The Wondrous Night When Glen Hansard Met Van Morrison

Depend­ing on which cir­cles you run in, you might have first spot­ted singer-song­writer-actor Glen Hansard as the leader of the rock band The Frames, as an actor in Alan Park­er’s film The Com­mit­ments, or, more recent­ly, as one half of the folk-rock duo The Swell Sea­son. But if the suc­cess of John Car­ney’s movie Once is any­thing to go by, you may well have become aware of Glen Hansard while watch­ing it. Car­ney, The Frames’ for­mer bassist, knew that Hansard had accu­mu­lat­ed just the kind sto­ries in his youth spent busk­ing around Dublin to shape his film’s down-and-out musi­cian pro­tag­o­nist. By shoot­ing time, Hansard had tak­en on the role him­self, ensur­ing that a whole new, large audi­ence would soon learn of a sec­ond inim­itable Irish voice to put on their playlists.

The first, of course, would have to be Van Mor­ri­son, whose artis­tic cap­ti­va­tion of gen­er­a­tions of lis­ten­ers extends to Hansard him­self. Invit­ed to Mor­rison’s birth­day par­ty by a Guin­ness heiress whom he befriend­ed while busk­ing, Hansard seized the chance to get near his favorite singer. Like some brave fans, he found a way to approach the reput­ed­ly brusque and tem­pera­men­tal Mor­ri­son. Unlike most of those fans, Hansard’s expe­ri­ence turned into a unique­ly close and per­son­al one. Watch the clip from Kevin Pol­lak’s Chat Show below and hear him tell the sto­ry of how he inad­ver­tent­ly par­layed a brushed-off song request (“You don’t know me!” was Mor­rison’s dev­as­tat­ing dis­missal) into an entire night spent exchang­ing songs alone with his musi­cal idol.

Hansard likens this mem­o­ry to one of “jam­ming with a Bea­t­le,” before cor­rect­ing him­self: “No, bet­ter than a Bea­t­le — it’s Van Mor­ri­son!” Though Hansard hails from Dublin and Mor­ri­son from Belfast — the root of such innate dif­fer­ence, Hansard explains, that he can’t even imi­tate Mor­rison’s accent — it seems only to make good sense that the two artists could engage in such a brief yet intense con­nec­tion. Despite com­ing from sep­a­rate gen­er­a­tions and sub­cul­tures, these two imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able Irish musi­cians sound pos­sessed of, or pos­sessed by, some­thing unusu­al. In both cas­es, their pecu­liar­ly expres­sive vocal and rhyth­mic ener­gies defy easy descrip­tion. In his book When That Rough God Goes Rid­ing: Lis­ten­ing to Van Mor­ri­son, crit­ic Greil Mar­cus describes this qual­i­ty in Mor­ri­son as “the yarragh.” Lis­ten to the cov­er of Mor­rison’s “Astral Weeks” above and won­der: what to call it in Hansard? H/T Metafil­ter

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • Al Ray T says:

    Two of the most inspir­ing videos I have watched in years. Dig­ging out all my old Van Mor­ri­son albums and REALLY lis­ten­ing again to one of my favorite musi­cians. Incred­i­ble respect for Glen as well and what a mov­ing inter­pre­ta­tion of Astral Weeks. Bra­vo!!

  • Pat says:

    Won­der­ful sto­ry. Adorable teller!

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