In Andrea Kayne Kaufman's Oxford Messed Up, Rhodes Scholar Gloria Zimmerman (who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and Henry Young (an underachieving, drug-addicted musician) become unlikely friends when they're forced to share a bathroom in the Oxford University dorms. Over time, these "loo-mates" learn that, despite their differences, they have some things in common - not the least of which is a shared obsession with the music of Van Morrison.
George Ivan Morrison (born August 31, 1945) hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He began his musical career as a young man in the 50s, playing cover songs with Irish show bands. His talent and fluency with numerous instruments - he plays the guitar, drums, keyboards, harmonica, saxophone, ukulele, tambourine, and sings - captured people's attention. By 1964 he had begun his professional musical career with the British Invasion-era band Them. This group recorded several hits, the most popular being "Gloria," with its memorable "G-L-O-R-I-A" chorus. (Incidentally, that's the name of Kaufman's female lead). The song has been covered by thousands of bands since and is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll" twice.
In 1967 he then began recording solo albums, his music heavily influenced by R&B, soul, jazz, Celtic folk music, and Irish mysticism. He quickly rose to fame with his hit, "Brown Eyed Girl" in 1968 - a song that is now in the Grammy Hall of Fame and appears on BMI's list of "most-played radio songs." According to his biography on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website:
Like Bob Dylan, he was one of the first contemporary lyricists who aspired to emplace a serious, poetical sensibility in popular music. Morrison's discography numbers more than 40 albums. The most notable among them include the jazzy, mystical song cycle Astral Weeks ; the swinging, soulful classics Moondance , His Band and the Street Choir , and Tupelo Honey ; the deeply personal and revelatory Saint Dominic's Preview  and Veedon Fleece ; and the visionary and spiritual-minded Common One , A Sense of Wonder , Avalon Sunset , Enlightenment  and Hymns to the Silence . Over the decades he has also released some exceptional live albums... while various later projects have found him delving into skiffle, country and jazz.
By 2008 - the 40th anniversary of the Astral Weeks album - Morrison came full circle and, in a two-night gig in Los Angeles, performed the entire album live each night. According to the RRHF, "It seemed appropriate that he returned to Astral Weeks, since that early album provided a microcosm of the far-ranging musical career that would follow. As the artist himself noted of Astral Weeks, with an observation that holds true for the entirety of his vast catalog, 'It's got it all: jazz, blues, folk, classic. You name it.'"
No matter what style he chooses to plays, Morrison consistently pays homage to poets in his music, making references to William Blake, John Donne and William Butler Yeats, among many others - a fact that might account for why his songs brought Gloria, a poetry student, and Henry, a struggling musician, together in such a unique way in Kaufman's novel.
Click on the video below to hear a clip from Van Morrison's Astral Weeks concert in 2008, or for more information about the man, visit his website at www.vanmorrison.com.
Image of Van Morrison by Silk Tork.
This article is from the June 14, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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