Thursday, April 19, 2007

Neil Young (1990)

During my late college years, I experienced a dearth of exposure to new music that really made an impression on me. I think this was basically because, for two years, I listened to nothing but Steely Dan and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, as odd a combination as that is. This downward spiral would change drastically, shortly after my graduation from college.

Somewhat surprisingly, to those who know me at all, I was a relative latecomer to the ranks of Neil Young fandom. I was a fan of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Deja Vu during those lean college years, but it wasn't until I visited Joe in Hartford that I would discover the musical genius who would influence my interest in just about everything I've listened to since.

I don't know if Joe is aware that I consider him at least indirectly responsible for turning me on to Neil Young. As I was preparing to return home to Syracuse, after a weekend visit with Joe and Carol, Joe lent me a Best of Neil Young tape. I've never seen another copy of this album in existence, but you can look it up on (sans track list), as it was released in 1987. I listened to this tape on my drive home, and shortly thereafter, purchased Decade, the 3-record on 2-cd compilation that does a pretty good job of summarizing Neil's output from 1966 to 1976.

I wasn't exactly sure what I thought of this material at first, but it quickly grew on me. I have to admit here, that during my younger years, I absolutely hated "Sugar Mountain". I've since reconsidered, although it's still far from my favorite song. Joe, upon learning of my newfound interest in Neil, mused aloud about how cool it would be if I became as big a Neil Young fan as he was a Bob Dylan fan. I think it's safe to say that I've long since reached this level.

As I said earlier, this music would affect much of what I'd listen to later, but his biggest influence, directly and indirectly, was on my eventual and total immersion in the alt-country genre. More on that later.

I've tried, at various times, to be a Neil Young completist and own everything he's ever released. This is almost an impossible task. First of all, I'd have to settle for attempting to own every release that is attributed to him as a solo artist or a band in which he was a member (Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, w/ Crazy Horse, etc.). Otherwise, I'd have to purchase jazz bassist Rob Wasserman's Trios for the song "Easy Answers", on which Neil and Bob Weir teamed up with Wasserman. As you might imagine, owning every song that Neil Young appeared on would be impossible, so this compromise would be a necessity. Even still, this is a difficult proposition.

In the mid-90's, I began fairly successfully scouring used record stores, and purchasing copies of Time Fades Away, American Stars 'N Bars, Hawks & Doves, Re-ac-tor, Everybody's Rockin' and Trans, out of print albums that were never released on cd. At one point, I even had a Life cassette, which I think I've since lost. I was never able to find a vinyl copy of On the Beach, although Anders had one. Several years ago, after On the Beach was finally released on cd, and I found myself a used copy of Journey Through the Past, the soundtrack to a movie never made, I thought I finally had everything...not counting the fact that I didn't realize I had lost my Life cassette, and disc one of Decade.

But alas, do I need to own all the compilations too, like the aforementioned Best of Neil Young, 2004's Greatest Hits, and 2001's Mystery Train? What about the Eldorado EP and singles with otherwise unreleased b-sides? And what the hell is Where the Buffalo Roam, not to mention the completed, but never released, albums that are now kicking around on the Internet? For crissakes, I give up. Who knows, maybe one day I'll achieve this goal after all.

I feel like I should spend several days writing about Neil Young. He's now been my official favorite artist for over a decade and a half, and probably will never lose that distinction, no matter what. But, I have 26 more artists to go, and I suspect I have yet to make my last mention of Neil.

Addendum (4/24/07): When I moved to Albany in 1993, there was a recently opened brewpub in Troy named Brown & Moran's Brewing Company. This was at a time when the microbrew craze was yet to reach full effect. Scott was still living in Rochester, but Jen had already moved to Albany. That summer, she and I hung out at Brown & Moran's probably 2-3 times a week. There, we befriended a bartender named Chris, who now owns a bar around the corner from that brewpub (now just Brown's Brewing Co.), called Ryan's Wake. I visited his bar two summers ago, probably the first time I had seen Chris in 5-6 years, and we did some reminiscing about those days. He also fired up "Cortez the Killer" on the jukebox, impressively remembering my favorite Neil Young song.

During the time that Jen and I would sit at the bar and talk over many pints, another Neil Young song was becoming one of my favorites, "Ride My Llama" from Rust Never Sleeps. We would frequently discuss my dissatisfaction with my current job and my dream to go to umpire school. A lyric from that song, "I'm gonna ride my llama from Peru to Texarkana", inspired the song's title to become a metaphor for chasing your dream. I guess it had something to do with how crazy it would be to actually make that trip. So, when I told Scott and Jen that I had quit my job with Ryder to attend Brinkman/Froemming Umpire School, Jen instantly pointed out that I was riding my llama. Sounds a little odd, but to me it was inspirational.

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