
But they're flying too high to see my point of view.

As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on
Saint Dominic's Preview
Saint Dominic's Preview
Saint Dominic's Preview.

See them freedom marching,
Out on the street, freedom marching.
Saint Dominic's Preview.

14 comments:

  1. Amazing song- I really enjoyed reading the Van Morrison interview. I love song writers that have poetry as their lyrics, sometimes to the point they don't even know what the words mean. I think it's very cool and it's the sign of a true artist. Thanks for the awesome Taylor performance.

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  2. Hmmm. Caryl, I'm glad you posted the words as I couldn't understand what Tay was singing. Morrison could be knocking prayer for others as being genuine in that humans tend to be for themselves first and formost. Another thought is a preview is not the whole story, just a glimpse and unless you are the one living the story you don't get it. Maybe like he said he doesn't know the meaning or could have been in an altered state when he wrote it. rosie

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  3. Like alot of songs artists in this era - drugs.

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  4. VM has quite a bit of company in the obtuse lyrics department. It's always nice to find a meaning or at least a partial message . . but some songs seem like abstract paintings - don't have to fully comprehend the artist's concept to enjoy the experience.

    Excellent post Caryl . . and kudos on finding that interview.

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  5. Thanks caryl...that was cool....and Bonnie's video was aaaaaawwwesome!!! I am yearning for a Taylor show and seeing him cover this great song just made it all the stronger of an ache.

    SegerHicks

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  6. Caryl, Thanks for putting the time in to research the song. I had wondered where it all came from.


    JI

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  7. the people that are too high to get his point of view, or the aristocrats, the high-archy, i guess. Thats what I get, like why would the politicians listen to me? A little man with nothing but a pen and paper?

    When its about war, isnt that how we all feel?

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  8. God, I love it when Taylor sings Van Morrison. *sigh*

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  9. Oh,my how did I miss this? Will you PLEASE nudge me from now on when you do a post?? PLEASE???

    This certainly makes me feel better! I too looked up the lyrics when I got back from the concert. I was too embarrassed to admit that I couldn't make heads or tails out of them for the most part, but I don't tend to "get" a lot of abstract thought or poetry anyway. (I have a very mechanical oriented brain.) I feel better knowing that Van himself didn't understand what he was even writing about. Haha!

    I just totally LOVE this song though, just like lots of other music from back in my spacey rock days that had lyrics that didn't make a lot of sense. And Taylor's version - my oh my! The highlight of the Warehouse Live show for me. I also have a video of the 2nd half of the song from a difference perspective.

    (Speaking of "perspective", that is what I sort of took "preview" to mean. Sort of like looking out on a scene, or an actual view, or the "prospect," even though none of that is what "preview" means at all. That was the only sense I could make out of it though. Haha.)

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  10. St. Dominics is also a girls school in belfast

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  11. "And I'm hoping the choice won't blow the hoist"
    I've read about this line, the choice is actually Joyce, as in James Joyce. Joyce wrote in a stream of conscious fashion, which explains the non-linear timeline. The song. skips through vignettes, of personal experiences. Also, when one "blows the hoist," it means that a bomb-maker, has died when the device he was making explodes during the assembly.

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  12. thanks for helping me to cross the lyrics meaning off my musical bucket list.

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  13. Even if VM doesn't seem to know what the "preview" is, isn't it pretty clear from the interview? He had a premonition -a preview- of a "St. Dominic's" Church, which became reality when he picked up that newspaper in Nevada and found out that not only was there an actual St. Dominic's in SF, but that it was also the site of a prayer vigil for peace in Ireland.

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