This is going to be hard to write.
I feel like a traitor, a turncoat.
That I’ve turned on a life-long friend. Also, this site prides itself on its positive outlook – the mantra here is report on music I like and news that’s relevant.
Maybe I won’t finish this, maybe I’ll get cold feet.
I first met Neil Young over forty years ago. I still remember that day.
It was on the beach.
He was staring out to sea, wearing a lemon top and white calico pants. His long dark hair streaming behind. He was the coolest person I’d ever seen. Nixon was in the news again and there was a newspaper lying on the sand. There was a car fin lodged in the sand – it was weird, but I sought no explanation.
Some of the things Neil said that day were so profound, introspective and sharp that I still recall them vividly to this day.
The world is turnin’,
I hope it don’t turn away,
I need a crowd of people,
but I can’t face them
day to day,
I went to the radio interview,
but I ended up alone
at the microphone
“On The Beach”
I never knew a man
could tell so many lies
He had a different story
for every set of eyes.
How can he remember
who he’s talkin’ to?
‘Cause I know it ain’t me,
and I hope it isn’t you
And there ain’t nothin’
like a friend
Who can tell you
you’re just pissin’
in the wind
See the sky about to rain, broken clouds and rain. Locomotive, pull the train, whistle blowing through my brain
“See The Sky About To Rain”
Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars, But I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars.
Well, all those headlines, they just bore me now I’m deep inside myself, but I’ll get out somehow
Of course, I didn’t meet Neil. But it was in 1974 that I bought my first Neil Young record, mainly on speculation. was it the cover? was it just luck? I don’t believe I have heard a finer album since (and believe me, I have listed to a few in the intervening years). Yes folks, given the order to take one album to my desert island, it would be On The Beach. I could not live without it.
Since then it’s been all Neil. The second album I purchased was Time Fades Away and then it was all over red rover – everything he has ever released, plus bootlegs (sorry!), boxed sets, DVDs, archives, re-releases, movies, books, guitar music.
A life-long friendship – Neil and I.
Well, I must admit that I don’t feel the relationship to have been between equals. In fact, sometimes I feel that Neil hasn’t heard a word I’ve said over the forty-year journey. But that’s sorta been OK – he has a lot to say himself, he is following his muse in that determinedly, sometimes eccentric and single-minded way that the best creators do and he has given me so much.
Hell, I’ve even withstood the 80s when some of his output became hard work.
You might know what it’s like to follow – passionately and unflinchingly – an artist no matter what, through thick and thin, without question or doubt. Being a guy, I have been a collector and, ultimately, the aim is to collect everything. Over the years though, you get to the point where you just lose the desire to unquestionably part with your hard-earned cash constantly in order to be a completist. I stopped buying without question the latest, say, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, The Cure but I’ve never given up on Neil because there’s always been some redeeming feature to his work or enough promise in what is to come.
My devotion started to waver around Fork In The Road. It was ramshackle and loose-limbed, had a funny film clip but it seemed to be cobbled together with such haste, that somehow I didn’t feel like it had his whole attention during its creation. Le Noise engaged uber-producer Daniel Lanois and was an interesting move into stripped-back electric guitar and voice material. For me though the album lacked diversity, in tone and colour. Then there was Americana, a bold but unsuccessful attempt to breathe new life into a bunch of traditional tunes – a few tracks OK and some a little embarrassing.
Psychedelic Pill was a return to form, of sorts. Finally, back with Crazy Horse and the time-honored long grooves that have epitomised Neil’s best work. Maybe the song-writing wasn’t as profound (“Ramada Inn”!) and we have heard much of the vibe before, but at least I felt that Neil was back focused on music foremost (and that maybe Linc Volt, books, archive releases and Pono had taken a back seat).
But A Letter Home has tipped me over the edge. Another covers album for a start (two out of the last three). Now I get the sentiment of returning to the songs he first learned and appreciated. I have to say the audio tracks to his mother, the lacklustre approach and just plain bad song judgement have unnerved me. But the sound quality!! Nostalgia is great but if music was sold with this recording technique back in the late forties or fifties, the music business would have died back then.
I’ve played it once the whole way through and that’s it. Neil’s worst release ever?
Anyway, I’ve got that off my chest and I don’t feel particularly cleansed.
I feel bad, just like when I started writing this.
Maybe I’m wrong?
Anyway, here’s my ratings of Neil’s outputs since day dot (out of 5, and I have allowed myself no halves).
|Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere||5||1969|
|After the Gold Rush||5||1970|
|Time Fades Away||4||1973|
|On the Beach||5||1974|
|Tonight’s the Night||4||1975|
|Long May You Run||3||1976|
|American Stars ‘N Bars||4||1977|
|Comes a Time||5||1978|
|Rust Never Sleeps||5||1979|
|Hawks & Doves||4||1980|
|Landing on Water||3||1986|
|This Note’s for You||3||1988|
|Sleeps with Angels||4||1994|
|Year of the Horse||3||1997|
|Silver & Gold||3||2000|
|Road Rock, Vol. 1: Friends & Relatives||2||2000|
|Are You Passionate?||2||2002|
|Living with War||3||2006|
|Live at the Fillmore East||4||2006|
|Chrome Dreams II||3||2007|
|Fork in the Road||2||2009|
|A Letter Home||0||2014|
Please tell me I’m wrong…