Van Morrison Charles Nicholaus - Essay

Charles Nicholaus

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Van Morrison, I've been thinking lately, is the intellectual's Grateful Dead. They offer an amplified nirvana, fueled by chemicals; he offers the dark night, fueled by despair, self-pity, ennui. In either case it is easy to listen, but I'm beginning to wonder why anyone should want to.

I would like to find something nice to say about Hard Nose the Highway,… but that would be silly. It was a bad record. [Veedon Fleece] is not. It is a boring one, and in a way, I think bad records are preferable. They at least require outrageous response. With records like this, one must be careful. A little too much, on one side or the other, and the album begins to sound interesting. That would be misleading.

Van Morrison found his blues early, stepping out into the unknown with TB Sheets and Astral-Weeks…. [But,] like other prodigies (Bob Dylan comes to mind, and if you think this album is dissipated and banal, wait till you hear Blood on the Tracks), Morrison's early achievements have not been sustained. "Wild Night" was the last song he wrote which I can still get worked up about, though "Listen to the Lion" and "St. Dominic's Preview" have hints of something grand.

But Morrison's problem is that, since St. Dominic's Preview, he's just kept hinting. He listens to his heart, and responds by delivering that unnamed growl, but I think that his function, as an artist, might be simply to name those terrors of the heart. Or at least get closer than we mere pedestrian moralists and listeners are able. As it is, he bugs me, man. It's as though Thor Heyerdahl had made it within ten miles of Tahiti, and dropped anchor. The pleasant moments on this record, which are several, cannot make up for the brilliant ones which might await us if Morrison had only had the nerve to continue. (pp. 66-7)

Charles Nicholaus, "Van Morrison Slugs It Out with Himself: 'Veedon Fleece'," in Creem (© copyright 1975 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 6, No. 9, February, 1975, pp. 66-7.