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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Van Morrison and Neil Young


Veteran music critic Greil Marcus has a new book out on Van Morrison titled "When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison".

In the book there are a couple of refernces to Neil Young. From an interview with author Marcus where he discusses Van Morrison on Blogcritics Music by Donald Gibson:
QUESTION: Given how you describe Morrison in the book, do you see any comparable artist? The one that comes to mind is Neil Young.

MARCUS: Neil Young is probably the best analogy. I think that's really on the mark. Not that they're identical or maybe even that similar, but... There's a moment on "Over and Over" on Ragged Glory where something absolutely extraordinary happens in the middle of the instrumental break. The only way I've ever been able to describe it to myself is that the song turns over. I've only heard that one other time, in one other piece of music. So I don't think it's something anybody can aim for or really replicate.

And if you listen to the Dead Man soundtrack that Neil Young did, which is just him playing guitar, I think you can hear that same sense of trust in the music or in your own ability to find it, but also the willingness to just go out there, poking around in the bushes for days if that's what it takes to find what you're looking for. I love something Neil Young said in the '90s, and he was being interviewed on the radio about grunge. And he said something like, "Ya know, all those old guys who play guitar, they don't know what grunge is." And I'm thinking, All those old guys? [Laughs]

QUESTION: Like Eddie Vedder, he meant?

MARCUS: I don't know what he meant—Neil Young at that time was one of the old guys—but he was saying, "All these old guys, they don't know what this is. They don't understand it. When you play that kind of music, there's no feeling like it anywhere." And he's saying, "I play this music in order to feel myself emotionally respond to the sounds that I'm creating. I'm my own listener." What a wonderful thing.

Now whether Van Morrison is his own listener in the same way, probably not. But they're both people who can be enormously frustrating in terms of making tiresome music, making albums that you never want to listen all the way through let alone ever play again, but that you can't ever write off. You have no idea what they're going to come up with.

Thanks Scott!

Read sample pages on When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison.

More on other artists influencing Neil Young's music. For example:

  • Bob Dylan and Neil Young
  • John Lennon and Neil Young
  • Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young
  • Pearl Jam and Neil Young
  • Joni Mitchell and Neil Young
  • Paul McCartney and Neil Young
  • Keith Richards and Neil Young
  • Jimmy Page and Neil Young
  • Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young


    At 5/12/2010 01:38:00 PM, Anonymous setlistthief said...

    Man, I just love "Over and Over." Pure pop-rock ecstasy. You could dance all night long to that bouncy beat and melody. What a fun song it must be to play.

    I think I understand what Marcus means-just when you think the song couldn't get any "higher, it jumps to a whole new level.

    At 5/12/2010 04:15:00 PM, Anonymous Jonathan said...

    Agreed - 'Over and Over' is beyond fantastic. Isn't that the track where you can near Poncho and Billy shouting in the background somewhere near the final verse? I'm pretty sure it is.

    That and 'White Line' are two of my favorite Ragged Glory tracks, although the original 'White Line' from the unreleased Chrome Dreams is better in my opinion. Not sure what the original title was since white line is never sung in the original version.

    At 5/12/2010 04:16:00 PM, Anonymous Jonathan said...

    Of course I meant "hear" not "near".

    At 5/12/2010 04:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "But they're both people who can be enormously frustrating in terms of making tiresome music, making albums that you never want to listen all the way through let alone ever play again, but that you can't ever write off. You have no idea what they're going to come up with."

    The quote above rubs me the wrong way ... seems like exactly like the type of contrived statement a critic would make ... as if somehow their putdowns make them a sophisticated arbiter of how good the artist is ... maybe the fact that the music seems "tiresome" to the critic is because they don't get it ... again, not trying to say everything Neil ever created is perfect, although I've never found any of his music or albums tiresome or so bad I didn't want to listed through it even once, just saying that quote seems superficial and reflects the lacks of the critic much more than the artists ... anyhow, I never understood the value of a critic ... music like Neil's strikes each person uniquely and emotionally why do we need someone who is a so called "expert" telling us how to judge art that is so personal and subjective?

    At 5/12/2010 05:49:00 PM, Blogger doc said...

    In my "Rediscovering Neil" Phase,
    (Yes, I do admit to a bit of an hiatus for different reasons), Ragged Glory and Chrome dreams 2 have both been in heavy 'rotation' so to speak.

    There is something about Neil's music that in my eyes really is unique,more then any other artist I've listened to over the years.

    Most artists have that signature some people's eyes that might be say, Van's 'Astral weeks' period ..but Neil..and the beauty of Neil is, there might be an album you've never really appreciated or got into the first time round, but on "rediscovery", found that you couldn't play it often enough ..until the 'earworm' on some tracks was well and truly embedded.

    Yeah, I found that happening on some of the tracks on both 'ragged glory' and 'CD 2' funnily enough.

    This 'renaissance' into Neil's music is probably more documented in his 'Ditch trilogy' phase..but there has been a lot of styles and phases that Neil was influenced by over the years that reflects in the "muse" on his albums he was laying down at the time.(Yep, I'm gettin' sick of that word too).

    So in the end ,it doesn't surprise me that people draw analogies to Neil and his music and sound...
    Van is just another.


    At 5/12/2010 09:46:00 PM, Anonymous Babbo said...

    Original "White Line" title was "River of Pride"


    At 5/13/2010 04:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Greil has great taste in music but he is writing is often obtuse and harder to understand than some of later period James Joyce.

    He makes a sweeping statement in his book about 15/18 years (one good sweeping statement etc) of bad Van albums. I would argue that there is a similar period for Dylan from about 1978 to 1992 but that period of time includes a couple of my favourite Van albums - Irish Heartbeat and Avalon.

    I'm not sure what Neil albums Greil actually likes. Beside the albums listed in the discography from Stranded it seems that Greil likes Reactor and the Dead Man soundtrack. I seem to recall he liked Harvest Moon though I may be wrong.

    I prefer Robert Christgau's views on Neil's albums. If nothing else I can understand them and the Consumer Guide contains little waste.

    Landing on Water

    At 5/13/2010 07:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Neil fans are some the most 'rabid' fans that I have encountered in my life. However, I have a very good friend that puts us Neilsheads to shame when it comes to Van Morrison. Though low in numbers (an assumption) Vanfans have demostrated to me an allegiance and loyalty not seen too often. With good reason I can add. Van is unique in vocal and delivery and is usually accompanied by tremendous players. I also think his limited touring (scarcity) results in high demand here in the states. He is an unparralled gem and worth the investigation.

    - Not Rotten Johnny

    At 5/13/2010 10:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I love "Over and Over" but I'm not getting at all what he says about the song "turning over". I don't agree. The solos (and I love 'em) are not particularly exploratory as in, say, "Love and Only Love" or "No Hidden Path". Neil is playing his "new" goldtop, outfitted with the B-7 Bigsby and the Firebird pickup. What he does on "Over and Over" is combined switching between the P-90 (neck pickup) and the firebird (bridge pickup), combined with changing tone by switching through the whizzer settings to adjust the volume(s) and tone pots on the 5E3. So, what you get are phrases that are pretty much the same but sound tonally different. Neil is also moving to different positions, so that the solo phrases are played at one moment in an open G position and at the next up on the neck but on the E-A-D strings (such as the riff that opens the song at the 10th and 12 frets on the E and A strings.

    It's a great song (G-C-D repeated, with some slight variation in the measures in the chorus)and it really drives - an excellent example of simplicity as the framework for rocking out and a great format for the Horse. But the guy in the interview is making it out to be something its not. And you know Neil would call all that bullshit. But its not exploratory as a solo (as he is trying to make the point) like some of the other songs on the Ragged Glory - especially "Love and Only Love" and "Love to Burn".

    The thing about Ragged Glory is that it is all one song. Country Home is in G, White Line is in Em, Over and Over is in G, Love to Burn is in Em, Mansion on a Hill is in G, Natural Anthem is in G. G and Em are basically the same scale. Love to Burn and Love and Only Love are basically the same chord progressions. (F*&king Up is in D or Dm.) My point is that the approach to the leads are going to be very similar in all of these songs. Neil is poking around throughout the album on the same song. That's what I think is so cool. He is exploring his leads by changing tones using only volume and tone (which is just selectively dumping frequencies to ground).

    I would love to see someone who really gets into the structure of the music and tone to evaluate Neil's playing. Larry Cragg is probably the most informed.

    Old Black

    At 5/13/2010 02:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    So all you critics sit alone
    You're no better than me
    for what you've shown.
    With your stomach pump and
    your hook and ladder dreams
    We could get together
    for some scenes.

    At 5/13/2010 07:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I don't know that much about Greil Marcus, but I've always enjoyed his take on the few things I have heard him talk about in the past. That being said, there's a quote from Ranier Maria Rilke on the subject of criticism that I think applies nicely to even rock criticism, and definitely to a lot of criticism in general when it comes to Neil, here on TW and elsewhere:

    "Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe, most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.

    Read as little as possible of literary criticism- such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are just clever word-games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them."

    Sometimes, it really is as simple as the artist being their own "listener", and for me this is the highest form of art there is, and why I invariably end up loving just about anything Neil does. Before anything else it is personal, real and honest, and we are just along for the ride. I for one am grateful enough not to make any demands.

    I agree with some of the other posters about "Ragged Glory", and the Marcus reference to "Over And Over", he may be referring to "Love And Only Love", or "Love To Burn". There is a moment in "Over And Over" that might be what he's talking about, but there's no way to get at what's going on there in the confines of a blog. Maybe someone can describe it, but not me. It'd be interesting to know a little more what Marcus means with that terminology.

    Greg M (A Friend Of Yours)

    At 5/14/2010 12:36:00 PM, Anonymous Mr Henry said...

    I've seen Van Morrison a number of times, but the first time was the best. It was April 1971 and one of my first concerts. To this day, it remains one of the best shows that I have ever seen. Tupelo Honey was the album that everyone was listening to at the time, and it was what we were all expecting to hear.

    But instead of playing to everyone's expectations, Van was already onto something else, a new kind of music that he was calling Caledonia Soul. We were hearing the songs that would be on Saint Dominic's Preview and he was playing and singing long meditative versions of each one.

    No one even recognized Van when he first came on stage; he'd cut his hair and shaved his beard, and was pretty much blending in with the large and incredible band that he had assembled to play. The concert lasted a couple of hours and Van was obviously in another world while he was performing. The band left the stage and would then come back to encore...six times!!!

    The show was at a large old movie theater in Providence and there were less than a thousand people there at the peak. By about the fourth encore, most of the audience was half way out the door when they would come back on, and we'd then scramble back for another great number.

    I've been reading the new book and enjoying it greatly. Greil Marcus always has great insights and observations about music, and is able to see many of the undercurrents that make things so much more interesting and understandable. I especially loved Invisible Republic, which I read when it first came out and again a couple times since then.

    Thanks very much to Thrasher for highlighting this work and especially the comparisons with Neil. Both artists are able to sometimes tap into a place that is mystical and timeless...and their best recordings and live performances are completely in the moment.


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