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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

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  324 ratings  ·  66 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, 195 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2010)
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Mar 27, 2011 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
Dec 14, 2010 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 25, 2011 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 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
Jon Cone
Jan 28, 2011 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
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
Michael Jennings
Aug 19, 2012 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 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Marcus doesn't engage as much as he did with his book on the Basement Tapes, although the keen listening is there, his comments seem a little scattergun,and the book lacks coherence. ...more
Jun 11, 2016 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
Feb 01, 2015 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
Dec 16, 2016 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 th
Aug 10, 2012 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 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. ...more
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Greil Marcus' ode to the Belfast Cowboy takes a shillelagh to Morrison's albums. ...more
Craig Pittman
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Van Morrison is one of the most brilliant and infuriating singer-songwriters in history. Greil Marcus is one of the most brilliant and infuriating music critics in history (see "Mystery Train," among other books). To have one commenting on the other produces a book that is both brilliant and infuriating, sometimes both at once.

Do not look to Marcus for titillating gossip or biographical dirt on Van the Man. As Van would say, he ain't give you none (except for a couple of brief, hilarious anecdot
Darren White
Apr 25, 2011 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
Trevor Seigler
I have to give it to Greil Marcus: he has a way of writing sentences about pop culture that I would love to claim that I understand, especially when I don't. One of the most astute critics of rock music that there ever has been, Marcus has a way with telling us not just the story of an artist or a song, but why such things link back to older traditions that we may have never heard of if he hadn't brought them to our attention. I'm thinking of "The Old, Weird America," "The History of Rock and Ro ...more
Feb 15, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I hoped this would give an insight into Van Morrison’s music but I was disappointed.

Greil Marcus has a fixed view of who Van is and anything that doesn’t match that view is summarily dismissed. For Marcus, Van is a romantic Celtic troubadour with something he calls the “Yarragh”. He expects Van to have the answers. So, Marcus dismisses the run of 16 albums Van recorded between 1980 and 1996: “The romantic would be replaced by the seeker”. It isn’t just that I disagree with Marcus, which I do, b
Ben Fike
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Greil Marcus writes about a song like it's a thing. Of course you listen to it, but you also seem to enter into it; you roll it around your fingers and consider its angles; you prick your finger on one of its sharper edges and discover whose life flashes before your eyes as the blood rises. In this book, he takes on the career of Van Morrison by examining slices of recorded music throughout his considerable career. I don't always know what he's talking about. However, I mostly enjoyed the journe ...more
Michelle Scott
Oct 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Some interesting thoughts, but not the book that Van Morrison's music deserves. A random, disorganized collection of essays. The author dismisses two decades' worth of Morrison's music, including some out-and-out classics (Common One, Beautiful Vision, No Guru). ...more
Didn't finish this one. More interested in chapter/excerpts on "Astral Weeks". ...more
Jeff Smith
Sep 23, 2018 rated it liked it
interesting, has written and collaborated on some wonderful songs.. is a grumpy shit tho
A profound take on an enigmatic singer.
Jim Collins
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I finally finished When That Rough God Goes Riding. I know that Marcus is regarded as an important music critic, but I disagreed with his tastes. He wanted Van Morrison to abandon his pop-py side and concentrate on blowing us away with the blues. I like a lot of what VM does in both styles. In fact, my ringtone is the opening riff to Brown-Eyed Girl.
Ken Mitten
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was ok
I might love- or even like- Van Morrison more than Griel Marcus does. There is a decided lack of passion, understanding and/or appreciation of Van and his incredible work. No real root or exploration here.
Vague and without teeth or taste. This could have been written about anyone by anyone. It does not feel discernibly about Van Morrison at all

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
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, gone
There's some good here but mostly I was disappointed - annoyingly pretentious and willfully obscure wasn't what I was looking for.

The good is that he's obviously a long term fan and the better parts capture some of what is best about Van's music and occasionally draw out some insights based on what he has said, or alluded to or even avoided saying in various interviews over the years.

Unfortunately the good is mostly overwhelmed by obscure and pretentious rambling and attempts at explanation tha
Blog on Books
May 25, 2010 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
Jul 11, 2012 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
Nick H
Jun 20, 2014 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
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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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