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Declan Lynch: Why future generations shall not doubt Van the Majestic

This article will be read in 100 years' time. Which seems like a bold statement, but is actually a straightforward statement of fact.

It will be read in 100 years' time simply because it is about Van Morrison, and it is being written at a troubled time in his life.

There can be no doubt that writers and academics and researchers of all kinds seeking answers to the mystery that is Van will be leafing though the national newspapers of January 2010 to help them with their enquiries into this period. And the reason they will be enquiring in the first place, is that it should be clearly established by then, that in the unlikely event that someone greater will arrive in this century, Van Morrison is the greatest artist of any kind to emerge from this island.

It is an opinion I have held for some time, and I once wrote a piece to that effect in this paper. But just in case they miss that one in the year 2525, I should say it again in this piece, where they are most likely to find it.

Van is the greatest of them all -- greater even than Joyce, than Yeats, than the nameless wizards who illuminated the Book of Kells, and this is why we need to take the long view.

Greater than Joyce or Yeats?

Well, their mastery of language is clearly superior, but then there is the voice of Morrison, which evens it out somewhat and ultimately gives him the edge -- it makes his work more beautiful overall.

And it has also allowed him to reach a wider audience, without compromising.

Unlike the legions who have pretended to read Ulysses, and to like it, no-one ever pretended to listen to the Moondance album, nor is there a scintilla of doubt among all civilised people as to its magnificence.

And, incidentally, I imagine that in 100 years' time, they will have dismantled our ignorant distinctions between "real"

art (Joyce and Yeats) and what is disparagingly called "popular culture" (Van).

They will be looking back with amusement at the notion that we ever doubted the majesty of Morrison, at least until they read this page.

In fact, it's quite exciting to know for sure that something you are writing will definitely be sought out in 2110, and I'm sure that all readers would like to join with me in saying a big hello to whoever is reading this, in the National Library or wherever learned people are doing their work in the coming centuries.

To those readers who have not yet been born, we'd also like to say that we hope the old global warming thing turned out all right.

But mainly we'd like to put it on the record that this is how we felt about Van, and his music.

Not that the other stuff about hackers on his website, and so forth, is not interesting.

In fact, it is more interesting than a lot of things going on out there. It is more interesting than the Government's plans for the Smart Economy -- even if it, too, is bullshit.

It is more interesting than Eamon Gilmore's position on the carbon tax.

But even now, when it is all going down, it is not as interesting as hearing Tupelo Honey for the first time.

Yes, it was interesting to read Ronald Quinlan's piece in this paper last week, in which he recalled a scene at the Herbert Park Hotel when Van chased an unwelcome photographer around the car park while Bono signed autographs -- a neat illustration there of the difference between art and politics.

But nothing is as interesting as listening to Astral Weeks for the first time, and realising that it is all good. That a guy from Belfast had somehow mastered the music of America, and made it better, surpassing the achievements of those who were born into that tradition, and surpassing anything else you care to mention.

And though his persona is not exactly that of the man on the Clapham omnibus -- in fact, some would regard him as a deeply odd character -- here is perhaps the oddest thing about Van: when you are listening to his music, you are not aware of Van the man in any way, just Van the musician.

In fact, it's hard to think of any other performer whose work elevates him above the commonplace to this extent. There is nothing in "real life" that could give us a clue as to the source of his gift. He really seems to be connecting with some higher power.

And if we don't rightly understand this, we will continue to follow false trails. Until I rightly understood this, I too used to think that the way he carried on in interviews mattered a damn. I just couldn't figure out why he talked to the press at all when he hated it so much, how the man who wrote Jackie Wilson Said could find himself chasing a photographer around the car park of the Herbert Park Hotel.

Again, you can search for Van in all that fine madness but you will not find him. He's not there.

You will find him only in the music.

Sunday Independent