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Eamonn Hughes on memory and place in Van Morrison

December 25, 2014

Eamonn Hughes taught me Irish literature at Queen’s University Belfast and he was brilliant. It was therefore great to find that he was selecting and introducing a collection of Van Morrison’s songs.
Lit Up Inside, is a beautiful edition, published by Faber in which Hughes seeks to “offer a map of the world of Van Morrison lyrics.” It has a pleasingly retro aesthetic to its dust cover, reminiscent of the early volumes of Seamus Heaney.
Most of Morrison’s best songs are present here, especially those that deal with the Belfast past, present and mythical that haunts the man and his words.
‘Madame George’, ‘St Dominic’s Preview’, ‘Kingdom Hall’, ‘Dweller on the Threshold’, ‘On Hyndford Street’, and ‘Rave On, John Donne…’ are revealed as lyrics that benefit from a closer reading, where new nuances of meaning about memory emerge.
More importantly, Hughes, a scholar and teacher of rare insight and charisma, perfectly nails the importance of Belfast as a place and a memory for Morrison:

Perhaps fewer artists have been as closely attached to their home town as Morrison has been to Belfast, even through his years of exile. Belfast and its memory are still what Morrison sees when he shuts his eyes, strums some chords and searches for the muse.
There are a few interesting omissions in Hughes’s selection: no ‘Vanlose Stairway’, ‘Wonderful Remark’, ‘Astral Weeks’ or ‘Sweet Thing’, all of which say much about where Morrison was both physically and spiritually at their time of writing.

Also, as my mate Steve Brie noted, there’s no ‘Mr Thomas’, a song dense in the imagery of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, for whom it was written, and considered by many to be the best thing the man ever produced.
But, to pursue such a line of criticism would be churlish, what this anthology does is get us closer to Van, the man himself.
As the crime writer Ian Rankin notes in his foreword, you’ll feel like you know Morrison more deeply after reading these words. And you will.

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