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Can You Feel the Silence?: Van Morrison: A New Biography Paperback – October 1, 2004

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Can You Feel the Silence?: Van Morrison: A New Biography + Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison + Van Morrison: No Surrender
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556525427
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556525421
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #569,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

A good read for any real fan.
He seems to have written this book with an obvious bias against Van Morrison for whatever personal reason.
L. Fowler
The book gives great insight into the complexities of the creative.
Robert Maley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By M. McM on December 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There aren't many Van Morrison biographies out there, and most of them rely on musical analysis as attempts to flesh out Morrison's life are often hindered by Morrison himself. This book falls a bit short, but it's still the best biography on Morrison to date.

People who call it a hatchet job are overreacting. Heylin isn't out to get Morrison, but he can't avoid the negative stories (given here in an 'oral history' format). This is a subject who has alienated so many important figures in his professional and personal life, and if Heylin were to cut back on the unflattering anecdotes, you wouldn't understand why Morrison has lost so many great collaborators over the years and how some of his closest relationships have fallen apart (and in return, impacted his work). In fact, one of the most interesting things about this book is how it digs deep into Morrison's written and recorded output, looking at songs he hasn't even released, and ties them with Morrison's own experiences. A few reviewers criticized Heylin for dismissing Morrison's opinions, but to be fair, Heylin still includes Morrison's take on his own work, often unedited; taken from numerous interviews, these passages show an artist who is often unwilling to talk about his work and even contradicts himself in different interviews.

This brings me to the next point: there is actually PLENTY of musical analysis. There's definitely a lot less than other Morrison books, but again, those books relied on musical analysis and don't come close to collecting the amount of research Heylin has presented here. In fact, this book actually does a great job explaining how certain albums came together.

More importantly, this book debunks numerous myths surrounding Morrison.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Richard Magee on January 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
First of all, I agree with the kudos and complaints other reviewers have expressed about this book.
Most disturbing to me is Heylin's copping a mantra from "Summertime in England" as a title for his book (and the title really adds nothing to the work Heylin produces) and the subtitle "A New Biography," an obvious dig at Morrison's song "New Biography" in which he rails against others' invasions of his privacy. Heylin quotes Morrison singing "I can't even remember last week" and uses that to "prove" Morrison's take on any issue is worthless. The point of the line in the song is, how can people claim to recall who did/said what from decades ago in such detail when most people have trouble recalling the more recent past? Here, Heylin is either obtuse or disingenuous.
Most of what Heylin has to "expose" about Van Morrison could (and has) been said about Bob Dylan and Neil Young- the eccentric behavior, musical unpredictability, botched/abandoned musical projects, and lack of social skills. Given the creative output of these three, perhaps that's the only way to consistently tap into the muses that lead them on (that and the fact that if you want to succeed on a grand scale, you have to be willing to work without a net and allow yourself to fail on an equally grand scale). As Leonard Nimoy said during a stage show about Vincent van Gogh, "If a poet touches your heart with a line or a poem, isn't that enough? What do we expect of our artists? Must he also meet your social needs?" (paraphrased, but pretty close to the point). Considering van Gogh and Elvis Presley, Van doesn't seem nearly as dysfuntional as Heylin would have us believe.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Harding VINE VOICE on March 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
First of all, one has to be really interested in the life and the music of Van Morrison to want to read a tome of this heft. Morrison himself may wonder why anyone wants to know anything about him beyond what they hear on CD or on stage. Well, maybe its because his biggest fans want to know just what the source of all his talent is. After all, Morrison is far from a one hit wonder and a one trick pony. His ability to make quality music in so many different genres is a source of wonder to us all!

After I read the book, I read the reviews. Reading the reviews reminded me of how differently any given sentence or phrase can be interpreted, depending on the reader's angle. Some fans will brook no criticism of their idol, others are willing to read between the lines and to accept that because their idol is human, he is as likely to have flaws like the rest of us do. The fair-minded reader should remember that this is a biography, not a hagiography. It's certainly not a whitewash, but its not a hatchet job, either.

There is a wealth of information in Can You Feel The Silence, both about Morrison himself, and about his music. It covers the good times and the bad times and the development of his unique musical talent from his youth to the present century. Clearly, Van Morrison follows his own muse, but its up to the reader to digest the information and come to his/her own conclusions. The book doesn't purport to be the last word, but author Heylin tries to be as thorough as possible. I personally don't agree with Heylin's assessment of some of Morrison's work, particularly some of his later albums, but that just reflects our differences in musical taste.

So Van Morrison is said to be difficult. Heylin isn't the first to say it and he won't be the last.
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