Wednesday, July 31, 2013
The Heaviest Album I've Heard - Neil Young - Tonight's The Night
I had just said hasta luego to my raging skullet and burly beard. No biggie, it was my best friends big day and he wanted some wedding pictures in a hip little barbershop in my hometown that does straight razor cuts. The Bearded Brethren would understand. I was on my third PBR (courtesy of the barbershop) and I hadn’t quite been up for 2 hours yet. I felt fine. No hang over, just a larger than usual dose of amused cynicism...probably because I was trying to kick an unexpectedly acquired smoking habit cold turkey and I was feeling sorry for myself. It happens. I’m ok with my working, in-betweener, social status. It’s just that I start feeling like a play on the character of Nick Carraway in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, especially when eating and drinking on the tab and rubbing elbows with my friend’s old-school Long Island relatives and his bride’s staunch French family. They are nice folks, really, but the previous night of fine dining and discussing my dead end pursuit of a music career and pretending like everything was going great (...*and don’t forget to smille...) with people I more or less didn’t know over gin and tonics had worn me into a smooth groove. This wasn’t my day. I was the support staff. I just needed to suit up and be charming. The record being broadcast over the hi-fi (I did say hip barbershop) had come to an end and I saw a shining moment to tip the scales in favor or me having a good attitude before I helped ship my mejor amigo into the married life. What a trip.
There was a deep stack of Buck Owens, Roy Buchanan, Linda Ronstadt and the like. I just wasn’t in the mood to get down on some Merle. This was not Sunday Morning Coming Down...this was a day I needed a real grin on my face. Then there it was... Tonight’s The Night. That black and white record cover will stand out like a sore thumb with any collection, especially this one. It was time to rock and roll.
With cuff links in place and patent leather kicks tied, I sat down to finish off my ever so hip brew and stare off into the un-opened bottle of W.H. Harrison (Hoosier) bourbon that was homies best man’s gift. The eerie opening piano cadence that preludes the snarled “Bruce Berry was a working man, he used to load that Econoline van” was picking up steam in the ol’ noggin. I heard this record before. I read about this record before. I guess I was listening this time. It was kind of a tough pill to swallow. A heavy one none the less. This wasn’t like when I staid up all night on trucker speed grade diet pills and blasted 101 Proof Live into my skull via my Discman’s headphones or when I was glued to the couch in my basement and the lava lamp would surge and bulge colorfully in time with Echoes, expanding and contracting like the Universe. This was somewhere in the middle of that, but out of order. Weird timing abounds. And then it hit me, goddamn it, I’m older. Once moment life is good cover of Cinnamon Girl and the next it’s Cowgirl In The Sand on the jukebox in your favorite smoke filled house of sin with your buddies. Those days are passed and it’s more like Roll Another Number (For The Road). The shit is hitting the fan and I'm paranoid about the mess. What are we doing here? A little late to turnaround. Apparently I didn’t have enough to think about that day and the great subconscious being the bitch she is thought I needed to think about mortality a little more.
Maybe you know the story, maybe you don’t. Disenchanted with CSN and already reeling against the success of his mellow, countrified classic, Harvest, Shakey had already started in on a self-destructive musical tangent with the gritty Time Fades Away album that was comprised of recording made while playing to audiences who wanted to hear Harvest. You can listen for yourself. The band seems REALLY laid back. Totally. It was like Neil was personally delivering the message...fuck you hippies, I’m calling the tunes now. You can fuck off. He did it by exorcising some demons with an electric guitar audibly getting the shit beat out of it through a cranked amplifier, iced off with that crystal clear howl that will can raise a chill on a whim. More grass, tequila, more coke. The time was starting to weigh a ton. Let’s party.
Charlie Manson and his crew had cut a gash in the charmed life of Hollywood’s young prince and princes. Hendrix, Janis, and Morrison had all checked out. David Bowie and Lou Reed androgynous, artsy, heroin driven rock stylings were appealing to those who had not quite gone over to the punk rock anarchy of The Sex Pistols. Love and peace were over. The nihilistic cocaine driven death trip had begun. Oh yeah, and that whole Vietnam bullshit. That was happening. By ’73, the swan song of the love-in-the-sun hippie daydream that Neil was skeptically participating in was put to pasture for good with the overdose of Danny Whitten, rhythm guitarist of Crazy Horse. Seven month’s later, the aforementioned Bruce Berry, one of CSN&Y’s entourage and roadie, died of an overdose as well. Fuck Woodstock and the VW’s they drove in on. Welcome to the 70’s, man.
The whole band was broken up pretty bad. Not quite of their 20’s they watched Bruce and Danny, especially, wither under the affliction of drug addiction. What the fuck is a twenty something musician making millions of dollars playing rock and roll music to teenagers supposed to know about dealing with losing big time? Little league sportsmanship takes you so far, you know? There really isn’t a play book for these things and Neil’s posse was growing a little jittery.
So what do you do when you are disgustingly depressed and have all of the time and money the world? You ask the rehearsal studio (owned by Bruce Berry’s brother) if you can knock a whole in the wall with a sledge hammer and run some cables in. Naturally, duh. Then, you get fucked up. Like real good. Beyond awesome....cosmic. They would say they would glow. After they were done shooting pool and whatever else....then it was time to jam. They had set up a stage (which is convenient if you are jamming at an equipment rental store) and they kind of just stumble up there when the mood was right. This my friends, is how you throw a wake when you are a rock star. Fuck it. Roll tape. Play....whatever feels right. What was captured wasn’t necessarily music. It wasn’t necessarily for anyone else. Sometimes you just need to play some shit really loud...or something really sad...or just get fucked up... or whatever, tonight’s the night.
Now I realize that’s a lot to think about in during the last few gulps of a warming PBR, but in that moment of self pity and elation that I was experiencing in the fuzzy glow of a fantastic rock record, I realized that Tonight’s The Night was as heavy as any record I had ever heard. I just couldn’t shake it. Short of head trauma, I had a new memory to attach to a hard lesson in rock and roll. So as I was making mental notes on what I might possibly have to pull out of my ass for an impromptu dual best man speech, it was like I heard the ghost of my childhood, reminding me that it doesn’t get easier and the only thing to do when you don’t know what to do is to do what you would have done anyway. You could die young, man.... except, you know...Neil Young howling it at me front row. I could smell the hangover already.