Eamonn McCann once said that Belfast had produced three geniuses in modern times and they were all Protestants. He listed them: George Best, Hurricane Higgins and Van Morrison.
As often is the case, Eamonn was right – all three men were supreme artists at what they did: football, snooker and singing. But as we glory and melt in admiration at the talents of these three men, we would do well to keep in mind a general truth: once they step outside their own field of greatness, great artists often prove to be great eejits.
George Best was a supreme footballer, but his private life was a a grubby sink flooded with bad stuff: over-consumption of alcohol, unreliability and a reputed tendency to wife-beating. Alex Higgins was a supreme snooker player, but when he wasn’t at the snooker table he indulged in reckless gambling, drugs, booze, all the things that kill you.
And then there’s Van Morrison. His famous album Astral Weeks would have been achievement enough for most singers, but he went on singing with a strength and intensity that enchanted his listeners and silenced his critics. But outside singing…By all accounts Van is not an easy man to get on with, whether you’re a journalist, a member of the public or a fellow-artist. Spike Milligan is alleged to have declared “The man was a pig, looked dirty and scruffy.”
But it’s when artists dip into the ills of the world that they really begin to make eejits of themselves. Remember the way John Lennon sang “Imagine no possessions” while his wife Yoko Ono bought up hugely expensive apartment after hugely expensive apartment overlooking New York’s Central Park, so they could have privacy? Or the way Jim Corr explained to anyone who’d listen that there was a plot to form a one-world government.
And Van is no exception. Not only does he think the Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax, he’s produced three songs that speak of “fascist bullies”, of his objection to being asked to stay at home – “No more lock-downs!” – and his belief that the scientists are crooked and giving us crooked facts.
What brings this sort of bunkum on? Is it that artists want not just their immediate circle but the wider world as well to think as they do? Do they assume that they can reshape the world as they shape and reshape their beautiful songs?
Poets are a bit that way as well. Once he put down his pen from writing poems, W B Yeats was more than a little attracted to fascism. And he was convinced that his young wife could put him in touch with the spirit world.
The difference today is that artists like Van Morrison have a world-wide reach and use that fame as a megaphone for their beliefs. What would be dismissed as cuckoo from an ordinary mortal gets respect. Why? Van the Man is a massive musical talent but that doesn’t mean he knows any more than the rest of us about Covid – maybe even less. Yet because these views comes from Van Morrison they get a hearing, it encourages the talentless crazies, when they see they’re being supported by this singing star.
All you need is a massive public recognisability. People who are only famous for being famous (they’ve been on Love Island, so they must know about world peace) people like Jedward who are spectacularly lacking in talent but known by millions assume that entitles them to interpret the world for the rest of us. that doesn’t stop them telling the rest of us what to think.
if you’re famous, you’re likely to be asked about anything, from breast implants to nuclear warfare to drought in Africa. People respect the hugely gifted artist, and forget that once he or she steps away from the artistic pedestal, s/he may well be and often is talking poppy-cock. And yet we’re loath to admit it, because we feel that would somehow be a betrayal of the great man.
Let’s get real: Van Morrison knows as much about the Covid virus as I do about quantum mathematics. The man works as a singer, and a very good one too. But reporters and talk-show hosts encourage celebrities to think they know just about everything. One minute they’re recording an album, next they’re holding forth about scientology and veganism and crop-circles.
So Van, we can tolerate your grumpiness, we can overlook your contempt for fellow-artists, we may. Even draw a veil over your table manners. But see when it comes to biochemistry and viruses? Zip the lip. There are too many eejits out there only panting to receive your every word as Gospel.
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