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When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison
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When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison

3.26  ·  Rating Details ·  250 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
“Van Morrison,” says Greil Marcus, “remains a singer who can be compared to no other in the history of modern popular music.” When Astral Weeks was released in 1968, it was largely ignored. When it was rereleased as a live album in 2009 it reached the top of the Billboard charts, a first for any Van Morrison recording. The wild swings in the music, mirroring the swings in ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2010)
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Mar 28, 2011 Eric rated it liked it
Like all Marcus collections, it contains examples of him at his insightful, thought-provoking best and at his blustery, bullshitting worst, at times in the same long, rambling sentence. For some reason, every subject he writes about has to somehow be made into an exemplar of the American democratic experiment or an artist testing the boundaries of freedom or expression. The smallest throwaway moment in a song can be the launching point for pages and pages of ruminations on God and/or the blues. ...more
Aug 21, 2013 Buell rated it liked it
Having read Marcus's book about Dylan's so-called "Basement Tapes," _The Old Weird America_, I was excited about his book about listening to Morrison.

Marcus addresses the central aspect of Morrison's records--the singer within the song, that voice that cries for transcendence from his first records with Them. But to identify this as the key to Morrison's genius proves to be a slim basis for this book. Morrison fans already know this quality of Morrison's voice. They already have favorite moments
Roderic Moore
Jul 27, 2011 Roderic Moore rated it did not like it
Terribly disappointing. This is not a portrait of Morrison by someone who appreciates his work and his great depth of soul. This is the pretentious abstract meanderings of an overly analytical listener who stretches the capacity to see and hear what isn't there, and verbalize it in a lot of meaningless symbolisis. To digress, in his overblown adulation of Morrison he unfarily criticizes great artists Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan in the process. I personally think Morrison himself would politely t ...more
May 29, 2010 Simon rated it really liked it
Greil Marcus's short book (less than 200 pages) on the music of Van Morrison is both a celebration and a reminder of the subjective pleasures of writing about music. Marcus claims to have listened to Morrison's 1968 album Astral Weeks more than any other in his collection and When That Rough God Goes Riding is in large part about how one experiences Morrison's singular masterpiece. But how to describe the warm interplay of Morrison's voice and Richard Davis's bass or the emotional arc of the epi ...more
Michael Jennings
Aug 19, 2012 Michael Jennings rated it it was amazing
Another terrific book from Greil Marcus, who remains that oxymoronic thing: the greatest writer on rock n' roll.

It won't be everyone's choice of Van Morrison songs and albums: Greil privileges the moments of self-revelation and the rawest music that makes them possible. The book, though, is a full of insight into one of the most important pop artists.
Jun 20, 2016 Keith rated it really liked it
I was moved by the outpouring of affection following Prince’s death. Although he was never someone I listened to (generational thing) I wondered if there was a living artist that could still produce that sort of reaction from me. Certainly I remember being shocked and mournful at the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and John Lennon, but that happened in a pre-social media world so the impact was much more singular. Looking at living artists I still listen to I fixed on Springsteen and Van Mo ...more
Jon Cone
Feb 01, 2011 Jon Cone rated it liked it
I first heard Van Morrison's ASTRAL WEEKS in 1971. It opened up my head, yet no one I knew around me seemed to know anything of it. TUPELO HONEY was much played on stereos back then, but ASTRAL WEEKS was a secret, I assumed, that only I knew of. Since that initial introduction, I've followed Morrison's work and found much to enjoy and wonder at, though nothing in his immense catalog came close to that initial encounter. And Greil Marcus has been a favorite writer of mine since my first reading o ...more
Feb 11, 2015 Kenneth rated it liked it
Van Morrison has always been an enigma for me. One of my formative memories as a serious music fan was watching him perform "Madame George" at the Fillmore on NET (it wasn't even PBS yet). And of course he was ubiquitous on the "underground" AOR radio stations of the Sixties and Seventies. But I never made the sort of emotional connection with him that I did with Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, or even Cat Stevens on the one hand, or Bowie, Bush, or Byrne on the other. I was put off by his stolid ...more
Aug 10, 2012 Scott rated it liked it
If you have played Astral Weeks in its entirety more than 50 times, then do yourself a favor and pick this book up. While Morrison’s career has been anything but consistent, this book captures the high notes in fantastic illustrations. Other moments (like say all the albums from 1980-1996) are glossed over in a mere 12 pages. Some of the songs covered may be somewhat inaccessible to anyone but the most avid fans, but there are usually plenty of quick stories to keep the reader interested. Pick i ...more
Ron Coulter
Apr 20, 2010 Ron Coulter rated it liked it
I love the way Greil Marcus finds volumes in a single moment of a song. In Mystery Train, he finds the exact moment in Elvis' Sun sessions where Elvis transforms from a truck driver to a rock singer. Similarly in this book, Marcus writes paragraphs on a single bass note in Cypress Avenue, or the way Morrison pronounces "Chiney" in Tupelo Honey. Not to be missed by Morrison fans.
Feb 19, 2016 Hapzydeco rated it it was ok
Greil Marcus' ode to the Belfast Cowboy takes a shillelagh to Morrison's albums.
Darren White
Apr 29, 2011 Darren White rated it it was ok
Listening to Van Morrison
Greil Marcus
208 pages. PublicAffairs. $22.95

In an interview published in 1977 by the Paris Review and conducted almost a decade earlier, Slaughterhouse Five author Kurt Vonnegut said, “I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.”

It’s a classic Vonnegut quote--funny, cranky, iconocla
Dec 16, 2016 Dave rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Good God, the purple prose and ENDLESS, meandering sentence length of just about every passage renders this gaudily written book almost unreadable. I am used to clear and concise writing, and this is about as far from it as I have seen in a long while.

Among other things Van Morrison is infamous for having vigorously opposed and openly denounced any and all previous attempts to have unauthorized biographies written about him, contributing to his mystique as a private, eccentric artist. But in thi
Wondering just how to qualify this collection--my rating isn't representative of this book as a whole. Since I only really know Van Morrison's work up through 1974, I pretty much skimmed or skipped entirely the essays on music with which I wasn't familiar. However, I have thoroughly immersed myself in Them's repertoire and Morrison's solo work through Veedon Fleece since the first few days of my 17th year, and I found Marcus' writing in these essays to be solid and rightfully swept up in the spi ...more
Blog on Books
May 25, 2010 Blog on Books rated it really liked it
There may be no more qualified writer in America to tackle the task of trying to help us understand the complete cryptic and spiritual musical enigma that is Van Morrison. After all, the Berkeley based Greil Marcus (“Mystery Train”) has been at the forefront of rock criticism since Rolling Stone was based in San Francisco, which is also where Morrison moved when after a tour of the area in 1970, he discovered his music was played on the local radio all throughout the day.

In ‘When That Rough God
I found this to be a rather uneven, at times impenetrable, book, but with enough going for it to salvage it from being two stars.

I stopped reading music newspapers like NME a couple of decades ago as I couldn't understand what the hell the journalists were talking about, even when they were writing about music I knew very well. It all seemed like they were trying to prove how clever they were and, maybe showing that I'm not so clever, I just didn't get it. This is the tone that carries across in
Nick H
Jun 25, 2014 Nick H rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It is appropriate that Lester Bangs is at least mentioned in the chapter dedicated to Astral Weeks, and aptly titled "I'm Going to My Grave With this Record." Why is it, then, that I can read Lester expound on the brilliance of this record and buy into every single word nodding my head as I go, and yet reading Marcus' description leaves me a bit cold? Both obviously love this brilliant record, which has firmly been in my top 5 upon first hearing it about 12 years ago.

My theory is this; Lester i
Jul 14, 2012 Spiros rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone looking to get lost in a semiotic fog
Shelves: bins
In my callow youth, I regarded Jim Morrison as a great songwriter and singer, and had no regard for Van Morrison. That balance shifted in my early 20's, to the point where I now regard Jim Morrison as an histrionic buffoon, strutting (staggering) around a stage with his dick out, and Van as a far greater poet, and musician, than Jim could ever have imagined being. I am not sure one can champion both Morrisons; to me, it's an even greater divide than the Beatles/Stones dichotomy.
Growing up in Fa
Jun 04, 2014 Jani rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Greil Marcus's work on the field of music journalism is legendary. There are few figures in said media who are as well known as he is and for a good reason: he has away to turn his feverish fandom into articulate analysis walking that difficult fine line with adeptness few achieve.

I throughly enjoyed Marcus's writing on Dylan and was hoping that he could lead me to a deeper understanding of the mysterious Mr. Morrison. Indeed, the book achieved that in many ways, but rather than bringing new re
Derek Winterburn
I find that my appreciation of Van Morrison is the polar opposite to Marcus's. He loftily dismisses the albums I love most (Common One onwards) and hails the plodding Healing Game as a return to form. Erudite he may be but I disagree.
Frank Jacobs
Oct 01, 2014 Frank Jacobs rated it liked it
This is a slender volume, but still good value for money: you have to read it twice to understand it once – for Greil Marcus is the world's foremost theorist of rock 'n roll, this time around dissecting Van the Man through the prism of his yarragh, a Celtic version of mojo, which Marcus claims Morrison lost from the late eighties to the early noughties; via a dozen songs and albums that matter, before and after that yarragh-less period, we're treated to a collection of rock essays, each more con ...more
Todd Williams
May 10, 2016 Todd Williams rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
While I found it pretty interesting, this book is ultimately a description of how one man feels when he listens to Van Morrison's music. The author is trying to describe the indescribable (a person's intimate connection with music) and I found this to be both engaging and (at times) pretentious.
I mostly wanted to read the 'Astral Weeks' chapter(s) as that is one of my favorite albums by any artist and Marcus certainly treated it with the reverence it deserves. The book made me curious to listen
RH Walters
May 25, 2010 RH Walters rated it liked it
Great topic and cover from a genius critic. I can't claim to be familiar enough with Van Morrison's oeuvre to validate or deny Marcus' opinions and descriptions, but the mere existence of the book inspired me to replace my Van Morrison cassettes with CDs and listen to them with great joy. Rock criticism is antithetical by nature but Marcus writes with great restrained style and insight. I particularly enjoyed his quotes of John Irving, discussion of movies with Van Morrison's music and mention o ...more
Sep 25, 2010 Tommy rated it liked it
Greil Marcus has a tendency to use someone else's music as a basis for his own verbal riffing, but what else are you going to do with an artist like Van Morrison? Sometimes Marcus makes nonsensical connections (why bring up John Carlos and Tommie Smith's political protest at the 1968 Olympics when you're discussing Astral Weeks? They happened in the same year, but still...), but he also has access to all kinds of obscure bootlegs, and his lengthier chapters (on "Madame George" and "Saint Dominic ...more
May 16, 2010 Martine rated it liked it
I am currently reading this book, which contains no real surprises. All that can be written about Van Morrison has most probably already been published. Mr. Marcus does not add anything new. What he says is basically correct. I would not write off all albums he mentions on page 85 though. His criticism on page 88 is accurate: "Everything was pitched to a middle range: desire and pleasure, never joy or rage. The band held strictly to arrangements, giving Morrison nothing to sing against. The peop ...more
Jun 26, 2015 Tom rated it liked it
Typical Greil Marcus: at times insightful, creative interpretation and criticism; at other points, over-written, bombastic, and cryptic. While he extols several LPs nearly to the point of adoration, particularly Astral Weeks, he also seems to dismiss the entire canon of the 80s and 90s. Seems a bit over-the-top, particularly because VM wrote some beautiful songs over those two decades. Still, even when I disagree with GM, he prods me to listen and think about and revisit whatever he writes about ...more
Jan 03, 2011 Luke rated it liked it
Never read much Greil Marcus before. This isn't what I though it would be; good in places, it's scattershot and sort of overwrought. But I liked learning about the theory that the Scottish are Irish and the Appalachians are the long lost neighbor of the Scottish highlands, and thus folk music is really one long connected tradition. This book did help me parse out what it is about VM's voice that gets you and what that means. I'm also thankful for a few paragraphs on why people who reduce art to ...more
Lawrence A
Jul 21, 2015 Lawrence A rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've always loved Marcus's writing and music criticism; he seems to get to the nub of a musician's life force, and his take on Van Morrison is no exception. Marcus discovers meaning in Morrison's stops, growls, caesuras, screams, and rumbles---sort of like the child prodigy in Jennifer Egan's novel, "Visit From The Goon Squad." My only real problem with the book is Marcus's flippant dismissal of Morrison's oeuvre from 1981-1996, as if he listened to each of those 15 records once, found nothing o ...more
I was disappointed. The book made me think of long nights in college, with a group of friends and lots of alcohol, etc., endlessly and pompously dissecting whatever music we were listening to at the time. Certainly fun to engage in and probably the pleasure increased depending on how wasted we were, but I can't imagine that it would have been all that interesting to someone else listening. There were enough bits that I enjoyed to move it up to a 2 - although, maybe that was just the nostalgia fa ...more
Oct 26, 2010 Corey rated it really liked it
Sometimes with Marcus the reader can get lost following his labyrinthine reasoning, and sometimes his metaphors are so thick and gnarled you can't tell if he's praising something or damning it. That being said, this is actually one of my favorite Marcus books. It's basically his musings on a life of listening to VM, certain albums, certain songs, certain performances. His insights into the work seem especially poignant. And I loved the chapter on "Take me Back," which includes discussion of Jenn ...more
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Greil Marcus is the author of Mystery Train (1975), Lipstick Traces (1989), The Shape of Things to Come (2006), When that Rough God Goes Riding and Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus (both 2010), and other books. With Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America (2009). In recent years he has taught at Berkeley, Princeton, Minnesota, NYU, and the New School in New York. He lives in ...more
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