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Van Morisson / Them

Baby Please Don’t Go

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Five Chapter 2

Drinks in hand, you walk through the house.

̶  Have you heard of Them? Nika asks.
̶  Who?

Enjoyable, the alternation of sensation of the rugs and floorboards beneath your feet.

̶  Them.
̶  Who’s ‘them’?
̶  Come, I’ll show you.

She leads you to her room; you follow in excited expectation.

Nika, not finding Them, goes out and leaves you alone in her bedroom. What could ‘them’ be? you wonder. More so than yesterday, you feel at ease in her room; you like the white bed with its blue spread, the orange polka dots on the indigo pillow… One back, one forward; two back, two forward; three back, three forward: ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’: You like the crisp clack of her Newton’s cradle… Flying cranes and a school of fish: She said she’d teach me origami… Permanent mauve and rose madder, cerulean blue and cadmium red: the tubes of paint in her folding palette… You flop down into the corduroy beanbag as Nika re-enters the room.

Them, from the Legacy album The Complete Them 1964-67

Publicity shot for the release of ‘Gloria’ / ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, 1965

̶  This is Them!

She hands you an LP album.

̶̶  Ah, ‘Them’ is a band!

‘Them. Includes the original hit, Gloria’.

̶̶  Yes. A rhythm ‘n blues band.

Nika opens her record player, a portable suitcase-type like your Dansette.

̶̶  You’ve got to hear this! she says.

As the tonearm lowers the stylus into the groove, it finds a groove in you that you never knew existed: A guitar figure, a ringing lick; an ostinato bass, a cookin’ drum kit. Organ. Harmonica. And then the glory of a singer at one with the song:

Baby please don’t go.
Baby please don’t go.
Baby please don’t go
Down to New Orleans,
You know I love you so
Baby please don’t go.

You feel your face flush as a nineteen-year-old Irishman from East Belfast shakes your bones and enters your blood. Yes! Fresh from the Seaman’s Mission where his voice had set fire to the ballroom, Van Morrison infuses his sublime distillation of Black American music into your soul. You’re lying on the floor now, you’re lying on the rug of red-violet, rubbing your feet into it. Nika is sitting lotus-like beside the Dansette. From what she sees in your eyes, from the energy radiating from your body, she knows that she will trust you, trust you more than anyone since her mother died.

Before I be your dog
Before I be your dog
Before I be your dog
Get you way down here
Make you walk the log
Baby please don’t go

Big Joe Williams, the bluesman who launched ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ on its long career

Van in the mid-60s, listening to the lion

You feel the passion in the voice, the fervour in the music. There’s drive, excitement, commitment; there’s a pushing to the limit with no safety net. Yes! This is the danger zone where honesty comes into its own, this is where grace alone can save one! But how could all this come through to a child not yet eight? How could the blues from the whorehouses and dance halls of Texas, the idiom of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Lead Belly, speak to a girl from the squeaky-clean town of Neuchâtel? Yes, how was it possible that you, a little Swiss girl more familiar with Beethoven than the Beatles, could be blown away by Them, a Belfast garage band? The guitars pause to let the rhythm speak, content to punctuate it with sparks, until the undertow can no longer be contained and the wave breaks again. As it washes over you, you realize that your mother has left you, but not your mother tongue: Thanks to music, you will never sleepwalk through life!

And thus it was that in the two minutes and thirty-nine seconds of the song, you discovered that you are open to the world—no matter how removed it may appear from you—and that there is more in it than your mother.