Pete daPixie's Reviews > Van Morrison: No Surrender

Van Morrison by Johnny Rogan
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Aug 01, 2011

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bookshelves: poptastic, biogs
Read from July 26 to 29, 2011

I have pondered a while between two and three stars for this biography. In the end I have leant to my generous side and given it three. Johnny Rogan's 'Van Morrison No Surrender', published in 2005 is some five hundred pages with a further hundred of notes. Rogan is no stranger to this genre having written or contributed to more than twenty biographies from The Byrds, The Kinks to Neil Young.
The crux of this work is summed up on the first page of chapter one..."Any commentator attempting to understand the complex psychology of Morrison is inexorably drawn back to Belfast. Morrison's sense of place, his spiritual unrest, his granite obduracy, his Presbyterian-like pragmatism and that peculiarly insular 'No Surrender' Ulster mentality that dominates his every public utterance and action all testify to the profound influence that Belfast has had in shaping his psyche and determining his world view."
In order to put flesh on the bones of his 'No Surrender' Morrison psyche, Rogan has inflicted his readers with both barrels of the sectarian histories of Northern Ireland, back to Gladstone's nineteenth century Liberals, Easter 1916, de Valera to Paisley and Adams, U.V.F. and I.R.A.
Perhaps Rogan's psychoanalysis could have been pursued closer to home as..."Young Morrison was a preternaturally quiet boy whose lack of siblings meant that he had no immediate role models on whom to practice his social skills. Introspection was an easier option." Or..."As an only child, Morrison's isolation, (where have I heard that before?) was heightened when his father left the family to find work in America." The author also provides many examples of female intuition from Morrison's teen years to put him on the right track, "Offstage he had very little going for him, and that's the sad thing. I felt he was fairly morose and depressed of nature." Also, "I thought he was always so wretched back then. We used to find this funny because at 17 you have no insight into psychology or any understanding of the sadness of life. I just thought he was pathetic and a really sad man." Again, "Van was a mess, a lot of the time he was drinking far too much and was clearly very unhappy." Or, "He always reminded me of a soul in torment. Not a happy chappie."
And more, "He didn't want to know anybody. He shunned everyone, was very rude to me and nobody really bothered with him." Also, "He emerged in the Sixties when everyone was beautiful and he wasn't. He had nothing that made him beautiful. He didn't even have a beautiful personality. When Them came back home Van was still the wee,fat,ugly man. He had this great chip on his shoulder about his looks." And there's more..."He's a very troubled person and always was." Again, "He was really grumpy. He was one of the grumpiest people I'd ever known. Everybody loathed him. He was the most disliked person I can ever remember. I can remember everyone saying 'what a wee naff he is. Who does he think he is? Not only did he have hang-ups but it was made worse by the fact that he was so disliked by people and he had no way of communicating at all."
These opinions are repeated throughout by business managers and agents, press reporters, ex-wives and girlfriends, ex-friends, fellow musicians ad nauseum.
Sure, there's a very detailed and well written biography of Van the Man here, however I question the title 'No Surrender', perhaps more accurate a description is 'No Personality'.
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07/27/2011 page 184
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Sue (new)

Sue Once again, you've read so I don't need to. I like Van's music (though not all of it) but sounds like I wouldn't have liked him. I know he lived in Boston in the late 60s or 70s.


Pete daPixie I only have Astral Weeks.
Don't let my reviews put you off reading!


message 3: by Sue (new)

Sue No don't worry about that. I don't read too many pop biographies anyway so I actually enjoy reading your reviews. I'm more of a fiction reader until something non-fiction really grabs me.


message 4: by Monica (new)

Monica Astral Weeks is a masterpiece. I don't really want to know about Van or his politics. I never liked anything anywhere near as well as Astral Weeks. Frankly, if he's' pragmatic' (racist?) and pro-Protestant, I'm glad I never bought another album past Moondance.Plus he's filthy rich and owed Robin Williamson royalties for years and years. You can never say you don't know where I'm coming from!


message 5: by Sue (new)

Sue Monica I like knowing where you're coming from. And now I know more about Morrison, well, I think less of him. That does happen a lot in this world.


Pete daPixie Well Mon,this is the thing with Rogan's biog. The protestant 'No Surrender' title is supposed to explain George Ivan Morrison's character. The book doesn't paint him as a political animal and the sectarian heavy stuff wasn't going on in the 60's when V.M. was a teen. Among his many properties worldwide he has lived in Ireland/Dublin and is certainly not sectarian when it comes to his professional and personal relationships etc. The author is attempting to explain Morrison's character as a reflection of the protestant upbringing in Belfast. I think he's just naturally belligerent,detached,ignoble,ignorant,insecure, insouciant but unfortunately not insolvent!


message 7: by Sue (new)

Sue Doesn't sound like the type who gives a lot to charity.


Pete daPixie Doesn't sound like the type who gives a lot.
Full stop.


message 9: by Sue (new)

Sue :) :(


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