The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #384: Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #384: Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison.

Tupelo honey is derived from special trees that only grow in the southern United States and, as such, it is rare and prized for its flavour and exclusivity. According to Van Morrison, Tupelo honey is a lot like true love. It is rare, it is beautiful and it is something to be treasured if you are lucky enough to find it. His song, “Tupelo Honey” is a hymn to the wonders of love and of marriage. It was released in 1970, just after Morrison and his wife, Janet, had moved to California from New York. They moved to a home situated in the rolling hills of the Californian countryside. Beauty surrounded them and helped inspire Morrison to write the highest charting single in his career to date. “Tupelo Honey” has gone on to be one of the most popular “first dance” wedding songs of all time. Many a couple have found themselves dancing under the stars to the sound of Morrison’s dulcet tones exulting in the reverential nature of Love. If this song holds such a cherished memory for you then, congratulations. As I have said many times, there is nothing better and more important than finding Love. If “Tupelo Honey” is part of the soundtrack to your happiest times then, I applaud you. Take the wonder of those moments with you as you go on about your day. I hope you are smiling as you do so. 🙂But, having said that, I do urge you to stop reading this post right now. I do not wish to sully anyone’s happy rememberings and recollections with what comes next.

If “Tupelo Honey” has no special significance for you and you wish to know more about the song and what is really signifies then, read on.

When I was a younger boy, one of my favourite movies was “Ben Hur” starring Charlton Heston. As action movies went back in those days, the chariot races in “Ben Hur” were hard to beat. Heston was, also, in several biblical movies during my youth and, because we were a church-going family, we tended to watch movies like, “Moses”, too. I never read too much into the fact that Heston seemed to appear in certain types of roles and what that said about his politics. At the time, all I knew was that he seemed handsome and strong and heroic and fit the definition of a movie star. That was enough for me. It wasn’t until my late teens/early 20s that I began to see Charlton Heston more for who he really was. I can remember the exact moment. It was when he was spokesperson for The National Rifle Association (the N.R.A.) during the Reagan Presidency, I believe, when Heston famously stated something to the effect that “the only way anyone was going to take his guns away from him was to pry them from his cold, dead hands”. Even then, there were many articles about gun violence in America. I remember thinking that Heston seemed like such a jerk to me all of a sudden. From that point on, I started reading more about him and found out how far to the Right on the political spectrum he actually was. It served as a wake-up call for me to be a more critical consumer of the information I was being served. Unfortunately, sometimes research reveals that our heroes are, in fact, actually a**holes.

Just prior to recording “Tupelo Honey”, Van Morrison and his wife lived in Woodstock, NY. He began writing the songs for the album, “Tupelo Honey” in late 1969 while still in Woodstock. But, if you know your music history at all, you will know that something else was going on in the small bucolic countryside of Woodstock, NY at that time. Unbeknownst to Morrison and many other residents, Woodstock was set to be ground-zero of a modern cultural movement that celebrated the “Hippie” lifestyle because of the groundbreaking Woodstock Music Festival. Even after the Festival had ended and all of the festival-goers have left, Woodstock, NY, still served as a Mecca for those promoting ideas such as “Free love” and the mind-altering experience of drugs such as LSD. Those types of people disgusted Morrison and his wife, who left for California in 1970, as much to get away from the Woodstock crowd, as it was anything to do with wanting to be in California. Simply put, California was as far, geographically-speaking, that Morrison could move away from those whose politics and lifestyle he opposed. His song, “Tupelo Honey”, while being a celebration of Love, is, as it turns out, more than just simply that. It is a political reaffirmation of Morrison’s belief in “traditional values”. A slogan like, “Traditional values” is one that is often used by people on the political Right and it has come to mean a reassertion of ideas that form the foundation of a white, Christian society. In this case, the idea of marriage being a union of a man and a woman, as God had intended. I have no beef with heteronormative unions. I am a man and I love a woman and we are a happy married couple, living a life filled with Love and Respect for each other. However, the difference is, we are just as happy for our friends and family members who have found happiness with same sex partners. We are, also, very supportive of those we know who happen to be transitioning from one gender to another. I like to think we are open-minded enough to accept the notion than there are more than one way to be happy in Life and more than one way to find Love.

I am aware that my own politics colour a post such as this one. So, I encourage you to conduct your own research into who Van Morrison really is. Even a cursory investigation using Google will reveal that Morrison is a virulent anti-masker and anti-vaxxer these days. He has written songs opposing lockdown restrictions in the UK (where he happens to now live). You will easily find articles about how he is banned from many pubs in England and Ireland due to his abusive treatment of wait staff, too. Along with public figures such as Eric Clapton, Morrison has risen to being one of the UK’s biggest supporters of anti-immigration policies and one of the biggest supporters of white nationalist causes and organizations. If he were living here in Canada, no doubt he would be a supporter of politicians such as Maxine Bernier on the far Right of our own political spectrum.

Truth be told, as songs go, I think “Tupelo Honey” is a beautifully-written song. Van Morrison has one of the best male singing voices of anyone and it is a pleasure to hear him sing this song. If I shut off my mental faculties and simply allow myself to journey back to those moments when Keri and I first held each other and were falling in love…..then, this song is a wondrous revelation. But, I have learned to think critically, and because of that, “Tupelo Honey” will never be “just a song” to me. The actions of the singer colour my perceptions of this song, now and forever more….exactly in the same way that Charlton Heston, basking in the glow of the applause he received from the adoring N.R.A. crowd that day, changed how I viewed him, too. Sometimes, I long for a time when everything seemed simpler and all of my heroes hadn’t turned out to be a**holes.

The link to the video for “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison can b found here.

The link to Van Morrison’s website can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting musical artists of all political persuasions. A link to their website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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