Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Hey, hey, my, my, rock and roll can never die...

Pick of the Week

"Hey, Hey, My, My”, Neil Young (1979)

The Godfather of grunge?  The Grandfather of grunge?
This seems like an insult to the immensity that is Neil Young.

Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) is older than I am. I have never had any thoughts of raising a kind of moral anarchy, anti-monarchy or outraging the public for the sake of doing it. I don’t think a lot of people have. They get annoyed from time to time but not like Johnny, and the rest of the punks. It is the vicarious experience from punk that most of us like or can relate to in some way.  Some not so much.

I have always thought “Out of the blue into the black – this is  the story of Johnny Rotten” was an odd comment given that it was ‘Syd Vicious’ that died.

Johnny left the Sex Pistols in 1978 after a rough tour of the U.S. Vicious died in early 1979 of an overdose. In the previous year Elvis Presley had died. The meaning I think is that rock and roll will not die with Elvis, and it will not die with the disbanding of the Sex Pistols (representing punk music) and it will most certainly not die with the death of Sid Vicious. “Rock and roll will never die”.

Neil has fallen into a long pattern of playing essentially solo or hooking up with now really his band, Crazy Horse.  Crazy Horse was Neil’s outlet for harder, edgier music that arguably influenced grunge and metal.

Crazy Horse was originally formed in the early sixties by Danny Whitten as a doo-wop group. They evolved into kind of a psychedelic folk band called ‘The Rockets’ before meeting Neil Young in 1966. Neil had moved down to California from Canada seeking a larger music scene.  In 1968 they release Neil Young with Crazy Horse’s “Everyone Knows this is Nowhere” with such classics as ‘Cinnamon Girl”, ‘Down By the River’, and ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’. They loved the epoch long song and there are a few on this album.

Arguably Crazy Horse’s most important album was 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps”. Most of the album was done live at San Francisco’s ‘Cow Palace’. The album opens and closes with different versions of ‘Hey, Hey, My, My”. The opening is “My, My, Hey, Hey (out of the Blue) - electric, and the closing is Hey, Hey, My, My (into the Black) - acoustic.

In the late sixties Danny Whitten. a good friend of Neil and Crazy Horse guitarist started using heroin. Neil’s observations of this became the song “The Needle and the Damage Done”. On November 18, 1972 Neil Young gave Danny $50 and a plane ticket home to Los Angeles. Due to his deteriorating condition he just could not record with them on the “Harvest “sessions. Later that night Danny died of an overdose of valium and vodka. Neil blamed himself for years, but really the heroine had gotten him. There were more than one example of the impact that death had on Neil throughout his career.

Of course the line “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”, which originally is thought to be about John Lydon dropping the “Johnny Rotten” persona. Later it became infamous as quoted in Nirvana’s  Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.

Supposedly the lyric “out of the blue and into the black" was from a phrase used in the Vietnam War that referred to jumping out of the daylight into the darkness of a Vietcong tunnel. It is used more generally now to conjure up the thought of death. The album “Sleeps with Angels” was dedicated to Cobain by Young. Young now emphasizes the lyrics “once you’re gone you can’t come back” in live performances.

Whether it was Young’s fear of becoming obsolete or a new sympathy and understanding of the punk movement that led him to do “Rust Never Sleeps” we are not sure.  There was definitely a resurgence of interest in Neil’s work in the late ‘80’s that has had an impact on music such as grunge, metal, and his other work on the folk rock, singer-song writer side.

While Donny Osmond is saying that Justin Beiber is just a ‘flash in the pan”, Neil just beat Justin at the Juno Awards as “Artist of the Year’. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye. When receiving his ‘artist of the year’ award, Neil aptly said, “What year is this?” at the outrage of Justin Beiber fans across this country.

Neil Young is an institution.

No comments: