cover image Can You Feel the Silence?: Van Morrison: A New Biography

Can You Feel the Silence?: Van Morrison: A New Biography

Clinton Heylin. Chicago Review Press, $28 (576pp) ISBN 978-1-55652-517-9

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.