Get back on it…

There is an essential truth, we should all be aware of and accept.

Neil Young was born to rock, he will never be an opera star.

Re-ac-tor, may not be the greatest album ever made by Neil Young, it is probably a footnote in the Youngian canon, however after a weird weekend of emotional highs and lows it is exactly the Neil Young album to play.

I have been trying to explain my love of this album for years. The lyrics often suck, and it occasionally sounds out of tune. It heralded the 80’s for Neil Young with a fierce annoyance, it was also the last album on Reprise for awhile and may be the album David Geffen wished Neil would give him by about half way through the decade.

It is a forty minute slice of aggressive guitaring with fundamentally silly lyrics and very little direction and it’s silly. For some reason I have two copies of the record, a CD and a cassette that I have nothing to play it on. The other day I listened to it on the Neil Young Archives.

So what we have is an album containing songs about, opera, drugs, cars trains, meat and border violence. Maybe its a more relevant album than I thought.

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if the river was whiskey…

Day 11 part 2, zero records bought.

No shakes, chills or other adverse affects to be noticed. I did spend way too much on Neil Young tickets though, well it is a solo acoustic show in a small theater. Well worth the expense I think, me and the youngest will enjoy it I am sure.

To celebrate I searched for Songs for Judy, bought on release and getting it’s first outing today. I think I have had a copy of the bootleg before, wonderful stoney performance of the acoustic tracks from the 1976 tour. Cameron Crowe really did a nice job on the collection in the dim past. The only problem is it’s only half of the story, the electric set from ’76 needs the same treatment. It is however Neil Young doing what he does well, some nice tunes played acoustically, the ’76 electric set however was a mean machine. However we will have to wait on it, the same way we have to wait for the Ragged Glory Deluxe effort with the missing feedback.



After this it was time to head for the blues with Taj Mahal. Taj has a way with music, he seems to live and breath music, all sorts of music and on this his first album he is reveling in the blues, not the psychedelia that 1967 expected but the down and dirty blues and then there is Ry Cooder playing mandolin on a blues album. Still fresh and exciting and full of piss and vinegar to this day. You can’t miss the irony of the Song of the South style birds and butterflies surrounding Taj as he plays in front of the condemned house

Can we make it last like a musical ride?

Procrastination is a particular problem I have. Sitting and researching and thinking and deciding and then deciding again and second guessing and then the decision to be put off for a period of time.

This is true in all things except buying records then impulsivity strikes and suddenly several Whitesnake albums are winging their merry way to me.

The real story here is how I bought a chainsaw. I was the proud owner of a newer homelite that I could never get to run, the necessary skills to adjust the carburetor so it ran well are not mine. It coughed and spluttered and screamed but never ran. Eventually I gave up and sent it to the Goodwill store where hopefully someone who knew what they were doing would buy it and nurse it back to health. Then I looked around 10 acres of woodland needing to be tended.

Time to buy a chainsaw that would work and not kill me and would be hardy and resilient enough that an amateur would be able to operate it. I researched, read, watched videos on youtube and then made a decision. Then I stood in the shop and looked at it, held it in my hand and left empty handed. I paced and thought and considered and researched and read and watched more videos, looked on Amazon and decided again. I found it cheaper at  a store drove down there and figured this was the moment and yes I  left empty handed.

Suddenly we were faced with 10 days of clear weather, I would be able to get shit done. I made a decision, now I was going to buy. I went back to the store, picked up the lethal tool and strolled to the counter. Paid the money and placed the saw in the truck and drove home, then I was told that we would not be causing decimation to the forest because the laundry room needed some shelving. The result is the nice shiny new saw sits in it’s imposing case and teases me with the fun to come and the trails to build, maybe Tuesday afternoon I thought as I looked at it. The gas is mixed, the chain and bar oil is here, the sharpening file is ready and the downed trees are waiting.

Soon we will have the glory of trails you can walk along without stooping and brush that is cleared. It is going to be a joy.

Several days later I have to admit I have not started the saw. I sit and look at it and think about it. Shelves have been made as I though about it, gravel has been ordered and spread and weeds have been whacked, it’s a glory, and yet still no roar of the chainsaw, maybe I need chaps.

Ziggy thinks the woods are good just the way they are and maybe he is right.

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All this getting back to the country has me reaching for Neil Young, Harvest Moon seemed like a good choice. It’s mellow and relaxed and perfect for the late afternoon.

I remember being a little underwhelmed when the album came out. It felt a little precious after the anarchic roar of Ragged Glory. It all felt a little too polite and rehearsed. Nowadays on a barmy 70 degree afternoon in October it feels just right, slightly out of focus mellow Neil for the Autumnal weather, not a day below 70 for 10 days or so. It used to be called unseasonal weather, now the irony is ringing out after the latest Climate Report.

As Neil strummed at the end of the album on Natural Beauty:

What are you going to do
With your life?
What a lucky man
To see the earth
Before it touched his hand.

I dutifully bought the album on ebay some time after its Record Store Day release, it arrived I remember in a pizza box which somehow made my day at the time, luckily the box had not been used. I’ve been living with it for awhile and enjoying it’s reflective nature. It seems now  to be the natural album to follow Ragged Glory.

My original CD came in the mail too. It was posted from the USA to England by my father-in-law. This began a really thoughtful tradition where he would buy me the new Neil Young album on the day of release. I remember that first listen, Michelle loved it and I hoped for Ragged Glory again.

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I’ve been down the road and come back…

The allure of decadence is pervasive. Of course to truly wallow in a lifestyle of dissipation and excess requires a lack of responsibility. For most of us we have a brief time from teen years to the realization that somehow we have to make it through life on our own two feet. Short of an ability to write a hit song, great work of literature or the luck of being a renowned journalist we are left with getting a job, or marrying into wealth.

Then the long slow decline to spreading waist bands and slower reaction times. It takes work to keep up with the drinking and smoking and roistering. Then it just takes work to stay in shape enough to get up the next day with aching ankles and creaky knees.

IMG_0243.JPGMy friend Greg turned to me today as he reminisced about a good friend of his who had died recently. “We were gods and never knew it!” He shook his head and looked away his mind in the past of polyrhythms and jam sessions late into the night. There is hopefully for most of us a point when our youth and vitality and joy come together for a time that allows us to transcend the mundane and become more than we ever thought we could be.

This is why Neil Young’s recent release of the Roxy tapes of Tonights the Night are so important. It adds nothing to the Neil Young canon, the album sounds almost exactly like the original album with added applause, some banter between tracks and maybe the voices strains a little at times. As young admits the band had been playing the same nine songs twice a day for almost a month.

So how can I say it’s important? What it does for me is confirm the idea that at this point in time a bunch of young men were so wrapped up in their own shit to the exclusion of everything else that they transcended their own arrogance to produce something great. It’s the essence of art the single minded attention to the creation of a piece of work that will live on, some may hate it, some may love it and others will shake their heads and wonder why it was done. For a month the band had performed these songs for themselves, maybe it only became real when they did it for others.

It’s the distilled essence of navel gazing dissolution on three sides of vinyl.

So you be good to me and I’ll be good to you…

Out of the ditch and onto the beach.

I am not sure if the album references the Neville Shute novel or the 1959 movie or is more literal than that. The beach is after all as far as you can go, unless you walk out into the waves. It’s a place of contemplation or finality. Young stands there with his shoes off as if he is ready to step into the ocean, maybe say goodbye to L.A. and all it signifies, who knows.

IMG_7454I have never really been one to spend a whole lot of time trying to understand what is going on with the songs, yes we get the Mansons in Revolution Blues and the rape of the earth for oil in Vampire Blues and who really knows what Ambulance Blues is about apart from pissing in the wind. I really enjoy Walk On and See the Sky About To Rain but my favorite is For The Turnstiles, maybe it’s the pianos and banjo’s.

Many automatically name this their favorite album. What makes it stand out I think from other albums is the seemingly personal nature of the songs, they are however all a little distant, maybe that’s the honey slides. It’s as if the songs are Young looking back, getting ready to look forward. There is also the mystery of the album, barely available for 20 years it became a cult. Who really knows the real reason but it did manage to raise it’s mystique over more readily available records.

It’s for sure a bleak record but it is at times more bitter than despairing, maybe it’s the hangover record at the end of the day. The bleary eyed look back after the chaos of Tonights the Night and Time Fades Away.

The weird thing is I find it pretty easy to get excited about the two other albums in the Ditch Trilogy, they are polarizing, perverse, unsettling albums. On the Beach is just weary, yes it’s a good listen that exhausts you. Time Fades Away rakes you into the depths of despair, Tonights the Night is the wake and then there is the inevitable hangover.

Lost in the cartoon…

On the tour in 1973 around the time Tonights the Night was recorded Neil Young would walk to the standing lamp on stage pull the switch and mumble the line “welcome to Miami beach ladies and gentlemen…” He would repeat this occasionally throughout gigs. Towards the end of the gig he would mumble and now to play you something familiar, as the band launched into Tonight’s the Night which had opened the gig, prior to this the audience had been inundated with the unfamiliar and the gut wrenching songs.

The set list from Manchester was:

1. Tonight’s the Night  2. Mellow My Mind  3. World On a String  4. Speakin’ Out  5. Albuquerque  6. New Mama  7. Roll Another Number (For the Road) 8. Tired Eyes   9. Tonight’s the Night   10. Flying On the Ground Is Wrong   11. Human Highway  12. Helpless   13. Don’t Be Denied.

You can download it here: Neil Young and the Santa Monica Flyers, Manchester 1973

At the wonderful Aquarium Drunkard website.

Tonight’s the Night is an album I read about in the Cameron Crowe Rolling Stone interview before I had ever heard it. The idea that during a listening party for Homegrown, Young played Tonight’s the Night and decided to release the rougher of the two appealed to me then and still does. Perhaps we will get Homegrown as part of the archives.

“But by listening to those two albums back to back at the party, I started to see the weaknesses in Homegrown. I took Tonight’s the Night because of its overall strength in performance and feeling. The theme may be a little depressing, but the general feeling is much more elevating than Homegrown.”IMG_7641

He has called Tonight’s the Night an O.D. letter without the suicide. It seems more a group of friends grieving, as he says “playing Bruce and Danny on their way.” If Time Fades Away is Young laying in the ditch watching the world go by, Tonights the Night is him crawling his way out of the ditch to stand at the side of the road again. It’s not pretty crawling through the rotting vegetation and shit to get out of the ditch, but sometimes you have to get in there to get somewhere else.

Songs of dissipation, drugs, junkies, booze and comfortingly enough becoming a new mother. The album’s songs are sandwiched between two versions of Tonight’s the Night, maybe the ultimate drunk jam. It all just kind of shuffles along aimlessly in a bumbling good natured way like the mumbling drunk you meet walking down the edge of the ditch. Some of the stories may be harrowing but they are related to each other like the fragments of conversation with that drunk skipping form tale to tale as the neurons short circuit in his brain. Images from the edge of your eye as you nod off in the corner before raising the bottle again. It’s all very familiar to someone who has ever got themselves in too deep at any time, lost on the highway trying to get home.

I remember getting the album after reading that interview. I thought this was going to be some almost revelatory spiritual experience. The album had become something bigger than it really was, a legendary thing. When I finally sat down to listen I realized that while it was a tough listen what made it difficult was that there was so much emotion in every track and for most of us that loss and loneliness is at times very familiar. It was the first time I had really listened to anything were everything was just put out there. It’s a brave album, a scary album and somehow familiar.

The unnerving thing about Tonights the Night is not so much that it documents Young’s grief it is that it somehow documents all our grief. Even if we are not that millionaire rock star from Topanga Canyon we all know loss and fear and guilt. We just usually don’t get to sit down with our pals and document it, maybe if we did then shit wouldn’t hang around the way it tends to.

Let’s face it while it’s a harrowing ride, the band don’t look to bummed out.

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Son don’t be home too late…

Time Fades Away, the first of the famed Ditch Trilogy.

Damn the whole thing looks intimidating, a crushed rose on the edge of the stage as the audience stands in the murk, all of them looking in different directions, one lone member raising the peace sign.

For years I used to look at this album in HMV on Church Street and not buy it, I would pick up something else but keep coming back to look at the album. In my mind it took on some sort of life of it’s own. I had never heard any of the songs but it followed Harvest and had Crosby and Nash on it, it had to be good. I probably bought twenty records while looking at Time Fades Away and then it was gone. For some reason I had a sense of loss about this. I never did get it though, until overwhelmed with the collecting bug it was the last of the 70’s albums that was needed and therefore had to be found.

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Time Fades Away is not a bad album, it’s  not a great album either when compared to After the Goldrush and Harvest that preceded it. It has in Don’t Be Denied Young’s most autobiogrpahical song and one of the more harrowing in Yonder Stands the Sinner and Last Dance is almost apocalyptic. Young dragged his band around the states self-medicating and howling into the wind seemingly determined to self-destruct at every turn. The audience apparently was as confused as the band at what was going on. Between grief, anger and Tequila Young determined to make a document fo the tour.The inclusion of Crosby and Nash did not bring any sweeter harmonies just more volume and a sense of disaster in their vocals. The end of the album is particularly harrowing with the repeated “Last Dance” vocal coda plaintively echoing around the arena.

If you look at it as a document of Young’s descent into the abyss dragging his complicit band along then it makes sense. At the end of the tour Young abandoned this band and holed up with what was left of Crazy Horse and Nils Lofgren, Ben Keith and some others, calling themselves the Santa Monica Flyers  to record Tonights the Night and drink tequila. Drinking all day and recording into the small hours.

The album is a document of decline, the trilogy itself is the record of redemption, climbing out of the ditch not wallowing in the muck that collects at the side of the road. Time Fades Away in this way would be the rock bottom of the ditch were the beer cans and roadkill collect to decay. It’s were the winos and vagrants pick through the mess looking for anything that can be reused or is of any value.

Time Fades Away is a nasty, dirty album. The whole record like the front cover seems to have been recorded in a haze of smoke and sweat, the scent of tequila and weed permeate the whole thing. It’s the edge of the road, the ditch, a place of refuse.

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