how’s the business Neil…

1976 I was 10 and fascinated by David Bowie, T-Rex and Jethro Tull. In the future was the oddness of The Clash and traveling in the back of my cousins Hillman Imp around the back lanes of Merseyside and environs to see various bands ultimately ending up at Earls Court for Pink Floyd and the Wall in 1979. By then I was 14 and ready to strike out on my own.

Neil Young however was on tour in the US. It would be another 5 or 6 years before I paid attention to him and he didn’t care it seems. In fact he still may not care, who knows apart from him and he may not remember. It’s probably just as well though as it seems I was fascinated by loud electric guitars, feather boa’s, makeup and codpieces, Neil is only known for one of these and I’m not saying which one. I was also in thrall to cousin Tony who seemed to believe any music that was American was anathema.

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Neil was playing marathon sets with an acoustic and electric section, Joel Bernstein and Cameron Crowe were on tour with him compiling a copy of every song performed, they only managed to compile the acoustic songs before heading out in their own stoney way for something else. The Joe Bernstein tapes were pilfered and turned up as a bootleg for years. I am sure I had a copy at some point in my file sharing bootleg years. There is probably a hard drive mouldering somewhere in the shed with a copy on it, it probably  also has a wealth of Floyd, CSNY and other masterpieces.

Songs For Judy came out last year on the Neil Young Archives meandering releases. Hopefully at some point the electric set will surface as he was on fire on this tour. What we do get though is an incredibly well curated double album of all the Neil Young acoustic songs you would want to hear performed in your own solo show if you had the choice. It’s also from a period of time before he started using the too sweet higher pitched voice he seems to favor for acoustic songs today.

There is however a sense of only getting half of the story. Anybody who is not aware of the tour, or unwilling to read the sleeve notes, could be forgiven for thinking this was an acoustic tour. Unless Neil decides to release another collection then that may in fact become the dominant opinion. Regardless of what I want he seems to have distracted himself with a couple of movies and some other stuff so we will see. There is also the rumored Ragged Glory re-release with extra songs and all sorts of stuff and he needs to release Weld and well the list goes on.

So this evening this was just the sort of calming album that was needed to noodle away  what is left of the day.

In other things a lot has been going on, there have been the overwhelming human crises that maybe one day I can write about.

So we have managed to clear enough land this year that we can actually start the process of getting back to the country. A garden is planned and a project with the County to restore the creek banks to a more natural environment. Next year we will be planting more native plants along the creek, pulling out the fence that has collapsed into the water and generally having a whole lot of fun I hope.

We also managed to cross the creek in the back and get into the back 5 acres and head out to the old logging road backing up to approx 50,000 acres of forest. It’s dense back there and hard work but good to know we can get there now.

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Michelle got kind of lost out there, only game trails and some dense dense ash and alder forest. The neighbor says he saw a cougar  the other week, we make enough noise to scare anything away though.

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Syd was also a bit lost in the ferns, he moves too quick to get a good picture when he is excited.

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The beaver have been cutting our trees down almost as fast as we find them in the overwhelming berries.

For those who need it the necessary tractor shot. It was really early as we were moving trash out of the woods. The old toilet is gone, my idea of making it a planter was frowned upon very quickly.

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it’s like a psychedelic dream…

They are going to paint the office I share with my pal and Bass God from Ed and the Boats, Greg. Here is some odd footage of them if you are interested.

This has become a little disconcerting as I realized that everything I own in this office is down to one box a plant and a disgusting looking blue tooth speaker on the floor.

the speaker

When I moved into the big city from the country I took all my pictures home as it felt I was moving into someone else’s space. I also spend much of my time out and about so what is the point of nesting in an office that is not really mine. There was also the thought that after 26 years this may be time to leave and it is easier without so much crap. Of course this has not happened and probably will not as I find interesting things to do, new programs to work on and a whole crew of crazy social workers to supervise.

thats the box and the ever present water bottle.

There is also rumor that we will actually be moving into a new space. I am not sure what to think of this. Is it a sign to get out of here or something else entirely. Maybe it is the final recognition of my value to the agency. I am going to have to decide what to do with these thoughts and concerns. Right now I am supposed to be writing a program outline for a child welfare program for sexually harming youth and instead I am tapping away here.

Several hours later…

I did get back to work. Suddenly I was embroiled in budgets and the understanding that mental health is not the priority in this or any other state under the current administration. Then the USPS text came.

It finally landed, Neil Young and Pearl Jam rocking out on Mirrorball. Who in their right mind sold this for $20, it almost feels like stealing, I did ask if he was sure, no he said it’s fine. I am having a little guilt here for a short time. Released in 1995 and mostly written and recorded over 4 days split between January and February 1995 in Seattle. It sounds surprisingly like a Neil Young album, grungy, rocky, at times inane lyrics and missing all of the navel gazing seriousness of the usual Pearl Jam album, although they have always been a band that could rock. Eddie is mostly missing from the album as he was scared to leave his house because of a demented stalker.

It is like the younger brother of Ragged Glory. It romps along like a four day good time with a bunch of young fans who got lucky enough to play with their cooler uncle. The rhythms are tighter the music a bit more lively and defined than the all out jam band momentum of Crazy Horse.

Downtown is the name checking single from the album and it’s a lot of fun. I remember coming home late at night in the 90’s watching MTV and seeing the video and thinking it was fun. Well here it is if you doubted me:

Anyway if you like romping rhythms, meandering solos, feedback and in studio chat, some half thought out well meaning lyrics, this may be the album for you.

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.

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.