After the Gold Rush

When I was a kid, mi madre would always talk about how much she liked Neil Young.  She would quote lines from his songs a lot, and she would defend him in his ongoing feuds with the members of Crosby, Still, Nash, and occasionally Young (it was just recently that I realized that Young’s love-hate-love relationship with Stephen Stills dates all the way back to their days in Buffalo Springfield).  But I was always pretty much indifferent to Neil Young.  He had some good songs on the radio, but I could never really figure out whether he was a rocker or folk singer (I’m not sure he ever figured out which he is either), so I never really paid much attention.

And then one day back in 1993, Neil Young got up on stage with Pearl Jam at the MTV Music Video Awards, and together they cranked out a kick-ass rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World”.  And in that moment Neil Young became the Godfather of Grunge and my eyes were opened to his amazing career.  In fact, Neil Young went on to save Pearl Jam (one of my all time favorite bands) from breaking up when all the other nineties bands were disintegrating.  I only know this story from PJs point of view, as told in their PJ20 book, but at some point after the Vitology album, a rift started to develop between Eddie Louis Severson, Jr. and the rest of the band.  Basically, Eddie was having problems dealing with fame and celebrity, and he responded by withdrawing from the spotlight, even going so far as to drive to shows by himself in a beat up van to recapture his “punk rock ethos”.  Well, things hit a head at a show when Eddie was “bitten by a red mosquito” and had to leave the stage.  Fortunately, Neil Young was there that night, and he went on stage with the rest of PJ and finished the show.

At that point, Neil Young took PJ under his wing, and even invited them into the studio to be his substitute Crazy Horse for the Mirror Ball record.  Actually, that was the only Neil Young album I owned prior to this record, and I’m prolly biased because PJ plays on it, but it rocks.  Eddie wasn’t around for many of those sessions because he was dealing with a stalker issue (“I’m going to Lukin’s!”), but when he did stop in, Young contributed to two of my favorite PJ tracks, “I Got Id” and “Long Road” on the companion EP, Merkin Ball.  Young then took PJ, minus Eddie, to Europe with him for a tour in support of the record, giving Eddie some time to get his head right.  When they came back to the states, all was well, and two decades later Pearl Jam is still rockin’ in the free world.

So I guess I was expecting noisy rock ‘n roll Neil Young when I bought this album from Amazon for $4.94, but instead I got the folkier side of Neil Young.  Which is fine, because this album is pretty awesome.  The liner notes say it was inspired by a screenplay to a movie, also titled After the Gold Rush, that was never actually filmed.  I tried to find this screenplay, but apparently it has been lost and doesn’t even exist on the World Wide Interweb.  But I found enough detail to determine that it was an end-of-the-world/apocolypse type movie about a giant tidal wave destroying an artist community in Los Angeles.  Ok.  Sounds fun.  So this was originally going to be the soundtrack for that movie…but in some accounts Neil Young has said that only the title track and “Cripple Creek Ferry” were actually going to be on the soundtrack.  So who knows.  This album is fantastic regardless.  In fact, the title track may be the perfect song…Neil Young singing softly over a beautiful piano melody, lyrics that hint at a topic still relevant today (environmental destruction), and just at the perfect moment, a flugelhorn solo.  Yes, a freaking flugelhorn, and all it does is replay the vocal melody (kinda like a Kurt Cobain guitar solo), but it’s perfect.  Just perfect. Yup, it might be the perfect song (although local band Brainbow has contender for that title with the song “Ymir” from their self-titled 2008 album), and there is a great cover of it sung by Thom Yorke at one of Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit concerts floating around on YouTube.  Check it out. One of the only rockers on this album, “Southern Man” is also pretty great, offering such a scathing view of the south that Lynyrd Skynyrd felt they had to respond, leading to the creation of “Sweet Home Alabama”.  I’ll take the Neil Young song any day, thank you very much.  At least Kid Rock has never done a crappy cover of “Southern Man”…

Other lists: Rolling Stone ranks Neil Young at #17 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, #37 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and #34 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped 3 spots from its original position at #71 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

My favorite track: “After the Gold Rush”

Honorable mention: “Southern Man”

Quote: “Don’t let it bring you down, it’s only castles burning.”

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