Thursday, March 29, 2018

Neil Young

In my last post I quoted Neil Young, because the IRA / age 59-1/2 issues raised by Damon Jones' paper brought to mind "Tell Me Why" (one of two great songs that I know with that title) from After the Gold Rush, and in particular "Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself / When you're old enough to repay, but young enough to sell?"

I've always interpreted those words as being about having a first home with mortgage, but who knows - odd stuff for a 25-year old to be writing a rock song about, albeit one who presumably already had some earnings from his musical career.

This in turn has gotten me started re-playing my two favorite Neil Young albums, After the Gold Rush and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, especially when I get a chance to go to the health club (where I implement my ongoing anti-aging strategy). But Young may have a different such strategy. When I saw him a couple of years ago, doing a solo show at Carnegie Hall of all places, he looked like a crotchety old man (although still with energy and focus) shambling between piano, guitar, etc. from song to song, as he dipped into his rather deep backlist.

Back when I was a lot younger and Neil Young was, too (albeit more than a decade older than me), finding out about new artists could be tricky. You'd hear their names, but the good ones weren't on the radio, and obviously there was no Internet or file-sharing. Unless your friends or roommates had LPs by particular artists, you couldn't find out what their music was really like unless you took the plunge and bought LPs on a limited budget.

I knew CSNY fairly well, but considered them a bit mild and over-sweet compared to the prior generation (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who). I also wasn't entirely clear yet on Young's relationship to the other three, except I knew he wasn't always with them. But then one day when I was out in Berkeley visiting family, I took the plunge, $2.75 for After the Gold Rush (used) in a hippie record shop next to the campus (either Rather Ripped Records or Rasputin Records). I liked its raw weirdness right away.

Being less subtle in my youth, I once set "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" to start playing moments after a friend of mine walked through the door with his new girlfriend, about whom I (rightly) had a bad feeling, shortly after he had broken up with a longtime girlfriend who I thought was a great person. This is harder to do with an LP than, say, a Spotify playlist.

I remember once reading about Stephen Stills in relation to Young. Stills reportedly had a lot of trouble getting over the shock that this weird nerd guitarist whom he had invited into Buffalo Springfield ended up becoming so much bigger a star - an outcome that he had initially rated at zero percent probability. (In fairness to Stills, I gather that Young is exceptionally frustrating to deal with.) In the Buffalo Springfield days, they would have all these fights about the direction that the band should take. Stills kept pointing out that Young (1) had no singing voice, and (2) wanted to play folk music in a rock band.

To which the correct answer, of course, is "Yes, but what's your point?"

UPDATE: I was astounded to hear from a friend that the iconic cover picture for After the Gold Rush was actually taken right outside my office, at NYU Law School, corner of MacDougal Street and West 3rd. See the very full discussion here.


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Paul said...

Upon reflection, I never thought Neil's lines meant anything beyond a wave at some sort of inchoate karmic balance or something. A better informed friend says, "I've read that Neil thought it was a nonsense line - that fit. I thought I came across that bit in his wildly discursive memoir Waging Heavy Peace, but I'm not sure."

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