Saturday, September 27, 2014

Forever Young # 36: "Facing the Music"

Song:  Tonight’s the Night
Album:  Tonight’s the Night
Released:  June, 1975 (2 year delayed-release)

One of Neil Young’s most oft quoted statements is one he wrote in the liner notes for ‘Decade’.  In it he states that ‘Heart of Gold’, the acclaimed 1972 album with his only #1 song (the title cut) “put me in the middle of the road.  Travelling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch” (* Side note:  The term “Ditch Trilogy”, coined by Young aficionados in reference to his subsequent 3 morose albums, is tied to this statement).   Young was alluding to the commercial soft-rock success of ‘Heart of Gold’ and the necessity to move on in order to stay fresh.  There were a number of directions Young could have gone, but the direction he chose (or was chosen for him) was straight down.  Down to places most musicians don’t want to go.  I’m not referring to a dark side, as some might think.  I’m referring to facing pain and suffering head on.  And in the early years of the 1970s, Neil Young had plenty of this to confront.

The 3rd album in the trilogy ‘Tonight’s the Night’ (which was actually the 2nd considering when it was produced in comparison to its release) is in the ditch alright; a ditch festooned with barbed wire and cow manure.  I already wrote a Forever Young entry about it (# 14), but at the time, promised to come back, if only to focus on the title track. After all, Tonight’s the Night ( ) rivals a handful of songs in terms of how often I have seen it performed live.  It’s not one of my favorite tunes; not by a long shot.  But as with the Rolling Stones Satisfaction, which I was also apathetic to, yet ended up giving its own Stepping Stone (# 41, September 2012), I’ve grown to respect Tonight’s the Night, if for no other reason than the songwriter’s own fascination for it (as is the case with Satisfaction).  I’ll try to explain why here.    

‘Tonight’s the Night’ was the first of Neil Young’s compositions that had a reprise, that being the title track, which occurs at the beginning and end of the record (the two others that come to mind are My My, Hey Hey {Out of the Blue} / Hey Hey, My My {Into the Black} off 1979s ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ and Rockin’ in the Free World - acoustic and electric versions - off of 1989s ‘Freedom’).  This to me had always meant that there was a storyline here.  But for many years I had thought it to simply be a loose affiliation of songs related to the decline and eventual overdose death of two of Young’s close friends, Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry, sung from the songwriter’s point of view (with most songs put to tape during one late hazy night jam session in August of 1973, giving the whole product a cohesive sound and feel).

Fine enough.  That works as a storyline.  But after doing some more reading on the subject, it was Young himself who raised the bar a few notches for me, setting the record straight (no pun intended) by hinting in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that the song sequence may actually be a bit closer to the fatally-flawed sources of his inspiration.  In other words, the album is an attempt to frame the story from Whitten and Berry’s point of view on their downward spiral from troubled to “too far gone” to the grave.  Of course, few if any can self-reflect when they are in such a frame of mind (Dylan Thomas perhaps?).  And so Neil Young and company (Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina) attempt to put themselves in the shoes of their lost friends.  When you listen to it in this context, ‘Tonight’s the Night’ enters a new realm of intensity and clarity, and in the process I believe it significantly helps to propel Young into the single-digit pantheon of rock immortals.

I would like to think there are few in this world who would want to achieve lofty stature upon such a tragedy as the premature loss of two close friends to overdose (this thought brings to mind Jon Krakauer getting flack for writing ‘Into Thin Air’ about his personal account of the 1996 Mt. Everest Disaster).  Certainly not Neil Young, since it’s clear that for him the ramifications would be lasting in his writing and reflections on these events throughout his career; and not in a good way (at least for him).  The pain is palpable and it is to Young’s credit that he never really has put this behind him.  Much like Pink Floyd who penned ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, Shine on You Crazy Diamond and ‘The Wall’ with founding member Syd Barrett in mind (after Barrett slipped into LSD-induced madness early in the band’s career).  In both cases, the musicians focused much of their writing on trying to come to grips with what had occurred.  

We the fans heard it all and felt it all, which is ultimately why this focus paid off.  It was a lesson learned for us 2nd generation listeners growing up in the 70s.  Why did I personally get caught up in it?  I mean, my goodness, this material is dour.  Well, why does anyone get caught up in artistic reflection of misstep and misfortune, be it Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare, opera, Don Quixote, or a movie like ‘Saving Private Ryan’.  It all comes down to this:  Good art is truth, no matter the subject matter or forum, and people recognize it as such.

Over the years, Neil Young let go of many of the songs on ‘Tonight’s the Night’ as touring staples (oh, what a treat it would be to see him play Albuquerque, Lookout Joe, Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown or Tired Eyes), but he never let go of the title track no matter who he was touring with.  Why?  I believe it goes back to that concept of using the song as a reprise on the album.  At the beginning of the record it feels like a living, breathing set of three words, sung by Bruce Berry (with Young filling in) in haunting refrain.  At the end of the album the words echo like a ghost around the band and us. 

What this song means most to me is that Berry, who was the roadie for CSNY, was working on his own music, his own songs, playing Neil Young’s guitar late at night (“after the people were gone”) with the hope that he’d break through a mental barrier by repeating the refrain “Tonight’s the night” again and again.  Young found Bruce Berry’s singing “as real as the day was long”, and so lamented that this fledging talent was never realized.  Yet this song feels like a lament for all untapped talent, all unrealized dreams, snuffed out prematurely in one form or another. 

Neil Young never tried to complete Bruce Berry’s song.  He just took the “Tonight’s the Night” refrain and built it into his own song.  It’s fascinating that for all Young has written and all he has covered it’s these 3 words, originally sung by a roadie, that may just be what he, in the end, has repeated most in front of large crowds of people.  It says a lot about the man, and about these life-changing events and the effects they had on him.

Many of us listening were too young and na├»ve to truly realize the intensity of what played out in front of us in our earliest years of attending Neil Young concerts and hearing, Tonight’s the Night.  But life has a way of catching up with you, eventually making such a story all too real.  These are the crossroad moments.  Do you face the music, as Neil Young did, or do you find ways to move on and suppress? 

I vote for facing the music (literally and figuratively), because in the end this is what resonates and gives us pause, hopefully leading to action and ultimately the prevention of similar Berry/Whitten-like consequences.

-          Pete

Friday, September 19, 2014

Forever Young # 35: "Shedding the Baggage"

Song:  Mansion on the Hill
Album:  Ragged Glory
Released:  April, 1990

Anybody who loves Neil Young’s music has probably been touched at one point or another by his 1972 gem, Old Man off of the ‘Harvest’ album.  It’s a beautiful song, about a young man recognizing himself in someone much older.  Old Man is one of a short list of tunes in Young’s vast catalog where the story behind it is pretty well established.  When he purchased the sprawling, majestic Broken Arrow Ranch in Northern California after early success, Young met the elderly caretaker of the place who wanted to know how a hippie like him could afford it.  The musician responded that he was very lucky and tried to emphasize that he was not much different than anyone else.  The impact of this discussion eventually lead to Old Man, including one of the key repeating lines in the song:  Old Man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were”. 

 There is a key word in that line, and it’s the last one; ‘were’.  If the word had been ‘are’ instead, the song would have taken on a different meaning, and could easily have been received as a bit of a slight.  Not a significant one mind you, but one nonetheless.  After all, how could anyone put themselves in the shoes of a person much older….someone with many more years of living under their belt….someone with far more experience in life?  Neil Young knew this for a fact.  How did I come to this conclusion?  It’s because of a song he wrote many years later, this week’s Forever Young entry, Mansion on the Hill, which comes complete with a bonafide classic of an MTV video ( ).  Both video and song need some serious dissecting.  I’m here to serve.

Before doing so, a brief overview is in order.  Mansion on the Hill is a hard rocking song on a hard rocking album; ‘Ragged Glory’.  The entire package is pretty darn impressive without taking anything else into account, but to consider that Young and his entourage, Crazy Horse, were in their mid-40s when they released this disc makes it even more provoking.  In the short history of the middle-aged rocker, there really is no one else to compare to in terms of creativity and spark.  Yes, Neil Young and crew had our attention in 1990, but again, the important thing to remember is that this was a unique (mid-life) stage for any rock musician to be achieving such lofty -and deserved - recognition, especially for something as raucous as ‘Ragged Glory’.  And they seized the moment, in more ways than one.  Much of the album helps explain this, but a few key concepts come together on Mansion on the Hill. 

What follows is one man’s interpretation of this song and video.


I guess I’ll start from the top.  Like many MTV videos in the day, there’s a brief pre-music introduction to Mansion on the Hill (think Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the intro of which was much more expansive overkill).  A deceased Neil Young is prone on a hospital gurney, the doctors and nurses gearing up to tell the family, when to their shock, he rises - presumably from the dead - and states that he’ll inform them himself.  It’s funny, but what’s going on here?  Well, I’ll get to that.  Anyhow, the swinging doors to the hospital room open in front of him to what appears to be the afterlife, and Young steps into the cloudy mist, just as the Crazy Horse backbeat kicks in. 

A few moments later we see a disheveled Young making his way into this mansion-of-a home through the front door, guitar in one hand, amp in the other.  He’s sporting an Elvis t-shirt while appearing to have been through the mill (or at least an extremely intense tour).  At first viewing you would think this is the tail end of the opening sequence.  But it’s not. 

Before I go any further, I think it may be helpful (for me at least) to point out that Neil Young appears to play 4 personas (of himself, or anyone for that matter) in this video (and since I think it accurately portrays the song, let’s go with that too).  And though it’s a relatively short tune for NY & Crazy Horse, there’s quite a bit of complexity playing out with each character trait.  To make it easier moving forward, here’s what I see as the 4 personas:

1. Enlightened Neil: Older and wiser.  This is the Neil who is rising from the dead on the gurney at the beginning of the video and who later jams on stage with his band.
2. Frazzled Neil: Naive and younger, but on the edge of turning it all around.  This is the Neil who walks in the front door of the mansion as the music kicks in (and is not seen again until a bit later in the video, at the gas station, which I will also get to).
3. Preacher Neil: Sees the world in black and white.  While conducting a funeral service for an elderly man (in this video), he initially seems obsessed with the notion of towing the line rather than rocking the boat.  Preacher Neil and Frazzled Neil have much in common, and could actually be one in the same.
4. Toast Neil:  The crazed gas station attendant giving directions.  I’ll get to him.
* Note: there is overlap in all these personas, which is refreshing:  No multi split-Sybil personalities here.

Ok, so with these character descriptions laid out, I can move ahead.  The next part of the video is my favorite, which is a fast-moving, dream-like tunnel sequence as we are introduced to Neil Young’s lead guitar playing (up to that point he can be heard doing a bit of rhythm-guitar back-and-fourth with Frank Sampedro).  Young is accompanied in this sequence by two EMTs.  This appears to be Young transitioning from Frazzled Neil to Enlightened Neil.  It’s fantastic.  And when they finally come out at the end of the tunnel, the lyrics kick in with a jamming, Enlightened Neil, on stage singing:

“ Well I saw an old man walking in my place
When he looked at me it could have been my face
His words were kind, but his eyes were wild
He said I got a load to love, but I want one more child ”

Preacher Neil makes his introduction in the last 2 verses above (starting with “but his eyes were wild”).  At this stage, it appears Preacher Neil is not too happy with how the deceased man’s (lying in front of him) life played out in his later years, but as the scene switches back over to the band, it’s clear that Enlightened Neil is reveling in the notion.  Here’s where the refrain kicks in:

“ There’s a mansion on the hill
Psychedelic music fills the air
Peace and love live there still
In that mansion on the hill “

This first time the refrain is sung, it’s by Enlightened Neil.  I believe he’s trying to explain that there was a part of him that never wanted to let that 60s dream go.  But now he’s singing about that dream in the proper context:  Something to feed on, but not to let it feed on him. 

After a patented mid-song jam, the second stanza unfolds:

“ Around the next bend take the highway to the sun
Or the rocky road, it really don’t matter which one
Well, I was in a hurry, but that don’t matter now
‘Cause I had to get off of that road of tears somehow “

The first 2 verses are sung by Toast Neil, who is giving an elderly woman directions to the Mansion on the Hill.  I interpret this persona as a manifestation of what Young believes is going on in his head when he persists with living in the past.  The elderly woman is driving a hearse:  Could this be “Mort”, Young’s first road-trip vehicle back in the 60s (a symbol of living in the past)?  This concept is reinforced when Frazzled Neil makes his reappearance, singing the 3rd verse above from the passenger seat.  Here, the older woman is now young and beautiful (the passenger’s face is never shown with the older version of this woman…. too revealing perhaps?).  The lyrics fit perfectly; Frazzled Neil is seeing the light.  I think what it’s all saying is that we age rapidly when we live in the past and stay young and vital when we live in the present.  A nice added touch is that the preacher comes around too, singing the enlightened fourth verse above, along with the 2nd refrain. 

In all, a perfect blend of fun and brilliance. 


I think Neil Young took a bullet for the team here.  In comparison to many of us, he’s had little problem moving on; not becoming stale. But I’m sure that shedding the baggage has been difficult for him at times as well. The most inspiring line in Mansion on the Hill is what the older version of Neil Young says to his younger self in the first verse: “I got a load to love, but I want one more child”.  It’s the line that brought me back to Old Man.  It’s the kind of thinking that keeps us charging ahead, in spite of our past successes; to never rest on our laurels.

It’s yet another reason why I write these blog entries.
-          Pete

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forever Young # 34: "A Clash of Worlds"

Song:  Mideast Vacation
Album:  Life
Released:  July, 1987

I ended up having to wait a few extra weeks to wrap up my blog focus on Neil Young’s 80s music, which started in June (five in all, including this one, which were otherwise presented every other week).  As with all my entries, the selected songs were done within the context of the album they were on.  Approaching things this way has given me a much broader perspective of both the times the tune was penned and what may have been going on in Young’s mind during that period (not to mention mine).  This last one, off of the ’87 album ‘Life’, was harder to track down than I thought it would be.  I’ve had the vinyl copy since release, but for over a decade now, no turntable to play it on.  After working the phone, I finally tracked a compact disc version in Boston, and longtime tried/true friend Mac picked it up and shipped it off.  Thanks Mac!

The first time I heard Mideast Vacation ( ) , the opening cut off of ‘Life’, was live at Great Woods in the fall of 1986 with another close friend, Bob Bouvier (who this Forever Young series is dedicated to). The version on the album, which came out less than a year later, sounded exactly as I recall it from that magical late-summer afternoon, which leads me to believe that the song was recorded right around this time or not soon after.  And the photograph of Young on the album cover was just how I remember him too:  Foot thrusting forward in full jam, flannel shirt regalia, looking as if he could withstand a head-on category-5 hurricane (or better yet, create one).  * Side Note:  The album cover also has a more obscure image of a pair of hands holding prison bars with the number 5 visible on the back wall (symbolized by tally marks).  It’s been suggested that this was a statement to Geffen Records that his five contractually-obligated albums to date equated to being locked up and counting down the days.

I could relate to Mideast Vacation – all songs on side one of ‘Life’ for that matter – which collectively viewed human folly through the wary eyes of someone who understands cause and effect in a historical context (making the album title all that more poignant).  This connection that I made was partially due to being a history major myself.  But it was even more due to the fact that song, album and concert had all come on the heels of a summer travelling through Europe with yet another great old friend, Bob Mainguy.  It was an interesting summer to be travelling abroad as an American.  Not many US citizens were…at least across the Atlantic.  A Berlin discotheque full of US soldiers had been bombed that April.  Fingers were pointed at Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and the retaliatory air bombing ended up killing a number of people close to him, including his daughter.  Vengeance was in the air. All of this was not many years after the Iran Hostage Crisis.  Security was unlike it is today (a debatable good/bad thing), and since the US government could not guarantee safety for travelers overseas, they tended to dissuade us from doing so.  I wasn’t having it.  Besides, I was young and cocky, believing I did a pretty good job in those days of blending in with the crowd, which is not so hard to do when you’re a grub prancing around with long hair, a beard, and a backpack. 

Thinking back on all this it’s sad to digest that American tension with extremists in the Islamic world has been at high intensity for about 35 years now.  This week was the 13th anniversary of 911.  The week also marked yet another intervention in Iraq and Syria, punctuated by President Obama’s announcement of renewed offensives against insurgents in those 2 countries.   How did it come to all this?  There’s no denying you have to go back to colonialism and the resentment that ensued.  It’s been recommended by my insightful and enlightened boss to read ‘Lawrence in Arabia’ by Scott Anderson, published last year, which apparently makes a convincing argument along these lines.  Yet any way you slice it, there seems to be no end in sight to all this madness.

Neil Young has been wrapped up in writing and singing about the Western vs. Middle East conflict from the release of ‘Life’ onward.  There was 89’s (Keep on) Rockin’ in the Free World (which was born through Young’s realization he could not tour safely in the Middle East).  Later you had chunks of 2012’s ‘Are You Passionate’ (see last week’s Forever Young entry), which was later followed by ‘Living With War’ in 2006.  Yes, there has been a considerable amount of Neil Young’s focus put into this modern-day scourge. 

So, back to 1986 and that glorious backpacking trip through Europe with Bob.  I’ve not talked much about this multi-month adventure in all these entries, but it was a transcendent experience for me.  I still recall something said by the millionaire owner I bartended for at the Pub Dennis in Milford Massachusetts just after I gave my 2-week notice immediately before my travels (to save up for the trip, I worked several jobs including this one, since my career path wasn’t quite covering my income needs  just yet).  He rarely said two words to me during my stint there (though in this man’s defense, his infrequent visits were a factor, considering he owned at least three other Pub Dennis locations in Rhode Island), but the day I left, he approached me and broached the subject that I was quitting to travel Europe.  He then looked me in the eye and stated “I’m wealthy because I worked hard and never stopped, but if I had to do it all over again, I would do what you are doing”. 

He was right.  I would realize this more and more over the next few months and beyond.

My travels in Europe were eye opening on many accounts (as they would be again 3 years later with Nancy).  Our explorations touched on 15 countries, ranging from above the Arctic Circle in the North to the edge of the Iron Curtain in the East to the western-most tip of Ireland, to the southern extent of the Iberian Peninsula, and all World Cup, Medieval, Alpine, Bavarian and Running of the Bulls experiences in between.  Of all this, it was in southern Spain that I felt closest to a clash of cultures.  There was a strong Middle East presence there (of which there is a long, 500 year history).  And the region had a distinct ‘Old World’ feel in those years, recovering slowly from the heavy-hand 40 year dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco (who by all account at this time was still dead!). 

All of this was fascinating to me.  But I knew instinctually that I had to keep a low profile, which was hard to pull off:  Tourism was practically non-existent in this region that year.  The most telling sign was Torremolinos.  It felt as if Bob and I had this tourist village on the Mediterranean all to ourselves, which was a bit eerie.  And the ancient city of Grenada was positively Muslim.  Sections we walked through could have easily been mistaken for Algiers. 

But there was only one time on the entire trip that I had a sense of genuine fear.  On the overnight train to the Mediterranean coast (Torremolinos), Bob and I were late boarding the train. Our many overnights on Eurail were godsend to that point; bunk booths being a cheap way to both sleep and get from one point to another.  This night was different.  We poked our heads into a handful of booths (4 beds in each), only to find they were all full.  Finally, we came to a booth with 2 empty beds.  Turned out there was a reason for this.  One of the two guys was a Libyan (the other was a Muslim from another country) and he had….some anger issues. 

We didn’t know it right off, but we soon found out, with early greetings escalating in bizarre negative fashion.  I’d like to think I’m a pretty open minded and adaptable person, but here, one misunderstanding lead to another, and before we knew it there was plenty of tension in the air.  And so, after using the bathrooms, we found our backpacks and sleeping bags tossed out into the walkway.  We wanted to confront the guy, but he was not someone you could reason with, and besides, how would we get any sleep in this circumstance?  We decided to pick up our stuff and head to the very back of the train.  Awaiting us, amazingly, was an empty caboose.   However, we remained vigilant the rest of the night (believe me, there was reason for this) and ended up getting our sleep the next morning on the sands of a Mediterranean beach (which was my introduction to this vast Sea). 

Mideast Vacation is much underrated because it’s one of Young’s most atmospheric songs.  I feel the weight of the world here, much due to my experiences in Southern Spain in the summer of ‘86.

-          Pete

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Forever Young # 33: "Faith Focus"

Song:  Two Old Friends
Album:  Are You Passionate?
Released:  April, 2002

Faith:  I’ve yet to delve deeply into this core virtue on this blog.  But if things go according to plan with the Who (Townshend), Bob Dylan and the Beatles (Harrison) following on the heels of these Neil Young and Rolling Stones entries of the past 3 years, I’ll have much more opportunity to discuss it.  Faith is one of those intangible qualities that make us human.  It requires that we step out of a certain comfort zone… that practical ‘Doubting Thomas’ persona in all of us.  Where’s the proof?  Seeing is believing!  Faith requires us to come to the realization that we can’t rationalize everything.   We all connect with it at one time or another.  Those who persevere and let faith guide their lives are typically the blessed ones.

 For the time being, a focus on faith appeared to be on the shelf in these pages.  Neil Young has built a reputation upon many things, but religious-based faith is not one of them.  And yet as I’ve listened more intently to his music this past year I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s more there than I thought a year ago (which was also the case with the Stones believe it or not, particularly a handful of cuts off ’Exile on Main Street’).   Faith-centered songs are scattered about in Neil’s catalog, most prominently in his post Y2K music, including the songs on ‘Chrome Dreams II’ and ‘Prairie Wind’. 

 For many, Rock n’ Roll in general does not inspire thoughts as a faith-based music genre; there are a number of adjectives that would be used to define it before this one.  I believe part of what fueled this reputation goes back to the transition rock music took in the 70s, becoming mega-successful and in turn, significantly more money driven.  The rock-music industry tended to look more for hits in this circumstance, and spiritually intense music in this day and age is not likely to be attracting the fair-weather fan.  And so, faith takes a back seat, which I believe would have an effect on the musician’s priorities on what to write about. 

 Personally, I’ve had many a spiritual moments listening to Rock music, rivalling even the connections I’ve made along these lines at Sunday Mass.  Songs that come to mind include Every Grain of Sand (Dylan) Keep Me Turning (Townshend), Empty Glass (Townshend), Beware of Darkness (Harrison), Bargain (The Who), I Believe in You (Dylan), Long, Long, Long (Beatles), I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2); Love Train (the O’Jays) and Astral Weeks (Van Morrison).  I’ve been hit broad side by all kinds of music over the years, focused on any number of subject matter, and these songs are right up there with the best of them.

Add Neil Young’s Two Old Friends ( ) to the list.  For this song - one of Neil Young’s deepest forays into faith focused lyrics - and the album it is on (‘Are You Passionate’) the chameleon-like Young ended up turning to a soul sound with Booker T and the MGs.  ‘Are You Passionate?’ was recorded before and after 911. You can feel the weight of 911 in Two Old Friends.  It’s heavy.  Far more so than Let’s Roll off the same album, which got some radio play upon release (the song’s title is a reference to what Todd Beamer said on United Flight 93 just before he and other passengers stormed the cockpit in an apparently successful effort to overtake the hijackers). 

The song title, Two Old Friends, refers to a discussion between a preacher and God.  The preacher is lamenting hatred in the world and asking God when there will be peace (personified in great live musical events).  God states that those times have already come to pass, noting the Band’s ‘Rock of Ages’ ‘72 tour specifically.  I believe the title is telling, as it may be revealing the ‘preacher’ as Neil himself, given God’s musical tastes in the song (which I agree with by the way).  Regardless, by the ending, the preacher is granted some peace of mind “in the way things are and the way things change”.

Recording with Booker T and the MGs must have been a dream-come-true for Neil Young.  The Stax Record icons first connected with Young when they were the house band for Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary show in 1992.  They backed Neil up as he performed the Dylan classics All Along the Watchtower and Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues.  Young’s performance was ok that evening (far more memorable was Ronnie Wood performing Seven Days with Cropper and crew).  I think both Young and the crowd were thrown off some by the Sinead O’Connor tirade which had immediately preceded his coming on stage (see GMVW # 76, June 2007, which explored this episode). 

 Neil Young made up for this by touring with Booker T and the MGs the following year.  Nancy and I got see this tour at Great Woods in Mansfield, MA.  What we heard was a solid rock/soul sound that had me hardly (if at all) missing Crazy Horse.   Yesterday, I tracked down the set list that evening.  Below is that list, along with what may have crossed my mind during the show:

Mr. Soul     > I clearly recall this opening number and thinking: “OK, this is going to be good”
The Loner    > Wow!  Two amazing songs to start off.  The band interaction (binoculars) is right on
Southern Man    > Make that 3.  Never heard this live before….is it rarely played live?
Helpless    > recalling Neil’s performance on The Last Waltz (disappointing).  Ready to move on
Like a Hurricane    > Can this match Crazy Horse.  ….. yes!
Motorcycle Mama     > see Forever Young # 16 in terms of what I was likely thinking
Separate Ways    > this is a rarity to be seeing live (it was)
Love to Burn   > yes, I do.   Slow, long burner that just keeps going and getting better
Only Love Can Break Your Heart   > solo, acoustic (I believe)…. and intense!
Heart of Gold   > Looking around at the crowd…..communal
Harvest Moon   > Mom and Dad
Unknown Legend    > what imagery!  Feel like I was there
The Needle and the Damage Done > trying to relate to something beyond me.  Still hitting me like a brick
Powderfinger   > Nancy’s loving this.  How’s Booker enjoying this? Cropper?  They look pumped.
Live to Ride  > Never heard this before.  What’s next?
Rockin’ in the Free World    > my goodness, Bush (senior) era revisited 1 year later
(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay   > this version had a lot to do with why I love this song
All Along the Watchtower    > another cover?  Ok, this works.  Better than the Dylan 30th version

Eight years later, Neil Young reconnected with Booker T and the MGs and went all Van Morrison on us with ‘Are You Passionate?’  Make no mistake about it, this is a cover to cover soul album (with a couple of hiccups):  Nothing else of Young’s sounds like it.   Although I’m not particularly drawn to such music, if I were to write a blog consisting of several hundred Neil Young reviews, I would likely include a few other songs from ‘Are You Passionate’, including the first two tracks.  Your My Girl is a simple song about letting go of a growing daughter (a nice father/daughter wedding dance song), and Mr. Disappointment is about trying to overcome bad habits (not a nice father/daughter wedding dance song).  There is no greater contrast of Neil Young’s vocal range than these two songs.  Your My Girl reaches a bit too far into the soprano range and Mr. Disappointment gets its point across down in the baritone. 

However it came down to that faith focus for me as I zeroed in this week on what to write about.  It may have been 911 that brought this faith out, or it may have been just a natural progression for Neil Young.  But any way you slice it, this song works.  And as with all my discoveries of the Young legacy this past year, I’m all ears.

-          Pete