I would like to believe that I strive for personal growth and I am constantly hoping to reflect on my past behaviour in order to become a better human being. I arrogantly assume that this is what I have been doing over the last two and a half years since I started this blog. By digging deep into past events of my life, I can understand the motivations and expectations that led me to behave in certain ways. This will mean that I will be a nicer, gentler, kinder person and it won’t be long now before I reach a state of nirvana. If I were a Buddhist, I would anticipate achieving a state of non-self and emptiness, marking the end of rebirth by stilling the fires that keep the process of rebirth going. I could rid myself of three psychological evils – Raga (greed, desire), Dwesha (anger) and Moha (delusion). In my most deluded moments, I assume that my friends feel that I have, by now, become a perfect human being.
On Monday and Tuesday this week, I had two huge rows with Roo, in which I became irrational, angry, rude and unpleasant. As with all such arguments, the causes of the arguments are trivial and irrelevant. What’s more important is that the state of grace that I sometimes wonder if I could ever achieve is as far away from me now as it was when I was a naïve, diffident, uncaring teenager. I’m not sure that we ever really change the nature of our souls. Our personalities remain unchanged after being forged by our experiences as a young child. Our bodies get more decrepit but our instincts and characteristics are unwavering. We can learn what we are supposed to do but in the same way that I instinctively swore at the lad who thumped my car bonnet when he walked past our house a couple of weeks ago, my predisposition to be over sensitive and angry hasn’t really left me.
Pete plays walking football in Brighton. This is a sport that is growing in popularity for older people who used to play football in their 20’s and 30’s. Every time I see him, there’s another story to illustrate how none of us ever really change. For example, yesterday, when he (luckily) beat me at snooker, he told me how one of the guys he plays with, who is over 70 years old, is now not talking to him because a week ago, Pete put him in the second team. Pete has since tried to talk to this bloke on several occasions, but he gets blanked every time, refusing to shake his hand after a game – he keeps making caustic comments to other players about how he isn’t perceived to be a good player. This behaviour would be reprehensible in a 15 year old but in a 70 year old, it seems laughable. It’s easy to imagine what this guy would have been like when he was at school. There’s an inner voice inside him, telling him not to change.
Neil Young’s release schedule is determinedly hectic. He has released nine albums in the last 18 months but only two of these albums were recorded in the last three years. Has Neil Young changed since his first releases in 1966 with Buffalo Springfield? Does the date of recording of an album matter? Is it a bit retro and out-of-date to listen to an “archive release” or does listening to every album by an artist give a complete picture of that person in their entirety?
Let’s take the magnificent “Mr Soul” from “Buffalo Springfield Again”, released in 1967. Two of the most striking lines are “Any girl in the world could have easily known me better/She said “You’re strange but don’t change” and I let her.” As a succinct statement of the problems of fame and relationships, this can’t really be bettered. Compare this with the opening song on “Homegrown” which is called “Separate Ways”. “I won’t apologize/The light shone from your eyes/It isn’t gone and it will soon come back again/We go our separate ways looking for better days”. The song was written seven years after “Mr Soul” and it’s as if the budding relationship from “Mr Soul” has developed, blossomed and is now coming to an end. Which is more or less what actually happened to Neil Young who, after seeing Carrie Snodgrass act in “Diary Of A Mad Housewife”, lived with her from 1970-1975. The start of his infatuation with her is documented on “A Man Needs A Maid” from “Harvest”: “A while ago somewhere I don’t know when. I was watchin’ a movie with a friend. I fell in love with the actress. She was playin’ a part that I could understand.” Fast forward to 2000 and Neil Young has been married to Pegi Young for 22 years. In the song “Gateway Of Love” from “Toast”, he sings “If I could just live my life as easy as a song, I’d wake up some day and the pain would all be gone”. In a few years time, Neil and Pegi Young would be divorced. The voice that shines through all these songs is true and honest. Neil Young doesn’t really know how to hide his feelings in songs. He is much more John Lennon than Paul McCartney. His feelings about his relationships and his understanding of the complexity of an artist living a life in love are clear in all of these songs. Neil Young hasn’t changed.
A few months ago, Neil Young released an album called “Toast” which had been recorded in 2001 and catalogued the heartbreak and despair he felt when his relationship with his wife, Pegi, was breaking down. They finally divorced in 2014. Neil Young said “I couldn’t handle it at the time. I just skipped it and went on to do another album in its place.” The album was deemed too dark for release and so he released “Are You Passionate” instead.
In June 2019, Neil Young released an album called “Homegrown” which had been recorded in 1974 and catalogued the heartbreak and despair he felt when his relationship with his girlfriend, Carrie, was breaking down. They finally split in 1975. Neil Young said “It was a little too personal… it scared me“. The album was deemed too dark for release and so he released “Tonight’s The Night” instead.
“She said “You’re strange but don’t change” and I let her.” Not only did Neil Young “let” her say this, he also took her advice. He didn’t change.
Between 1972 and 1977, Neil Young recorded “Harvest”, “Time Fades Away”, “On The Beach”, “Tonight’s The Night”, “Homegrown”, “Dume“, Zuma”, “Hitchhiker”, “Chrome Dreams” and “American Stars’n’Bars”. That’s ten albums in six years. Neil Young was once asked about why or how he could produce so many great songs in a short space of time and his answer was revealing. He said he didn’t know, but he guessed there were times when he had a direct line to God. I don’t think he meant this in the sense of any organised religion but simply that a higher power was at work and he was fortunate enough to be able to communicate with it.
Disc 6 of The Neil Young Archives Vol II is called “The Old Homestead”. Here is the track listing.
|Song||Date of |
|Studio||Also released on..|
|Love/Art Blues||15.6.74||BAR||CSNY 1974* (2014)|
|Through My Sails||15.6.74||BAR|
|Pardon My Heart||16.6.74||BAR||Zuma* (1976)|
|L.A. Girls And Ocean Boys||16.6.74||BAR||Incorporated into|
“Danger Bird” on “Zuma”
|Pushed It Over The End||27.8.74||Live|
|On The Beach||28.8.74||Live||On The Beach* (1974)|
|One More Sign||4.11.74||BAR|
|Give Me Strength||4.11.74||BAR||Hitchhiker* (2017)|
|Bad News Comes To Town||4.11.74||BAR||Bluenote Cafe* (2015)|
|Love/Art Blues||10.12.74||Nashville||CSNY 1974* (2014)|
|The Old Homestead||11.12.74||Nashville||Hawks & Doves (1980)|
|Deep Forbidden Lake||13.12.74||Nashville||Decade (1977)|
|Love/Art Blues||31.12.74||BAR||CSNY 1974* (2014)|
BAR = Broken Arrow Ranch, * = different version released
Disc 7 of The Neil Young Archives Vol II is called “Homegrown”. It is identical to the album that he released in 2020. Here is the track listing.
|Song||Date of |
|Studio||Also released on..|
|Love Is A Rose||16.6.74||BAR||Decade (1977)|
|We Don’t Smoke It No More||31.12.74||BAR|
|White Line||12.9.74||London||Ragged Glory* (1990)|
|Little Wing||21.1.75||Los Angeles||Hawks & Doves (1980)|
|Star Of Bethlehem||13.12.74||Nashville||American Stars’n’Bars*|
To summarise, between June 1974 and January 1975, Neil Young recorded 29 different songs of which 17 were not released in any form until 2020 (“Homegrown”) or 2021 (“Neil Young Archives Vol II”). Bear in mind that the songs for “On The Beach” had been recorded just beforehand (between February and April 1974) and those for “Zuma” were mainly recorded straight after the recordings for “Homegrown” (between May and August 1975). It’s quite overwhelming.
Neil Young was listening to “Holland” by The Beach Boys a lot during 1974 and he liked the idea of the trio of songs that formed “California Saga”. His take on this was to record three songs called “Mexico”, “Florida” and “Kansas”. Whereas The Beach Boys produced three sunny, optimistic songs that sounded like the epitome of Summer, Neil Young’s three songs sound like a dark late-autumnal night when the prospect of a gloomy approaching winter is forbidding and oppresive. “Kansas” sounds like a follow up to “Mr. Soul”, being a meditation on the hollowness of stardom. “Mexico” describes the feeling when love is hard to summon up, despite the singer’s need for it. “Florida” is very weird. Neil Young speaks a story about a glider crashing into a 15 storey building while he and Ben Keith (who produces half the songs on the album) run their fingers round a wine glass producing a feedback-like sound that all but makes the song unlistenable to.
“White Line” was to become a glorious electric guitar drenched opening song on 1990’s “Ragged Glory”, with a typical blustering beat provided by Crazy Horse, but it was first recorded with Robbie Robertson in an acoustic style, just before The Band opened for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Wembley in 1974.
“Try” is a tribute to Carrie Snodgrass’ mother who took her own life soon after Neil Young separated from her daughter a year after the album was recorded. Emmylou Harris contributes a dazzling harmony vocal. The song sounds like a “Harvest” outtake apart from the lyrics, such as “Darlin’, the door is open to my heart and I’ve been hopin’ that you won’t be the one to struggle with the key”.
This is a wondrous album. The sound is largely acoustic, the lyrics are emotional, raw and heartfelt. Neil Young’s singing is, of course, startling and slightly tuneless. The album was recorded in 1974, but from the viewpoint of Neil Young’s soul, his Mr. Soul, it could have been recorded at any point in the last 60 years. He’s strange, but please don’t ever change.
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