From Publishers Weekly
Heylin's weighty new biography of enigmatic music man Van Morrison is an ambitious and prodigiously researched work. It is most gripping in the early chapters describing Morrison's rise from his working-class roots in East Belfast, Northern Ireland, to the top of the U.K. music charts with the hard-rocking R&B outfit Them, best known for their three-chord romp "Gloria." Heylin (Behind the Shades) paints a captivating portrait of the ambitious and driven young blues and soul enthusiast who would go on to play a historical role in the early 1960s British Invasion, alongside the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who. But before Them could enjoy the success of its British musical peers, the rough-throated singer moved on, both musically and personally. Here the book gets bogged down, as Heylin chronicles Morrison's misbegotten business deals that leave him near destitute and endlessly bitter. Morrison flies through a succession of managers as fast as he shifts musical styles on such landmark albums as Astral Weeks and Moondance. To the reader, Morrison's reputation as a curmudgeon (seemingly well-earned from the anecdotal evidence presented here) doesn't compare to the transcendent experience of listening to his music.
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Van Morrison first hit the charts in 1965 with the Irish rock band Them, but his 1968 solo album Astral Weeks
, still one of rock's few universally acknowledged masterpieces, made him a critics' darling, and Moondance
(1970) made him an FM-radio staple. Since then, he has been a prolific recording artist and a sometimes-incendiary live performer. Fusing R & B, jazz, blues, and Celtic folk, Morrison's music has grown increasingly to reflect the songwriter's spiritual quest. Legendarily cantankerous, Morrison is notoriously uncooperative with biographers and, for that matter, with most other humans, for which Heylin has compensated by talking with Morrison's many musical collaborators and perusing the three decades of previously published Morrison interviews. Fans whose interest flagged sometime during his lengthy career may find the last third of the book--largely a repetitive traversal of less-inspired, relatively nondescript later albums--rough going, but that's Morrison's fault, not his biographer's. Any popular musician who boasts highs as high as Morrison's best--not to mention his longevity--deserves a thoroughgoing biography like Heylin's. Gordon FlaggCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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