Neil Young News
On Monday, 5th November, Neil Young was going to play in London's Rainbow Theatre. Of course, I wanted to meet him but I'd been told by people from the record company both in England and in Holland that I really had no chance. Nevertheless I wrote him a letter telling him of the admiration we feel for him in Holland, and of our regret that he was not going to come over for a concert. The Friday before the concert I received a phone call from the Dutch record company asking me if I could go to England with the somewhat strange responsibility of taking Neil 17 bottles of tequila--the extravagant Jose Cuervo Gold brand--as this was unavailable in England. This wasn't the easiest of tasks in Holland either. At first it looked as if I might get hold of one bottle! but, I thought, you can't arrive with just 1 bottle. Imagine my suprise then when I got another call from England saying even one bottle would be a good start and they would even pick me up from the airport with it. Even so, I still didn't have the one bottle and although the company would have arranged everything for me, in the end I spent the whole of Saturday morning calling up half of Amsterdam and screaming for Jose Cuervo Gold. Through courage and persistence, I finally managed to get hold of four bottles of said firewater through a company called Wolters. And these four bottles? Well obviously the only way they were going to get to Neil was if I handed them over personally to him....
TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT
The next step was to find a good way of running into Neil. The Eagles were playing as support band and as I knew them fairly well I decided to accompany them to the theatre. Once inside the dressing room I hoped to find some opportunity of addressing Neil without going through a thousand people first. When Neil and retinue arrived I caught a brief glimpse...White raincoat, dark flaxy hair and tinted glasses. Although I'd heard reports of moodiness he seemed to be in a good mood. My hope and confidence increased. Once the Eagles were on stage and the dressing room was a bit less crowded, I would try my chance. But, when that time came I began to amble up and down the corridors occasionally passing Neil's dressing room. After a while Neil popped his head around the door and I realized it was now or never. Nervously, I ran up to the door and asked if could come in. Neil and someone else (whom I later knew to be David Briggs) stepped aside and moved towards the corridor.
"Er...could I ask you something?", I asked Neil who was wearing sunglasses, somewhat unsure and dubious, he replied it depended on what it was.
"That tequila, is it a good brand?"
"Oh, you must be the guy who's brought me the tequila and who wrote me a letter." Oh great, nice to meet you (we shake hands). Thanks very much. I think that's really great." "Do you want to have the other bottles?" "No, not now. After the concert, OK (and walking away). Thanks man. I really like that tequila".
SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A HELPLESS CHILD
The stage set was very strange. At the back a large palm tree; next to the piano and loudspeakers were hanging all sorts of women's boots and there were hubcaps laid all around. We were in total darkness when Neil and his band--Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina & Billy Talbot took the stage and slowly began playing the 1st number 'Tonight's the Night.' The sound was miserable, the band's coordination was miserable and Neil's piano and singing were miserable.
After this song - the title track from his new album - Neil got up from the piano and moved over unsteadily to his guitar and mike, at the front of the stage. Another new song was presented and once again Neil couldn't manage to reach the high notes. I began to lose all hope. What on Earth was happening to Neil? Where was the magic gone? He talked a lot, drank tequila by the wine-glass in one gulp and mumbled for minutes on end about anything and more. Jesus Christ, what downer!
After each song he started talking about Miami Beach. He said he'd been there. After the first number he welcomed the audience there and got the stage manager to illuminate the palm tree. The crowd started to applaud, eliciting from Neil a laconic "It's all cheaper than it looks, ladies and gentlemen". Picking up the guitar with some difficulty he started to play the next number "From day to day" a superb song starting with the words "You know I lose, you know I win". Neil fought his way desperately through his set.
Although some numbers indicated he was still capable of composing brilliant songs, their performance was worringly, minimally stimulating. Only Nils Lofgren shone with phenomenal guitar-playing whereas the others just seemed to be playing along, undisciplined. After the truckers song "It's too dark to put the keys in my ignition", Neil explained that all the songs he had played so far were from his new album 'Tonight's the Night'.
"Making this record was a great experience for us all and I hope it'll be that way in the future too". Someone in the audience shouted "Shut Up!" and Neil replied: "Let me just add for those people who are wondering whether I've come to talk or to sing, that I always sing more than I talk. So the more I talk, the longer I'm going to play". The theatre erupted in laughter and applauded at the remark.
"Ladies and Gentlemen. There is one member of the band for whom I feel a special affection. One day he came and knocked at my cellar door in Washington DC where the president of the U.S. lives... Impeach the president, and... eh... What a situation. WHAT A SITUATION, ladies and gentlemen... where's my cigar? I won't be seeing you again for a few years so I can do what I like! Ha ha ha".
The audience laughs.
"I'm going to try and play something now. I've got a song about a 'straight dog' who took no drugs, no hard drugs, nothing at all. Believe me...according to some rumours I'm dead already, but I'm standing here...believe in nature. I'm not Catholic but I believe in a sort of confession....here tonight, ladies and gentlemen. I want to sing a song for Danny...Whitten who can't be with us tonight. I can feel the Jose Cuervo but I think that what I want to say is getting across. I'm talking slowly about a good friend of mine and I don't want to discredit his name. This is a song for him. Perhaps I'll sing fifty songs for him this evening. You never know..."
The death of Neil's discovery and friend, Danny Whitten seems to have affected him deeply. Since 'The Needle & the Damage Done' most of Neil's songs about Danny's death reflect his guilt complex. Neil seemed to fall back into an even deeper depression. Then he began drinking, became sentimental and generally intolerable for anyone who had anything to do with him. It's said that those around him treated him with great caution for fear of provoking him, causing him to retreat and become a recluse. During this evening at the Rainbow, Neil makes particular reference to Miami Beach where he was safe from external influences and where a highly emotional and introverted process went its course.
"Don't Be Denied", the song for Danny develops into a terrible, deep-reaching event. The playing is awful but the emotion is great Neil is incapable of putting any structure into his guitar-playing instead, he comes across as a man possessed, hair flying, pounding his guitar, jumping and screaming: "Oh friend of mine, don't be denied, don't be denied, don't be denied." Confused, he comes up to the microphone and begins to talk gently: "You buy a newspaper on the street in the morning, and you open it at page two straightaway because you can't read page one....photos of all the people....now I'm in the desert....The Americans are there. Let's think about the desert this evening. In the desert there's a lion, some people are standing on one side on the lion and some on the other. Everybody knows what I'm talking about, so everybody can draw their own conclusions. We're going to play a song, ladies and gentlemen, to try to cheer ourselves up. It wasn't very good in the desert was it? I didn't like it much there anyway".
Now Neil plays a few old songs accompanied only by guitar and harmonica. First of all a hopelessly out of tune rendition of 'Flying on the Ground is Wrong', followed by a new song again inspired by Danny Whitten and containing one line laden with significance 'Take my eyes from what they've seen' and a splendid, desperate 'Helpless' almost every note off-key and the guitar playing abyssmal.
The end of 'Helpless' was a duet betweem Neil and Nils who joined in on accordian half way through the song and added his melancholy voice to Neil's. In a trance they played and sang for minutes on end 'Helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless'. And how helpless he looked sitting there, his hair hanging in his face, his voice suffocating, stamping and shaking on his stool, knocking the microphone in his fury and fear. Surprised and confused I just let it all pass over me. Where was I? Who was that man sitting up there? What in the name of Jesus was he doing?
After an ovation which lasted several minutes, Neil came back, very drunk by now. He thanks the audience and then begins to crack jokes about the English accent. "I was born over there, so there isn't much I can do about it". Someone in the audience shouts "Nixon" probably referring to one of the 2 dolls on the stage. A sort of English soldier with a plastic Nixon mask.
"Nixon loves me" he says, "I'm good for the economy. Do you understand what I'm trying to say? Four dead in Ohio?... (applause) I don't want applause for something like that even though I think I know what you mean. It's strange... Look at it from my point of view. You don't have to, but you can try. Take Miami Beach... There are all sort of people there. And they get up real early ladies and gentlemen".
Neil walks away from the mike to the edge of the stage and shouts: "I can assure you that the people get up at six in the morning. Really, ladies and gentlemen!" Laughter in the audience. Neil introduces the members of the band.
"At last I've found some people who are alive and want to carry on living." A poor version of 'Cowgirl in the Sand' close the concert. When the audience has left the theatre, Neil comes back on stage sits down at the piano and starts to sing and play. "Oh tell me where the answer lies. Is it in the notebook behind your eyes?" The others too have taken out their instruments and join in one by one. After a few minutes Neil stops and goes back to his dressing room. That is where I meet him again, looking like a beaten dog, abandoned on a chair, his head hanging between his shoulders, with him Nils and Briggs trying to convince him that the concert had been good.
"It was better than yesterday, better than ever" says Nils and Briggs adds that it had all been over damn quick.
"But it sounded just like the record".
Timidly, I ventured that I had found it good and then Neil looked up and said, "Really I enjoyed it myself. I tried to be as free as I could, you know" and added desperately, "I tried to be honest... Once I talked to someone for 1 1/2 hours and then I woke up the next morning and realised that the time had come to do something else. These small theatres give me a good feeling. You can make contact with the audience."
"It was f---ing sensational" says Briggs "And they knew that from A to Z".
Neil gets up from his chair and I tell him that he made a credible impression on me.
"No, credible" I say.
"The person whom I had been hoping to see was there after all these years."
"Good, good man"
"With all the problems, your words everything... I felt a terrible emotion, I felt it in my heart."
"That's it...yeah....that's it. Hey, you're the guy that brought me the tequila, I recognise your face, come with us in the bus." says Neil in his drawling English, "Don't ask any questions. Just hang around."
In the bus, Neil is still very depressed and Nils and Briggs are trying to restore his self confidence. "I was shocked that they didn't ask for more," he says from the bottom of his heart. "We had another number ready. I would have played anything they wanted to hear, even if I had to play it all night. I only come here once every three years and I give them whatever they want. I was really shocked". I try to explain why the audience didn't ask for more, that the concert had various climaxes and that the audience didn't expect any more encores at half past eleven etc... N ils tries to make it clear to Neil that his playing and his singing are two separate things. I say I don't agree.
"They're two facets of your personality which you're showing and which make you very believable".
Then Briggs makes a joke, "Carry on talking, make problems. As long as you carry on making music, I'll pay for your psychiatrists".
This cheers up the atmosphere a bit and Neil starts to talk and joke with Briggs. I start to tell a long story about the problems which some people in Holland have with his music; about Wim Van der Linden's film: "A great guy" - Neil, in which he appears in one scene speaking to an old man and then it seems to me that he's completely serious for a few seconds as if someone is coming back to life inside him. Neil remembers the scene and says the old man is no longer living with him on his ranch. Then I start talking about the emotion and melancholy in his music, the sadness of our Autumn, the appearance of his new record at this time, the feeling of not being completely alone. Neil listens in silence.
In the speakeasy, the happy atmosphere returns. Neil begins to tell me about his new LP.
"The album 'Tonight's the Night' is the best I have ever made. It's recorded live. On one side there are four songs recorded in one take without stopping. In a hall belonging to Studio Instrument Rentals in LA. The owner of the firm, Ken Berry, is the brother of the former roadie Bruce and he let me use that hall. The atmosphere was so relaxed that we began recording immediately. And it's the most honest thing I have ever done. The guys I'm playing with at the moment make me fee relaxed and that's why I can be so honest. But I think the public thinks I'm trying to trick them". Again the conversation returned with Nils to the relationship between speaking and singing.
"I have the impression that they understand the first half better than the second", remarks Neil.
I said that this isn't so strange as they were playing new songs which the audience hadn't been expecting and couldn't absorb them all at once and that with a spoken text it's much easier. Neil changes the subject and says, "I'm looking for a good theatre for the premier of my film, do you know one in Holland?" "In Amsterdam there is a great old theatre in 1930's style. If you saw it I'm sure you'd want to play there. Why don't you come over to Holland?"
"At the moment, I don't know either, but I'd like to bring my movie to Holland".
When I leave at 3 a.m. he turns to me again and says "Thanks again for the letter and everything. It was real. Say 'Hi!' to your friends in Holland and tell them I'll do my best to get the film shown in Holland".
Moving slowly the slightly stooping figure disappears out of my view leaving me with this final wisecrack: "My style is not so good. As a matter of fact it's minimal".
P.S. Please take my advice
Tim "Dreaming Man" Parrish "Mrs. Robinson, this conversation is Z_PARRISHT@CCSVAX.SFASU.EDU getting very stange." Dustin Hoffman ^^^a pretty, great place to be w/ nothin' to do :-8
Disclaimer: I reserve the right to change any of the opinions, thoughts and/or facts mentioned above WITHOUT notice. i.e. I'm always right.
For more insight into the story behind and the meaning of Neil Young's Tonight's the Night see Lyrics Analysis page.
Also, see the cryptically strange "On The Beach" overlay liner notes for the "Tonight's The Night" album.
Tonight's The Night - Album Home
Neil Young Album Reviews
Neil Young and Crazy Horse