Neil Young In Reverse

Facing His Ghosts On the Road and In the Studio
  |   Comments

If you happen to find yourself waking up at 3:00 AM and have nothing else to do, I have a suggestion: listen to a couple of Neil Young records. Most Neil die-hards have the CD of On the Beach but it is not the same without the clicks, pops and lack of sonic clarity. Time Fades Away is not on CD or digital download and possibly never will be since it is reported that Neil has an anxiety attack every time he tries to listen to the tapes. It was recorded during his first arena tour when people who bought the $4.50 tickets wanted to hear multiple versions of “Heart of Gold” and he gave them “Yonder Stands the Sinner.”

I woke up excited about the blizzard and ice storm hitting NYC and, instead of turning on the TV news to watch the chaos ensue, I had a strange desire to hear these two records. The latest Mojo Magazine has a feature on Neil and his best selling record, Harvest. I thought it was odd but refreshing that most of the people asked to comment, young and old, talked about these two records instead of Harvest. Peter Buck says he liked them because everybody else hated them. I agree, but I liked them before most fans and critics hated them.

These days, like most people, I listen to music on my laptop more than an actual sound system because it is quick and easy. Many years ago I copied my favorite vinyl to CD so I went on a search for the Neil stuff. I was delighted that I had put both on the same disc but when I plugged it in the tracks showed up in reverse and in jumbled order. Side 2 of On the Beach came first then Side 2 of Time Fades Away, etc.. On the Beach started with “Ambulance Blues” and Time Fades Away ended with “Don’t Be Denied.”

People talk about listening to Dark Side of the Moon synchronized with The Wizard of Oz or the most recent phenomena of putting all of Radiohead’s music on at the same time and you see Jesus or get some kind of revelation (if I put on Radiohead at any time of day or night I think my head would explode but that's just me). Listening to the two most ravaged and revered Neil Young LPs in jumbled order was an epiphany. On Time Fades Away, Neil opens “Journey Through the Past” with the quiet spoken words, “…a song without a home.” When I heard this as a 16-year old I knew what he meant. It didn’t fit on After the Goldrush or Harvest but needed to be heard.

My CDR had “Journey Through the Past” with the closing line

“…will I still be in your eyes and on your mind…”

followed by the title song “On the Beach” and the confession

“…I need a crowd of people but I can’t face them day to day.”

If you want to hear an artist with an open flesh wound, listen to “Motion Pictures” from On the Beach next to “The Bridge” on Time Fades Away. Nearly 40 years later, it is clear to see this was the first time in his career that Neil tried to confuse the critics and challenge his audience. Maybe I am trying to read too much into these records but it is more than a little bizarre to hear a 26-year old Neil Young singing, “It’s hard to make a good thing last…it’s easy to get buried in the past.”

I hope he never releases Time Fades Away on CD or any digital medium. It would not have the same impact at 3:00 AM on a cold winter night.