Jason Isbell Has Some Thoughts About Van Morrison’s Denial of COVID-19
What's the right thing to do when an artist's politics, personal life or public actions become problematic: Do you separate the art from the artist and keep listening and supporting them? Do you hold onto the past works but cut off your support going forward? Or do you wipe the artist's music from your library and completely eschew your fandom?
If you're Jason Isbell and the artist in question is the COVID-19-denying Van Morrison, you honor a song request and poke a little fun at the artist, as the Americana star did during a recent episode of Amanda Shires' I So Lounging livestream series.
At about 19:45 into the show, Shires ceded the mic to her husband, who explained that he was performing the next song -- Morrison's "Into the Mystic" -- for his mother-in-law, Lisa. It's "a very beautiful song," he explained, one that they both love, but the performance needed a caveat.
"There was a time in the past when our dear Van Morrison had such beautiful music, such beautiful songs, that everyone paid attention to him. Now that time has passed, and I fear that our dear Van Morrison is still desirous of the attention that he once received. So now he likes to say things, like the government asking you to not give everyone the COVID-19 virus is akin to slavery," Isbell says. "I disagree with that statement very much.”
Morrison recently announced the upcoming release of three new songs that protest lockdowns during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and previously called social distancing guidelines and warnings about the contagiousness of COVID-19 "pseudo-science," Rolling Stone reports. Robin Swann, the health minister in Northern Ireland, Morrison's home country, has spoken out against the singer's statements, an a city councillor in Belfast is looking to revoke Morrison's Freedom of Belfast prize in response.
"Van's got some new songs that are about -- he's protesting the fact that he's not allowed to make people sick, I guess is what he's doing," Isbell continues, Shires laughing beside him. "But I'm going to do this song just in remembrance of when Van was just merely not nice and wasn't public about his denial of science."
Prior to Morrison's recent statements, the artist had a reputation for being guarded and a bit surly. Both Isbell and Shires allude to previous interactions with Morrison: Isbell's wasn't unpleasant, but Shires points out that the legendary singer was "rude" to the late John Prine, a fellow music legend.
Before Isbell performed his cover of "Into the Mystic," he donned a facemask built into his shirt. "I don’t know that this’ll protect me from the virus," he points out, "but I’d like for it to protect me from Van.”
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