Album: Time Fades Away
Released: October, 1973
It’s too bad the Rolling Stones had to go and christen the title of their 1966 album ‘Aftermath’, expending the name in the process. The word aftermath is defined as “the consequences of a significant unpleasant event”, and the mid-60s, along with the period that preceded, were relatively tame in a historical context (as was this album), so there’s little to work with here (in hindsight the title ‘Prelude’ may have been more appropriate, but the Stones would have had to be visionaries to anticipate what was soon to follow).
On the contrary, ‘Aftermath’ would have been the perfect title for any number of early to mid-70s albums by any of a handful of musicians who cut their teeth in the 60s, including the Stones. Now, I’ll go to my grave believing there were many great things to come out of the 60s counterculture movement, including the highly innovative and often free form music. It was a rapid growing experience for those involved and for some like Neil Young, who thrived in those extremely unstructured times, it was positive in many ways. But for others the growing experience was all too rapid and ultimately Neil Young and many of his contemporaries would have to bear witness to close friends who fell through the cracks.
The immediate stretch that followed, the early to mid-70s, was an amazingly prolific time for many 60s musicians including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, George Harrison, and John Lennon. The common denominator of their music during this time: The lyrics were deeply personal, and often painful, reflecting on what was lost in the years that preceded. For these musicians, their 60s albums were revolutionary, but for my money their ‘aftermath’ albums are better: ‘Who By Numbers’, ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Dark Side Of the Moon’, ‘Empty Glass’, ‘All Things Must Pass’, ‘Blood on the Tracks’, ‘Exile on Main Street’, ‘Goats Head Soup’, ‘Plastic Ono Band’, ‘Desire’, ‘Imagine’ and of course Neil Young’s “Ditch” trilogy of albums: ‘Time Fades Away’, ‘Tonight’s the Night, and ‘On the Beach’.
The title track ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVn8jvddl64 ) is full of heartache, the refrain seemingly a Dad’s plea to his wayward son to get off the streets and come home. It starts off….
“14 Junkies too weak to work,
Down on pain street
Followed by the refrain…
“Son don’t be home too late
Son, don’t wait till the break of day
Cause you know how time fades away”
The song finishes with the same set of lyrics and refrain, but instead of “14 Junkies” there are now 13. Was the son saved, or did he succumb? The best thing about Time Fades Away is the back and forth vocals between Neil Young and pedal steel player, Ben Keith. This comes across to me as Young playing the role of the son (his Dad’s voice echoing in his ears), and Keith as the father. Ben Keith’s voice is deep and belies his age at the time (36), sounding like a much older and wiser man. Listening now, this song sounds like a prelude to ‘Greendale’, a concept album which had a similar father/son relationship.
The other verses are afflicted as well:
All day presidents look out windows
All are waiting till the time is right
Back in Canada I spent my days
I was handcuffed, I was born and raised.