Any Chance Of Understanding Anything At All

It starts in the middle, as if you’ve switched stations halfway through some other song without realizing it. It’s moving so fast you feel as if you’ll never catch up. The band—guitar, drums, bass, an organ hovering in the background—can’t catch up with the harmonica that’s leading the charge; suddenly, they do, and then they take a step ahead. You realize yesthat the last thing you want is for the harmonica—high, implacable, uncaring, a body without a mind, it seems to be its own force, not some mere instrument played by some particular person who has to get up in the morning and go to sleep at night—to lose this race. It doesn’t; it cuts in front of the stampeding combo, playing a swirling pattern that focuses the band. There’s a call and response, a joining of forces, no longer one against the others, but a whole against a part, and the part is whoever’s listening.

When lyrics appear in the song, you notice for the first time that there haven’t been any. Suddenly what was chaos, unformed, threatening, thrilling, is now a story. There’s a singer and he’s going to tell you about something, something about walking down by the old graveyard. But then that breaks up, too. “Eyes,” he says again, and again, the word fraying with each repetition, slipping the “mystic” that stands at its head, except when it doesn’t. Morrison seems to turn away from the word, from words altogether, as if only fools actually believe that phonemes can signify, that a word is what it names, that there’s any chance of understanding anything at all.

—Greil Marcus


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When I Worked

May 2015
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