Van wouldn’t talk to me once he knew I’d gone to see the German Rosicrucian guy,” recalls Clive Culbertson, Van Morrison bandmate and mystic fellow traveler, in Can You Feel the Silence?, Clinton Heylin’s entertainingly chatty biography of the singer. Later, VM pianist Linda Gail Lewis notes how, circa 1998, her boss dabbled in this “Church of Satan thing.”In Heylin’s book, Morrison’s spiritual flirtations—Scientology, occult music theories, and Christianity round out the mix—go hand in hand with his restless shuffling of friends, bandmates, and musical styles.
Possessed of no guru, no method, no teacher, and no social skills, George Ivan Morrison is a study in truculence and transcendence. His staunch individualism has won him both awe and derision. Onstage he’ll insult audiences and his own musicians, or plunge them all into the mystic; on record he’s as likely to rave about John Donne as to hunt down showbiz parasites. Though the early portion of the tale has its longueurs, some details stand out: a collaborator’s diary entry (“Met Van. Came up to flat. Didn’t say much. Left.”) captures something of Morrison’s uncommunicativeness, and a page on which he’s an acquaintance of Al Stewart and a pre-Motörhead Lemmy Kilminster makes you redraw your internal rock timeline. The pace picks up once he jumps to America, as Heylin details recording sessions (from the underrated Common One‘s genesis in a Knights Templar slaughterhouse to VM’s gonzo taping of 36 nonsense songs against his excruciating Bang contract), mercurial setlists, and the singer’s endlessly shifting personnel. Morrison would no doubt despise the book (he threatened legal action pre-publication), but for long-suffering admirers, Silence both deepens his enigma and gives various aspects of the tortured-genius myth a kick in the Astral Weeks.