“The Mercy Seat” is the song that gets all the attention from Cave’s classic 1988 album “Tender Prey.” While “Seat” is a stunner, “Watching Alice” should be equally acclaimed. It’s quiet and melancholy in comparison to the intense “The Mercy Seat,” but no less disturbing. The lyrics relate to a man watching a female get dressed year after year “in her palace” where he believes she is held captive. It’s clear she has no idea he’s watching her and he keeps saying “It’s so depressing, it’s cruel.” Cave really inhabits this sad, pathetic creature quite well. The song shares DNA with Van Morrison’s “Cyrpus Avenue” and Randy Newman’s “Suzanne,” two other classic stalker ballads.
This is the (in)famous live version of Van Morrison’s “Cyprus Avenue” from the concert that was recorded for the legendary “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” live album in 1974.
The original “Cyprus Avenue” from 1967’s “Astral Weeks” was a beautiful and wounded song about a man desperately in love with someone, but who can’t express himself to tell this person he loves her. The problem, you see, is that he’s a grown man and the person he’s in love with is a very, very young girl. And he’s “conquered in a car seat,” staring at her walking to school … Mmmkay … Despite the creepy subject matter, this is a great song, but I can’t say that it doesn’t also turn my stomach a bit. It’s a good thing Perverted Justice and Chris Hanson from Dateline NBC were not around in 1967 for Van’s sake.
Anyway, let’s cut to 1973 … Van is performing this song live. But Van is in full James Brown mode. And holy … f–king … s–t … does he give this solemn, sad song the full James Brown treatment! And it is one of the most amazing musical performances I’ve ever seen. Many people seem to only know the Van Morrison of “Moondance” and the corny “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” phase of his career. But they forget that Van started out in the Irish garage punk band Them … or that the first version of “Madame George” (a sad song about an aging transvestite, also recorded for “Astral Weeks”) was originally a raunchy, nasty punk blues stomp recorded for the album “T.B. Sheets.” Believe it or not, before he became the Irish mystic troubadour, Van used to kick out the f–king jams. And this legendary performance of “Cyprus Avenue” proves it.
Before Van Morrison disappeared “into the mystic” (and as some fans would allege “up his own a–“), he was the leader of a nasty Irish garage punk / Rolling Stones-like band called Them. “Gloria” may be Them’s biggest claim to fame, but this sleazy little gem arguably should have that honor. Later covered quite well by the MC5.
The version of “Madame George” included on Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” album is beautiful and heartbreaking. The earlier version recorded for Bang Records is a nasty, raunchy, raucous, foot-stomping blast of drunken blues. I’ll let you guess which version I prefer.