Thursday, October 13, 2011

Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Me

While Americans took a day off to shop in honor of the that now controversial explorer Christopher Columbus, the kids in Glasgow were observing a more civilized holiday: Canadian Thanksgiving. During the course of a flat party, the conversation (as my daughter later retold over the phone) turned to all the musicians Canada has produced and a sort of trivial pursuit ensued as they named as many as they could.

The list began with Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Arcade Fire. And of course, Neil Young, I chimed in.

"Yes Dad,"she interrupted, "That's who the radio was playing. We were going for all the people they should have been playing."
"Don't forget The Band," I added.
"Robbie the guy who the deejay has been interviewing today," she countered. Well he is the one with a new album to plug.

The game sent me to the CD cabinet for one of my favorite compilations: "Neil Young Unplugged." (Remember when MTV gave us something besides rental house reality rants?) Recorded in 1993 with Nils Lofgren, Nicolette Larson, Spooner Oldham and others, this collection is still a great tour through Young's catalog with much of it still fresh as today's protests on Wall Street.

Well Hello Mr. Soul I dropped by to pick up a reason
For the thought that I caught that my head is the event of the season.

Neil Young's hall of fame career has put him at the crossroads for nearly half a century of rock history: Buffalo Springfield (March 8 Post: Happy 45th), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Crazy Horse. I think my first attraction to Young was to his writing, as enigmatic and vivid as Dylan, but somehow smoother and often more languid, especially his ballads. From "Helpless"
There is a town in North Ontario
With dream comfort memory despair
And in my mind I still need a place to go
All my changes were there.

Or from "Harvest Moon" where the music carries the day for the hopelessly romantic lyrics:
Because I'm still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I'm still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

(Now try to get that tune out of your head)

Whether it is a pop hook or a country swing sound, Neil can grab you and stick in your head. (His "Tonight's the Night" album is a haunting trip into the dark side of the music world but the tunes are wonderful.) He's a songwriter the rock ladies love to cover and a rocker who can blow out the amps. I confess that I drifted away during his hard rock, loud phase but I keep coming back for a little nostalgia, a little melancholy and sometimes just a good time sound.

It's a tribute to think how many of his songs have become anthems for a generation (or two)from "Keep on Rockin in the Free World" to this one:
Long may you run
Long may you run
Although these changes have come
Wtih your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run.

When you are thinking you don't have much to be thankful for, take out some made-from-Canada music and enjoy. And while you are at it, wish happy birthday to Paul Simon, who at 70, has had a long run and is still crazy enough to try new things.