After name-checking several other Van Morrison biographers (particularly sneering at Rogan's "no poet" stance), Brian Hinton begins to build his own bAfter name-checking several other Van Morrison biographers (particularly sneering at Rogan's "no poet" stance), Brian Hinton begins to build his own biography of the man. His is mostly an awkward and loosely edited info dump too, but (instead of the stark politics/art that Rogan tries) he goes for a dizzying array of other folk-rock allusions -- Kinks, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Cat Stevens, Animals, etc., etc. -- to color the story. Every hint of Morrison's career development, taste in music, location, influence, etc. sees dozens of other hints (sometimes eerily similar or opposite, and thereby quite remarkable, but sometimes not) in other artists' lives.
It's certainly a way to expand and elaborate on the otherwise drab showbiz bio that Morrison's life could easily be. Not the worst way all in all, but not the best either. A 50+ year reign as Irish rock legend -- mixing together blues, jazz, R&B, poetry -- probably, in general, deserves an expansive and elaborate treatment, but exactly like this? I don't know.
Of particular note is a hinge Hinton sees in the early '70s -- after Astral Weeks and Moondance, around the time of Hard Nose the Highway -- of rock in general decaying, become quieter, flimsier. Folk was strengthening, and pop music was turning to James Taylor and Jackson Browne. It's an idea I haven't heard much before, but coheres and clarifies what's always seemed a tricky change: '65 punk + '67 pop + '68 catharsis + '70 soul (all, in a sense, _hard_) retreating into much, much softer, easier tunes. That's how the music business was moving. Maybe that's part of it.
Song by song, through all the albums, he mostly goes. It's sometimes a bland/samey "guitar comes in, keyboards come up, sax comes down" report. But the perspective is sometimes very interesting. What's particularly admirable is that a lot of live performances get the same song-by-song review; what could have been lost to history is given a record. Still, most of the book seems rather choppy. There are starkly bland allusions like "Like Lazarus" (202) and scattered thoughts smushed together with commas. Hinton does have some fresh and evocative comments throughout, but they're adrift in a meandering sea.
Some small moments did catch my eye later on...
*Hinton notes a 1975 Chris Austin quote (from an NME career retrospective of Van Morrison) about the "unpleasant tendency to backbite at his fellow journalists." I don't know exactly who the antecedent of "his" could be there -- Hinton, Austin, or Morrison himself -- but it's a funny little aside.
*He furthermore gives high marks to "I Forgot That Love Existed" off '87's Poetic Champions Compose: it's "about uniting thought and emotion, a heart that can think and a brain that can feel."
*And similarly, he's lucid (more than I'd be capable of, that's for sure! Hehe) about '89's Avalon Sunset's startling Christianity, as well as about Morrison commenting that we should all "fail better." Some really great analysis there.
Unlike Rogan, Hinton gives equal weight to all the albums (sometimes to a fault, as the 'Blowin Your Mind/revenge songs/Astral Weeks' debacle could definitely use some more pages, but that's a small quibble). Also unlike Rogan (but more majorly unfortunate this time), Hinton doesn't seem curious enough about the reactions to Morrison from fans, coworkers, etc. Everything's just seeming to be fated. I appreciate the resistance to gossip, but are all reactions necessarily gossip?...more
I like the Sunday Times's ho-hum pseudo-plaudit on the cover of Johnny Rogan's book on Van Morrison: "No biography is likely to tell you more about MoI like the Sunday Times's ho-hum pseudo-plaudit on the cover of Johnny Rogan's book on Van Morrison: "No biography is likely to tell you more about Morrison." Okay then, interesting endorsement; can it be "more," but in a mediocre way? Apparently yes, as Rogan delivers a great flood of facts without much perspective. I don't know if this is the way of celebrity biographies in general, but it seems almost everything except for the prologue and the epilogue is disposable gossip.
Van Morrison is a five-decades-deep Irish rock poet -- 33 albums, 71 singles, 45 years -- as well as a frustrating, uncompromising, weird asshole. Rogan's thesis is that the politics of Northern Ireland (most notably Ulster belligerents' "No Surrender") can illuminate and clarify that long career. Begun in the privileged but tense environment of Belfast, Morrison's whole life might be shaped by unionist/Protestant loyalty.
A wonderfully thoughtful premise, but delivered (in the bulk of Rogan's work) mostly in stark and empty juxtaposition, rarely in anything like comparison or connection. Whether Morrison is just a cranky Irishman, just a silly New Age hack, or just a simple curmudgeon, the story he lived is, here, rarely anything but a dumb parallel to the Troubles.
One of the principal characters in the book (unseen to Morrison) is Ian Paisley, an omnipresent religious radio man turned superstar political critic (like Charles Coughlin in '30s America) who filled Belfast with a lot of anti-Pope screeds during Morrison's life. Just a coincidence, or the religious/political complement to Morrison's artistic work? It might be clearer from Rogan's work, honestly, if there were less blunt quotation and more incisive analysis. The Paisley descriptions are a good example of page-by-page "stand politics next to art, and see if anything ever comes together" ineffectiveness.
And, aside from political/religious ideas, the predictable material (went to this school, was this kind of person, worked with these people) is not that great. A lot of it, yes, and put together in a decent way, but not much great. Rogan builds the biography from seemingly exhaustive research to bland and predictable results.
The prose is usually awkward, careless, not well edited, and the perspective usually cloudy-eyed and asinine. Just tied-together quotes a lot of the time, and sudden jumps into editorializing, whether single-word ('50s BBC was "staid," '60s West Germany was "permissive") or multi-paragraph (an uncomfortable riff on one Morrison tryst after his mid-'90s split from trophy wife Michelle Rocca).
The end, and to a certain extent the beginning, depart from enough of these weaknesses to make Rogan's book worthwhile. In the epilogue, he can relax from completely reporting Morrison's life and return to pondering it, including Morrison's shift on the definition of "rock" and a quicker, more effective layout of his entire career: the slog of Them, the false breakthrough of "Brown Eyed Girl," the quieter but truer genesis of Astral Weeks, the sylvan '70s, the scandals and disgrace of the '80s and '90s, and beyond....more
Gary Presley's memoir has plenty of smart and penetrating things to say about disability, and plenty of stupid and ostentatious things to say as well.Gary Presley's memoir has plenty of smart and penetrating things to say about disability, and plenty of stupid and ostentatious things to say as well. Formally, Seven Wheelchairs is just okay. It has its share of MFA-style literary spectacles, among them choppy, arty abstractions served up in the same treacly, tired way. But there's still a genuinely keen and poetic wit in Preley's voice. I only wish he'd spent a little longer honing that voice, and not given it to every single opportunity to light another literary firework.
The writing is better when Presley talks about himself than when he describes the outside world: he's smarter when he's describing his inner turmoil (however pretentious or ludicrous it can sometimes appear) -- the angst that follows physical disability, the ebb and tide of self-pity and hatred, all the putrid and muddled whimsies that fill his head -- than when he waxes rhapsodic about his oxygen tanks or spiffy wheelchairs or external bullshit like that. For some reason, the prose always descends into this feeling of yawn-worthy, Sunday-newspaper, Marley-&-Me editorializing whenever he gets into one of these magnanimous let-me-talk-about-the-outside-world-now moods. And that's especially true when the ending is a trite, preposterous cheer for Catholicism....more
Everett's memoir is a series of beautiful events -- both quotidian and life-changing, both tragic and funny -- laid out against the backdrop of his inEverett's memoir is a series of beautiful events -- both quotidian and life-changing, both tragic and funny -- laid out against the backdrop of his interesting musical career. His prose style is rough and threadbare, as he readily admits in the opening pages. And in an honest, straight-forward story like this, that style rarely gets in the way. But some scenes in the book demand a lot more delicacy, either because they are too sad or too personal. Other than that, this is a great accomplishment for a non-writer, and a worthwhile read for anyone....more
Foreskin's Lament, despite some major flaws, is by its end a competent and revelatory memoir. Auslander constructs a book that is part atheistic screeForeskin's Lament, despite some major flaws, is by its end a competent and revelatory memoir. Auslander constructs a book that is part atheistic screed, part Bildungsroman, in several parallel stories (childhood, adolescence, and his present life). Raised in strict Orthodox Judaism, by a family that is by turns oppressive and sanitized and quaint, he began an intense and lifelong rebellion. It isn't just God and the synagogue that he targets, but also a hysterical mother, a pseudo-abusive father, and siblings and friends and acquaintances that can only disappoint. All the complaining can seem shrill early in the book, especially when there's very little insight or nuance to accompany it, and at its worst it can only seem vicious and ugly. But when the flash-forwards to the present begin to crystallize into one coherent life, you can see that Auslander's fiery angers are tempered by genuine shame and occasionally some genuine humor. ...more
While I'm sure the fascinating subject matter helps, the quality of writing in this book sets it apart from most of the other nonfiction I've read. ItWhile I'm sure the fascinating subject matter helps, the quality of writing in this book sets it apart from most of the other nonfiction I've read. It has the rich and complex descriptions of a novel; Gayford seems to give the text the kind of love and attention he might give something from his own imagination. Still, the writing is slim and nonintrusive, and the historical knowledge is there....more