Neil Young – Comes A Time

Okay, here’s the plan. We all know that you need a crowbar and possibly teargas to get Neil Young out of the house. The guy doesn’t want to talk to anybody, doesn’t like playing in front of people more than once a year and even then only in a small club, and probably would record all of his albums in his living room if he could (l wonder if his fireplace got session money for “Will To Love”). So here’s what we do: we show up at his house with one of those giant flatbed trucks, pick the entire house up by the foundations, and simply move him across the country. Plop him down in say, Jersey (New York would be the final destination, but he’ll need some incubation time so he can practice walking for a few months). I’m convinced we can do it. He wouldn’t wake up ’til at least 1000 miles had been traversed and it’ll be the dog barking wildly that will rouse him and when he finally sticks his head out the window to see what’s going on (another 500 miles) whoever’s in the shotgun seat just has to tell him that an earthquake struck and he’s being evacuated. Bein’ an existential kind of fellah, Neil’ll shrug his shoulders, pat the dog, and lie down again and go back to sleep.

Neil Young Comes a Time.jpgI mean look, here’s a guy who probably thinks that the whole world is isolationist-oriented. Back in ’69, on “The Loner,” he got freaked out by one weirdo on the subway–the Toronto subway. Now that’s what you call a sheltered life. And even before that there were things like “Sugar Mountain”–the poor kid wouldn’t have even had his first cigarette or taste of the old boy-girl spark flies if he hadn’t been dragged out by his cronies (“It’s so noisy at the fair/But all your friends are there”). So he winds up driving an old hearse out to California in search of, of all people, Steven Stills. And did anyone stop him? No. Naturally he figures no one cares.

Here on Comes A Time (which is, by the way, one of the very best albums he’s ever done; a real summing up LP, with echoes of things from his entire career–there’s the Nitzsche-esque string arrangements a la his very first album; splashes of the early Crazy Horse era–“Look Out For My Love” has the same tension as “Cowgirl In The Sand” and doesn’t even need the guitar wrenchings to make its point; “Lotta Love” combines the ease of “Cripple Creek Ferry” with a real genius stroke, a quote from the Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together” tacked onto the song, thereby fulfilling the obligation set up by Tonight’s The Night’s “Borrowed Tune”; and even the happy idiot stuff is tolerable this time out, since Nicolette Larson, who duets with Young on eight of the ten songs here, carries her voice in a much more earthly setting than Emmylou Harris, and she also makes Neil sing on key, which is a nice change of pace)–here on Comes A Time, Neil refers to the loss of the past, a journey through which is not even feasible anymore (“I feel like goin’ back/Back where there’s no place to stay”) and his two two-lane references–guess he finally got his car out from under the sand–are “I got lost on the human highway” and “Runnin’ down this suspicious highway,” the latter from “Already One” which is about his and Carrie Snodgrass’s kid and is a disarmingly beautiful song about the acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions (a subject that usually doesn’t pop up very often on rock records), so you know that he is pretty lost. As the album’s closer, he does the old Canadian folkie anthem, Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” and he doesn’t do it especially well but I get the message, the plea for help. Neil desperately wants a change of scenery, a change of seasons, to be able to step in two feet of slush and curse out God and the sanitation department, something he can’t do in California. All he has to look forward to out there is the earthquake and I don’t think we should have to put up with his death wish any longer. Let’s just move him out and he can go and wile away the hours in Washington Square Park, giving out crumbled white bread to the pigeons and spare change to the winos. In a few months, he might even make some friends and in a year, who knows? He could grow up to be Lou Reed. -BILLY ALTMAN, CREEM OCTOBER ’78