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Repost: “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”

Posted by purplemary54 on December 2, 2013

I’m just not feeling it today, so here’s something from the early days.  I would like to add a link to the acoustic half “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” because I believe this song is meant to be heard as a pair.

Feeling much better today.  I was cleaning out some old papers and stuff for the recycling when I stumbled upon this.  I feel weird quoting myself, although I have changed the punctuation slightly:

“The fury of this song overwhelms everything around it.  The singer, the band, the joy of the audience at hearing a song they love.  It all gets reduced to a swirling vortex, a maelstrom, a tempest, an abyss.  A storm of fuzzed out electric guitar, a tidal wave of feedback.  It is a declaration of intent to tear down everything in its path–everything that came before and everything that will attempt to come after.  The musical equivalent of Sherman’s march to the sea.  War is indeed hell.  Burn it all, and let God sort out the mess.”

I sometimes have a tendency toward purple prose.

But I think it’s a pretty fair assessment of the song.  “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” is one of the angriest songs ever by one of rock music’s angriest artists.  And it is overwhelming.  It does wash over you a like some kind of sonic wave.  I’ve never seen Neil Young and Crazy Horse live, but I imagine this one brings the house down whenever they play it.  It came out in 1979, a time when music was changing rapidly.  Punk was still not mainstreamed (read: tamed).  Neil Young seems to be responding to both the vitality of the sound and the vitriol of the message.  His message is one I’ve always taken to heart: “Rock and Roll can never die.  There’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.”  I usually take it literally, because I like a good pledge to musical integrity, and because I’ve always believed that rock music says far more about American culture than almost anyone gives it credit for (Greil Marcus being the most notable exception).  But, of course, there’s other messages.  More to the picture of society.  More to the picture of fame.  More to the picture of politics.  Young is smart and words things in such a way that every listener can come away with something different.

This is a punk song at heart, with a punk sound and a gloriously punk attitude.  “The King is gone but he’s not forgotten.  This is the story of Johnny Rotten” is simultaneously sarcastic and earnest.  Young is symbolically passing the torch from the progenitors of rock to the generation that would’ve been perfectly happy to burn it all down.  And he’s warning them that they won’t be able to. “There’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.”

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