Brown Eyed Girl
by Van Morrison
In many ways, "Brown Eyed Girl" is not representative of Van Morrison's songwriting. Relatively simple, perhaps even "sweet," the song's closing line, "Do you remember when we used to sing, Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da," conjures a more juvenile set of images than his more intensely introspective songs.
But in many ways, the song is completely representative. Thematically, "Brown Eyed Girl's" sweet-sad-passionate memory of a boyhood love is one of the many Morrison songs that explore the places and experiences of his childhood. Stylistically, the song's crisp, seemingly unfinished lines ("Cast my memory back there, Lord, Sometime I'm overcome thinking 'bout") are also quintessentially Morrison.
In Morrison's best work, he offers bursts of phrases—or better, bursts of images that pile on top of one another like layers of paint—which are sometimes heavy, sometimes translucent. If they suggest impatience, or an unwillingness to complete or "perfect" a thought, it may be because Morrison is more interested in performance than preservation. His concerts are self-shaping exercises in creativity, in which the crowd, the band, the moment, and most importantly, Morrison's own muse provide the direction. He performs without a playlist, and encourages each song to go, hopefully, where it has never gone before. With one motion he calls for a solo from his guitarist, with another he signals that he wants to spend some time massaging an intriguing lyric.
The recipe is not always successful. Morrison is famously difficult to work with and at time difficult to watch. Not every musician can keep up with the inspiration driving Morrison on stage. "Some bands I've had can do anything, go anywhere, you know? Other bands can only do certain songs in a certain way." The same goes for his audiences, according to the Village Voice. "If you feel like the audience can go with you, then I can stretch out more." And if the audience cannot keep up with his personal sojourn, he can be a jerk.
But when it works, it works. And the lyrics, rough blasts of thought, become an inseparable part of the inchoate mix that takes Morrison and his fellow-travelers to a mood, a memory, a sensation, or what Morrison has described more inclusively as "energy."