By Irving Washington
NEARSIGHT In the beginning there was the Buffalo Springfield. And God looked down . . .and saw the Monkees. Our Lord works in strange and mysterious ways.
'HINDSIGHT "No one," said Neil Young in a recent interview mulling over his old Springfield days, "knew how good we were except us."
Words fit for a crucifixtion. All God's chillun' got blues.
John Lennon made the rather human mistake of expecting rationality in 1966 when he opined, "We're more popular than Jesus Christ." Mass Beatle album burnings followed the next day.
New York, Shea Stadium, August, 1970: Billy Graham (screaming): "Jesus WAS a soul man!!!" The capacity crowd rose roaring, like tear gas to meet the orange of dawn.
Times have changed. And yet they haven't.
From an unctuous musical environment unready or unwilling to accept the superb rock of Buffalo Springfield, we have moved to Fan City, hungup in an almost infantile psychic dependence upon Rock Stars as Jesus (or the god of your choice). Chicago plaster-casterized into believing, sitting stoned in front of the old KLH, that digging Iggy and the Stooges is somehow morally superior to the combined assault of a six-pack, tee-shirt and bloodshot eyes upon the Cincinnati Reds via the boob tube. Rather than focusing on our own interior strengths and dimensions we have become collectors of the mental autograph.
Rock stars have become the mass media equivalent of baseball trading cards. (Give ya' four Mick Jaggers' for a Captain Beefheart) and in the midst of it all, The Buffalo Springfield, five young men who went out looking for Godot and(gulp) couldn't find him anywhere, have arrived as instant retroactive rock stars.
So it goes. Pass the hemlock juice, please (gulp).
And God looked down into the jaws of Grand Funk Railroad and said "WHAAAAAT?"
After The Gold Rush, Neil Young's third solo outing, is in many ways his best. The ground Young covers this time out is somehow more barren, more desolate, more nakedly beautiful than before, primarily due to his more prominent use of his authentic, unique voice, quavering, flinching, deep as an open wound.
Young has played peek-a-boo with that other-worldly voice from the start. Having thoroughly convinced himself he lacked the lungs of a lead singer, Young often refused to sing his own compositions while with the Springfield. His first solo effort, Neil Young, featured ornate, intricate arrangement and massive overdubbing, hiding the howl of the lean broken arrow. (The album was later remixed and rereleased.) With the re-
lease of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere Young joined forces with Crazy Horse and created a thoroughly satisfying electric country rock album.
Crazy Horse is still around in several cuts on Gold Rush, although the band and Young have since parted ways. On the whole, though, the underpinning for Young's vocals is much simpler, often featuring acoustic guitars or only the piano of Nils Lofgren. No massive production jobs a la "Broken Arrow," and "Country Girl." Instead, the album has the bittersweet feel of autumn, much like the rigid dignity of a tree just stripped of its leaves.
Young's lyrics are tinged with childlike innocence, merged with an aura of existential agony/insanity, evoking a feel-ling much like John Lennon's old lament: "People ask me to be honest and then when I do I find myself out there, alone and naked." Christ, you know it ain't easy. You know how hard it can be.
Young's imagery is just as stark, sharp and appealing as ever. He draws in the main from that same rich stream of big yellow suns, butterflies and big birds, sailing ships and dark horses that weave through the music of many of his Canadian contemporaries, (i.e. The Band, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot).
This time out, though, Young's lyrics take occasional Kafkaesque flights through the scenario, ripping past "a dead man lying by the side of the road/ with the daylight in his eyes," only to encounter "Blind man running through the light/with an answer in his hand: "Come on down to the river of sight and you can really understand." (From "Don't Let It Bring You Down")
Interwoven are Young's usual singsong questions, effective in their refusal to lend answers: "Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself/When you're old enough to repay but young enough to sell?" (From "Tell Me Why")
Perhaps the standout cut of Gold Rush is "Birds," a very brief epitaph to another chapter in the continuing struggle 'twixt the flaming meatloaf of mankind and the counter-chauvinistic waves of womanhood (or something).
Extremely simple, yet soaring, "Birds" flashes by in a little over two and a half minutes. It may make you call someone you shouldn't.
(On the other hand, it may make you commit an unnatural act with a bird. I'm not sure. I have forsaken prophecy. My uncle was a lookout at Pearl Harbor.)
"Southern Man" and "When You Dance I Can Really Love" come closest to earlier Crazy Horse efforts. The former, a seven minute electric tirade agianst slavery, marks the only time in Gold Rush that Young stretches out on guitar, unleashing some of those quicksilver shots of cold-steel pyrotechnics that bring the heart thumping and tearing into the throat. "Southern Man" will likely rate a 90 on The People's Marxometer, but never scale the charts at the KA house. (Hell, let one in and . . .)
Young and CH also rework "Oh Lonesome Me," Don Gibson's country classic of 1960. Given a bella-donna backbeat, abetted by moaning harmon-
ica and vocals, Young and Crazy Horse squeeze every last lachrymose drop out of it.
With all the cards on the table, Gold Rush is probably Young's best to date. Had it been released as his first effort, though, it likely would have bombed. Young has now been initiated into the rock realm, though, and if there is anything advantageous to all the trappings of superstardom it is the artistic freedom often available but seldom utilized. Young has taken the chance, said it all out front. Granted, it wasn't too big a gamble, for at this point in space and time, most established rock demigods could release recordings of the toilet training of their dogs and be assured of solid sales. (Come to think of it, listening to a few Buddy Miles tracks convinces me it's already happened.)
However, this time around we are lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity to hear a very fine album, another solitary effort forged away from the stultifying confines of supergroupdom. (Much like Rod Stewart, David Mason, and John Stewart.) A reaffirmation of the discovery and exploration of inner space.
If there is a noticeable flaw in
Neil Young a
Gold Rush it is a little ditty called "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," in which an excellent lyric line is harpooned by a perfectly maddening melodic monotony. You'll end up regurgitating. Or waltzing.
I found myself stunned after hearing "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." I stumbled out of my house and proceeded to cruise for burgers in my darkened limousine. After circling the drive-in for twenty minutes without eliciting even a simple "Hiya, big boy" from Bertha Lou, the carhop, I made my a-gonizing decision.
With tears hi my eyes I drove home, stumbled in the door, and dragging my self into the bathroom, managed to blink through the teardrops and scrawl "what a woolybooger!" on the mirror with Bertha Lou's catsup dispenser.
But that was a while back. I have given this issue careful thought and am consoled with the thought that this cut is not indicative of 95% of today's Neil Young music. Boys and Girls, I know that when you hear such a statement you may say, in the argot of you young people, "Wow, that dude really has balls to mouth such trash."
I want you to know I understand perfectly. I used to have two of my own in college.
"YOU'VE DUG US BEFORE, DIG US NOW"
* smoking accessories