Saturday, October 25, 2014

Forever Young # 40: "Beach Front Property"

Song:  On the Beach
Album:  On the Beach
Released:  July, 1974

“ Now I’m livin’
out here on the beach
but those seagulls
are still out of reach ”

That’s it; just a few lines in the title track.  Other than these lyrics, there is no other discernable reference to the beach (or seagulls for that matter) in any song on the entire album that is ‘On the Beach’.   In fact, there is no mention of the ocean whatsoever.  And yet this song and album ooze a seaboard feel.   To be clear, I’m not talking a happy, sun-drenched, bikini, surfboard, volleyball sandy haven.  No, this is an entirely different kind of beach.  It’s a solitary, reflective, lonely beach.   It’s a beach at the crossroads.

Neil Young did indeed live on the beach during the making of this album; just north of Santa Monica, California to be specific.  This ‘living there’ is the feel I’m referring to, as a simple visit to where the sea and sand meet is not in line with the intensity of the aura that permeates ‘On the Beach’.  Day in and day out?  Off season?  A bachelor pad?  Reclusiveness?  Loss?  Coping (see Forever Young # 19)?  An enveloping darkness mixed with relentless waves and abundant stars by night?  Mist, fog and empty beach by day?   Margaritaville?

Yeah, that does the trick.  This is the essence of ‘On the Beach’.

Nothing brings out introspection quite like the beach.  Spend enough time there, and all that reflection can be life changing.  Those of us who have enjoyed significant stretches of time there know the beach to be an open palette:  A stroll alone at dawn or dusk being an entirely different experience than a midday swim.  Living close to the coastline just adds to these experiences; laughter and melancholy all mashed up into one big ball of emotion. 

‘On the Beach’ could have been critiqued as an all-time, upper-echelon rock album if Neil Young had gotten his way.  Young wanted side 2 to be side 1, which would have placed the title track first, but surprisingly he succumbed to the will of his record company (who were likely thinking the album would be better off to be led by its only up-tempo song, Walk On).  Listening to the album all week with side 2 leading the way, I can certainly relate to Young’s reasoning.  On the Beach (the song) is a stage setter.  Not only does it place you where Neil Young is, but where he wants to go.  This is made evident near the end of the song when he sings “get out of town, I think I’ll get out of town”.  Whether this is literal or figurative in meaning is not clear (though given that feel of the album, I choose the latter).  What is clear is that from this point on, Young embarks on a journey of the soul. 

Beaches have factored pretty significantly into Rock and Roll history.  “Here by the sea and sand, nothing ever goes as planned” sang Roger Daltrey on Pete Townshend’s magnum opus, ‘Quadrophenia’, an album heavy with beach analogy.  There was the Rolling Stones exile to the French Riviera. There was John Lennon’s “lost weekend” (that lasted over a year), much of which was spent on the West Coast with fellow lost soul (at the time) Harry Nilsson among others.   There was Keith Moon’s exploits on same coast with personal assistant Dougal Butler (including his infamous run-ins with beach neighbor Steve McQueen).  Butler wrote a book, ‘Moon the Loon’ on his years with the madcap Who drummer and stated in it that during that beach-front period they were the two loneliest guys on the face of the earth.  There was much of Dennis Wilson’s life and untimely drowning death at Marina Del Ray.  None of these stories are happy ones, but they all have something to say to us about where we retreat to get away from it all.  That edge of the earth zone where you can’t go any farther without wading: The beach as a metaphor for escapism.

Howard Hughes is probably the most renowned recluse, but Neil Young and other fellow musicians had their stretches of isolation from the crowds.  Bob Dylan went into seclusion after a motorcycle accident in the late 60s, not performing live again for years.  After that “lost weekend” escapade, John Lennon returned home to Yoko Ono and the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West, where he settled in as a “house husband” and a 5 year stretch completely out of the limelight (until releasing ‘Double Fantasy’ in 1980, just before his murder). 

Neil Young’s reclusive period was earlier in that decade, during which he performed infrequently and became a very elusive interview.   ‘On the Beach’ was released at the tail end of this public estrangement, in July of 1974. It was Young’s first studio album to be released since ‘Harvest’, 2 ½ years earlier.  This was a pretty unusual stretch to be idle for a successful musician of that era, especially at this time in his career.  But Neil Young was not idle per se.  He was simply turning inward; yet remaining extremely prolific in his creativity (for example ‘Tonight’s the Night’ was recorded in the interim but not released until later).  There was much reevaluation after the death of several close friends that brought this on.  You can hear it in ‘On the Beach’.

Bob Dylan appears to me to have been deeply inspired by ‘On the Beach’.  As written about before, his song Highlands makes reference to his fellow songsmith (“I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound.  Someone’s always yellin’, ‘turn him down’ “).  Highlands is the closing number to one of my all-time favorite Dylan albums, 1997’s ‘Time Out of Mind’.  It’s an album I’ve delved into a bit more than most Bob Dylan works (which, believe me, is saying something), and which I hope to write about more when I get around to Dylan in this blog some time down the road.  In a nutshell, I see ‘Time Out of Mind’ as a journey, much like ‘On the Beach’.  When I listen, I always get a sense as if it’s a personal story about Dylan making his way down the Mississippi River.  An alternative name for the album could have been ‘Highway 61, Revisited - Again’.   Dylan moves north to south, along Route 61, from his home state of Minnesota and nearby Chicago to New Orleans, a reverse direction of the bluesmen from the 30s and 40s (making their way up to the Windy City).   It’s an intense, heavy, riveting journey. 

But as stated above, I believe Neil Young’s journey in ‘On the Beach’ was of a different sort.  After the opening title track ( ), Young hits you from many angles and places:  The mountains (Motion Pictures), Dixieland (See the Sky About to Rain), Toronto and Woodstock (Ambulance Blues), among other locales, events and reflections.  And yet you still feel as if he’s on that lonely beach, staring out at the vast ocean and beyond.

It’s rare when a musician can be creative during solemn periods in their lives.  This is why I believe that many of us find albums like ‘On the Beach’, ‘Time Out of Mind’, ‘Empty Glass’, ‘Who By Numbers’, ‘Blood on the Tracks’, and ‘Tonight’s the Night’ so fascinating.  These introspective and confessional albums depict a soul in crisis and allow us to share in their grief.  Many people tend to shy away from such an exclamation.  Isn’t music supposed to make you happy after all?  But there are some of us who gravitate to this mood in the midst of art, if only out of shear respect for what it must have taken to pull it off!

Neil Young decided on the title ‘On the Beach’ for a reason.  It must have come to him after the fact, perhaps while sitting on a storm wall alone after a long night, listening to the waves relentlessly beating against the shore.  In doing so, he spoke for many of us who have done the same, then finally wandering back to our homes and cottages… call it a day.

-          Pete

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Forever Young # 39: "Not Ad-verse to a Little Sugar Coating"

Song:  Sugar Mountain
Album:  B-side to The Loner
Released:  February, 1969 (written 5 years earlier)

A few years back, Brother Joe and I found ourselves in downtown Nashua, New Hampshire on a drizzly Thursday nite.  We’d had dinner and were now looking for a place to knock down a pint or two.  After canvassing a few blocks we finally settled on a rustic place by the river called The Peddler’s Daughter, where we wandered in and bellied up at the bar.  This being just after a day at the office, Joe was dressed for success and I was most likely dressed in casual civvies with perhaps several days’ worth of facial growth; which at one time was standard fare for me and a good number of my USGS colleagues (Joe regularly jokes that a beard is a prerequisite to working at my agency). 

It was not long before we got the sense that we were being watched.  The two of us took a look around and began to take in the fact that we were by far the oldest ones in the pub.  Yes, this was a very young crowd that surrounded us, and a number of them had already come to this same conclusion.  There was a snicker to our left, and an offhand ‘old man’ comment to our right.  Joe and I chuckled.  A few of the young whippersnappers did the same.  And then we all carried on with our own agendas until Joe and I decided we’d do better to find another locale.  No biggie, but it was clear we were out of place (on our way out the door, I do believe I heard a comment from inside about it being past our bedtime). 

I recollect now that somewhere along the lines that evening I thought of Sugar Mountain; that place in Neil Young’s dreams where “you can’t be 20, though you’re thinking that you’re leaving there too soon”.  Young wrote Sugar Mountain - a song that laments the loss of youthful innocence - on the occasion of his 19th birthday.  This amazes me, because you would think that a song on such subject matter would be written after the fact.   But that would not be Neil Young’s style.  Even at such a young age, he was looking at the world through a slightly different prism than most of us. 

Neil Young has stated that he wrote over 120 verses for this song, but in the end he chose just 4 of them for the official recording.  The lyrics focus mostly on his then-recent experiences at the tender age of 18, but do not discard his even-younger days (for example with his parents at the fair).  It’s perfect that he covers the gambit of his lifetime experiences to that point, because the dividing line is made clear:  Life before and after the age of 20.  This is a major demarcation, because it’s around this time that many of us break off on our own.  One key line to the song is the following:

Now you say you're leavin' home
'Cause you want to be alone.
Ain't it funny how you feel
When you're findin' out it's real?

As I listened this week, I recalled that moment for me so clearly.  It was the end of the summer of 1980 and I would be off to college the very next day.  I was feeling as if my whole childhood was flashing before my eyes as I packed my stuff.  As I’ve discussed in other entries, Franklin was such a great place to grow up and it was all I really knew to that point.  This transition was going to be tough and it was all hitting me at once as I loaded my Lincoln Mercury Capri for the drive west down the Mohawk Trail.  I’d ultimately make the adjustment, but will never forget that feeling.  To this day it remains a powerful memory.

What was I leaving behind?  Well, what do most of us leave behind?  There’s family, and friends, and jobs, and hangouts.  There’s the first time you did this and the first time you did that.  There’s this 7-year-old memory over here and that 17-year-old memory over there.  There are the uptown experiences and the natural experiences and the educational experiences.  There’s that sense of na├»ve wonder and risky discovery and youthful exuberance and unrestrained joy.    Moving on from such a comfort zone can be difficult (but paradoxically, oh so necessary).  Sugar Mountain captures it all in song.

This week, listening to Sugar Mountain again and again, I reconnected with those bygone days.  In the process, I got thinking:  What were those never-heard lyrics in the other ~ 120 verses of Sugar Mountain anyhow?  Some of them must have been very good, because Neil Young has stated that one of the verses he retained, about being “underneath the stairs and giving back some glares” was intentionally chosen despite the fact that he thought it was the worse of them all.  Why do this?  I believe it goes back to that ideal of youthful innocence and naivety:  Why exclude the emergence of a songwriter from such a concept? 

Still, I chewed more on those lost verses and decided to fill in some of the gap myself.  And so, in an attempt to honor the spirit of Sugar Mountain, below are my own 4 verses:

Family treks in the Volkswagen Bus
The bond was there in all of us
It was felt regularly at home
And reaffirmed each time we roamed

Now you’re hiking the railroad track
And your friends have got your back
Conversation can run deep
All this meaning you hope to keep 

Back at home after a long night
Chair in the kitchen looks just right
So you sit, talk to old faithful
And reflect on why you’re grateful 

So it’s almost time to go
Daily life that once seemed slow
Catches up in record time
Now your leaving on a dime

The iconic image of Neil Young arising on top of those super-sized speakers in the movie ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, was my first real inroads into connecting with Sugar Mountain.  In this opening track to the movie and concert ( ) , Young impresses upon us the emergence of a songwriter.  But it’s more than that.  What is really being portrayed here is the emergence of a man.  And yet as the lyrics to Sugar Mountain attest, this is a man who is not going to forget what got him there. 

The fortunate among us are those who can relate.
-          Pete

Friday, October 10, 2014

Forever Young # 38: "We Don't Want No Stinkin' Pipeline"

Song:  Who’s Gonna Stand Up?
Album:  Storeytone (the likely name)
Released:  November, 2014 (the likely release date)

It’s been a unique Forever Young week in this Forever Young year.   In the days leading up to every prior blog entry, I immersed myself in the music with the hope it would stir up some writing material.  Although I took the same tack this week, it was not nearly as intense or as focused.  One reason is that the song this time around has yet to be released on an album, making it a bit more difficult to listen to while driving (which is when I do most of my ‘research’ these days).  A second reason is that I realized that to write as passionately as I could about the subject at hand, it would take a bit more than the music.   And so I tuned dials back to NPR, and ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’, and even a little bit of Fox (as counterpoint) to stir up the old ideologue-slanted juices.  It’s been almost a year since I’ve done this (and frankly, I welcome the break).

It did not take long to get charged up.  Soon I found myself once again yelling at the radio and cursing the television.  I suppose this is good in terms of timing.  We are after all close to the mid-term elections and so I need to get somewhat caught up in the hyperbole, innuendo, character assassination, and occasional accurate statement.  Not too much, though.  This is an off year from that kind of stuff for me.  Yes, this every-other-year blog series is proving to be somewhat therapeutic in that regard:  A virtual sabbatical in most senses of the term.   I recommend it to anyone who gets caught up in politically-charged current events. 

Then again, it’s not as if I’ve abandoned my convictions this year.  I say this for several reasons, the most obvious one being Neil Young’s music.  Of the top tier musicians I connect with, Young has proven to be the one who has persevered the most in the politically-charged-issues department.  There are certainly others, including Joan Baez and Patti Smith and Rage Against the Machine.   But these are folks I’d struggle to write more than one or two entries on, never mind a years’ worth.  Regardless, listening to Neil Young has kept me connected in a way my younger self would be proud of.

The other reason is more personal and turns out it’s a subject Neil Young has become quite caught up in as well.  It’s about pipelines.  Fossil fueled pipelines to be more specific.   Pipelines that carry oil and gas and that are crisscrossing our country at accelerating and alarming rates, despite the protestations of open-space advocates and private property owners.  Back in Forever Young # 4, I wrote briefly of Neil Young’s stance against the tar-sands in Northern Alberta.  In the interim, there have been related developments that have manifested here in my hometown of Pepperell, Massachusetts. 

Here’s the skinny as I see it.  A Texas-sized energy company by the name of Kinder Morgan (the owner Richard Kinder, a former ENRON CEO) is attempting to build a formidable pipeline across Northern Massachusetts, which stands between the heavily fracked State of Pennsylvania and its neighbor New York to the west and the ready and willing ‘tea-party’ governor of Maine and St. Lawrence Bay just beyond to the east (where liquidation refineries and overseas shipping would be constructed).   The proposed route of the pipeline cuts across untold acres of pristine lands and rural private property.  It would include a 50-foot wide clear-cut right-of-way swath in its path (100 feet to begin with).  Doors have been knocked on and cash offers made to effected homeowners.  Many are turning it down, but then the letters arrive that are a bit more….threatening.  The term eminent domain is tossed about.  It all has the feel of bygone-eras such as the Great Depression.  It’s eerie, and reeks of corporate profit at the expense of individual rights.

This project insults me in so many ways.  Decades of land protection efforts are being undermined, breaking virtually every conservation commission-like rule in the book.  And as mentioned, there is no denying by Kinder Morgan that a big factor in their ambition is export.  This is despite the fact that they are looking to Massachusetts taxpayers to pay for the construction of this pipeline through our State!  Then there’s the perception of the region supporting fracking, which more and more is seen as an environmental disaster in the making (see the movie’s ‘Gasland’ and ‘Gasland II’), including the pumping of flammable chemicals into deep underground aquifers (and eventually people’s faucets, which amazingly can be lit with a match) to break up shale and extract gas (with significant amounts of these dangerous chemicals coming along for the ride through the pipelines).  Then there’s a history of unavoidable pipe leaks in other areas of the country.  There’s the smoke and mirrors of attempting to get the public to think that they (Kinder Morgan) have the support of our public officials.  There’s the clandestine, behind the doors discussions with stakeholders prior to this year.  There’s the devaluation of property.

But most of all for me there is this struggle to move beyond fossil fuels.  Energy companies like Kinder Morgan and their affiliates have had their subsidized moment in the sun for going on 100 years.  That moment in the sun has turned to smog and artificial global warming.  I cannot deny the benefits fossil fuels have had to civilization.  However, it is time to move on.  Subsidies need to be pointed elsewhere; to alternative energies that give promise (including jobs) to our future.  Sure we have seen energy independence in this country over the past 8-10 years, but at what cost?  Alternatives are a must option to anything that burns.  We’ve about reached the breaking point.  I suppose dealing with existing infrastructure is a necessity until we can realistically move on.   But any new infrastructure should be green.  We can do it, and keep the job market thriving in the process. 

In this day and age it is hard to fathom that concepts like eminent domain and blanket FERC authorizations could overrule the will of a community.  There was a special Pepperell town meeting on the issue of a pipeline several months ago.  It was packed to the gills; the biggest showing for a town meeting in a long time. Not one person voted in favor.  Not one!  And Pepperell routinely votes Republican.  This type of vote is typical of what has happened in every community the pipeline is proposed to cross (although the votes are non-binding).  There are anti-pipeline signs scattered all over the front lawns of ours and our fellow affected communities.  It appears we are at the crossroads of a great battle between the past (fossil fuels) and the future (alternative energies) and apparently the past is not going down without an ugly fight.

So yes, I’ve been immersed in current events despite (and due to) my ceaseless Neil Young music inclinations this year.  I’ve written a letter to the governor and other state officials; signed off on petitions; attended fund raisers; rallied in the Boston Common in front of the State House; marched the entire length of Pepperell  in protest (part of a statewide march); and attended a handful of town and related meetings on all matters ‘pipeline’.  Vigilance is the order of the day, but the bottom line is that this is a huge distraction from the norm, which makes the issue even more vexing.  “Think Global, Act Local”:  It’s what I’ve had to do this year.  And Nancy.  And Charlotte too.  

When I last wrote of Neil Young’s position on the Tar Sands pipeline, it was something I certainly connected with, but it was still ‘over there’.   Not anymore, and not simply because of the local pipeline fiasco.  I was in Edmonton Alberta this past August.  Travelling the countryside, I witnessed several monstrous, belching refinery plants.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg from what I understand.  A trip further north to Fort McMurray is where the real action is.  It was a tough pill to swallow.  I don’t want to isolate Alberta though.  I’ve been to places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Gary, Indiana and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.  There’s a pervasive fossil-fueled culture all around us that has to change. 

Neil Young is not letting go.  A listen to his new classy (and classical) song Who’s Gonna Stand Up? (And Save The Earth) will attest to that ( ).  He covers a lot of ground in this song.  I’m not sure if it (or this entry for that matter) will help, but I must say this:  Thank you, Mr. Young. 

On a final semi-humorous/serious note, it’s intriguing to me that a predominantly southern movement dubbed ‘the tea party’ has evolved these past 4 years in a bizarre response to the Obama Administration’s policies.  The true Tea Party took place in Massachusetts 250 years ago, and this recent movement has hijacked the term.  These newbies are Tea Party imposters (an oxymoron if you think about it).  But recent developments in my own back yard have me thinking that it’s time to bring the movement and term back to where it belongs.

And so this entry is written for those future Steeves descendants.  If they are to read this blog series (and borderline harangue of an entry) 40, 50, 100 years down the road, I want them to know which side of the fence their ancestor was on.  Neil Young asks “Who’s going to stand up and save the earth”.   My hearts is in that ring and I’ll try to do my job to toss my hat in as well.

-          Pete

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Forever Young # 37: "A Pardon of the Partisan Kind"

Song:  Campaigner
Album:  Decade
Released:  October, 1977

I’m thinking it was five October’s ago, when Peter was 11 years old.  Or maybe it was six years ago when he was 10.  Anyhow, Nancy and I took the big guy to a local department store with a large costume section to choose a Halloween outfit.  He looked over quite a variety of options, from Freddy Krueger to Blackbeard, to the Scream, and finally settled on…. a Richard Nixon mask.  I laughed, scratched my head and asked “are you kidding?”  He wasn’t kidding.  This was what he wanted to wear.  There really was no explanation for it and to this day I still can’t figure out what drew him to that mask.  I mean, Peter was (and still is) about as apolitical as they come.  But after realizing he was serious, I ran with it and over the next few days proceeded to give him a few Nixonian gestures to work on (including the two-arm extended ‘V’ victory sign, hunched shoulder, jaw extended) a few quotes (including “My fellow Americans”) and a little history lesson. 

He worked on it and got pretty good too.  I have to say it was all pretty funny, but not nearly as funny as how the actual Halloween night played out.  Our neighborhood is one of the prime places in town to trick-or-treat; being stacked with houses on cul-de-sac side streets.  And so one of Peter’s good friends, Joey, got dropped off at our home for an evening excursion out and about amongst a variety of witches goblins and parents.  When Joey stepped out of his Dad’s car, he was dressed from head to toe, as a police officer, complete with Billy club and handcuffs.  This also took me by surprise, and I must say he looked the part.  We took a few pictures of the two of them and in the process it all started to feel hilariously bizarre.  It only got funnier.  Peter was a bit faster than his buddy, so throughout the night, as they ran from door to door it appeared as if the policeman was chasing the former President.  At one home, a lady opened the door looked out and said “Ahhh, Nixon and the cop, ehhh?”  Yes, there were a few belly laughs that crisp fall night.

I know I flashed back that evening.  Back to the early 70s and the first President of the United States who I knew of at the time of his Presidency (I was just 5 years old when Lyndon Johnson declared “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term….”, and so have no recollection of the 36th President).  I guess you could say I was a bit jaded out of the gate in relation to what it took to be the executive leader of the free world.  Nixon was under siege in those earliest years of my Oval Office insights due to the Watergate scandal, and would resign by August of 1974 (half way through his second term).  For all that Bill Clinton and George Bush and Barak Obama have faced in terms of public obsession with their job performance these past decades, it all pales in comparison to the late Nixon years. 

My aunt and uncle were great defenders of Nixon.  I witnessed this first hand and found it odd.  But I also found odd the abuse hurdled the President’s way from the opposite direction.  There were imitations (Rich Little being the best) and records and comic strips and eventually…. masks.  Everyone had an opinion.  In the summer of ’74 it seemed to be all the adults talked (and argued) about.  Nixon was everywhere.  My grandmother had a parade of anti-Nixon books in her parlor.  Dad purchased an inflatable boat and dubbed it “The Watergate”.  When we went to Washington D.C. a few years after Nixon’s resignation, seeing the actual office complex where the crime that eventually took down a President took place was almost as intense as riding past the White House for the first time just up the road.

We all put up defense mechanisms when under attack, and Richard Nixon had his share of them.  This came across as Machiavellian to most, which just seemed to make matters worse for him.  It was a very uncomfortable period for the country.  Heck, I was only 12 years old, and I was uncomfortable.  Congressional hearings were all over the television.  America was laid bare; dysfunctional at best, corrupt at worst.  In the end, a President was toppled.  It was not a pretty sight, and there would be long-term ramifications.  Finger pointing intensified over the subsequent decades, both in the left and right direction.   It seems to get worse with every administration, and there appears no end in sight.  This all can be traced back to a rift that began to expand exponentially with Nixon and Watergate. 

But many of us tend to forget that a funny thing happened after Nixon’s resignation:  Most Americans started feeling sorry for him.  The image of the lonely California beach stroller took hold.  Wife Pat went ill, which added to the sympathy.  And for all his faults, it slowly seeped into the counter-culture consciousness that Nixon had some very insightful policy to hang his hat on.  The EPA was established under him.  There was the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, restrictions on trade with Japan due to their whaling practices, and the Endangered Species Act (and even more important to a younger version of me at the time, he traded a muskox for a giant panda with the Chinese). 

For an environmental-minded person like myself who focuses on these types of issues as extremely important, it’s all too hard to ignore.  The fact of the matter is that Dick Nixon did some good things, and I can’t help comparing these advancements to the current state of affairs.  I mean, can anyone imagine this type of legislation kicking in on today’s Republican agenda?  On the contrary, many of them are trying to dismantle such progress.  So I do think Nixon’s legacy has at the very least hung in there over the past few decades…at least for those of us who were (and are) on the other side of the ideological fence.

Yes, the country was caught up in all things Nixon in the mid-70s, and Neil Young was no exception.  He sang “Tin Soldiers and Nixon coming” on Ohio (see Forever Young # 27).  He included a famous newspaper headline related to Watergate on his 1974 ‘On the Beach’ cover (“Sen Buckley calls for Nixon to resign”).  And he wrote and sang Campaigner, post resignation, which – and this should be no surprise for Young aficionados - makes room for reconciliation.  Before I discuss this, there’s something I’ve been observing for some time and it is this:  For a Rock and Roller, Neil Young is unusual in his call for strong elective leadership.  He’s been doing it from the beginning of his career and has not stopped, seeing this character trait as an answer to problems that confront us all.  When Young is disappointed, he does not hesitate to let his feelings show in word and song.  He was certainly disappointed with Richard Nixon, but was almost immediately ready to do what he could to start the healing process after the fact.  Gerald Ford initiated it all with a pardon.   Neil Young was not far behind.

Campaigner ( ) is one of Neil Young’s most heartfelt songs, which is amazing considering the subject matter.   Some think it sounds like Neil Young poking fun at Nixon (“Even Richard Nixon has got soul” he sings).  But I don’t think so.  It’s just too stark, bordering on mournful, to be so.  There’s something deeper going on here.  I don’t want to call it regret, but it’s something like that.  Young recognizes there is soul in Richard Millhouse Nixon, and I believe in the process recognizes there is soul in all of us.  A moment like this can be enlightening for anyone.  Young seems to be capturing his own revelation on record, which makes it extraordinary.

I’ve been listening all week to the “Complete Joel Bernstein Tapes” (thanks C. Brady) which are classic recordings of live Neil Young from a variety of venues in 1976.  The version of Campaigner on this collection is particularly poignant, and may likely be one of the first recordings of the song.  It’s interesting that a Boston venue would have been chosen by Bernstein for inclusion of Campaigner in his collection.  Perhaps it’s because he simply has a very good ear for quality.  Given that Massachusetts was the only State that did not vote for Nixon in 1972 (along with the District of Columbia) Young may have been moved to put a little more gusto into the song while in the Hub, and Bernstein seems to have noticed (if you want a listen, go to and click on Track 1). 

So there you have.  Neil Young did his part to help exorcise the bad vibes that played out on our National stage in the early to mid-70s, in turn allowing a counter culture to soften its tone, making room for kinder, gentler (and sillier) thoughts.  Many years after the fact, seeing my son run from door to door with that exaggerated Nixon caricature over his face, that’s all I had room for.

-          Pete