A big chunk of Neil Young's discography showed up on Apple Music and Spotify just a few days before Donald Trump's victory and I've been revisiting his noisy, rickety records of rage, rancor, and resignation ever since. There's maybe no musician who better articulates the long game of dissappointment, who saw through the '60s without ever really losing his idealism, just scooping up a whole lot more real talk along the way, than Neil Young.
Particularly it's his work in the mid-'70s—after he made his mark with “After The Gold Rush” and “Harvest” and realized fame was weird and the '60s faded for good and a couple of his friends OD'd—which got mean, loose, and melancholy, that sticks. The albums “Time Fades Away,” “On The Beach,” “Tonight's The Night,” and “Rust Never Sleeps” (also “Zuma” though that's not on Spotify) where there's no longer that '60s singer-songwriter split between the “personal” songs (sad, introspective, thoughtful—maybe too thoughtful—stuff such as 'Only Love Can Break A Heart') and the “political” (lugubrious, self-important, painfully obvious though very important stuff such as 'Southern Man') but a conjoining of all the dashed hopes the universe offers up. Only a few other musicians do this, I think: Charles Mingus, Curtis Mayfield, Dolly Parton, Kate Bush, and Gucci Mane come to mind.
“I'm not going back to to Woodstock for awhile,” Young brays on 'Roll Another Number (For The Road),' off “Tonight's The Night”—it's a boast and a hippie subtweet (no one takes on h8rs like Young by the way, see: “On The Beach's” 'Walk On' as well) and a welcome confession, one of many spread across a deeply personal and troubled album. Then there are those ribald rock tales of Young making “On The Beach” and slurping down “honey slides”—heavily cooked weed mixed with lots of honey which allegedly hits you like heroin—and crafting a record that is bleary-eyed but still alive, touched by survivor's guilt, the kind that I think, will nag many of the most vulnerable and radical over the next four years as we run or pull back or hide or just have to suddenly think about not only self-care but self-preservation under Trump-Pence. “On The Beach” is a '60s hangover you can still probably use—songs of willful, sloppy, mourning.
I'm mourning for my friends right now, premptively perhaps. All of them, who are having a hard time doing the work they like to do or leaving the house since the election or staying sober surrounded by national existential dread but especially: a friend who is wondering if they should go ahead and get top surgery as soon as possible and has all but decided they can't begin hormone treatment for fear that suddenly that won't be available to them anymore; a friend who is Muslim who sometimes upsets an Imam here or there already with his words so how will this play out when most people roll over during an uptick in Islamophobia (and most people will roll over); a pal in jail, there for in his words, “some fuck shit” (not that it matters, but most people in prison are in there for some fuck shit) who thinks life might get worse for him inside now that we've got a law and order maniac in the oval office.
Some tangential failure threaded through these albums: In part Young's music is finally on Apple Music and Spotify because Young has a new album out next month (“Peace Trail”) and his hi-fidelity audio hustle Pono isn't all it was cracked up to be and so he defers slightly to the evil streaming beasts. Young is in many ways, a grumbling crank, a ridiculous boomer railing against MP3s, and even on these records he's a rock ham, occasionally caught up in typical mountain-man-with-an-electric-guitar misogyny ('Stupid Girl' from “Zuma”) and liberal naivete (longstanding Native American appropriation) and grasping for authenticity, but it all adds up to a rough and tumble portrait which is the point, the only point maybe. This isn't music that gets it right all the time, it's music about trying and resisting and making noise.
The 2006 song 'Let's Impeach The President' isn't good, like at all, but on tour in 2006 with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Young performed the anti-Bush anthem and upset some people in the audience. You can witness their grievances in a BBC documentary “Neil Young: Don't Be Denied.”
“That's the worst concert I've ever been to, we came here to hear the songs that they sang, they're great singers and a great band,” a dickhead with a moustache tells the camera. “But to do this political, and that's all they're here for is a political rally, that's bullshit.”
“This whole concert was great until that song just now on there, they can suck my dick, sons of bitches,” a fat whiter dickhead with a moustache says. “I'd like to knock his fucking teeth out, that's what I'd like to do.”
They sound like Trump supporters. They look like Trump supporters. Earlier this month, Young was spotted wandering around Standing Rock performing for activists he passed by. He hasn't stopped. He is also apparently, working with giddy sing-rapper D.R.A.M.?
Young's ragged, glorious rock fits right in with some of the music that has meant a lot to me in 2016—the stuck music on fall releases from Bon Iver's (“22, A Million”) and Danny Brown (“Atrocity Exhibition”) and all of the “fractured pop music for a fucked-up U.S.A.” as I dubbed it earlier in the year: Kanye West's “The Life Of Pablo,” Rihanna's “Anti,” Beyonce's “Lemonade,” Kendrick Lamar's “untitled.unmastered,” and local records like Abdu Ali's “Mongo,” JPEGMAFIA'S “Black Ben Carson” and Greydolf's “What's Yor Eternity.” Add to that list A Tribe Called Quest's recent “We got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service,” released the Friday after the election, an unexpected comeback album and a brittle protest record as vital as D'Angelo's “Black Messiah” was not long after Ferguson. “The IRS piranha see a nigga gettin' commas/ Niggas in the hood living in a fishbowl/ Gentrify here, now it's not a shithole/ Trendsetter, I know, my shit's cold,” Q-Tip raps on 'We The People,' a sui generis smooshing of wokeness and shit-talk. Tribe's album is also a record in mourning. Phife Dawg of Tribe died in March and he is a guffawing goofy, patois-speaking ghost that haunts the record whenever he isn't rapping on it.
That's about all I got right now: More mourning, more broken-sounding music for a broken system.