Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hiding in his own shadow

On Oct. 2, City Light Publishers is releasing Lit Up Inside, a new book featuring selected song lyrics from Van Morrison's exceptionally prodigious career. According to press information, the tome will contain approximately one-third of all material the Irishman has ever written. What will be included? What will be rejected? Let the speculation commence.

Please take note, because here is what definitely won't be in Lit Up Inside: a glowing foreword by music critic Johnny Rogan. This is what Rogan wrote about Morrison's approach to lyric writing in his 2006 biography, Van Morrison: No Surrender: "Meaningless repetition, poorly thought-out imagery, cloying sentimentality, cosmic buffoonery, faux and gratuitous literary name-dropping, heavy-handed symbolism or decorative words employed purely for their poetic association are all there in embarrassing abundance."

A tad harsh and unforgiving? Probably, but Rogan's assessment does address Morrison's propensity for "over"-ness in his lyrics. How he frequently overindulges, overreaches, overstates, etc. How excess is often the rule, not the exception. At his worst, Morrison gets the color schemes right, but then applies five coats of each. The Irishman's finest lyrical moments are when he sets restrictions and then enthusiastically fights against them, when he hides in his own shadow and injects his art with more magic and mystery.

"The lyrics in this book span 50 years of writing and as such are representative of my creative journey," Morrison said in a statement. I'm curious to see which songs from Astral Weeks made the cut. My guesses: "Cyprus Avenue," "Madame George," and "Ballerina."

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