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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