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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Forever Young" posts

Below are links to each of the 50 Forever Young entries, most of which were written weekly throughout 2014 (the first 2 were written as part of an earlier “GMVW” series written in 2008 and 2009, which can also be found in this blog).  The red text below is the song focus for that given entry.  The blue text in quotes is my title for the entry.  The url link is below each title. The next series will focus on the music of the Who.  If you are interested in a future series, please sign up as a member of this Blog and I will send a notice when I get started again.

# 1
Change Your Mind
"The Chameleon"

# 2
Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)
"Can a Guitar Sweat?  Check!"
# 3
 Powderfinger
"Blindsided"

# 4
Long May You Run
"Olympic Gold"

# 5
Someday
"Carpe Diem”

# 6
Cough Up the Bucks
"Tarred and Feathered"

# 7
Cinnamon Girl
"Setting the Record Straight"

# 8
Harvest Moon
"Just Rewards"
# 9
Time Fades Away
"Structurally (un)Sound"

# 10
Broken Arrow
"The Pact”

# 11
Harvest
"Unplugged"

# 12
Bandit
"Expecting the Unexpected"

# 13
Barstool Blues
"How Do You Know When a Diamond Is Real"

# 14
The Loner
"Lock Picking”

# 15
Love and War
"Music to my Ears"

# 16
Come on Baby Lets Go Downtown
"The Time Capsule"
# 17
Ordinary People
"The Commencement Speech”
# 18
Motorcycle Moma
"You Can’t Be Serious"

# 19
Walk Like a Giant
"The Yearning"
# 20
After the Goldrush
"Nature’s Stewards"

# 21
Ambulance Blues
"Coping Mechanisms”

# 22
Horseshoe Man
"Softball”

# 23
Country Home
"Rural Rejuvenation"

# 24
Prime of Life
"Bridging the Generational Divide"

# 25
Ride My Llama
"The Journey”

# 26
People in the Street
"Deep Cuts (of the music-video variety)”

# 27
Like a Hurricane
"Lightning in a Bottle"

# 28
Trans
"A Trans-formation”

# 29
Ohio
"It’s Enough to Make a Grown Man Cry”
# 30
Wonderin’
"At the Root of It All”

# 31
Prairie Wind
"Into the Mystic”

# 32
t-bone
"A Rebel With a Cause”

# 33
Wrecking Ball
“Closure”
# 34
Truth Be Known
“Hidden Treasure”
# 35
Two Old Friends
"Faith Focus”
# 36
Mideast Vacation
"A Clash of Worlds"

# 37
Mansion on the Hill
"Shedding the Baggage”
# 38
Tonight’s the Night
"Facing the Music”

# 39
Campaigner
"A Pardon of the Partisan Kind”

# 40
Who’s Gonna Stand Up
"We Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Pipeline"
# 41
Sugar Mountain
"Not Ad-verse to a Little Sugar Coating"
# 42
On the Beach
"Beach Front Property"
# 43
Don’t Be Denied
"Staying the Musical Course”
# 44
Pardon My Heart
"A Heart Transplant”
# 45
Losing End
"Alright Wilson, Pick It!”
# 46
Cowgirl in the Sand
"Stretching It Out Some"
# 47
Old King
"Dog Story"
# 48
Out on the Weekend
"Bouv”
# 49
Peaceful Valley Boulevard
"The Great North American Narrative”
# 50
Cortez the Killer
"Just About Out of Superlatives”

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Forever Young # 48: "Just About Out of Superlatives"

Song:  Cortez the Killer
Album:  Zuma
Released:  August, 1975

Alas, I’ve reached the end of the road in this ‘Forever Young’ year, 2014, which included 48 blog entries centered on the music of Neil Young.   Along with the 2 ‘Gem Music Video of the Week’ (GMVW) entries from ~ six years ago (GMVW # 32, August, 2008 and GMVW # 67, April, 2009), that’s an even 50, which is the same as what I did for the Rolling Stones in 2012 (the ‘Stepping Stones’).  It’s been fun.  It’s been real.  But there is a lot of other music out there, much of which has been set aside for an entire calendar year (a pretty substantial chunk of time to dedicate to one artist if you think about it).  And so it is time to move on.

I have dug deep into the music of Neil Young this year, which was the intention from the get-go.  This musician is one of a handful who I have determined to be on my top shelf, and therefore deserving of a broader connection in these weekly musings than my earlier writings.  The original GMVW series (100 in all) focused on a different musician practically every week.  Those entries were centered on the linked videos (hence the title of the series) - much of which was concert footage, some MTV-like - and the thoughts those videos stirred up in me.  The intent with ‘Stepping Stones’ and ‘Forever Young’ (and hopefully future series centered on the Who, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles) is to flesh out my broader interest in these musicians through all of their albums, allowing me to build new thoughts, old memories and deeper insights upon.  I hope that has come across in the writing. 

So, what did I learn from this ‘Forever Young’ year?  Well, I’m more convinced than ever that Neil Young marches to the beat of his own drum more than any other musician I enjoy listening to.  This has led to an amazing diversity of sound.  For example, other than the vocals, it can be difficult to connect the guy who penned Speakin’ Out with the guy who penned Walks Like a Giant or Transformer Man or People on the Street or Powderfinger or the entirety of ‘Greendale’.  Yes, this singer/songwriter is all over the map.  I don’t believe he has ever been swayed by the critics or his fans.  In many respects, this is what defines an artist.  Rock and Roll needed this attitude to help it climb to the pinnacle of respectability:  It needed Neil Young even more than Young needed it.

In 1986, Rolling Stone Magazine aired a 20th anniversary documentary on prime time television.  It was an excellent program with a number of high profile musicians interviewed for it.  This was the heart of the 80s and many of the interviewees, including Mick Jagger and David Bowie had the period-piece fluffed up hairdos.  Neil Young on the other hand (as well as Jerry Garcia) made no fashion statement.  He didn’t even attempt to look presentable, and was actually slouched his whole interview, with a ragged, shaggy look about him.  But his comments were clear, concise and riveting.  I was drawn in.  I’m sure a number of future grunge-band leaders were too.

Neil Young is a very personal writer, but I believe this is the case because he feels his life relates to all of us and that it’s his duty to make as strong of a connection as he can with the gifts he has been given.  The ‘ditch trilogy’ of the early 70s (‘Time Fades Away’, ‘On the Beach’, and ‘Tonight’s the Night’) alone bears this out.  There is dissolution and despair on the music of these albums that is palpable.  But somehow, it’s all reassuring because it’s all so human.  This had me coming back for more to that period throughout the year despite the downcast mood and subject matter.  The fact that Neil Young stuck with this mood (or was stuck with it) for a good half decade is impressive; he lay prone on that psychiatrist couch until there was nothing left to say.  He faced his (and his 60’s contemporaries) demons head on, so that by the time ‘Zuma’ was released, there was a natural feeling of uplift.  Any premature attempt to do this would have likely sounded contrived.   Thankfully, we will never know that sound.

Neil Young has done a lot of great work with a lot of great musicians, but I believe it’s his band Crazy Horse that has emboldened him most.  Perhaps it’s because 2014 was the Chinese Year of the Horse, but I found myself turning to the Crazy Horse albums when I needed a bit of creative spark in my writing from time to time.  That simple, driving, relentless beat of this faithful band can be hypnotizing.  I’ve had the opportunity to see it live on a handful of occasions (most recently, 2013) and this year I finally dedicated time to listen to their deeper cuts.  I was not disappointed.  Heck, T-Bone was the centerpiece to one of my ‘Forever Young’ blog entries.  That alone should be testament enough to my admiration.

A few songs in Young’s catalog hit me like a ton of bricks this year.  There was Lookout Joe off of ‘Tonight’s the Night’, and Truth Be Known off of ‘Mirror Ball’ and Love and War off ‘Le Noise’ and the title track off ‘Time Fades Away’ and Barstool Blues off ‘Zuma’.  These songs stared out at me in the past, but they entered another level of my consciousness this time around.  I got the same boost with a number of Rolling Stones songs several years ago.  It’s a bonus to this intense process I suppose.  These gems now stand hand in hand with other Neil Young songs that were already masterpieces to me, including Ordinary People, Harvest, Walks Like a Giant, Long May You Run, Powderfinger, Someday, Wrecking Ball, Horseshoe Man, Razor Love and Change Your Mind.  When you feel a song to the degree that I have felt these songs, you know there is something special there.  For that feeling alone, which hit me blindside on these handfuls of occasions, I believe this process was worthwhile.

Where Neil Young seems to take his biggest risks are in his experiments with sound.  'Trans', 'Le Noise', 'A Letter Home' and ‘Landing on Water’ are all pivotal albums in this regard.  I tried explaining what I heard in this music, but occasionally it got difficult.  The echoing sounds of 'Le Noise' in particular brought me somewhere I could not put my finger on despite repeated listening.  I kept on thinking of Howard Blake’s Walking in the Air (from The Snowman), but the feelings I get from that are just as fascinatingly mysterious.  Several times I felt close to interpreting the feeling, but then it would wisp away in a flash.  As Iris Dement once sang, sometimes you just got to let the mystery be.  Most of the time however, I think I got what I was looking for in word. 

I found this year a bit more challenging than when I wrote about the Rolling Stones.  When I wrote about the Stones, I had a chance to bounce around some, seeing as my interest is almost equally divided among its members, present and past.  For the most part, Neil Young is known as a solo artist, despite the fact that he has accompaniment on most of his songs, and so topics and themes took a bit more effort as the entries mounted.  Perhaps I should have stopped at 30, although I believe I had a pretty good stretch there near the end that could have been missed otherwise.  Anyhow, this will also be a challenge for Bob Dylan, but that’s a subject for another time.

Neil Young has done an amazing job of avoiding hubris, which has brought down many in his field.  This is the key reason for his longevity.  Young was 34 when he toured ‘Rust Never Sleeps’.  In that footage, he looks as if he is 24.  He’s svelte and wiry.  By that time, many of his generation were looking their age and then some.  Neil Young is no angel and has consumed his fair share of substances.  But everyone who looks younger than their years has some secret.  For Young, it’s his ability to sidestep pride.  As is the case with Leonard Cohen, who just released a fantastic album at the age of 80, Neil Young could be producing quality for many years to come for this very reason. 

A general rule of mine with these blog writings has been to stay on the positive side of the ledger, but with Neil Young and his passion for singing about hot ticket items like contrived wars and global warming and racism and inequity, there was no avoiding my dipping into these issues.  It was somewhat easy to do, since I sympathize with most of Young’s protestations, but it still broke me out of the mold.  But like I said to my Mom a month or so ago, you can’t ignore what’s gnawing at you.  It’s got to come out.  So I wrote on these topics here and there.  Considering the central figure, it would have been a sham not to have.

A few potential entries will be left on the vine.  I flirted with songs like Stringman and Touch the Night and My Boy and Hitchhiker and Philadelphia and The Loner, but nothing beyond a few sentences ever materialized out of these.  They are all magnificent songs, as are so many others in Neil Young’s catalog that I had to pass on.  However, I believe the 50 songs chosen represent the broad swath of what this musician brings to the table. 

I’d like to thank everyone for their support, particularly my wife Nancy and my brother Fred.  Laying ones thoughts out on the line can on occasion feel as if you are out on a limb, so the support is much appreciated.  I’d also like to thank my good friend Jeff Strause, who gives me insights to the times that preceded my own formative years (late 60s and early 70s) as well as to what is happening now (I don’t  know of anyone that comes close to having attended the number of shows Jeff has in his lifetime).   And also Chris Brady, who sent me some great live Neil Young music, which definitely helped to stimulate ideas throughout the year. 

And finally, I’d like to make another nod to Bob Bouvier, who opened the door to my deeper interest and insights into Neil Young’s music, and to whom this ‘Forever Young’ series is dedicated to.  Cortez the Killer is chosen as the final entry with Bouv in mind (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-b76yiqO1E )   .  Back in 1986, when I attended my first Crazy Horse show with Bob, it was this song that captivated us the most.  The self-dubbed “3rd best Garage Band in the World”, were immersed in piped-in ‘fog’, and Young came “dancing” out of it.  One could almost picture Cortez making his way on to North American soil for the first time, Montezuma awaiting, not yet realizing the implications.  Young blends history, myth and love into this song (“and I know she’s living there, and she loves me to this day”).   This can be said for many other songs in his catalog, (i.e. Southern Man, a story about lynching, which includes “Lily Belle, your hair is golden brown”).  It’s never simple with Neil Young.   There are always multiple levels and numerous possible entry points. 

I’ll close with the ending set of lyrics in Thrasher:

But me I'm not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time
When the thrashers comes, I'll be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But I'll know the time has come
To give what's mine.

Neil Young has always set the bar high for himself, which comes through in these lyrics.  I hope that I followed his lead this year with these ‘Forever Young’ blog entries.

-          Pete

Monday, December 22, 2014

Forever Young # 47: "The Great North American Narrative"

Song:  Peaceful Valley Boulevard
Album:  Le Noise
Released:  September, 2010

Often during the writing of this ‘Forever Young’ series I have contemplated Neil Young’s place in the broader context of the ever-evolving story of America.  To this end, a term has played out in my mind: “The Great North American Narrative”, the story of North America in the modern era.  To my knowledge, nothing like it has been written.  It may be to all-encompassing.  There’s Mexico, and the United States, and Canada and the Caribbean, and Central America and Native America, and the interplay between these entities.  But despite all this diversity, there is a commonality.  There is a story there.  It’s about trailblazing and risk and opportunity.  There are many subplots, a number of which are centered on historic events.  But the vast majority of the narrative is about individuals; people who made a difference. 

Neil Young is now an undeniable piece of that Great North American Narrative, and so are several of his musical contemporaries, including Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.  Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that this bluesman (Johnson) and beatnik (Guthrie) and folkie (Dylan) and hippie (Young) are now a part of the narrative, right up there with the likes of Henry Hudson, and Samuel de Champlain and Alexander Graham Bell, and Tecumseh, and Lewis and Clark, and Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln and Geronimo and Pancho Villa, and Charlie Chaplin and Judy Garland and Joe DiMaggio and Al Jolson and, and Ernest Hemmingway and Crazy Horse and Babe Ruth and Fred Astaire, and Martin Luther King and Teddy Roosevelt, and Walt Disney and Albert Einstein and Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain and John Wayne and Thomas Edison and George Gershwin and Irving Berlin and Hank Williams.   

Who would have thought?  Forty years ago, such a declaration would have been scoffed at.  But the times, they have changed, and the contributions of these musicians, with others on their heels, are getting recognized now as revolutionary in their own way.  Yes, these men have helped shape the American experience.  Dylan himself was recognized in this regard with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the highest honor that can be bestowed on an American civilian. 

Neil Young is certain to be a future recipient of this distinguished medal. This long haired, flannel loving, self-proclaimed hippie has climbed to the top of the mountain.  He’s done this in both the depth and breadth of his works, which has come with a boatload of independent thinking.  He’s done this by taking his own personal story and thrusting it out there for all to hear.  In the process, we have learned that Neil Young is not proud.  In fact, he’s just the opposite, which has allowed those of us who listen to his music to relate, and in turn see our place in the narrative as well.  To know an open, honest musician the likes of Neil Young is, in many ways, to know ourselves. 

Neil Young’s story covers large chunks of the North American narrative.  He identifies himself as a Canadian and a citizen of the United States.  He connects with Native Americans too.  One could even make a case that he has tapped into the New World Hispanic experience (case in point, the ‘Freedom’ song Eldorado).  Neil Young is urban and rural, prairie and coastal, ancient and modern, and almost all of it traces to those American roots. 

I just finished the Levon Helm book, ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’, a fascinating story of The Band.  One take-home was the role Canada (particularly the Toronto region) played in the evolution of Rock and Roll in the early 60s.   When we think of Rock and Roll origins and its early evolution we think of the Deep South and Memphis and New York and Chicago and San Francisco and Detroit and Cleveland.  The intriguing thing about the Toronto region is that they picked up on this new sound relatively early.  This interest drew in the Southern rockabilly bands.  Musicians like Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm found they could make more money north of the border.  In turn, Canadian upstarts like Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Rick Danko got a leg up on young musicians in other parts of North America simply by being there.  Soon, they were being recruited by those Southern rockabilly bands that had made their way North.  At the same time upstarts including Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young were establishing themselves in Toronto.  A scene had been established in the Yorkville district of the city and soon expanded to the entire region. 

I bring this Toronto scene up because I believe it is where Neil Young began connecting those North American dots.  He was in a very advantageous position to be living there at that time, albeit in a precarious, almost day-to-day existence.  I lived in Canada for a year, Ottawa, Ontario to be specific, and in the process I made some great and lasting friendships.  At the time and in the years since, I’ve come to gain a bit of insight into what Canada brings to the Great North American Narrative table.  It’s about proximity to the USA, our common language (for the most part) and Canada’s love of the good things that come out of this country.  Where many of us in the States tend to take cultural shifts a bit for granted, or simply not see the tide changing, the Canadians hone in.  Often, they become so enamored with some of these trends, that they push the envelope and make the original concept better.  They’ve done it with comedy (i.e. Second City improvisation), they’ve done it with baby-boomer self-absorption (i.e. Trivial Pursuit) and, as explained above, they’ve done it with rock and roll.

From that original scene, Neil Young continued to make all the right moves which ultimately tied him to the entire continent, both musically and geographically.  This is what puts him in the narrative. 

There are numerous songs in Neil Young’s catalog that dig deep into the American psyche.  A prime example is this week’s Forever Young entry, Peaceful Valley Boulevard ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE9AwJtZ3gw&list=RDkE9AwJtZ3gw ).  This song has historical context; that being the struggles of the early western settlers.  But it also delves into current events, namely the heavy, overarching issue of global warming.  Young ties it all together, in a way only he can do.  It’s all about cause and consequence, despite the passage of time that would have most of us thinking otherwise.  There is outrage in this tune; however this sentiment comes with an undertow of love for his home land, respect and reverence mixed with anger.  It’s this ability to hit you from both angles that makes Neil Young a rare spokesperson for his generation.

One more Forever Young entry to go.

Merry Christmas!

-          Pete