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When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison Hardcover – April 6, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648821X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586488215
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,038,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Booklist
“No critical testimonial is more welcome than this assessment of Morrison’s work by one of America’s most astute cultural critics…. Marcus is informed and insightful. Particularly illuminating are his observations on the tensions between Morrison’s roles as singer and songwriter, and on Morrison’s ongoing ‘quest for the yarragh’—fleeting, elusive moments of transcendence. Morrison’s volatile idiosyncrasy and diverse oeuvre make his career difficult to appraise, but Marcus convinces us of its singular importance.”

Time Out New York
“Marcus’s approach yields fresh insight into one of pop’s most complex personas.” 

San Francisco Chronicle
“Beautifully written.”

Portland Oregonian
“[Marcus is] literate, brainy and fearless in making cross-genre comparisons.”

Portland Mercury
“One of the most interesting rock scribes of the past quarter-century.”

Washington City Paper
“Written in prose as free-associative as the music it concerns, When That Rough God Goes Riding derives energy from the fact that Marcus was present at many of the landmark moments he’s exegizing.”

popmatters.com
When That Rough God Goes Riding explores moments of contradiction, sublime beauty, audacity, failure and grace in the singer-songwriter’s career with a keen ear, weaving the rich thoughtfulness we’ve come to expect from one of America’s best cultural critics and historians into an elegantly structured series of staccato essays which reveal Marcus’ fascination with Van Morrison’s music.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune
“As erudite and opinionated as Morrison is mercurial and expressive”

Cleveland Plain Dealer
“This is the book that Van Morrison’s artistry has long deserved, and The Man’s devotees will celebrate its blend of eloquence, passionate scholarship and soulfulness. [(When That Rough God Goes Riding] superbly fulfills criticism’s primary function: It sends you for the first or 100th time to the works of art on which it muses, better equipped to experience what’s always been there.” 

San Francisco Chronicle
“[Marcus’] ability to couple shrewd music criticism, historical perspective and broader genre analysis makes his work an adventurous read…. Marcus doesn't attempt to tidily summarize Morrison's life and career, but he does provide plenty of thought-provoking insights into this enigmatic performer, and his slipstream of references results in a fascinating meditation on Morrison's oeuvre. You wind up wanting to pull out and listen to your Morrison albums and hunt down the many bootleg recordings that Marcus references here, searching for that elusive yarragh.” 

LA Weekly
“Marcus is a smart respite from the raging stupidity and anti-intellectualism on every front, and yet knows how to have rock’n’roll fun at the same time.”

Portland Oregonian, April 18, 2010
“[Marcus is] literate, brainy and fearless in making cross-genre comparisons.”

Portland Mercury, April 21, 2010
“One of the most interesting rock scribes of the past quarter-century.”

Washington City Paper, April 23, 2010
“Written in prose as free-associative as the music it concerns, When That Rough God Goes Riding derives energy from the fact that Marcus was present at many of the landmark moments he’s exegizing.”

Popmatters.com, April 23, 2010
When That Rough God Goes Riding explores moments of contradiction, sublime beauty, audacity, failure and grace in the singer-songwriter’s career with a keen ear, weaving the rich thoughtfulness we’ve come to expect from one of America’s best cultural critics and historians into an elegantly structured series of staccato essays which reveal Marcus’ fascination with Van Morrison’s music.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 25, 2010
“As erudite and opinionated as Morrison is mercurial and expressive”

Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 2, 2010
“This is the book that Van Morrison’s artistry has long deserved, and The Man’s devotees will celebrate its blend of eloquence, passionate scholarship and soulfulness. [When That Rough God Goes Riding] superbly fulfills criticism’s primary function: It sends you for the first or 100th time to the works of art on which it muses, better equipped to experience what’s always been there.”

San Francisco Chronicle, May 2, 2010
“[Marcus’] ability to couple shrewd music criticism, historical perspective and broader genre analysis makes his work an adventurous read…. Marcus doesn’t attempt to tidily summarize Morrison’s life and career, but he does provide plenty of thought-provoking insights into this enigmatic performer, and his slipstream of references results in a fascinating meditation on Morrison’s oeuvre. You wind up wanting to pull out and listen to your Morrison albums and hunt down the many bootleg recordings that Marcus references here, searching for that elusive yarragh.”

LA Weekly, May 3, 2010
“Marcus is a smart respite from the raging stupidity and anti-intellectualism on every front, and yet knows how to have rock’n’roll fun at the same time.”
 
New York Times Book Review, August 1, 2010
"Writing about the songs of Van Morrison is rightly seen as something of a paradox. Perhaps that's because, for all his scholarly use of multiple musical styles and his reference to Yeats and Joyce, the Belfast Cowboy's work is more sensual than it is intellectual. Which makes the renowned rock critic Greil Marcus, who's written definitively on Elvis and Bob Dylan, the right man to plumb that work. Combining an incantatory prose style with careful reporting and inventive, sometimes infuriating judgements, Marcus manages to illuminate Morrison's cerebral soul music—even if, as the singer once claimed, 'the process is beyond words.'"

About the Author

Greil Marcus is the author of The Shape of Things to Come, Like a Rolling Stone, and The Old Weird America; a 20th anniversary edition of his book Lipstick Traces was published in 2009. With Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America, published last year by Harvard University Press. Since 2000 he has taught at Princeton, Berkeley, Minnesota, and the New School in New York; his column “Real Life Rock Top 10” appears regularly in The Believer. He lives in Berkeley.

Customer Reviews

Yes, and not enough, too.
M. Bromberg
Most of the work is Marcus explaining what he Marcus 'feels', and little about what he, Morrison actually does.
Richard Thurston
In comparison, Marcus's book is too much of nothing.
NewHouse

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Jerome Langguth on April 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a strange, but ultimately very rewarding, extended meditation on listening to Van Morrison. My take on the book is that Marcus is not at all interested in writing a standard critical overview of Morrison's career, and it is mercifully not the "New Biography" treatment Van so rightly fears and detests. This book ignores chronology and completely upends the standard critical take on the Van Morrison discography (Marcus dismisses as completely worthless a full fifteen of the albums he considers). Instead, it is a book about a rarely glimpsed, alternate, and far more complex and forbidding, Van Morrison that may well be a creature of Marcus's own imagining. This Van Morrison is on a quest for moments of musical transcendence of a very specific sort; a kind of transcendence that is least likely to occur when Morrison is actually singing about transcendence in a more obvious way (hence the worthlessness of most of the 80s and 90s albums). For Marcus, the albums Astral Weeks, St. Dominic's Preview, The Healing Game, Into the Music, and Veedon Fleece, along with some scattered gems from Morrison's band Them, are most successful at delivering what the Van Morrison he hears (or would like to hear) can accomplish at his best. Though the judgments Marcus makes often seem highly idiosyncratic, it is nevertheless abundantly clear that he is writing from a lifetime of deep engagement with Morrison's music. That is what, on my view, makes this book well worth reading. The overall result of reading the book for me was to return to the music. And I have to admit that Marcus is definitely on to something in his refusal to follow the usual critical narrative on Morrison. The albums and songs highlighted here do seem to have a depth and resonance alongside which Morrison's more pedestrian output seems to pale in comparison.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By o dubhthaigh VINE VOICE on April 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Cranky is as cranky does, and that, more than anything, is as close as you'll ever get to assessing the directions of Van Morrison. On a good day, Van grouses in his music about something, on a bad day about everything. And that's OK, because amid all the malcontented ramblings, there's an artist who can sweep you away and fill you with a sense of, well, you know.
Marcus writes impressionistically about his love for and frustration with Morrison. And as some other reviews have noted, he'd have been well served with an editor who knew the music as well. So it goes. I would agree that there are very definite lines of sheer genious and rapturous inspiration and that the seeds of that are in Madame George. I would also agree that Van hits some dry patches where his Muse has turned off the lights, notably Common One, Period of Transition, and everything post One Night in San Francisco. But I would suggest that when Van wrapped a period of his career up with that SF concert, he did so because he had brought the journey from Belfast to SF to its artistic conclusion. Essaying the roots, soul and Irish influences of his career, the concert marked the end of a very significant trajectory. Embracing the Chieftains, John Lee Hooker and Georgie Fame, he finished what he began with Madame George.
While everything since seems like a rumble 'round the attic of his memories and influences, in a sort of artistic retirement, pottering about in the shed, he can rightly turn on any of us and ask
"Didn't I bring you a sense of wonder?"
Yes, you did, Van. Rave on.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By NewHouse on December 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
What an insult to Van Morrison. Sparing, ooh, several hours one afternoon to dash off this first-thought dross, Greil Marcus dismisses decades of interesting work in a line or two. Incredible arrogance and, frankly, stupidity. I got this the same time as the Peter Mills book, Hymns To The Silence: Inside The Words and Music of Van Morrison which is 100 times the book that this is, full of insight and detailed analysis. In comparison, Marcus's book is too much of nothing. Ignore.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MT57 on August 5, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a huge fan of Van. I think he is the only person I have ever heard who truly could sing the names in a phonebook and make it worth listening.

The author is a huge fan as well.

Unfortunately, there isn't much in the book of any value to anyone beyond the author. The other reviews - from 1 to 5 stars - are all accurate. It's a question of taste how much you want to read his free-associating impressions about listening to about twenty of Van's songs -- when the author does not evidence much knowledge of music itself (I don't recall a single note, chord or other muscial concept being identified in here). If that is your cup of tea, buy the book. But that's all there is.

Btw, if you like anything from 1980's Common One through 1995's Days Like This (the latter of which I quite like), you're ignorant, from his perspective. They're not even worth discussing. Shovelware.

I was glad I bought this used.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Richard Thurston on August 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There is a great book about Van Morrison out there somewhere. This isn't it.

This is a book about Greil Marcus and documents another facet of his endless fascination with himself and a few of the relics (Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs, Jon Landau) from the pages of Creem and Rolling Stone a golden age from which we continue to fall.

I enjoy Marcus. He can turn a phrase and his descriptive powers can be hugely entertaining if more than a little self-absorbed.

That said this is a slight, lazy book. Marcus' discussion of Morrison's studio output (along with a few dates when Marcus caught him live in the Bay Area back in the 1970's) form the main topic here. The recordings from 1980 - 1996 are dismissed in a couple of paragraphs. Most of the work is Marcus explaining what he Marcus 'feels', and little about what he, Morrison actually does. But then that is a common complaint I have about rock 'jounalism' as practiced by this crowd. Fans first. Musicians not at all.

An observation.

Van Morrison is unique among major 'rock stars' in that he is a consummate musician. He plays any number of instruments, is well versed in musics from Leadbelly to Ornette Coleman to Bob Wills and composes, arranges and possesses one of the great voices of any age. Period. That said focusing on studio recordings doesn't give the casual reader into what Morrison is really capable of.

For that one should actually see a show then turn to the live recordings and indeed, one should have a look at the vast number of bootlegs out there which capture Morrison in concert in various bands at various times from the early 1970's up until June 2010.
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