Stephen Brown has written a great 2010 essay linking Van and his hometown of Belfast (and adding info about his missing virginity). It's a beautiful tribute to the Man. Among the interesting thoughts is the claim that Van is inherently contradictory, just like the city of his birth: beautiful, bestial, benign, benighted, bedazzling, bellicose, beloved, beleaguered Belfast. Make no mistake, Van the Man is a hero in my home town. A flawed hero, to be sure, though we prefer our heroes flawed round here.
The essay is a good introduction to Van and Belfast. Here's another sample.
Belfast is a beautiful city. Or, to be more precise, Belfast is a city in a beautiful setting. Situated at the head of Belfast Lough, an estuarine processional way, our compact conurbation is encircled by escarpments, rugged Antrim Plateau on one side, rolling Castlereagh Hills on the other. Home to half-a-million people, Belfast began life as a muddy ford at the mouth of the River Lagan, burgeoned into one of the mighty workshops of the world-wide British Empire and like many of its GB equivalents – Glasgow, Cardiff, Liverpool, et al – is resorting to the ubiquitous urban Botox of arts festivals, dockside redevelopments and glittering shopping malls in a desperate attempt to stave off post-industrial senescence...
Of course, one doesn’t need to travel to Belfast in order to appreciate its congenital contradictions. They are crystallised in the work of Van Morrison, the city’s pre-eminent musical export. In many ways, indeed, Van the Man is a better guide to the perennial paradoxes of Belfast than any number of citybreaks, guided tours or shoe-leather-sapping circuits on Shanks’ Pony. Ulster culture, after all, is predominantly musical and literary rather than visual. There are very few buildings of note in Belfast, the City Hall, Opera House and Queen’s University possibly excepted. World-renowned actors and artists are somewhat rarer still. However, our literary and musical scenes are preternaturally vibrant, as are those on the ‘noisy island’ as a whole. Ireland is the Sizewell B of the music business, a veritable fast breeder reactor, and although U2 irradiates the globe like a dismantled atomic bomb, the artiste with the longest half-life is the Belfast Cowboy himself, George Ivan Morrison.
For the rest of the essay click on his title, A Sense of Ulster: Van Morrison's Belfast.