Sunday, 6 June 2010

Van Morrison: mastery and misanthropy

Added to my Amazon wish list: Greil Marcus' new book, Listening to Van Morrison. In yesterday's Guardian, Marcus described his experience of touring cities in America, reading from the book:
Usually, when a writer shows up at a bookstore and reads from or talks about a book he or she has written, people ask questions: how do you write? Where do you get your ideas? What made you write this book? But not this time. This time, in San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, people weren't necessarily interested in my stories about Morrison. They wanted to tell their own stories.
According to Marcus, many of those stories revolved around a 'fundamental contradiction: that they could be so moved by, so caught up in, something made by someone who seemed to want nothing to do with them'. One example will serve to illustrate the paradox of Van the Man's ability to move audiences - and his notorious misanthropy:
'We went to a show,' a man said in Portland, 'and it was magnificent. It seemed like there was nothing. He was finding songs inside the songs, songs we'd never heard, it was like they were songs he never head. When it was over, we went next door to a bar, a lot of people who'd been to the show were there, and of course that's all we were talking about. How great it was, and did you notice this and did you hear that - and then Van Morrison walked in. He came in, walked to the bar, everyone stood up and applauded, and he just sat down at the bar. Finally I got up the nerve. I went over to him, and I said: "Mr Morrison, your music has meant so much to me. Sometimes it pulled me through, when I didn't think anything would. I couldn't live without it." He waited for me to finish, and he looked at me, and he said: "Why do people feel they have to tell me these things?"
On the other hand, Marcus recounts this gem of a story:
'I was talking to my father today,' a woman in Portland said. 'He asked what I was doing tonight, and I told him I was going to hear someone talk about a book he'd written on Van Morrison. "Oh, Van Morrison!" he said. "You know, I used to work with his father on the docks in Belfast. After work he'd take me to his house to listen to his records. I'd never seen anything like it. Hundred and hundreds of 78s and LPs, jazz, blues, country music, everything. And there'd be the little boy there, dancing around the room, saying play that, Daddy! Play that!'
I came to Van Morrison quite late. I was already in my mid-20s, and living in Manchester, when an older friend introduced me to his music. I'd soon bought all the early albums, and they became part of the soundtrack of my life as I left university, started my first job, got married. H. and the children have never quite shared my enthusiasm for Van, though putting 'Moondance' or 'Caravan' on in the car will usually meet with general approval. For me, it's Astral Weeks that still has a special place in my affections, recalling particular times and places, and I never tire of it.

Here's the title track, perfect for waking up to on this summer Sunday morning:

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