Sleeps With Angels by Neil Young


The day after the heatwave last Monday and Tuesday, the trains were not running on time and so on Wednesday morning I decided to get the bus to Brighton for my weekly ritual of scoffing breakfast with Pete and thrashing him at snooker (although he failed to co-operate on the last part, narrowly beating me 3-0). As the 270 bus from Crawley rumbled around the corner towards me, I was excited to see it was a double decker. Even more exciting was that the only person upstairs appeared to be asleep and had left the front seats free. I had a wonderful view all the way into Brighton and, in my mind, I could fulfil my childhood dream of being a bus driver. I pretended to steer the bus with an imaginary steering wheel for the best 30 minutes I’ve spent in a long time. Quite how a bus driver sits on the top deck of a bus is a small detail I’ve not quite worked out yet.

The view that the driver gets from the top deck of the 270

Whatever happens to those childhood dreams? Ah! I know. We grow up. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a bus driver. In fact, I am full of admiration for the skill, patience and stamina that bus drivers display. In fact, Pete’s father was a bus driver. But, as I grew up, I changed my mind.

Personal growth shouldn’t be limited to childhood and, like everybody, I have changed my mind on many occasions. For example, when I was 41, I decided I didn’t want to be a teacher any more. I studied for a year and had three jobs in I.T. before I changed my mind, deciding that I preferred to teach, after all. I’m glad I found that out for myself, by personal experience, rather than be told what to do or how to think. Are any of us under obligation to be the same person we were 30 years ago, or 30 months ago, or 30 days ago or, in Roo’s case, 30 minutes ago? I find it frustrating when my wife says something to me one day and the opposite thing a day later but it doesn’t make her a bad person.

When Liz Truss was at University, she was a member of the Liberal Democratic Party and proposed a motion to abolish the monarchy. In the BREXIT vote, her choice was to remain. Nowadays she has diametrically opposite views and I have been quick to criticise her for changing her mind. Thinking about it, I’m not sure that is a valid basis for disdain. Obviously, I don’t agree with her views and she would (will?) be a terrible leader of the country but, for the moment, I’m simply considering her changed attitudes over the years. Obviously, someone who thinks the monarchy should be abolished would never be elected as a leader of the Conservative Party. But, maybe she is allowed to change her mind. When I was a student, I thought the monarchy should be abolished. Now I’ve changed my mind. Although on some days I haven’t.

Here’s an interview between Liz Truss and Eddie Mair from 2019

Eddie Mair: What do you think about having another EU referendum?

Liz Truss: A very, very, very bad idea.

Eddie Mair: But people can change their minds, can’t they?

Liz Truss: But they were told in the referendum in 2016, that their vote would be implemented, and the reality is the vote needs to be implemented. You can’t..if you don’t like the answer, you can’t just…

Eddie Mair: What about people who have changed their minds between then and now?

Liz Truss: I don’t think people have changed their minds…

Eddie Mair: You have.

Liz Truss: (Pause) I have. That’s true.

Eddie Mair: Right.

Liz Truss: In the other way though, Eddie.

Eddie Mair: Oh, I see.

Liz Truss: But certainly the people I speak to, many of whom voted remain, say please Liz, just get on with this. They don’t want another year or more of limbo asking the same question again. They just want us to deliver it.

Eddie Mair: So people can change their minds, but only if they go from Remain to Leave.

Kat Boogaard on “The Muse” website says “Changing your mind is really the mark of someone who’s brave and self-aware – someone who’s willing to try new things and has the courage to admit when they aren’t really working out.”

I’m not defending the intellect of Liz Truss but I do think it’s fair to accept that people are allowed to change their minds. On the other hand, it would make a welcome change for the leader of the country to have a central core of beliefs, based on a moral sense of fairness, displaying a fundamental understanding of the distinction between right and wrong.

On the other hand, Liz Truss doesn’t change her mind because she changes her beliefs. She has no beliefs other than in her own ambition. Andrew Rawnsley put it like this. “To keep up with Liz Truss’s journey, you have to be able to run fast. She is the anti-ideologue. The anti-conviction politician. Not so much a set of ideas looking for their natural home as vaulting ambition in search of some ideas. Any ideas. If you don’t like hers, she’s got some others.” John Crace said “Liz Truss is capable of reinventing herself almost at will. And it just so happens that every time she needs some new ideas, she comes up with a set that exactly mirrors those that are needed to enable her to rise still higher in the Tory party. It’s one hell of a coincidence. Imagine one person having that much luck. It’s almost as if she doesn’t believe in anything at all. The ultimate shapeshifter. ‘Tonight, Matthew, I will be whatever you want me to be.’”

So to paraphrase Eddie Mair, people can change their minds but only if they have some core beliefs. Maybe Liz Truss changed her mind about BREXIT when she saw the good it was doing.

Traffic queues on the M20 near Folkestone in Kent amid delays at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.

Neil Young has recorded some spectacular songs with Crazy Horse. “Down By The River”, “Cortez The Killer”, “Like A Hurricane” and “Fuckin’ Up” are some of my favourites, mainly because of the space that Crazy Horse give Neil Young to emote so dramatically on his lead electric guitar. “Change Your Mind” from “Sleeps With Angels” is equally impressive and, at over 14 minutes long, it is longer than the other songs mentioned. There are four dazzling guitar solos, hovering over a sedate tempo in which Ralph Molina’s drums are perfectly in synch with the style and rough beauty of the song. The lyrics aren’t really relevant to Liz Truss in the slightest. Whereas she changes her mind to court popularity and I changed my mind in 1995 to try out a new career, Neil Young advocates that when the world is too much for us, we should seek the love of those closest to us in order to help us gain a different perspective. To help us change our minds.

The song “Sleeps With Angels” was written after the suicide of Kurt Cobain, whom Neil Young admired. “He really, really inspired me. He was so great, wonderful, one of the best – but more than that. Kurt was one of the absolute best of all time for me,” he said. In his autobiography, “Waging Heavy Peace”, he wrote “I coincidentally, had been trying to reach him. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.” Kurt Cobain quoted one of the lyrics from Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” in a note that he left behind before killing himself. “I don’t have the passion anymore,” he wrote, “and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Neil Young has avoided talking about the connection between Kurt Cobain’s suicide and the song or, indeed, the album. In an interview with Nick Kent in MOJO he said “‘Sleeps With Angels’ has a lot of overtones to it, from different situations that were described in it – a lot of sad scenes. I’ve never really spoken about why I made that album. I don’t want to start now.” Nick Kent encouraged him to explain why but Neil Young insisted “I just don’t want to talk about that. That’s my decision. I’ve made a choice not to talk about it and I’m sticking to it.” The lyrics of the song are ambiguous but it has been suggested that some of the lines state a position that it’s better to fade away than burn out. “(Too late, too soon) He sleeps with angels (Too late, too soon) He’s always on someone’s mind.

It’s possible to interpret the album as a song cycle, beginning and ending with songs of hope and an uncertain optimism. On the journey, there are references to desperation and violence with death never far away. Some critics regard the album as the natural successor to “Tonight’s The Night”, normally regarded as Neil Young’s darkest and most harrowing album, and was the studio album recorded after “Harvest“, whereas “Sleeps With Angels” was the studio album recorded after “Harvest Moon”. A single “Piece Of Crap” was released from “Sleeps With Angels” and the B side was the title track from “Tonight’s The Night”. Danny Whitten’s overdose permeated every song on “Tonight’s The Night” and he shares some physical characteristics with Kurt Cobain.

Trans Am” is a road trip with no beginning or end, which concludes in a modern setting of hotel lobbies, arms dealers and broken headlights. It is mainly spoken and bears strong similarities to “Tired Eyes” from “Tonight’s The Night”.

The opening track, “My Heart,” is a low key start with a tack piano and a confused vocal. It appears to be an update on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” from “After The Goldrush”: “When dreams come crashing down like trees I don’t know what love can do.” “Western Hero” and “Train of Love” feature the same music with differing lyrics. “Safeway Cart” is featured on the soundtrack during a marching sequence in Claire Denis’s 1999 film Beau Travail. A song called “Gone To Hell” was dropped from the album lineup; possibly because Young did not want people to think that there was a Kurt Cobain connection. “Gone To Hell” was a companion piece to “A Dream That Can Last” which was originally titled “Gone To Heaven.”

I was disappointed when I first heard “Sleeps With Angels” in 1994. I was expecting a follow up to “Ragged Glory” with magnificent guitar solos on every track and for the last 28 years, I have dismissed the album. Reacquainting myself with the deeply felt emotion on the songs over the course of today has been profoundly fulfilling. I’ve been pleased to change my mind about the album.

Right, that’s 13 Neil Young albums I’ve written about. Only 44 to go now.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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