Thursday, January 23, 2014

Forever Young # 4: "Tarred and Feathered"

Song:  Cough Up the Bucks
Album:  Fork in the Road
Released: April, 2009

Perhaps it was all the Stephen King books I’d been reading those days combined with a flashback to earlier Edgar Allen Poe assignments in high school.  Or maybe it was simply my always-present geographic awareness.  Whatever the reason, that eerie raven has never strayed far from total recall.  We’ve all had our moments with critters of one kind or another, both big and small, and I’ve certainly had my share.  This one however was quite out of the ordinary and, to tell the truth, somewhat disconcerting.  Let me explain.

It was the winter of 1988.  Myself, along with brother Fred, and friends Mac, Kurt, and John (and several other Franklinites) flew to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta for a week of skiing (more of this trip can be found in the January 1, 2009 Gem Music Video of the Week blog entry “Natural Wonders”).  It was a fantastic getaway on the slopes in Banff (Sunshine) and Lake Louise, with all trails of both ranges in prime condition, primarily due to the fact that our trip was coming on the heels of the Calgary Olympics.  

One day in the middle of the week, several of us rented a car and took the scenic highway 200 miles north to the mountain village of Jasper.  Wildlife (elk, big-horn sheep, mountain goats, moose) and magnificent scenery surrounded us during the entire journey, and for the most part we had it all to ourselves.  We arrived in Jasper in time for a late lunch and popped into a pub on the north side of town.  After ordering our meals we made a decision to stop at the Marmot Basin Ski Lodge down the road on the way back to have a beer and to see what the slopes there looked like compared to what we’d been skiing all week further south.  With a little time to kill before lunch would be served, I figured I’d go out to the car to get the map so we could plot a route to the lodge as we ate.

As I was walking to the car, I came to the realization that we were parked at the furthest northern point I’d ever been in North America (though I had been above the Arctic Circle in Norway a few years earlier, which is much farther north than Jasper).  And since we would be heading back south after lunch, this was as far north as we would be on this trip.  So, for the hell of it, I walked right past the car, enjoying the fact that each step was a new record for me. 

A handful of steps were all I took though, because dead ahead of me, at the entrance to a small park on the edge of town, was what appeared to be a black raptor-like bird of some kind on the sidewalk.  Closer inspection revealed to me that this was instead a songbird.  Correction: A large songbird.  In fact, this songbird was so big - a good 3 times the size of your average crow – that it defied the senses.  After a few moments I came to the realization that what I was looking at was an oversized raven.  This alone would have been startling.  But that humongous bird had other adjectives associated with its appearance.  It was unkempt.  It was grizzled.  And after I took another step in the raven’s direction, I realized one other thing: It was nasty. 

Staring into my eyes and hissing, the raven was clearly ready to go at it with me.  I couldn’t believe it! Did he have some type of avian rabies? No, I decided, he looked healthy enough.  But he looked ancient and menacing, and…..otherworldly.  I was not going to tangle with this beast.  I made a feeble motion to go around him, close to the snow banks, but the raven would have nothing of it.  He hissed again. I hesitated.  He advanced.  Finally, I decided to back away, keeping my eye on this raptor-in-disguise as I unlocked the car and pulled out the map.  When I turned to leave, he took a few more steps toward me and let out another, even louder hiss. 

If I could quote the raven, it was not “Nevermore” he said with that hiss.  But it was something close to it; something along the lines of “Civilization stops here!”  I took the hint.  When I returned to the car with the crew after lunch the raven was gone.  But his demarcation line was still there in my mind and I did not hesitate to honor it, making a U-Turn south from the parking spot.  I was not going to play any more games on that day with such a harbinger.

If I interpreted the raven correctly, he was right; there really is not much in the way of modern civilization in Alberta that is further north than Jasper.  There is a Native American holdout, however; a place called Fort McMurray.  But it’s changed awfully fast in the past decade.  It’s become the home of big oil and tar sands in a very big, intrusive way.  Most of us have been aware of this for some time, but not quite comprehending the degree of the change to Fort McMurray. 

Neil Young brought this degree of change to light for much of the world last week with a series of protest concerts across Canada and a radio interview.  Have a listen:
* Thanks to Pat Shea for the link.

If there’s one thing that Neil Young does better than any other musician, it’s that he finds a way to stay relevant.   He not only does this with his music, but also his lyrics in song.  From segregation (Southern Man) to the Watergate scandal (Campaigner) to 60s disillusionment (Needle and the Damage Done) to the Mideast’s hatred of the USA (Mideast Vacation) to late-80s poverty (Keep on Rockin in the Free World) to the 90s teen suicide epidemic (Change Your Mind) to 911(Let’s Roll) to the Iraq War (Let’s impeach the President).  There are not many historical events in the past 40 years that have escaped Neil Young’s scrutiny. 

Then along came 'Fork in the Road'.  This album was loaded with songs covering the current events of the time:  A virtual time capsule for the year 2009.  The album is centered on Neil Young’s Lincoln Continental, redubbed “LincVolt” after its innards were rebuilt for greener pastures; this being the newer, environmental definition of green.  A handful of songs reflect on this true story.  From there, the album hits on all the major topics of the day (and still); reducing your carbon footprint, resistance to this concept, Wall Street bailouts, and the inferior sound of digital music.  But the album consistently loops back to his LincVolt.

Now, anybody that understands me knows I’m not much of a car guy.  Let me put it this way:  I’ve never sold one.  Longevity and economy is all I’m looking for.  But listening to 'Fork in the Road' has me a bit more intrigued.  Neil Young comes across loud and clear as a lover of large American automobiles (and American ingenuity in general).  I’d drop this ball if it were not for the new green angle.  With this emphasis in his songs, however, I can feel the vibes.  So yes, I believe I could get into cars…. If they were environmentally sound.

I came close to choosing Light a Candle off ‘Fork in the Road’ for this week’s “Forever Young” song.  It’s got an amazing affinity with the music of the late Townes Van Zandt.  There was also Just singing a song (won’t change the world) and the title track, which includes the lyrics:

“I'm a big rock star
My sales have tanked
But I still got you

There’s plenty of material to blog about there.  But then I watched the video for the Beastie Boys sounding Cough Up the Bucks ( )and I was hooked.  Here is Neil Young having a little fun in the midst of dire, dour, and otherwise serious subject matter.   It took me a little while, but soon I realized….what he’s doing here is playing himself getting caught up in the world of Wall Street by peddling his LinkVolt invention to investors over the phone in the back seat of a limo.  Excellently done, and of course uniquely Neil. 

Ok,  before anyone thinks Neil Young has abandoned good old-fashioned capitalism for other ‘isms’, here he is making a case for his LincVolt in a speech (parts 1 to 4) to the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) in 2010:
You make the call.

I’d like to conclude this week’s Forever Young with this:  Son Peter is currently taking a high school environmental disasters class (his choice, not mine).  It’s focused on the big issue of the day: Global Warming.  His homework is convincing of this unnatural trend alright, as I knew it would be, and includes research on those oil tar sands in Fort McMurray – it appears that for all his efforts, the raven couldn’t block everyone from those natural and sacred grounds.  Anyhow, Peter is handling what he’s hearing pretty well, all things considered.  After all, it is a reality slap. 

It’s one we all need.

-          Pete

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