When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison by Greil Marcus (Public Affairs, 208 pages, $25.95)
“To this day it gives me pain to hear it. Pain is the wrong word – I’m so moved by it.” Lewis Merenstein, producer of Astral Weeks
Greil Marcus has provided the world with a love letter – one addressed to Van Morrison. Anyone who’s heard Van Morrison’s music is likely to admire this book. It’s one of the few nonfiction books in which the Prologue and Introduction do not serve as unnecessary baggage, Marcus taking us back to the world of a very young Morrison with Them.
Rough God (the title taken from a line of poetry by Yeats) is a series of essays on the artist as a young and very mature man rather than a conventionally structured biography. The entire point of the book, however, is to pay tribute to Morrison’s now 41-year-old masterpiece, Astral Weeks. The producer of the record said that just 30 seconds into recording the album, “My whole being was vibrating.” Marcus delves deeply into what Lester Bangs called the “mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work.”
If you’ve never quite understood the meaning of Astral Weeks, Marcus translates it and makes it clear. This in itself is worth the price of admission, as if one were unlocking the core of Pet Sounds or Rubber Soul. This work also examines some of Morrison’s lesser known recordings. Like his song “Domino,” it’s joyful noise.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.