Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wrapped up in books

A hastily tossed together summary of various Van Morrison-focused writing. By no means is this list comprehensive. All of these books are currently sitting on a shelf directly to my left. Feel free to come by and borrow one.

In terms of pure biographies, Clinton Heylin's Can You Feel the Silence? Van Morrison: A New Biography (published in 2002) ranks as the most thorough and competent examination of the Irishman's life and career (even if it does tend to overemphasize Morrison's various shortcomings). Steve Turner's Too Late to Stop Now (1993)—which is sparse on content, heavy on the photography (though several of the shots are worth the price of the book alone)—is ideal for the Morrison newcomer who is just finding their way. Meanwhile, John Collis' biography Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1996) occupies a middle ground between Heylin and Collis' tomes: It's exhaustively researched and informative, but by no means all-inclusive.

Brian Hinton's Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison (1997) is sprinkled with biographical information, but primarily reads as a series of penetrating albums reviews, Morrison's vast catalog enduring a meticulous song-by-song dissection. In a somewhat similar vein is Peter Mills' Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison (2010), an "anti-biography" that reassess the artist's career purely through the context of his music. Perhaps the most curious approach was undertaken by Johnny Rogan. Aside from an in-depth study of the Irishman's life and calling, Van Morrison: No Surrender (2005) includes detailed information on the Troubles—the colloquial name for the conflict that raged for three decades in Northern Ireland. However, the conflict is often curiously accompanied by parallels Rogan draws between Morrison and one of the Troubles' most polarizing figures, Protestant politician and preacher Ian Paisley.

Also worth citing are several lengthy essays on Morrison. These were featured in collections by the author cited. In Spirited Men: Story, Soul, and Substance (2004), Brian Doyle praised the latter chapters of Morrison's career while spotlighting various apocryphal stories and half-truths regarding the Irishman's many eccentricities. In When That Rough God Goes Riding (2010), Greil Marcus draws connecting lines between his politically-charged college days at Berkeley, the seeming impossibility of Bob Beamon's historic long jump at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, and the boundary-shattering legacy of Astral Weeks. Finally, there are Gerald Dawe's essays on Morrison from My Mother-City (2008) and The Rest is History (1998); both stroll through the landscapes of post-war Belfast, revealing how the city plays a key role in shaping individual identity.

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