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Andy Whitman

Searching for the Yarragh

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William Butler Yeats, a conflicted soul and superb poet, once wrote about the

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I don't know what I am searching for, but last week I listened to 'Bulbs' from Veedon Fleece, and about two minutes in he kind of does this barking thing. I'd be happy if there was more barking like that around, or if you could point me in that direction.

Also, do you have a word for whatever it is he does on 'Ring Worm'?

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I don't know what I am searching for, but last week I listened to 'Bulbs' from Veedon Fleece, and about two minutes in he kind of does this barking thing. I'd be happy if there was more barking like that around, or if you could point me in that direction.

Also, do you have a word for whatever it is he does on 'Ring Worm'?

Do you have Van's 1980 album Common One, Stu? It's a frequently overlooked gem, and has a couple 15-minute songs where

Van soars off into the mystic. There's a lot of barking, yelping, growling, yapping, roaring, snuffling, yipping, and general animal noises on that one.

And I confess that you stumped me on "Ring Worm." So I looked it up. That song is apparently only available on something called The Complete Bang Sessions. I bought The Bang Sessions a long time ago when I was informed that I didn't have all the material on Van's first album, which was alternately called T.B. Sheets or Blowin' Your Mind. I had Blowin' Your Mind. I bought The Bang Sessions. I don't think I can justify buying this music again.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I've just realised that this thing you're describing is exactly what happens on 'Oh Jean', the last track on The Proclaimers' Sunshine on Leith. Not very cool, I know, but seriously, that song is incredible - it works itself up into a proper frenzy of growling, grunting and so forth. One of my favourite songs, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit. You can listen to it here.

I'll make Common One my next Van purchase. I'm very, very slowly turning into a fan: the transition should be complete in about a decade, I reckon.

New Neil Young album one year, new Van Morrison album the next, and so on, until I reach the inevitable roadblock known as The Mid Eighties.

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And I confess that you stumped me on "Ring Worm." So I looked it up. That song is apparently only available on something called The Complete Bang Sessions. I bought The Bang Sessions a long time ago when I was informed that I didn't have all the material on Van's first album, which was alternately called T.B. Sheets or Blowin' Your Mind. I had Blowin' Your Mind. I bought The Bang Sessions. I don't think I can justify buying this music again.

This blog - http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2005/09/van_morrisons_c.html - has some more info about Van Morrison's contractual obligation album.

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I spent all day traveling yesterday. The bulk of my reading was "When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening To Van Morrison" by Greil Marcus.

"Van Morrison's music, as I hear it holds a story- a story made of fragments. There is in his music from the very first , a kind of quest: for the moment when the magic word, riff, note or chord is found and everything is transformed. At any time a listener might think he or she has felt it, even glimpsed it, a realm beyond ordinary expression, reaching out as if to close your hand around such a moment, to grab for its air, then opening your fist to find a butterfly in it-"

When Greil Marcus finds his rhythm he is the equal of any subject he tackles. He is more focused, yet as insightful and as passionate as Lester Bangs. This book really isn't about Van Morrison as much as it is about Van Morrison's music at those times when he finds the yarragh.

It is really good writing about an elusive quality in an even more elusive singer.

I am making a play list based on the songs written about in this book. I believe I will be able to levitate.

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I spent all day traveling yesterday. The bulk of my reading was "When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening To Van Morrison" by Greil Marcus.

"Van Morrison's music, as I hear it holds a story- a story made of fragments. There is in his music from the very first , a kind of quest: for the moment when the magic word, riff, note or chord is found and everything is transformed. At any time a listener might think he or she has felt it, even glimpsed it, a realm beyond ordinary expression, reaching out as if to close your hand around such a moment, to grab for its air, then opening your fist to find a butterfly in it-"

When Greil Marcus finds his rhythm he is the equal of any subject he tackles. He is more focused, yet as insightful and as passionate as Lester Bangs. This book really isn't about Van Morrison as much as it is about Van Morrison's music at those times when he finds the yarragh.

It is really good writing about an elusive quality in an even more elusive singer.

I am making a play list based on the songs written about in this book. I believe I will be able to levitate.

I will seek out this book, and I agree with your commentary about Greil Marcus. He's almost always good. Occasionally he's transcendently great.

Which is pretty much how I feel about Van Morrison, too. For all intents and purposes, he's been invisible to most music fans since 1975 or so, ever since he stopped trying to make hit records, or the whims of popular taste contributed to his popular decline, take your pick. But Van Morrison is an automatic purchase for me because, like Dylan, he can turn out all manner of perfunctory, insipid music, and then, out of nowhere, drop an absolute masterpiece. Marcus' book title is a case in point. It's taken from a Morrison song that appeared on an early '90s Van album called The Healing Game. Virtually no one bought the album. It's a mediocre album, as Van's later efforts tend to be, and yet it contains one of his greatest, most hair-raising songs. "Rough God Goes Riding" is a true yarragh moment, one of those incandescent times when Van moves from professional R&B singer to someone who channels angels and demons. There are very few singers in any genre who can do this. I'm fairly certain Van can't conjure it at will, and I'm equally certain that the vast majority of singers can't even approach the celestial heights. But when he nails it, as he does on that song, he is the greatest, most soulful singer that rock 'n roll has ever produced. Too much of it and I start levitating, too. And then my wife calls me down and tells me it's time for dinner. You don't want to overdo it.

As a footnote, I think it's also worth noting that Van, like Dylan and Springsteen, is also capable of leaving masterpieces in the can, unreleased for decades. His 1998 compilation The Philosopher's Stone, a 2-CD set of previously unreleased outtakes and throwaways from the '70s, contains another yarragh moment, the gorgeous "Contemplation Rose." Whenever someone asks me what the big deal is about Van Morrison, I alternate between playing "Listen to the Lion" and "Contemplation Rose." Then I sit back and wait for the mouths to gape open.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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