The Rest is History cover
This title appears to be out of print, but can be ordered from Wavelength

The Rest is History
Belfast Notes:
Van Morrison and Stewart Parker

by Gerald Dawe

Published by Abbey Press, 1998
ISBN 1-9016-1703-3, 123 pages

Stewart Parker is (rather was; he died in 1988) a playwright from Belfast. From a working class Protestant background (like Van). He wrote a series of very powerful plays about family and neighbourhood life in working class Belfast communities -- one of the very few playwrights to systematically explore the human dimension of the so-called Troubles.

  • Read this excerpt: an appreciation of "Madame George".

    A review by David Chance:
    After reading this book, an "examination of Belfast culture in the early lyrics of Van Morrison and Stewart Parker's play, 'Pentecost'" (as described on the book jacket), I am left with the feeling of "was there a point to all this?". Steeped in the language of an English major in college, i.e. fancy footwork but no punch, one can be glad that this was a limited edition publication (1000 copies).

    Part 1, "On the Burning Ground: Belfast and Van Morrison", begins with an overview of Belfast culture in the post-WWII era, trying to establish the setting and environment in which youth were raised. He then moves on to introduce Van Morrison into this environment, touching on the music scene of the times. Some of Morrison's early song lyrics are used to assist in painting a portrait of the changing youth culture. The writing skips around from observation to observation, supposedly to provide a framework on which to hang this extended essay, only to have it slip through the loose threads onto "the burning ground" where it belongs. While there are a few interesting factoids brought up throughout the section, there isn't much substance or insight to be found.

    Part 2, "A Hard Act: Stewart Parker's Pentecost", is a critic's overblown praise of one of his favorite plays, and seems like it should have been left on the bar napkin where it was obviously first written.

    Part 3, "The Rest Is History: Belfast Notes", begins with a bus ride to Belfast, which results in reveries of the author's past experiences there in the late-'60s and 1970s. Good doses of his poetry are thrown in along with other boring information on how he began writing the stuff.

    Part 4, "A Child Of The Empire", finally brings this whole thing to an end by trying to summarize the author's feelings about the changes in Belfast, politically and culturally. The closing paragraph is a perfect example of the writing style which is so intellectualized that it loses any meaning it was attempting to convey in the first place:

    "'Nostalgia': nostos, return home; algos, pain. It is the common condition of many hundreds of thousands (millions?) in these islands of Ireland and Britain. The battle for cultural and political hegemony - who validates and legitimises the 'authentic' version of the past, for which reasons and, most importantly, with what effect on artistic values - should not obscure the dynamic, wayward and unforeseeable power of the imagination to dramatise the irretrievably human consequences and desires of our simply being here, in one place rather than another."

    Dawe may have best summed up his book in his own words when, on page 77, describing a play he once wrote, says it was "a short incoherent thing". Overall rating: don't bother; read a cereal box instead.

    Notes on the evolution of this title:
    Originally (as mentioned in Wavelength), "Belfast born poet and critic Gerald Dawe" was said to be writing a "major biography" of Van, with the working title The Burning Ground: the Making of a Musician. The rumor was that Jonathan Cape was to publish it in 1996. However circumstances changed (as noted below) - the eventual result was Dawe's The Rest is History.

    Van mailing list member Sam McCready noted that "Gerald Dawe [...] went to Orangefield and was a pupil of mine for some years. He has since become a respected poet and academic. His biography should be interesting because he shares a common background with Morrison and they would have a rapport in any discussions."

    A later update from perro@EURONET.NL (17 Apr 1997):
    Gerald Dawe most certainly *did* plan to write a biography of VTM, and even had a deal with a publisher. Halfway through, though, the project was abandoned. I don't know the deeper reasons, but what I can tell you is that GD's interest was in the Belfast years only, and not so much the later stuff. The project was then superceded by [a Van Morrison] Collected Lyrics.

    Meanwhile, a long (10,000 word) essay called "The Burning Ground" resulted from the work on the abortive biography. It blends GD's own memories of growing up in the East Belfast that he and Van have in common with a reading of mainly Astral Weeks. The lecture I attended in 1994 was a preview of this longer piece. The essay "The Burning Ground" is to be published alongside a personal memoir and a piece on the Belfast playwright Stewart Parker (some interesting parallels there!). Last time I talked to GD, he didn't have a publisher for the three long essays yet, but in the past his literary criticism has been published by Northern Ireland's Lagan Press.

    As far as the Van content of Mr Dawe's efforts is concerned I can tell you that I thought the lecture I attended was one of the most original and insightful pieces yet. I just looked up my notes, and unfortunately they don't make much sense now. But what I do remember is an interesting point about infrastructure in AW: the persistent images of trains, tracks and paths. He also talked about the kind of places that Cyprus Avenue, Fitzroy, etc. actually are. There were strong overtones of a kind of dreamy private world, half urban and half rural, and of escaping into or out of that world (through the aforemenioned means of transport). I really can't say anymore, it's too long ago and I don't want to give the wrong impression. All will be revealed soon, though, I'm sure.

    Part of the van-the-man.info unofficial website

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