Zuma by Neil Young


Every now and then I get a message from an ex student and I got one yesterday which was typical. “Hey! You taught me maths at Chancellor’s. I was a proper horror as a teenager but now I’m a primary teacher in Cyprus. Sorry for being a complete nightmare back in the day. Hope you are well”. The message was from a girl who I vaguely remember being slightly awkward but she responded well to a bit of attention. It was nice to get the message and interesting that she felt a need to apologise.

As the pandemic intensifies and the number of vaccinations is increasing, a common news story is emerging. I don’t know who Rita Ora is but it appears she has twice broken lockdown rules – she didn’t bother quarantining when travelling to perform in Egypt and she invited 30 people to a party over Christmas. Both times she has apologised profusely. “I realise how irresponsible these actions were and I take full responsibility”, she wrote afterwards. She has now been dropped from advertising campaigns by EE and Apple.

While the return of top level football has been a boon to my mental health, the irresponsible actions of many footballers have been annoying. Benjamin Mandy, Erik Lamela, Sergio Reguilon, Manuel Lanzini and Giovani Lo Celso have all been found to have attended large gatherings and not tried to hide it, posting pictures on social media. Erik Lamela has said “I understand the seriousness of my actions and the impact it has on others”. In other words, he can do what he likes because he’s a spoilt rich kid, the rules don’t apply to him and all he has to do is apologise. I suppose if we look to our leaders for moral guidance and one of those in power is found to be Dominic Cummings, then this is what happens.

On January 20, 2001, President Bill Clinton pardoned 140 people on his last day in office. One of these people was Roger Clinton, the President’s brother who had been convicted of drug offences. Another was Susan McDougal who had refused to testify against Bill and Hilary Clinton in the Whitewater scandal. Another was Marc Rich who owed $48 million in taxes and who had made significant contributions to Hilary Clinton’s Senate campaign. Carlos Vignali and Almon Glenn Braswell had been convicted of cocaine trafficking, mail fraud and perjury and paid $200 000 to Hilary Clinton’s brother to represent their successful attempts to be given a pardon.

During my walk with Bruno this morning, I listened to a new podcast called “Deep Background”, presented by Noah Feldman. The episode concerned the potential for President Donald Trump to pardon his acolytes, his family and even himself. He has already pardoned Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, two people convicted of crimes to do with Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The point was made in this fascinating podcast that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon to ensure that the past was put behind him and the country could look forward without a long running saga with Nixon still in centre stage. It was felt that President Joe Biden would probably do the same for Trump unless Trump pardoned himself. This would be one step too far and ignoring it would give carte blanche to any future President to do anything they wanted to, knowing that they could pardon themselves.

My good friend Ben has a mate Jim, who lives in Boston, and he has suggested that one possible sequence of events is that Trump will resign office two days before the end of his presidency, Mike Pence takes over for a day and, on that day, he pardons Trump.

I encountered many apologies during my time as a teacher. I made plenty of mistakes myself and I was prepared to apologise to a student which was normally accepted. If a student had been rude to me, I normally found that giving them time to calm down and having a rational conversation was normally enough to elicit an apology. Sometimes, an incident was so serious as to require someone else to support me. Occasionally, no action would be taken apart from the student offering me a meaningless apology. I suppose if I had ever tried to teach Erik Lamela how to solve a quadratic equation, that is what I would have got.

If someone’s actions result in unhappiness, ruin or denying opportunity for someone else, is a simple apology enough to wipe the slate clean?

“Pardon My Heart” is a gentle acoustic song by Neil Young from “Zuma”. It’s another request for forgiveness but it is more like the message I received yesterday than it is like a Presidential pardon to a corrupt person. In the song, Neil Young apologised for the way he was, saying that he couldn’t help himself. That excuse doesn’t really apply to a drug dealer or someone attempting to bribe their way out of a criminal conviction. No, Neil Young’s apology is for loving someone so much that it resulted in both of them being unhappy. “Pardon my heart if I showed that I cared.” I’m not sure the analogy with a narcissistic President is very apposite.

Although I love the “Ditch” trilogy of “Time Fades Away”, “Tonight’s the Night” and “On The Beach”, “Zuma” was a very accessible relief and all the songs are tuneful, melodic and, in some ways, cathartic. The only song I don’t care for much is “Danger Bird” which is a bit too rambling to my taste but “Don’t Cry No Tears”, “Looking For A Love” and “Barstool Blues” are a very tuneful, “poppy” trio of songs that, along with “Pardon My Heart” make for a great Side One. “Drive Back” and “Stupid Girl” are a little bit more intense and lead nicely into the album centrepiece, “Cortez The Killer” which gives a wildly inaccurate story about Hernán Cortés, a conquistador who conquered Mexico for Spain in the 16th century. The last verse compares the conquering manner of a killer to Neil Young’s own way of relating to Carrie Snodgrass. “I still can’t remember when or how I lost my way.”

I think my favourite song on the album is “Barstool Blues”, especially the line about how a friend of his who died a thousand deaths after trusting in a woman. Presumably, he is singing about himself.

“Zuma” is the first album that features Frank Sampedro as Crazy Horse’s lead guitarist. For the next forty years, Neil Young would sporadically trade guitar licks with him in a thrilling, unique manner. When Frank Sampedro first started playing with Crazy Horse on “Danger Bird”, Neil Young shouted out “more air – more air”, apparently letting Frank Sampedro know that there should be space in the playing for Neil Young to show what he could do. To call Frank Sampedro the lead guitarist of Crazy Horse is like calling John Lennon the lead guitarist of The Beatles. When it came to “Cortez The Killer”, Frank Sampedro said “It’s very sparse. I don’t need to play a lot of notes. That gives Neil a ton of room to exercise his craft“. I guess that the secret to Crazy Horse’s longevity is their collective lack of ego.

“Zuma” is another magnificent album from Neil Young. I hope he understood the seriousness of his actions and the impact it had on me.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

7 thoughts on “Zuma by Neil Young

  1. I really enjoy your articles – I don’t read them all (as there’s so many!), but I do read plenty – I often find myself agreeing with your takes, but not always of course! But… who’d call John Lennon the lead guitarist in the Beatles? Or maybe I’ve missed your point entirely as he of course wasn’t, and probably played lead less than Macca (not sure about that, but it feels right). Anyway, keep up the good work!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I should have added – one of the positives of your articles is that the usually leave me wanting more! That’s not a back-handed way of saying they don’t say enough, by the way – I like the personal insights you reveal that help place the records in your own context before you get stuck into the music, but you don’t over-analyse the music.

        Liked by 2 people

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