It's hard to make that change, when life and love turns strange
Well, we guess the only thing that seems to continually surprise us is that we're continually surprised by what folks hear and read into Neil Young's music.
Backtracking a bit, earlier this month when we posted on Emily Haines "The Maid Needs a Maid" it generated a fair amount of discussion on the meaning of Neil Young's song "A Man Need A Maid".
Then last week, we linked over to what we thought was a pretty humorous page on Inappropriate Wedding Songs -- one of which was Neil Young's "A Man Needs A Maid" coming in at #17.
And some pretty healthy discussion ensued on the battle of the sexes which we think got a bit overblown and off track. Just as much as "Powderfinger" puzzles listeners with it's crypticism, "Ohio" jolts the pacifists and militants, and "Southern Man" divides racists and advocates of tolerance, "A Man Needs A Maid" somehow manages to spark a battle of the sexes.
So quickly -- a couple of things to keep in mind about "A Man Needs A Maid" which the casual listener has no clue about. One is that -- as evidenced so vividly on Massey Hall -- AMNAM was originally part of a suite containing the lyrics of what would become "Heart of Gold".
Furthermore, the original lyrics for AMNAM actually stated "A man feels afraid" -- not the subsequent lyric and title the song evolved to.
With these two points in mind, this leads us to the Comment of the Moment: Why Does A Man Need A Maid? by Greg M (A Friend Of Yours):
This is one of those songs that has always been simultaneously moving and baffling to me.
The singularity of the title of the song doesn’t help, and can really lead you in the wrong direction. Hence the mistake of viewing the song as sexist, as well as the need to look a little further into the lyrics, which everyone here has done so well.
I can’t add much to what has already been said in terms of the song's depiction of someone’s attempt to hide a core of loss with diversion, except to point out the like concept of the need to impose normalcy and order in the aftermath of a melt down. The counter point of ambivalence to certitude is a point really well made- the center of the song makes this perfectly clear: “To give a love, you gotta live a love. To live a love, you gotta be part of.” Nothing could be more certain next to the stab in the dark of thinking you need to find a maid.
The superficial introduction of a maid into the household could be viewed as an attempt to establish a temporary order to cleanup the mess, all in the service of a simple interlude. It could be argued that in the end the upshot of the song is the holding out of hope yearning of the last line of the song: “When will I see you again?” A man needs a maid as a coping mechanism - or substitution, a suspension of disbelief that he’s not going to get back together with her again.
I started out this comment to say that while all this makes sense, especially in light of the subtle disclosure from Massey Hall, “Afraid, a man feels afraid”, what always threw me was the last verse about the actress. But as I write, and think about the points everyone has made, even this makes sense to me now. What could be more superficial than an identification with a fictional character to come to grips with a very real life loss? What better than a movie to wallow in the pain? It’s generally understood that the actress was Carrie Snodgrass playing the part of the “mad housewife”, whose world has also fallen apart in the aftermath of a toxic relationship. Neil must have been feeling a little mad himself.
Anyhow, the song means different things to different people, and who knows if I’m anywhere near the truth. It’s just a take. But man, it never gets old, and like s-horse said, it still sends chills up my spine.
I just remembered another thing - being in the den listening to Harvest over and over after it had just come out. My sister, full into the “tethered to a telephone” preoccupation of a teenage girl, was drawn in during “A Man Needs”, wondering “what is this?”
It even got to her.
Thanks Greg M! When will we see you again?