It’s a short book, not a biography or a career survey, but an attempt to follow those moments in Morrison’s music, as he’s made it from his first records with Them, from Belfast in 1965 to the present day, when something happens that breaks through the boundaries of ordinary communication, of ordinary art speech. In this book those moments are called “the yarragh,” a term that comes from the traditional Irish tenor John McCormack. As a vocal sound, in Morrison’s music, it describes itself, onomatopoetically: that’s what you hear when, as a singer, he makes a rip in his own song, in his own sound. But in his music the same sense of escape from ordinary limits – a reach for, or the achievement of, a kind of violent transcendence – can come from hesitations, repetitions of words or phrases, pauses, the way a musical change by another musician is turned by Morrison as a bandleader or seized on by him as a singer and changed into a sound that becomes an event in and of itself. In these moments, the self is left behind, and the sound, that “yarragh,” becomes the active agent: a musical person, with its own mind, its own body.
Read the whole thing. [Added photo. Image credit: Art Siegel]
And I really recommend taking the time to watch this online video of Greil Marcus talking about, and reading from, his book – as well as answering questions from the audience. He’s got some great quotes from John Irving on fiction and non-fiction. Trust me, it’s worth it. There’s even the correct spelling of yarrrgh.