Every Sunday I have a Zoom call with Arthur, Kevin, Martin and Paddy. I really miss seeing them and our pub walks round London and Norwich have been great. Zoom calls with five people are, by their nature, a bit stilted and to liven things up a little, we have started having a quiz. Well, to be blunt, I have started making quizzes up and, as yet, they haven’t told me to stop. I’ve just spent half an hour creating round 1 of next Sunday’s quiz. I have taken a year and listed all the Number One singles – I show them the artist and they will have to let me know the name of the song. Creating this quiz each week is immensely pleasurable. It’s a bit hifalutin to use the word “create” but I have made something which didn’t exist beforehand so I’ll defend my use of the word.
I always used to enjoy preparing an activity for my Maths lessons. Obviously I would call it “work” and sometimes I was too knackered to find pleasure in it but normally I enjoyed it. I felt fulfilled by creating something out of nothing. I used to tell younger colleagues that I had fulfilled my aim of synchronising my work and my hobby.
I listened to a podcast about “Sgt. Pepper” today and was interested to find out what The Beatles did between finishing its recording and its release in April and May 1967. The presenters of the podcast were slightly surprised to note that The Beatles went back into Abbey Road recording studios to record songs such as “Baby You’re A Rich Man”, “Only A Northern Song”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “All Together Now” and “You Know My Name”. They noted that there was no single or album planned – “Sgt. Pepper” hadn’t even been released yet – so why did they go back into the studio? To me, the answer was obvious – because they wanted to! Having created such a magnificent era-defining work, they didn’t want to stop creating.
I realise that I’ve just compared The Beatles making “Sgt. Pepper” with me designing a worksheet. The point is meant to be about the pleasure in being creative. Although it might well be that my maths worksheets will continue to be analysed for their sophistication and beauty for another hundred years. Or maybe not.
Yesterday was a very pleasant day. An ex colleague of mine drove up from Brighton and we took Bruno out for a walk to Ditchling and back with sensational views over The South Downs. After a cup of coffee in the garden (“safe in my garden”) she left and a few hours later Ben and Anne arrived and the four of us had tea and cake. Delicious cake which Anne had made. I sometimes wish that I could create meals. It would allow me to join in with Ben and Paul in our Saturday afternoon on-line discussions. It would also allow me to be creative rather than simply heat up a bowl of pre prepared soup. So I was impressed with Anne’s ability to bake a lovely cake. I knew she could cook but I didn’t realise that she is also a talented artist. She has been drawing during the lockdown and had drawn a picture of her daughter. I got a bit confused because she passed me a drawing on her phone which I thought was going to be of her daughter but was, in fact, a gargoyle. When I saw the drawing of her daughter, I was blown away. It really captured the essence of her personality. The determination and intensity was absolutely spot on. How fantastic to be able to create something like that from nothing.
I do get great satisfaction from writing this blog and every day, when I’ve finished, I feel much more fulfilled. I’m not sure how I would have got through the last four months without doing this. I’ve been talking to Rob about creativity this afternoon on a phone call. He has just published his novel. It’s a fantastic book – a crime thriller set in Malvern in the Fifties. It’s really well constructed and each chapter feels like a scene from a film. What a brilliant thing to have done. To write a book!
Neil Young was once asked about songwriting. I can’t find the exact quote but it was something like he had no idea where his songs came from and sometimes he felt that he had a direct line to God.
On the DVD that accompanies “Living With War ‘In The Beginning'”, there’s a clip showing the first time that he played “Roger And Out” to Chad Cromwell and Rick Rosas who play drums and bass on the track. Chad Cromwell has played with everybody including Lady Antebellum, Dave Stewart, Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Boz Scaggs, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Frampton, Stevie Nicks, Mark Knopfler etc etc etc. He’s played with some good musicians and some good songs but he is completely blown away by the song he’s just played on. Listen to his reaction once he’s heard the song for the first time.
“I don’t know how you do it, man”.
It is a beautiful song. Neil Young is reminiscing about his friendship with a buddy who subsequently died in a war. “Roger and out good buddy. I feel you in the air today. I know you gave for your country. I feel you in the air today”.
How did Neil Young write this album? Apparently, he saw a newspaper article about wounded US soldiers being flown back from the Iraq war and the emphasis of the article was on medical breakthroughs, not the suffering of the soldiers. “For some reason, that was what did it to me. I went upstairs after that. I wrote this song, ‘Families’. I kind of transcended myself into being a soldier that was dying just thinking about what did they want their families to know. I started writing another song, ‘Restless Consumer’; I started writing all these songs all at once; I had like four songs going at once.” “I held on to (Pegi, his wife), and I was sobbing. I was sobbing so hard, that things were coming out of my face.” He transcended. The direct line to God opened up and Neil transcended.
There are so many brilliant songs on this album and the intensity and anger are sometimes overwhelming. There’s a song called “The Restless Consumer” in which he screams his fury in the line “Don’t need no more lies” over and over. The video is typically forceful, showing images of war, George W Bush and brief glimpses of the recording session which featured a 100 strong choir called “100 Voices”. When the album was released, it got good reviews but there were one or two criticisms of the choir, indicating that the album was over produced. Neil Young replied in the best way that he could by releasing another version of the album five months later called “Living With War In The Beginning” which are raw mixes without the choir. Personally, I like both versions. The strength of the songs shines through.
Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young played a series of concerts in 2006 with “The Freedom Of Speech Tour”. They played a lot of this album and when they got to the song called “Let’s Impeach The President”, reaction was mixed. This video is fantastic and features many people who don’t understand that Neil Young’s anger is not aimed at the heroes who gave their lives but to a President who lied about the need for war.
“Looking For A leader” is a great song and in it, Neil Young hopes that walking amongst us is a strong leader that can unite the country. In the original version (from 2006), he wonders who this might be. “Maybe it’s Obama but he thinks that he’s too young”. A month ago, he recorded an updated version in lockdown. It’s very optimistic “Just like his big new fence this President is going down. America is moving forward. You can feel it in every town.”
There’s no doubt that Neil Young is a genius. His ability to create is unsurpassed. In 2020, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Paul McCartney are still creating. These are the good old days.