Thursday, April 24, 2014

Forever Young # 17: "The Yearning"

Song:  Walk Like a Giant
Album:  Psychedelic Pill
Released:  October, 2012

 It’s a relatively shortlist of rock and roll songwriters who have become successful in terms of relying on this art form for their livelihood; those who distinguished themselves from the pack.  A minority of these success stories have even reached the level of achievement that has them recognized in Cleveland at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They represent but a small percentage of the totality of musicians that gave the profession a go.  In the end most missed the mark (though I’m sure many had fun trying).  As AC/DC once declared “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll” (the first “Gem Music Video of the Week” over 5 years ago)

 A vast majority of these successful songwriters will be known for a singular burst of creativity, making for a steady dose of quality material while in their heyday.  It’s the rarer case when musicians have been able to get a second wind later in their careers.  Paul Simon comes to mind with his 80s comeback album ‘Graceland’.  The Stones kicked it back into high gear in the late 70s and early 80s with the albums ‘Some Girls’ and ‘Tatoo You’, which included quality hits like Beast of Burden, Start Me Up, and Miss You.  The Kinks reached the MTV generation with Come Dancing and Randy Newman with Its Money that Matters.  Springsteen, Petty, Mellencamp, U2, Joni Mitchell, and Tom Waits can all lay claims to a second wind too.

 Third wind and beyond finds this shortlist dwindling considerably.  Bob Dylan and Neil Young (and to a lesser degree, Leonard Cohen) are the only ones that come to mind. Their sustained excellence will have them recognized as movers and shakers of their times (and beyond) forevermore.  Anything from here on for them is just icing on the cake.  In fact, this could have been said 10 years ago.  For these gentlemen, the legacy is secure.

 Young’s most recent demonstration of this sustainability was his 2012 album ‘Psychedelic Pill’, which includes great tunes like Ramada Inn and the title track.  It also includes an instant classic; this week’s blog-entry focus, Walk Like a Giant ( ).  To think that Young produced something of this caliber at the age of 67 gives us all hope.

 Walk Like a Giant connected with me right away, but it really took hold when I listened to a live podcast of the Neil Young w/Crazy Horse performance of it at the 2012 Global Festival on Central Park, NY, NY (thanks for that tip, Jeff Strause).  Considering the songs meaning, which I attempt to tackle below, performing it in the Big Apple before hundreds of thousands must have been poignant and potent for Young and company.  Later, I would get to see it performed live at the Boston Garden, with Nancy, Mac, and Dave, which added to my insight of the meaning.  This week I couldn’t get enough of it. 

 Walk Like a Giant somehow conveys both the contrasting feelings of abundance and loss, as well as bliss and unease.  The positive sentiments come at you through the pace of the song - or more precisely the giant’s steady gait - which is delivered at key points in the chorus and reinforced by a casual whistle (performed admirably at the Boston Garden show by Young and Sampedro).  It portrays a sense of success and accomplishment in ways that few songs do:  After all, how can one top the image of a peaceful giant walking calmly across the landscape to get this point across? 

 The negative emotions come at you in the lyrics and guitar work.  The first two lines capture these feelings in a nutshell:

I used to walk like a giant on the land
Now I feel like a leaf floating in a stream

It brings you to the realization that the positive emotions are fleeting.  This song reminds me of the little known Who song off of ‘It’s Hard’, Cry if You Want, which is also about what could have been gained from the Baby Boomer generation’s ideals, but instead was lost.  The difference here is that, where Cry If You Want is bitter and regretful, Walk Like a Giant sees the singer deprived but longing to get that old self back.  To me, it comes much closer to the truth of the matter, and has this fellow Boomer longing as well.

 As the song rolls along, the giant tries making a comeback but instead hits a couple of rough patches.  One patch, after the 2nd stanza, has Young playing brilliantly the sound of what can only be interpreted as Godzilla making his way - under fire - through the streets of Tokyo (starting at 6:39 of the official video link above).  The best effects are saved for the end however.  It sounds as if the giant is woozy and attempting to get back on his feet; bass, guitars and drums out of synch, but attempting to get that gait back.  Then slow, steady ambling and finally a stride that seems to gain in confidence as Walk Like a Giant winds toward a conclusion.  This part of the song was an intense live experience; as intense as any Cortez the Killer version I’d seen over the years.  In the end there appears to be a giant’s cathartic moment (the vocals similar to George Harrison’s at the end of Long Long Long, which was also meant to be cathartic), and an image begins to take shape of what could have been.

 I have to say the Neil Young show this past year was a bit of an eye opener:  I was surrounded by grey beards.  Same for the Stones show I was at last year… and the Roger Waters ‘The Wall’ show at Fenway Park, and the Who ‘Quadrophenia’ show at Boston Garden several years back.  I guess I was one of them.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse were a bunch of grey bears too, as was Patti Smith, who backed them up.  At first, this was a little disconcerting.  I recalled a comment made by a work colleague about Mick Jagger looking so old and out of place as a rocker.  He would have probably made the same comment about Young as well on that fine night for two reasons:  1) he clearly looked older (but wiser) and 2) he was rocking as hard as ever.

 Thankfully it was not long before that disconcerting feeling was replaced by a familiar sense of camaraderie.  And there was something new there too.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and Patti Smith, and the Rolling Stones, and the Who and Roger Waters had all logged endless miles for what was now coming across to me as a common goal.  Walk Like a Giant helped to make this all brilliantly clear.  One line in the song states “Think about how close we came”, and another “We were pulling in the spiritual”.  Yes, there was something heavy and deep that was there for the taking long ago, something that at the time seemed forever accessible. 

 The common goal was a yearning for what once was, and a GIANT sized yearning at that, because rock and roll has always aimed high.  I once read that Mick Jagger should be looked at now in the way one might look at an old bluesman like Muddy Waters or B.B. King. That’s pretty accurate.  Bluesmen are always yearning. 

 Now you can add old rockers to the list.

 -          Pete

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Forever Young # 16: "You Can't Be Serious"

Song:  Motorcycle Mama
Album:  Comes a Time
Released:  October, 1978

Some of the great albums of the classic rock era have simple, quirky anomalies on them; songs that don’t quite fit the tone and seriousness of the other tracks that surround these odd ducks.  Yellow Submarine off of ‘Revolver’ is a perfect example, blowing to smithereens any notion that this album has a core concept (regardless, it does little to diminish ‘Revolver’s lofty reputation).  Another one is Squeeze Box off ‘The Who By Numbers’, which nonetheless retains a core concept by the sheer intensity of all the other cuts (a bit more on this below).  There’s also Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream from ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (an aside: whoever cracks up near the beginning of that song - after the false start - reveals an uncanny laugh-style resemblance to one Jeff Brady), as well as Star Star off of the Stones ‘Goats Head Soup’ (the song – the entire album for that matter – is repetitive and offensive, but somehow very listenable) , and You Can Leave Your Hat On off Randy Newman’s ’12 Songs’ (I admit, this one’s a stretch because the song is so good, but it’s still an anomaly on an otherwise very satirical album).

In all these cases, the tunes are lighthearted and simple, which would be fine and dandy if they fit their surroundings.  But they do not, and so my initial reaction with most of these anomalies was one of annoyance.  I mean for goodness sake,  the masterful ‘Who By Numbers’ is loaded with weighty subject matter depicting thoughts of ageing and isolation…. and then Townshend and friends throw in Squeeze Box?  It’s like inviting a barbershop quartet to sing at a funeral (hmmm…not a bad idea, actually). 

Surprisingly though, many of these songs can leave an indelible mark; even more so than the killer songs from the same albums.  Let’s face it, simple can be catchy, and serious musicians realize they can’t survive on dread alone.  Toss in a top-40 hit (i.e. the Beatles Yellow Submarine or Octopus Garden) or newsmaker (i.e. the Rolling Stones Star Star or Some Girls) and you’ve got the potential to draw in a broader audience.  You live to fight another day.  Even Pink Floyd knew this, as evidenced by their ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ hit Money and their ‘The Wall’ hit Another Brick in the Wall.  The Grateful Dead figured it out eventually with Touch of Grey off ‘In the Dark’ as did Lou Reed with Walk on the Wild Side off of ‘Transformer’.  Not quite ‘odd ducks’ in the way Yellow Submarine and Squeeze Box are… but putting these songs in the context of the artists who penned them, they do stand out.  Yes, there comes a time, I suppose, when a musician’s gotta put some tinsel on the tree – no matter how strong their ideals. 

Neil Young is the king of the anomaly.  With few exceptions, there’s something that can be plucked from virtually every one of his albums that shouts “misfit!”: Off the top of my head, there’s  Farmer John (from  ‘Ragged Glory’); Old King (‘Harvest Moon’); Roll Another Number (‘Tonight’s the Night’); F*!#n’Up (‘Ragged Glory’ again); Piece of Crap (‘Sleeps With Angels’); Dirty Old Man (‘Chrome Dreams II’) Welfare Mothers (‘Rust Never Sleeps’); Too Far Gone (‘Freedom’) and most extreme of them all, T-Bone (off ‘Re-Ac-Tor’)  ** this last one is a doozy, with the repeating mantra “Got Mashed Potatoes; Ain’t Got No T-Bone” sung for an astonishing 9 minutes!

I’ve actually grown accustomed to most of these outliers (even T-Bone, which pulls off the amazing feat of being both hilarious and painful at the same time), and so this week’s entry, Motorcycle Mama ( ) is an ode to all of them.   Why Motorcycle Mama?  Well, first off, it’s fun to sing, which left the door wide open for me to do just that back in 1994; Nancy seven months pregnant, puttering around Block Island on a moped rental with Charlotte in belly-tow.  Secondly, Nicolette Larson’s support vocals are superb on the studio version (playing the role of the protagonist).  Thirdly, the lyrics are just obscure enough to require repeat listening for this reason alone. 

Most important, however, is the thought which hits me with every listen, that being that no matter the album or the circumstances when produced, Neil Young has always found a way to not take himself too seriously.  Motorcycle Mama is a prime example of this.  It reveals something about Young’s character, and may help explain his longevity.  To resist burnout, you have to have fun on occasion.  Not only that, but your band has to have fun as well.  Most of the songs I mention above were done with Crazy Horse.  After hours of brooding music during a live set, I’m sure it can be a relief for Messrs. Talbot, Sampedro, Molina, and Young to let their hair down with something like Motorcycle Mama.   When I’ve seen this song – or any of the songs mentioned above – performed live, it seems to reinvigorate the band.  Same goes for the crowd, as I believe most of us bring the attitude “‘you can toss us heavy concepts, which is what we came here for…. but its ok to chill out a bit too”. 

Other quality bands with longevity have done this to. The Who have a history of taking a break from the weight of their overall material.  After all, Boris the Spider was the most requested song on Who tours when John Entwistle was alive, and the request was quite often granted:  Memories of Pete Townshend stomping on a super-sized spider are equally as etched in my mind as the footage of his earth-shattering guitar work on Sparks at Woodstock or his spellbinding piano playing on I’m One (which I’ve seen live on numerous occasions).  The Stones have done a pretty good job of mixing it up with lighthearted numbers; a giant phallic symbol rolled out for the aforementioned Star Star in the mid-70s, or the giant inflatable ladies-of-the-night hovering over their performance of Honky Tonk Women while on their Steel Wheels tour in ’89.

A little flavor can go a long way.  For Neil Young, it can take the form of immense, exaggerated speakers (symbolizing the world from a child’s perspective – I am a Child - and possibly to also symbolize the enormity of Woodstock – “No More Rain!”); small hooded jawas (“road eyes”) scurrying about the stage; or an angry Dad with a pitchfork chasing the band around the stage during a performance of Farmer John (“I’m in love with your daughter…. Whoa!”).

Or, as in the case of Motorcycle Mama, the flavor can weave its way in purely through the music.  There can be a strange sort of beauty in simplicity, repetition and fun.  Easy-access, upbeat lyrics can materialize out of thin air in a spontaneous personal moment far more readily than the heady stuff.  When I attend a concert and hear a rendition of a song like Motorcycle Mama, I can almost see the communal memories of the crowd rising to the rafters, be they of an old friend, a favorite car, a classic road trip….

…. or an expectant mom-to-be riding a moped.

-          Pete

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Forever Young # 15: "The Commencement Speech"

Song:  Ordinary People
Album:  Chrome Dreams II
Released:  October, 2007

 Boston has had its share of unifying sporting events since the turn of the millennia, with another one coming up in two weeks on the 1st anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Most of these special occasions have been related to championships, the city celebrating a whopping 8 in the time period since Y2K, with at least one in each of the four major professional sport leagues (MLB, NHL, NBA, and NFL).  During that span, I’ve been lucky enough to be to a World Series (thanks, Mac) and an AFC Championship game (thanks, Kurt) and so have had opportunities to see for myself what these big-stage atmospheres can do for a home crowd when on the winning side of the ledger.

 For my money though, sporting events don’t hold up to concerts when it comes to transcendent moments.  These moments are uncommon, but when they happen, they can be extraordinary and moving.  One that I mentioned in an earlier blog entry was the Rolling Stones performance of Sister Morphine on their 97’ ‘Bridges to Babylon’ tour (see Stepping Stone # 9).  There have been others as well, including a handful of Neil Young concert highlights that I’ll be connecting with over the course of this series. 

 The biggest surprise of them all however was a song I heard while attending Neil Young’s ‘Sponsored by Nobody’ tour in 1988 with Mac and Bouv at Great Woods in Mansfield Massachusetts.  Before I get into that moment, a little background is in order.  This was my second Neil Young concert; the first being a phenomenal Crazy Horse show two years earlier.  That event set a rather high bar, and so out of the gate this heavy-on-the brass morph with the “Bluenotes” was a bit of a downer to tell the truth.  I was well aware of Young’s need to experiment though, so I decided right off to cut him some slack, and as the concert played out I adjusted my expectations and actually started enjoying myself.  I recall getting into the horns during Ten Men Working and the big MTV hit of the day, This Notes for You (side note: MTV playing this song was akin to Rolling Stone Magazine allowing Nirvana to appear on a 1992 cover with Kurt Cobain wearing a t-shirt declaring “Corporate Magazines Still Suck”; yet another reason Neil Young has been dubbed “The Godfather of Grunge”).

 Anyhow, about halfway through the show, the band launched into Ordinary People, a tune that we had never heard before, and as I later found out, neither had a vast majority in attendance that night.  Though Mac and I were certainly no experts with Neil Young’s entire back catalog, we were pretty sure at the time that this song was unreleased.  How did we know this?  Because it made an instant impression, and so if we had heard it before, we would have known it.  Yes, Ordinary People was that good, and as it played out before us, the hushed and focused nocturnal emissions off the stage made it clear that the full house around us felt the same way.  It’s rare when a song grabs you at first listen.  It’s even rarer when that first listen is a live event.  This was something special, and we knew it.

 Ordinary People is long, clocking in at almost 20 minutes, and even though it was probably the longest song I’d ever seen live, I would have been happy  that evening if it kept on going.  Neil Young has his share of long numbers, but most of them involve lengthy jam sessions in-between lyrics.  Not this one.  This was a no-repeat series of verses, laying out a loose narrative of the modern day ‘ordinary’ American from an insider’s perspective, focusing on obstacle and resilience, as well as the cause and effect that help paint the picture of the path that leads to the vast majority of our personal stories.  It made a powerful connection with the crowd, foremost because it is simply a great tune, but also because of the meaning, which became quickly apparent.  Neil Young must have known that a fair percentage of us were young adults in our mid-20s, children of the 1970s. We were at an age where we were becoming far more aware of our ties with other generations beyond our own generation as we immersed ourselves into the working world.  Young was pointing out our commonality with those older generations, not our differences (which is the case at most rock events).  His sense of timing was impeccable; his discourse uniquely insightful.  Ordinary People has the air of a commencement speech.  I recall few details in the ones I’ve witnessed.  I would have definitely retained this one. 

Listening frequently this past week to the studio version of Ordinary People (yes, it was finally released on the 2006 album, ‘Chrome Dreams II’) while commuting to work, I felt the sweeping, all-encompassing narrative in the homes, workplaces and cars I passed by each day.  This song zooms in and out of locales and scenarios across the country, from a boxing match to a crooked antique dealer, to a train yard, to a factory, to a bar, to the homeless, to an assembly line, to all those patch-of-ground, hardworking, ordinary people;  all from the perspective of that common man in most of us.  If I were sitting in a limo with the President - or anyone else in position of power - and wanted to give him/her a sense for what was happening out there on the landscape on any given day in our lifetimes, I’d pop this song in, crank it up, sit back and nod in agreement with each epic stanza. 

 On the ‘Chrome Dreams II’ version of Ordinary People ( ) the backing vocals are credited to one “Joe Canuck”… a Neil Young’s pseudonym.  It took me a while to figure this out.  At first I thought it was some amazing backup singer who could actually synchronize with Young’s lead vocals.  It turns out the only person who can get that right is Young himself. These backing vocals are a great added touch to the studio version, including a handful of seemingly off-the-cuff comments (such as the “That’s me” thrown in after the line “some are saints and some are jerks” and “she’s a beauty that number 9” in reference to a railroad passenger-car boiler cleaning and repair by some of those ordinary people).   Neil Young’s guitar playing is selectively intense, but more in the mix than usual; perhaps out of respect to the Bluenotes. 

 The lyrics to this song have been presented in different order between the live and studio takes, revealing to me that this is not a storyline per se.  No matter.  Young gives general commentary here, and not from an outsiders view (as is the case on the Kinks concept album ‘Soap Opera’) but as someone in-the-know; a musician who clearly connects with the “Average Joe” and his trials and tribulations.  As a young adult trying to make my way into the real world, the live viewing of this song was an eye opener, and as Ordinary People inevitably wound to a conclusion, that proverbial tassel on my proverbial cap was finally moved…. from right to left.

-          Pete

Friday, April 4, 2014

Forever Young # 14: "The Time Capsule"

Song:  Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown
Album:  Tonight’s the Night
Released:  June, 1975

 When I connect with a song on any given week for this series, one thing I always try to do upfront is put it in the context of the times it was written; and not many songs put me into the moment quite like those that make up the exceptional Neil Young album, ‘Tonight’s the Night’.  The 1975 release date of ‘Tonight’s the Night’ is a bit deceiving:  All songs were written by mid-1973.  The album was actually finished at that time.  But it was put on the shelf, because the record company did not see it fit for release and Neil Young was not in the best of shape to defend it.  By 1975, however, he was climbing out of a ~ 4-year stretch of haze and turmoil, and became adamant that the record company release it, which they did…. reluctantly.

 At first listen, one may be lead to agree with the record company.  ‘Tonight’s the Night’ is haphazard and off key and unfiltered and downright morose.  But it’s these very qualities that make this album uniquely qualified as an early-70s time capsule, albeit in not-so positive light:  there’s lyrics that connect with the struggles of a returning Vietnam veteran, the hopelessness of a junky, the disillusion of the hippie dream, urban decrepitude, rolling another number, and of course death at too young an age (in particular two of Young’s closest friends, bandmate Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, which the album centers itself upon).  It’s all here in all its gory glory.

 One thing that I have always struggled with is the catch-all attitude I hear or read in regards to the drug culture of those times.  To the holy-roller types (and critics in general), a guy like Neil Young could have easily been just another victim.  He was lucky to survive and he helped perpetuate the problem that lead to his close friend’s deaths (both drug related).  Young and many other survivors personally struggled with all of this, which you can hear in raw, unadulterated form on ‘Tonight’s the Night’ - and to the critic on the outside and looking in, this serves him right.

 Fact of the matter is it’s not that easy.  A persons character factors into any generation and any culture, be it ‘counter’ or otherwise.  As I’ve said before, despite its obvious flaws, I believe the hippie era of the late 60s brought something to the table.  Those who came of age during this period had a choice on whether or not to immerse themselves in it.  I respect those who resisted the temptation to do so, but I have even more respect for those who took it all in.  There was risk in doing this, and like any era, there was plenty of baggage.  But if you kept a clear-enough head, there was reward as well, and you were bound to meet some fascinating people who had deep-felt ideas on life’s priorities.  And so, a person’s character during these times was not based on whether or not they did drugs (which defines this era as  well as anything), but what type of effect they as human beings had on those around them; as is the case with any generation and any culture. 

 Musicians with character are well positioned to make the most of it, as their personal traits are often revealed in the music.  One could say that with his subsequently dubbed ‘Ditch Trilogy’ of back-to-back-to-back early 70s albums (‘Time Fades Away, ‘On the Beach’ and ‘Tonight’s the Night’) that Neil Young spent 4 years mourning the loss of two close friends while in the same context, pointing out the dangers of becoming ‘too far gone’.  That’s a long time and a lot of lyrics to stay focused on such dire subject matter.  I consider this a strong character trait (as opposed to someone, say, who easily moved on). Young’s character came out in other ways during these hazy times as well.  On the CSNY 1974 tour, he refused to travel with the rest of the band, seeing excess and decadence that was too much for his comfort level.   Many of his lyrics also point out his retreat from stardom and his attempts to keep it all real.

 ‘Tonight’s the Night’ is going to take a few of these blogs to fully wrap my mind around over the upcoming months.  There’s quite a bit to run with here.  A good place to start though is the beginning, and for me, that launch off point was a 1987 Rolling Stone Magazine review of “The Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years” ( ).  These reviews helped shape my interest in rock and roll as much as anything that came prior, and to date I still consider it the best summation of the top tier of what the music I love has to offer.  ‘Tonight’s the Night’ came in at # 26.  The first thing that caught me was a small snapshot of the album cover.  Neil Young did not look quite right.  He appeared more as a waif of himself, dawning sunglasses on some dark lit night stage, a crooked finger held up in odd exclamation.  Later, I would read he was in character of sorts, a seedy Miami Beach entrepreneur of a nightclub (where he would abstractly welcome crowds on the ‘Tonight’s the Night’ tour, no matter the venue or location).  After staring at this album cover some, I read the Rolling Stone review and slowly began to understand the story behind this masterpiece.

 With each intense listen to this album over the years there’s always a song that ends up hitting me like a ton of bricks in a way that it never did before. This time around it was Lookout Joe.  The first brick is Ben Keith’s superb slide guitar bridges (and for the record, I can’t recall better timing than the split second between Neil Young exclaiming “Take it Ben” at the start of the first bridge, and then Ben Keith….taking it).  Next for me is the topic:  A Vietnam veteran being taken advantage of by assorted gypsies, tramps and thieves.  The opening lines bear this out:

A hip drag queen and
a side-walkin' street wheeler,
Comin' down the avenue.
They're all your friends,
you'll come to love 'em
There's a load of 'em
waitin' for you.

 I love how Neil Young sings the line “They’re all your friends”.  Young sounds just like Lou Reed here, revealing his admiration for Sweet Lou’s understanding of city street creed.  It all helps to emphasize the point that this Joe character is naïve and in trouble.  Then there’s the title of the song.  Without reading the title or lyrics, and instead just listening, you’d think Neil Young is simply stating that Joe has to “look out” for what’s coming.  But the ‘look’ and ‘out’ are one word here, and so instead the word is an adjective, describing Joe’s duties in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  Ever see the movie ‘Midnight Cowboy’?  That’s what comes to mind when I hear Lookout Joe.  And then there’s Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) at his low point in ‘Forrest Gump’.   And the Tom Cruise character (Ron Kovic) in ‘Born on the 4th of July’.  And so much of what Curtis Mayfield sang about in his intense but shortened career.  All sad depictions of what must have been a common storyline in the early 70s, which came roaring back while I listened to this song:  Despite being a young teenager, I recall those historic times well.   One other note about this song… there are lyrics in the 2nd stanza (starting “Remember Millie from down in Philli”) and the refrain (starting “Glory Alleluia”) that appear to tie Neil Young’s personal urban experiences to those of Lookout Joe.  I can’t help but think that of all the musicians we know and love, it’s Young that may have sunk the lowest (in terms of homelessness) before making a name for himself.

 Another song on this album that hit me hard in the past was Tired Eyes.  Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash have written songs about decrepit souls (at-first-glance) in apparent empathy to their plight…jailed cop killers and the like. Neil Young does them one better here, singing mournfully about someone who shoots and kills 4 cocaine dealers in vengeance for his brothers slaying.  The protagonist in this song is no vigilante, just another lost and addicted joker caught in a tangled web, and the insinuation here is that he’s been caught and is paying for his crimes behind bars (maybe even on death row).  It can only be personal here.  There’s no other explanation for the intensity of this song. 

 And finally, there’s this week’s Forever Young entry, Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown, ( ), the first song to connect with me on this album way back 25 years ago or so.  It’s a live track, cut at the Fillmore East several years before most of the songs on ‘Tonight’s the Night were written. The lead singer and cowriter here is Crazy Horse founder, Danny Whitten.  The lyrics portray another naiveté of sorts; the reckless abandon of a man diving head long into heroin addiction.  But this time the naïve one is the lead-singer himself.  Neil Young backs Whitten with his own vocals, but with a bit less conviction than usual.  Was he in fear here, witnessing a friend in the midst of a self-induced train wreck?  This song is antithetically upbeat, Billy Talbot chipping in with a wonderfully funky bass beat.  One thing it reveals to me:  If Whitten had remained amongst the living, Neil Young Crazy Horse would have had two great songwriters (case in point, one of Whitten’s most famous tunes is I Don’t Want to Talk About it, made a hit by Rita Coolidge and Rod Stewart).

 I wanted to write a bit on the title track, about that other lost friend of Neil Young’s, Bruce Berry…. but I’m not quite there yet.   And it deserves its own entry, seeing as Young has likely played this song live more than any other. Yeah, I’ll save that one for later. 

 On a closing note, as I turned through the pages of the inner sleeve I noticed something interesting:  There’s a photo of the ‘Tonight’s the Night’ band on stage (including Billy Talbot, Nils Lofgren, and Ralph Molina), with their names annotated under them.  There’s also Danny Whitten’s name annotated underneath an empty space on the stage.  I struggled to spot him.  Was he perhaps partially hidden behind a speaker?  Nope, he’s not there. 

 … It’s yet another insight to how Neil Young and crew approached this album, this tour, and this period in their lives.

 Oh, one last thing…. a correction to an early post: It was Mac who introduced me to the music of Richard Thompson (Jeff retains credit for all the other musicians I mentioned).  How could I forget what brought me to hearing Tear Stained Letter for the first time!

God bless ya, Mac

 And you too, Ben Keith

 And you, Danny Whitten

And you, Neil Young

-          Pete