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When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening…

When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison (2010)

by Greil Marcus

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774219,651 (3.34)13
  1. 00
    Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison by Peter Mills (arethusarose)
    arethusarose: A fine discussion of Van's music as a singer and a writer of songs. I've been waiting for this book for years.

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I've read this before and even though Greil Marcus gives me a pain, there is so much I like about this, not least of which is that he makes me want to listen to Van Morrison even more carefully then I already do. And read more Yeats. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
I found this to be a rather uneven, at times impenetrable, book, but with enough going for it to salvage it from being two stars.

I stopped reading music newspapers like NME a couple of decades ago as I couldn't understand what the hell the journalists were talking about, even when they were writing about music I knew very well. It all seemed like they were trying to prove how clever they were and, maybe showing that I'm not so clever, I just didn't get it. This is the tone that carries across in this book - Marcus has clearly thought a lot about Morrison's music, and he really wants you to know that he has.

So, while there's too much "clever-cloggery", there isn't enough of the stuff that partially redeems the book: background to the writing and recording of the songs featured; Morrison's own thoughts about the songs (though, granted, he doesn't talk much about his work); and just why Morrison's music, and these songs in particular, are so important to Marcus.

Maybe that stuff is in there and I just wasn't paying enough attention, but I had to force myself to finish the book and, while I'm glad I did, it's not an experience I'd care to repeat, at least not all in one go. I might re-read a chapter about a particular song as I'm listening to it - but then again, I might not.

I bought this book thinking it might give me some insight into what I find so appealing about Van Morrison's wonderful music. In the end, I guess I've decided that Marcus's opinions about Morrison just don't matter to me all that much, and I'm glad: I'm happy to leave my fascination with Van Morrison's music somewhat unexamined. As Billy Bragg said:
The temptation
To take the precious things we have apart
To see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again
. ( )
  Michael.Rimmer | Mar 30, 2013 |
I like Van Morrison! Do you like Van Morrison?! ( )
  librarianbryan | Apr 20, 2012 |
Funnily enough, considering the subject and theme of his latest book, reading über-critic Greil Marcus is a lot like listening to Van Morrison. The experience can be illuminating, frustrating, transcendent, and solipsistic—often in the same paragraph or song. Like Morrison, Marcus has been following his own path for quite some time, and anyone who has a passing familiarity with either of them will always be able to find the gold hidden down a backstreet or way up top a flight of fancy.

My problem with Marcus is that his exhortations can be the definition of pedantic, referencing far-flung obscure artists and works in order to make a point that no one can truly argue with, having no idea who or what he’s is talking about. On the other hand, like listening to Morrison himself, if you’re willing to put in the work, you can be turned on to artists, books, movies, etc. that may later become indispensable to your life.

What Marcus does here is doubly off-putting, as he spends a great deal of time extolling the virtues of tracks and performances of Morrison’s that are unavailable anywhere but bootlegs, a stream that Morrison spends a great deal of energy to dam, enlisting the services of Web Sheriff to scour the internet of any traces of illicit music. I was lucky enough to have a copy of the 1971 KSAN Pacific High Studios show which is referenced pretty heavily, but as far as Caledonia Soul Music, which according to Marcus is the key to the whole thing, I’ll just have to take his word for it.

In this book, Marcus eschews most biographical information, much, I can imagine to Morrison’s relief, only pointing out pertinent signposts along the way. The whole focus is on those moments of un-forced transcendence that Marcus believes paint a secret map through the jungle of Morrison’s oeuvre. As with any great artist—and to put my cards on the table, I believe Morrison to be one of the greatest singers of the last 40 years—what pieces resonate with your soul at any given time is completely subjective. I think Marcus is either trying to be cute, or is just being lazy to discount in one fell swoop everything Morrison put out between Common One in 1980, and Tell Me Something in 1996.

Marcus talks about looking for the “yarragh” in Morrison’s performances, that moment that transcends language and artifice to, as Morrison once sang, “get down to the real soul, I mean the real soul, people.” To take a page from Marcus’ book if I may refer to a performance now out-of-print and unavailable, as a child of the ’70s I knew Morrison primarily as an AM radio hit maker and it wasn’t until PBS ran Van Morrison The Concert, recorded at New York’s Beacon Theater in 1989, that I was exposed to Morrison the mystic. I don’t recall which number he used to launch himself into the “yarragh,” but all of a sudden, he was growling and barking, not like a madman, but like a genius. I remember standing in front of the TV just slack-jawed; this was someone who warranted further investigation. All of a sudden I understood why someone like Morrison would rankle against cheap stardom. It wasn’t the fucking point. This, this is the point. And although Marcus’ examples are personal to his own experience, as far as catching the desperately vital point of it all, we really do see eye-to-eye. ( )
3 vote railarson | Jul 11, 2010 |
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The fourteen-piece band assembled for a concert in which Van Morrison was to perform the whole of his forty-one year old album Astral Weeks so dominated the stage you might not have even noticed the figure seated at the piano; the sound Morrison made when he opened his mouth seemed to come out of nowhere.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 158648821X, Hardcover)

“Van Morrison,” says Greil Marcus, “remains a singer who can be compared to no other in the history of modern popular music.” When Astral Weeks was released in 1968, it was largely ignored. When it was rereleased as a live album in 2009 it reached the top of the Billboard charts, a first for any Van Morrison recording. The wild swings in the music, mirroring the swings in Morrison’s success and in people’s appreciation (or lack of it) of his music, make Van Morrison one of the most perplexing and mysterious figures in popular modern music, and a perfect subject for the wise and insightful scrutiny of Greil Marcus, one of America’s most dedicated cultural critics.

This book is Marcus’s quest to understand Van Morrison’s particular genius through the extraordinary and unclassifiable moments in his long career, beginning in 1965 and continuing in full force to this day. In these dislocations Marcus finds the singer on his own artistic quest precisely to reach some extreme musical threshold, the moments that are not enclosed by the will or the intention of the performer but which somehow emerge at the limits of the musician and his song.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:45 -0400)

The wild turbulence of his music, mirroring the swings in his popular acclaim, makes Van Morrison one of the most perplexing and mysterious figures in modern music. Marcus celebrates the unique world of his songs and performance through the extraordinary and unclassifiable moments in Morrison's career, beginning in 1965 and continuing to this day.… (more)

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An edition of this book was published by PublicAffairs.

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