Books: Listening to Van Morrison…

Great little review of Listening to Van Morrison by Griel Marcus…

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.

And not least for this sweet and unexpected sign off…

Not all the stories people tell about Morrison, though, are stories of conflict, confusion, resentment, or regret. “I was talking to my father today,” a woman in Portland said. “He asked what I was doing tonight, and I told him to 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. Hundreds 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!'”


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