The last track on this CD, a live cover of Jimmy Reed's Baby, What You Want Me to Do, provides a kind of coda. It's also, I guess, intended not quite as a joke, but as a tongue-in-cheek form of audio verité. It says it was a recorded live at the Old Princeton Landing, where Neil and Crazy Horse were known to play impromptu, unannounced gigs to get their mojos working and connect with their destiny as third best garage band in the world, or something. It's bootleg quality, and bad bootleg quality at that. Tim Mulligan, one of Neil's regular engineers, could undoubtedly have done a much better job, if he'd been instructed to, so we must assume that he was under orders to catch all that barroom chatter (which can't have been easy because you'd imagine that even the local barflies would shut up and listen a bit when Neil Young was playing 20 feet away).
Anyway, this stunt means more for now since I was in Old Princeton Landing (that's 'OPL' to those in the know) just, er, 23 nights ago, where participants in the International Rust Fest were playing their versions of Neil songs for some six hours (I have to admit I left after two and a half). A particularly fine rendition of Barstool Blues stands out in memory. It's a nice enough place; small.
In the first song, Big Time, Neil sings. "I'm still living the dream we had; for me it's not over." It's tempting to assume that this dream is the same as the Hippie Dream on Landing on Water, and I think I probably always did. But as a result of taking part in the Rust Fest, I've been reconnecting with the Rust List over 14 years after I first joined it, and someone suggested there [link only works if you're a member] that the first three songs on Broken Arrow were a kind of tribute to David Briggs, producer of many of Neil's best albums, who died in 1995 (lung cancer). If you want to know more about Briggs, read Shakey: Neil Young's Biography, which at times reads like a biography of Briggs, such is author Jimmy McDonough's enthusiasm for his "first thought, best thought" approach. I like the way that let's the song inhabit a new, more private meaning: the dream of just two men rather than a whole generation. Not that you can pin it down to one or the other. The elliptical quality of the lyrics denies that… (There was a suggestion that No Hidden Path from Neil's new album, also refers to Briggs. My copy arrived yesterday, but I've been too busy doing my duty listening to this one to give the new one a proper listen yet.)
This album was on in the car that July of 1996, at the same time as Booth and the Bad Angel. M surprised me by saying that she wanted to come with Richard and me to see Neil and Crazy Horse in Paris (at some horrible arena on 4th July) — that was just before we headed to Dorset. I had an email from her last week, the first contact in seven and a half years. We're meeting next month.
I remember how I felt that summer when this first came out: very disappointed. it felt like a retread, a lazy and failed attempt to repeat the success of Ragged Glory. But as with Old Ways, time has healed the sense of anti-climax, and I can now listen to it with fondness, re-discovering a song like This Town — not a classic by any means, but a pleasant enough song that I'd completely forgotten. The opening three songs do slip down well, too. They break no new ground, but if they are a homage to Briggs, they're an appropriate one.
The real treat of the album, however, has always been Music Arcade, the last song (if you don't count the OPL coda) and faraway the best. It's just Neil and an acoustic guitar, strummed very simply, plus a great melody and more elliptical lyrics.
There's a comet in the sky tonight
Makes me feel like I'm alright
I'm movin pretty fast
For my size
I really didn't mean to stay
As long as I have done
So I'll be movin on
And, yes, I did have this song in mind when I came up with the name for this site. This song and also Tom Phillips' reference to Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, writing about his postcard collection for the We Are The People exhibition. Phillips refers to his work in turning postcards into an art exhibit as a combination of the "psychopathology of collecting" and the "delightful drudgery of sorting." As well as the Arcades project, Phillips draws a comparison between his collection and Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosphicus. He straightaway shows a very English embarrassment with these allusions — "I shall soon escape from this paragraph which begins to be dangerously vainglorious" — but nevertheless persists that "the ludic spirit that lurks behind [Wittgenstein's and Benjamin's] high seriousness would have led them on their own eccentric and illuminating paths through [this] material."
Vainglorious, occasionally, but also ludic — that's the tone I seek to emulate in my own little project of psychopathology and drudgery.
|MusicBrainz entry for this album|