I’m Not in Denial About the State of Things. . .

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The world kind of sucks right now.  My personal world hasn’t been a bed of roses lately, either.  (I’m assuming the phrase “bed of roses” refers to the soft petals and not the thorny bush.  And my choice of metaphors will make sense in a moment.)  I’m not denying any of it, and I’ll probably post something about it soon.  I just don’t want to be sad and angry right now.  Which is why I’m posting this song.

“Love is Rose” is a Neil Young song, but Linda Ronstadt owns it.  I’ve always preferred her version anyway.  Like Neil, his version of the song tends to be kind of prickly; his focus seems to be on the thorns and not the flowers.  “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it” seems to be sound advice as far as he’s concerned.  Fool around to your heart’s content, but don’t fall in love; it’ll only end in tears when you gash your hand open and bleed all over the place while screaming in pain.

In Ronstadt’s version, that line is also a warning but the emphasis is different.  Let’s do it.  Let’s fall in love, but don’t try to own me.  Don’t  imprison me in your world.  Let me grow and thrive in my own environment.  If you do try to cut me off from the things that made you want me in the first place, I will cut you.  Her version is more joyful somehow, more about the cooperation a relationship requires.  “Give me a lift, and I’ll hay your wagon” is mostly a metaphor for sex, but it’s also an idea about how two people can work together to make something good happen.

Since Neil Young wrote the words, the interpretation of the songs could be exactly the same.  But the slower pacing gives Young’s version a more cautious, unhappy feel.  Ronstadt’s delivery and choice of arrangement makes “Love is Rose” softer and more buoyant.  I know part of the reason I like her version better is because I heard it first.  But I also enjoy the carefree tone.  There’s an edge, but you aren’t going to hurt yourself too badly on it.  At least, you won’t as long as you give her a little breathing room, enough to drink, and lots of sunshine.

 

 

“Love is a Rose”

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It was recently announced that Neil and Pegi Young are divorcing after 36 years.  More accurately, Neil filed for a divorce at the end of July.  I don’t know what Pegi’s official stance is, but I’ll bet she’s on board with the idea.

I’ve always been under the impression that Neil is kind of an ass.  Maybe it’s the way he comes off in interviews.  My feelings are pretty unsubstantiated; I’ve heard some apocryphal stories about him being distant and neglectful to the people he supposedly loves, including his disabled children (two from two different mothers, plus another non-disabled child with Pegi).  I can’t remember any of the stories well enough to recount them, or refer you to any sources.  All I know is I don’t like him that much as a human being.

As an artist and musician, Neil Young is above reproach.  His work is stunning in its diversity and creativity.  He can croon the tenderest love songs, and spew the most vitriolic rage.  I love Neil’s music.

Which complicates my feelings about him as a person.  I guess I believe the stories I’ve heard because he is so brilliantly talented.  Brilliantly talented people tend to have other glaring flaws.  They can be difficult to deal with because their devotion to their art is so uncompromising.  There probably is some truth to the stories, but that truth must be incomplete.  After all, the marriage lasted for 36 years.  Maybe he’s a really lovable sweetheart in private, and they just decided to call it quits because they’d grown apart.  I don’t know.

And, ultimately, I don’t care.  What’s important to me is the music.  His life, their lives, are something that has no effect on me whatsoever.  Although I bet this means there’ll be an awesome break-up album in the foreseeable future.

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

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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.”

“The Needle and the Damage Done”

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I have been nominated for an award by the lovely Kina, which I will get to tomorrow–partly because I need a little time to think about it, and partly because I can’t stop thinking about this song.

Neil Young wrote this song in the early 70s in response to the heroin addiction and/or deaths of bandmates, roadies, and friends.  Heroin is one of the ugliest drugs ever.  From what I’ve heard and seen, it is insidious and almost impossible to get away from.  (It’s the one real moral and emotional challenge I have to my stance that all drugs should be legalized.  The only way I can justify it to myself is that it would at least be regulated.)  The music world, especially, has been hard hit by heroin.  In 197o, Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose.  Jimmy Page managed to survive it, somehow.  Eric Clapton, too.  Jerry Garcia struggled with it for years.  I could keep going, but frankly, it’s starting to depress me.

“The Needle and the Damage Done” is such an odd emotional experience.  Young wrote it shortly after a roadie for Crazy Horse died of an overdose, so the palpable grief is understandable.  But listen a little closer and you can hear rage.  And just underneath the rage, terror.  I can imagine the helplessness of watching someone you love descend further and further into a hell of their own making.  That’s where the rage and terror come from, I think–knowing that the addiction is killing someone, and you can’t do anything to stop it.  You just get to stand by and watch.

“I’ve seen the needle and the damage done, a little part of it in everyone.”

 

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”

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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.”